The first day back at school after the summer vacation is often not a joyous occasion for a child wherever in the world he or she is studying. But some Chinese schools tried to liven things up this week with a few novelties.
Traditionally, Sept.1, the first day of the new school year in China, means obligatory attendance at a national flag-raising ceremony in the playground, a run through the national anthem, and a boring speech from the headmaster exhorting his pupils to work harder.
A model student is then generally called up on stage to read a solemn text (edited by a teacher) pledging the student body’s love for country, school, teachers, and classmates, and – of course – its readiness to work harder.
In the southern city of Nanjing, though, one primary school headmaster took 300 first graders to a Confucian temple on Thursday to join in an ancient Chinese ceremony that the anti-Confucian government banned for many years. At the “First Writing Ceremony,” the children, dressed in traditional costume, took up calligraphy brushes to write the Chinese character for “person” before having their foreheads daubed with a red dot, signifying the eye of wisdom.
Then they rang the temple bell and burned some incense before a statue of Confucius, the Chinese sage who attached enormous importance to a good education. “I wanted a fresh back-to-school ceremony to make the kids look forward to the term,” headmaster Cheng Gang told a reporter from The Oriental Guardian newspaper. “I hope it will inspire them to study.”
In Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan in southwestern China, the provincial museum sent a caravan with some of its more interesting exhibits to one primary school. In Wuhan, students at junior high schools were treated to visits by local celebrities, such as a naval officer, a doctor, and a writer giving accounts of what they have done with their lives since they left school.
It was probably more interesting than the headmaster’s speech, and doubtless very uplifting. But the happiest kids in China on Thursday were likely in Liuzhou, a poor city in the southern province of Guangxi. They got a free lunch.