Chinese parents say boy killed himself after ‘forced’ haircut by school

  • Family members of 15-year-old in Xian who fell to his death after being forced to get a severe haircut have been protesting outside school gates
  • School denies responsibility for boy’s death and threatens to take legal action against relatives for damaging its reputation
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 November, 2018, 11:14pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 November, 2018, 4:57am

A school in northwestern China is suing the family of a 15-year-old boy who blamed it for their son’s death after a teacher took him to get a close-cropped haircut.

On November 2, the boy, identified only by his surname Bi fell from a high building in the residential community where he lived in Xian, the capital of Shaanxi province, 10 days after his teacher took him to the hairdresser and forced him to have his head shaved, the school confirmed on Tuesday.

Bi’s parents told the media that he had refused to attend classes at Xidian High School after getting the crop and insisted on staying at home because he believed he looked ugly.

Police have discounted the possibility of murder and are investigating the cause of Bi’s death. The school, which denies responsibility for the boy’s death, said his family was demanding compensation.

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A female member of staff at the school said that four relatives had been protesting outside the school on Tuesday – having started the protests on November 5 – and the school authorities were planning to take legal action over the damage to its reputation.

“We are trying our best to keep the school operating as normal … next we’re looking at legal action,” said the woman.

The school said in a statement on Monday that the family had asked for 1.2 million yuan (US$172,000) from the school, as they believed it was the haircut that had led to Bi’s death.

The school had instead offered a 100,000 yuan (US$14,400) “humanitarian compensation”, it said, but they have yet to reach an agreement. It also denied forcing him to get the haircut.

“The head teacher, after securing an agreement from the student and his parents, took him to the hairdresser. He got a close-cropped haircut, not a shaved head,” a statement from the school said.

“And after that, neither the student nor his parents complained [to the school].”

However, according to screenshots of Bi’s social media posts widely shared online, Bi complained bitterly about his new look.

In one post issued the day after the haircut, Bi wrote that he wouldn’t go to school unless the teacher died.

According to messages between the teacher and his parents cited by the Modern Express, Bi’s parents were working with the teacher to persuade him to return to school.

“He said he had such a bad haircut that he couldn’t appear in public. I am working on it. He is stubborn,” read one WeChat message believed to be from Bi’s father to his teacher.

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Chinese schools have frequently been criticised for the rigid discipline that students are subjected to, including strict rules on haircuts.

A year ago, over 170 male students of a vocational school in Shenzhen were reported to have been forced to have a crew cut as part of a military training programme, triggering public criticism that the school was being disrespectful.

Besides their low tolerance of individualism in terms of appearance, Chinese schools impose many other restrictions which are often criticised as unnecessary or unreasonable, such as a ban on running during breaks and the requirement to remain still during class.

Sometimes this strict discipline has led to tragedy.

In September, a 16-year-old boy died at a high school in Hunan while being punished for talking during a rest time.

He was told by his teacher to do frog jumps up a 20-metre (65-foot) slope, but passed out upon reaching the top of the slope and was later declared dead at a local hospital.

If you, or someone you know, are having suicidal thoughts, help is available. For Hong Kong, dial +852 2896 0000 for The Samaritans or +852 2382 0000 for Suicide Prevention Services. In the US, call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on +1 800 273 8255. For a list of other nations’ helplines, see this page