Whiz kid wants a quiet life
Updated: 2012-12-03 01:06
Ten-year-old Feng Shaoyi has been hounded by the media after his recent online post about his intention to quit school went viral on Sina Weibo, China's answer to Twitter. It has attracted more than 7,000 comments and was forwarded more than 18,000 times.
The junior high school student Feng Shaoyi says that he is inspired only when sitting in front of the computer. [Photos by Zou Zhongpin / China Daily]
The junior high school student has attracted so much attention because he's too young to drop out. And his harsh yet insightful criticisms of the education system surprised many, especially considering he hasn't reached his teens.
While many children his age aspire to become scientists like Einstein, Feng argues that people with such "lofty ideals" are destructive to the planet. For example, Einstein's theory of relativity led to the atomic bomb.
"My dream is to live with the girl I love. It doesn't matter if I have to cut firewood and pick up rags for a living," Feng writes.
He claims that he wants to pursue his ideals right away instead of wasting time on "meaningless" homework and exams.
"What is the use of studying? Is it getting high marks and ranks to compete with my buddies for the limited places in top high schools?" the precocious boy writes.
Immediately after his remarks were posted, the media began telephoning Feng's father day and night. They also converged at the boy's school in Zhuhai, Guangdong province, to pull him out of an ongoing class for interviews.
"I'm tired of interviews. It's unscrupulous of some media to defame me," Feng tells China Daily.
He is referring to a report that quoted him as saying his actions are publicity stunts and that he enjoys seeing so many comments and an increasing number of followers.
"I didn't say that," Feng says, grimacing while staring at the floor.
"I said it's good that my posts have prompted people to reflect on the current school system. I wanted to attract the public's attention to the contents of my postings, not toward me."
Feng turned up for the interview with China Daily dressed in colorful clothes, carrying a backpack and wearing a cap bearing the autographs of two of his idols from the aerobatics team of the Zhuhai Air Show.
On his micro blog, he's outspoken, aggressive and sounds like an adult. For example, he slammed an official's idea to invest millions to cultivate sorghum to attract tourists to Gaomi, Shandong province — the hometown of Mo Yan, Chinese Nobel Literature Prize winner.
But in person, his chubby cheeks and childish voice give away his age. In contrast to his posts, his demeanor is somber and pensive.
His answers to many questions are: "I don't know how to answer the question", or, "I don't want to talk about it".
As he puts it: "I'm more comfortable expressing my ideas online in forums and weibo, and while chatting with my friends on QQ (an instant messaging service popular in China). I'm inspired only when I sit in front of the computer."
The boy didn't tell his father in person about his intention to drop out of school but, instead, added his father's micro blog account in his message to catch his attention.
Feng has impressed many readers with his knowledge. In addition to musing about Einstein and Mo Yan, Feng also left incisive comments on current affairs, including China's crisis of confidence in charity and the popularity of dating and job-hunting reality TV shows in the country that reflect the difficulties Chinese face in relationships and employment.
His online postings reveal he's a military enthusiast, who's well-versed in the different generations of China's carrier-borne fighter planes. Many were also surprised to read the 10-year-old's analysis of the differences between Obama and Romney.
"I've acquired all the extra knowledge from the Internet. Schoolteachers didn't teach us that. They're busy feeding us what's in the textbooks," Feng says.
"Teachers think we kids know little about things like the US presidential election. But, in fact, many of my friends and I learned about it online."
The inquisitive student usually turns to the Internet, rather than to his teachers, for answers to questions that pop up when he reads textbooks.
He once embarrassed his Chinese teacher by asking why some dinosaurs had feathers.
"The teacher didn't know the answer. I searched for it on the Internet on my own, afterward," Feng recalls.
"The Web satisfies my curiosity better than school."
Du Fang, Feng's favorite Chinese teacher during his primary school years, admits teachers are increasingly pressured to know more than their core subjects because students are exposed to a wide range of online information.
"If I fail to answer a question raised by my student, I will tell him or her that I'm not almighty," Du says. "As a teacher, I am here to guide them to distinguish between good and bad, and true from false, so they can make good use of online information."
Feng's father, Feng Yingang, agrees the Internet can't replace scholastic education.
"My son still needs guidance to sift through information on the Internet and build his knowledge base. He is like a kung fu lover, who learns all kinds of martial arts moves but lacks the internal strength to master them," the father says.
"It would be great if the schoolteachers can guide my son."
Feng Shaoyi also admits that he has difficulties digesting the glut of online information.
"I will enjoy school's lessons better if the teachers can discuss hot issues related to the subject and tell us what materials we can refer to better understand these issues," the boy says.
"But teachers just regurgitate textbooks' texts."
Feng says some textbooks are outdated. For example, he owned his first cell phone at 3 and is able to download pictures with smartphones. But his computer science textbook covers basics like search engine use.
He also complains about junior high's heavy study load.
During his primary school days, classes were over at 4:30 pm, and he had time for his hobbies. But in junior high, he leaves home at 6 am and classes end at 6 pm. He goes home and does homework until 10 pm.
"School life seems to be all about classes, homework, exams and rankings. Students who score well in exams are called good students, while those who don't ask teachers questions during the 10-minute break between classes are labled bad students," Feng says, crossing his arms and scowling.
Between mumbles, he reveals his aspiration is to become head of state so he can make everyone happy.
He says he doesn't talk about his dream because everyone seems more concerned about how important it is to get into a top high school, then a top university and, finally, find a good job.
He doesn't believe this is the ideal route.
Feng writes on Sina Weibo: "Almost everyone in China will say there's something wrong with you if you tell them your life ambition is to become president, but people in the US would encourage you."