Chinese Principals Rake In Cash, Not Knowledge

May 1, 2015 Last Updated: May 8, 2015

Recent reports by Chinese state-run media have shed some light on the corruption plaguing schools in multiple provinces. From a construction fund siphoned off into educators’ pockets, to worm-ridden food purchased in shady deals, headmasters and businessmen have teamed up to make money at the expense of students.  

During the 2009 Sichuan Province earthquake, schoolchildren died in disproportionate numbers due to the shoddy construction of their schools. The same year, to prevent a similar disaster, the local government of Haikou, provincial capital of Hainan Province, made a 1 billion-yuan (about $160 million) investment to improve the structural integrity of elementary and middle schools.

What was marketed as a humanitarian effort, however, turned out to be fodder for unscrupulous principals and education officials, who embezzled or otherwise misused much of the funds, the state-run Xinhua reported this April.

Zeng Jining, former principal of Hainan’s 80-year-old Huaqiao high school, accepted bribes from construction contractors in the bidding process. Zeng awarded one contractor nine projects involving the school’s gymnasium after receiving a 1.3 million yuan bribe (about $200,000).

“Failure to bribe means you don’t get the project,” a Haikou contractor told Xinhua. “Schools obtain [government] funding and contractors all want a piece of the pie.”

In this way, local education ministers and principals would receive five to eight percent of the original funds allocated to construction, Xinhua reported.

Educators also receive kickbacks when procuring textbooks, school uniforms, and classroom equipment.

“If the headmaster of a school places a ‘technical index’ on a certain procurement, the bidding process becomes a mere show,” said an official working in the Haikou procuratorate. “The result is easily manipulated.”

In 2011, the state-run Qianjiang Evening News reported that anti-corruption authorities in eastern China’s Zhejiang Province had investigated a case involving school food. One principal received a ten percent kickback from the firm supplying school lunches, but the agreement broke down when some students who ate the food became ill and it was found to be worm-infested. The new agreement, however, simply gave the principal an even bigger cut.

Authorities sentenced 11 educators, one of whom received a 12 and a half year prison term.