I have no magic pill for solving the problem of school bullying in China, but reading about it recently brought back some memories.
About half the students in regular Beijing schools have been victims of bullying — some of them daily — according to a recent survey. I’m not surprised.
I will admit to bullying my younger brother once or twice, but I never did any real damage — unlike my friend’s big brother, who rolled him up tight in a 3-by-3-meter carpet and then sat on him for 20 minutes. My friend nearly died.
That image haunts me. It cured me of any macho pretensions and turned me into the kind, loving defender of the weak and helpless that I am today.
But for some reason in my school years I was a bully magnet. My earliest memory is from third grade, when two older boys held a knife to my throat after school. I stood very still, and they soon left me alone.
Once, in fourth grade, I was minding my own business on the playground when the stocky son of a steelworker came up out of nowhere and socked me in the face. I never figured out why. This kid wasn’t bright, but he sure could punch.
In sixth grade, I was walking alone in my neighborhood when another boy ran toward me. As I turned to greet him, he gave me a knuckle sandwich. I flailed back, but he had received boxing lessons and bloodied my nose for good measure.
In seventh grade I learned to give the bullies my lunch money before they asked for it. I never told anyone because I was afraid they would get revenge. Better to suffer.
Then came high school, where a bully named Shuey decided he didn’t like me. He hazed me for months, from verbal assaults to scribbled vulgarities on my desk. He challenged me to meet him behind the school, but I demurred — and he called me a coward in front of my classmates. He had mastered the art of intimidation. I was a tender lad who didn’t want to fight anybody.
One day I had enough. When Shuey blocked my way into class, I exploded, ramming him and knocking him down. He got up and took a swing. He missed — and I instantly saw my advantage. I had a longer reach by 10 centimeters, and my fists were faster than I ever knew. Shuey was overwhelmed by my attack and couldn’t lay a hand on me.
Soon, we were marched off to the principal’s office, where Shuey’s puffy, beaten face compared unfavorably to my virgin visage. When the principal suggested going to the gym and putting on the gloves, I enthusiastically agreed. Shuey hesitated, knowing he would get thumped. But the principal didn’t mean it anyway and sent us back to class.
Word of the fight got around the school, and nobody bothered me again. It was uncivilized behavior, but something big changed in my life: My fear vanished.