High-scoring students fail in street smarts
Published: Jan 26, 2016 06:53 PM Updated: Jan 27, 2016 06:52 AM

Earlier this month, local media reported that a 20-year-old female student from Shanghai's elite Tongji University had been kidnapped. After the young woman never showed up at her internship and her mobile phone was switched off, her family contacted the police.

Two days later authorities announced that the student, surnamed Wang, had been found "physically unharmed" in the small city of Shaoxing in neighboring Zhejiang Province. The following is a general re-enactment of what occurred.

On January 3, Wang received a phone call from someone she was lead to believe was the police saying that she was involved in a telecom scam and that she and her family would all be arrested if she did not cooperate in the investigation. Furthermore, if she told anyone (including her family) about this investigation, there would be legal consequences.

So Wang did everything she was instructed to. First, she opened a new bank account at a branch bank and transferred tens of thousands of yuan from her personal account into the new account. After seeing how easily she was manipulated, the perpetrators instructed her to transfer an additional 700,000 yuan ($106,700), which she obtained from her wealthy parents under the guise that it was a deposit for an overseas studies program.

A couple weeks later, the scammers ordered Wang and another young female victim to go to Zhejiang, where they were held for ransom by a criminal gang. Even after authorities tracked them down (by triangulating their phone signals), Wang continued to believe that she was assisting in an official police investigation; it never dawned on her that she herself was the victim!

Once the case was publicized in the local press, it quickly went viral on social media, with a majority of netizens scratching their heads over how someone could be so utterly stupid. As the mother of a teenage girl, I'm petrified at the thought of all the predators lurking in our amoral society. And yet, I too can't help but be shocked by that student's lack of common sense.

Wang was the top-scoring student at, and a student union leader of, her senior middle school. She was also the recipient of a city-level academic award, which led to her being admitted by one of Shanghai's most prestigious universities. But for all her book smarts, what she lacked was a single shred of street smarts - which would have raised her eyebrows to such a clichéd scam.

Privileged students like Wang are often sheltered by their families from any real-world experience. They spend their childhoods in the classroom or at home, seldom being let out to learn about life on their own. They don't date, they don't hang out with friends and they are never allowed to make mistakes and learn from life's lessons on their own because their parents are a constant presence.

I am reminded of a Ming Dynasty-era couplet by the great thinker Gu Xiancheng, who said "The sound of rain and wind, the sound of words read aloud - all these sounds enter our ear. So too the affairs of family, the affairs of country, the affairs of the world - let them all be of concern to us."

Young scholar Wang surely knew of Gu and was probably familiar with this couplet, yet the fact that she never thought to practice its words in her own life illustrates how sheltered and precious our children have become. Most can recite from memory the wise analects from our vast history and culture, but few can live by them.

Our schools are partially to blame for this fragile mentality, as Chinese students are praised for their high scores and abilities to memorize facts and figures, but never for common sense. Get good grades and life will be good is what they are led to believe, which gives these students little cause - or opportunity - to hone their survival skills or cut their teeth on life's rough edges.

Wang's parents thought they were protecting her by covering her immature ears and eyes from bad news and bad things. They expected that she would forever remain under their wing, never vulnerable to society's more wicked elements. Sadly, in today's China, the wicked run rampant, and naive youngsters like Wang are the prey.

Media often report on the latest Internet or telecom scams, and local police are also constantly making the public aware of various cons and crimes. But even in this information age, the responsibility falls squarely on parents to educate their children about the realities of our dog-eat-dog world. As much as they probably shudder at the thought of having to do so, Chinese parents, especially among the middle and upper classes, must start toughening up their kids, or all China will be left with is a generation of gullible, susceptible idiots.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Global Times.