BEIJING - A Chinese kindergarten principal has apologized after allowing a pole dancer to perform on the school’s opening day. Yes, you read that right. A Chinese kindergarten thought it was a good idea to have a scantily clad woman writhing around a pole in the school courtyard on Monday.
American writer Michael Standaert, who is based in the southern city of Shenzhen, was surprised, to say the least, when he and his wife took their children to the privately run Xinshahui kindergarten in the Bao’an district of Shenzhen on Monday.
There, on a stage in the courtyard, in front of rows of children aged 3 to 6, all first-day-ready in pristine white shirts and neatly pressed black shorts, a woman did a routine that would not be out of place in a downtown strip club.
Dressed in a tight, black midriff-baring top, black leather hotpants and high black sandals, she flung herself around the pole and down on the floor, flicking her hair suggestively.
Some little boys can be seen laughing and swinging around each other, while the little girls in red majorette-style outfits in the front appear frozen still. Several mothers can be seen hurriedly shooing their children away from the scene.
"Who would think this is a good idea?" Standaert asked above one of several videos he posted on Twitter.
"The principal hung up on my wife when she called after saying it was ‘international and good exercise’ ... OK, yeah for adults maybe, but not 3- to 6-year-old kids," he added.
There were also advertisements for a pole dancing school around the school courtyard, leading Standaert to wonder if the principal had accepted money in return for allowing the unusual display. He later said by email that he had not been able to confirm whether this was the case.
After the videos garnered lots of unwanted attention on the internet, the Bao’an educational bureau said the pole dance was "inappropriate." In a statement on Weibo, the Chinese answer to Twitter, the bureau asked the owner of the kindergarten to apologize to the parents and the public, and to sack the principal.
The principal of the kindergarten, Lai Rong, issued an apology, saying she thought "inviting professional dancers to the kindergarten to perform for the parents would liven up the mood" on the first day back. "I did not think through the contents of the performance ... It was a very terrible viewing experience for the kids and the parents. For that, I sincerely apologize," according to a report on Weibo of her message to parents.
Lai told The Washington Post that she sent the apology even before the local education bureau got involved.
"I was thinking of asking the forgiveness from the parents and also promising them that we would not teach the kids this kind of dance. I just want the kids to know the existence of this kind of dance. That’s all," she told The Post.
Many Weibo commentators said it was not an appropriate spectacle for a kindergarten. But not everyone disapproved.
"This is probably something to encourage the dads to pick up their kids," said Weibo user Janson—Mou. "If my daughter’s kindergarten is like this, I will go pick her up every day."
The idea of having pole dancers or strippers at an event not usually associated with exotic dancing is not entirely new in China.
In 2015, the Chinese Culture Ministry cracked down on the "bizarre and increasingly popular" habit of having half-naked women perform at funerals, which was "corrupting the social atmosphere."
"Having exotic performances of this nature at funerals highlights the trappings of modern life in China, whereby vanity and snobbery prevail over traditions," the state news agency, Xinhua, reported at the time.
The practice appeared part of a tactic to attract more mourners to funerals, make the deceased look more popular and honor their life more fully. In flashy New China, it’s also become a way to flaunt newly gotten wealth.
China has had a tradition of entertaining mourners at funerals as far back as the Qing Dynasty, established in 1636. Some experts said that having exotic dancers at funerals - and at weddings - was a form of fertility worship. "In some local cultures, dancing with erotic elements can be used to convey the deceased’s wishes of being blessed with many children," Huang Jianxing, a professor in Fujian Normal University’s sociology department, told the Global Times.
The most eye-popping example of the exotic funeral occurred in Taiwan last year, when 50 women in lingerie pole-danced on moving black cars at the funeral of politician Tung Hsiang.
The Chiayi County Council speaker "enjoyed a buzz" so the funeral was designed to give him "a happy departure," his son said, according to reports.
Luna Lin contributed to this report.