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This seems to be a real problem for Chinese parents today, judging by the conversations of my friends. In my country it is unusual to buy any present for a teacher and most teachers would feel very uncomfortable about accepting a present. There are three exceptions to this general pattern. |
1. In primary school, children always want to buy a Christmas present for their teacher because gift giving at Christmas is traditional. Many schools give guidelines to parents, saying that the teachers can only accept presents with a value of less than, for example, 50 Yuan. My local school back home advises parents to buy these Christmas presents from a charity shop or a 'pound shop' - where nothing costs more than 10 Yuan. This avoids creating differences between the children of wealthier and poorer parents, but allows all the children to express their love for their teacher. Another school I know uses the solution proposed by PatrickinBeijin, and says the presents must be something made by the child - a card or a picture or cookies etc.
2. In high school, after an important exam like Gaokao, if the student has done well because of the teacher's skill, and once it is clear that the teacher has no more 'power' over that student's marks or prospects, parents or students might buy a SMALL present to say thank you to the teacher; flowers or wine or chocolates etc. But most teachers would not accept a large present.
3. If a teacher is leaving the school or retiring, the students often put their money all together and buy a leaving present for that teacher. No names or amounts of money are recorded, so nobody knows who gave what and if a student doesn't like the teacher they don't have to give anything. So, again, the present is acceptable only because it cannot influence how the teacher teaches the students or how the teacher awards marks.
It seems to me that the solution to this problem lies with the schools and teachers here in China. In my first two years here I refused many, many presents and many offers of hospitality. I told parents and students that my foreign employer did not allow me to accept presents before the end of the year (and never worth more than 50 Yuan), and also that I could accept a lunch or dinner invitation from a whole class but not from individual students in a class. Since the end of my second year here, once everyone understood that I really did follow those rules, I have hardly ever had to refuse such offers.
It seems to me that all human beings like to give and receive presents. But if a present is given in order to gain something, or out of fear that a teacher may not do their job properly without it, then it is not a present it is a corrupt payment. The problem here (for my friends who are parents) is that the rules are not stated clearly, or stated rules are not enforced, or that both parents and teachers say one thing but actually do another. What's the solution? I don't know but I'm very glad to see that such things are being discussed more now.