'Morality school' outcry

The video shows students at the so-called "female morality school" in northeastern China getting up at 4:30 a.m. to scrub floors and being taught not to resist if their husbands beat them.

Shot with a hidden camera and posted on a popular Chinese video website, it sparked a storm of criticism of the school and highlighted complaints that the status of women is deteriorating under the rule of a Communist Party that promised them equality.

In the recording, students at the Fushun Traditional Culture School were shown being told to put aside career aspirations and, in one instructor's words, "shut your mouths and do more housework." One group of students was shown practicing bowing to apologize to their husbands.

"Don't fight back when beaten. Don't talk back when scolded. And, no matter what, don't get divorced," a female teacher says in the post on Pear Video, a Beijing-based online platform for short videos.

"Women should just stay at the bottom level of the society and not aspire for more," another teacher says.

Such schools appear to be growing in popularity, though it is unclear how many China has, according to researchers and women's rights activists.

Their emergence reflects the erosion in the status of women since the launch of economic reforms in the 1980s that reduced the ruling party's focus on social equality, said Feng Yuan, a prominent women's rights activist. "Archaic ideas about gender equality still have a market in today's society," she said.

Deng Xichan, a 21-year-old nurse, said she and her mother attended a female morality institute in the southern city of Changsha, enticed by its offer of free classes, lodging and vegetarian food.

Students were taught to obey men because it would bring their children good fortune and that sex before marriage would bring bad luck, Deng said. Every evening, she was required to bow in front of a statue of Confucius and participate in group confessions, she said.

After the video came out in November, hundreds of people criticized the school on internet message boards and blogs, prompting an investigation. The school was shut down in December, according to the official Xinhua News Agency. The local education bureau concluded it violated "socialist core values" and called for similar programs to be investigated.

A 2011 survey found women's wages were on average two-thirds lower than men's. And the share of women in the labour force dropped to 61 per cent last year from 72 per cent 20 years ago, according to the World Bank.

Party leaders are worried China is producing too few children to support its aging population, said Leta Hong-Fincher, a sociologist and author of "Betraying Big Brother: The Rise of China's Feminist Resistance," due out later this year. "The government launched a propaganda campaign referring to single, over-educated women over 30 as 'leftover' to stigmatize women into returning home, getting married and having babies," Hong-Fincher said.

The easing in 2016 of China's "one-child" policy, which now allows couples to have two children, has only put more pressure on women to raise families instead of working, Hong-Fincher said.

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