Controversy over Chengdu fight club for orphans: providing them with a better future?

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A recent video entitled “orphans in combat” has generated much debate on the Chinese internet. The video shows how two helpless orphans from the Liangshan Yi autonomous prefecture, Sichuan, are adopted by a fight club in the city of Chengdu. Both of them are 14 years old, and they need to practice mixed martial arts every day and occasionally perform in commercial fighting games. During the fights, these children may even get hurt and bleed. After the video was exposed Chengdu’s public security department begun an investigation, after which the civil affairs department will determine proper relief measures accordingly.

An article that appeared yesterday in Nandu Guancha (南都观察), a respected media outlet that focuses on civil society, argues against sending the children back home. The author points out that the issue of the living conditions of left-behind children in Liangshan, especially in areas where the Yi ethnic group resides, has already attracted public attention. Drugs and AIDS are the two main causes that prevent parents from raising children in Liangshan. Although social resources are consistently devoted to drug control, the crime rate remains high, and there is still no hope of solving the issue in the short term. Drug addictions are blamed for mental disorders, accidental deaths and workforce loss, and these social problems are producing more and more orphans. For local children, the best way to break the vicious circle is often to leave. In the fight club, these orphans at the very least live a stable collective life, enjoy regular meals and rest, and more importantly have a specific goal for their future.

The article argues that without a mature welfare system and a healthy home setting, sending these orphans back home directly is ill-considered, and could even be seen as cruel. One official explanation provided for sending them back is their compulsory education. However, judging from the local Bureau of Education’s data, the enrolment rate of school-age children remains low, the average school year is short, and illiteracy rates have been rising in recent years. It could even be argued that the resources devoted to the area have had no obvious effects yet on local education.

Meanwhile the issue of left-behind children in Liangshan remains a dilemma, and what official measures will be taken regarding the orphans in the fight club remains to be seen.