Sunday, January 1, 2023


By Thomas F. O'Neill

I am now teaching at a new school in China. I love the students here, but unfortunately, the school has been in lockdown from November 12th to December 8th due to COVID. The students had classes seven days a week from 7 in the morning to 9 at night and slept in dormitories. No one was able to leave or enter the school from the outside, including the parents. I witnessed the ramifications of the lockdown on the student's mental well-being. Some students acted out with fistfights and talked back to their teachers with abusive language. I tried to stay optimistic, and I know those marathon weeks of teaching did, in the end, made me a better teacher. The students are now looking forward to going home in the middle of January for the Chinese New Year.

I’m convinced that China’s leader Xi Jinping is using the COVID outbreak to consolidate his power. No leader since Mao Zedong had this kind of power over the Chinese people, and Mao was also a ruthless dictator.

I told my students that China’s draconian methods of fighting COVID is like trying to kill a mosquito with a sledgehammer, with the mosquito having the upper hand. The COVID policies are far worse than the virus.

Since he has been in power, Xi Jinping has outlawed Halloween and Christmas displays, and schools are forbidden to engage in Halloween and Christmas parties. Traditional Chinese festivals are only allowed to be celebrated, but that won't stop me from wearing my Christmas sweater and hat in the classroom on Christmas day. If I disappear and you don’t hear from me again, you know why. These ridiculous rules and regulations, especially the lockdowns, the constant COVID testing, and travel restrictions, had been in place for almost three years.

This lack of freedom in China has made me more appreciative of being an American, and I’m grateful for the freedoms that come with our U.S. citizenship. That appreciation only grows stronger at this time of year.

Fortunately, the Chinese government stated on December 8th that they are relaxing their draconian mandates regarding COVID. It is primarily due to the negative international coverage of China’s strict lockdowns and continuous COVID testing.

Country-wide protests against the lockdowns, harsh government rules on travel, and COVID testing; have played a significant part in Xi Jinping easing his “Zero Tolerance” policy against the virus.

The protesters were made up mostly of members of the Z-generation and organized mainly by university students. That resulted in many Universities throughout China being shut down - for a time - but they have now reopened.

The Z-generation grew up on social media, and they used it effectively to lampoon Xi Jinping and his authoritative grip on the communist party. The government tried its best to scrub the internet of all satirical comments. That, however, resulted in the protesters using VPNs to communicate on Instagram and other social media networks to continue organizing and voicing their opinions against Xi Jinping and the communist government.

“The communist party,” as one University student shouted, “is made up of ninety-one million members out of a population of 1.4 billion people….” The local authorities grabbed her at that point and confiscated her phone, which was never returned to her.

Protests are common in America, but in China, it is a big deal, and I say more power to the peaceful demonstrators fighting for democracy in China. Most generation Z here admire America, especially our freedom to voice our opinions satirically against political leaders and our ability to demonstrate against perceived injustices.

I am happy to report that my students whose families live within the city limit of the school were allowed to go home on (12-8-2022) for a long-needed weekend. But unfortunately, the students whose families live outside the city had to remain at the school, I included, but as you can see, some progress was made, which is a good thing for our peace of mind.

This particular season should certainly be celebrated because it’s when our love comes to call, and that love gives this holiday season its true meaning. Over the years, I have found that it is not the material gifts that count in life but rather the unrecognized, undetected, and unremembered acts of loving kindness that are our greatest gifts and achievements in life. To see a world of loving and joyous people, we must be loving and joyful toward the people in our lives. That potential is part of our humanity; when we reach out to those in need, we touch a part of the humanity that is within us.

There was a time, though, when I felt the season of giving was simply a common courtesy to receive and provide our significant others with material gifts. I now understand more clearly that this special season is for heartfelt acts of gratitude for having people in our lives. Keeping the true spirit of giving close to heart enables us to give from the heart all year round.

When we enhance the life of another in need, we, in turn, enhance our own lives. So, remember, objects gift-wrapped in shiny paper can be forgotten over time, but kindness whispered to those in need will echo endlessly throughout the community. Those small acts of kindness resonate with the giver and the receiver because they are gifts from the heart. Such priceless gifts can never be measured monetarily, though, because how can you put a price on love?

From my heart to yours, I wish you all a merry and joyous holiday season.

    Always with love from Suzhou, China
    Thomas F O’Neill
    WeChat: Thomas_F_ONeill
    U.S. Voice mail: (800) 272-6464
    China Mobile 011 (86) 13405757231
    Skype: thomas_f_oneill

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