Kindergarten teacher under investigation after forcing student to smell his foot

Society & Culture

Another private school run by the U.S.-listed RYB Education is in the news in China for child abuse after the perpetrator uploaded photos to social media.

Wan Xiaojun / Reuters

In what’s already shaping up to be the most disturbing story of the week, a kindergarten teacher in Jiangxi Province has been fired and become the subject of a police investigation after forcing a boy to sniff his sock, calling it “sadomasochism training.” 

The teacher was employed at a school run by RYB Education, a New York–listed major preschool chain that has been at the center of a number of scandals over the past few years.

This issue was first brought to the general public’s attention by an anonymous Weibo user, who shared a screenshot of the teacher’s WeChat moments post. “Sadomasochism training starts at an early age,” the teacher wrote in the post, which was accompanied by two photos and a video showing him shoving one of his feet under a boy’s nose. “You take in the smell, slowly,” he added in the comment section, stating that the post had been hidden from “parents and higher-ups” from the kindergarten.

ryb education


The tip-off picked up traction on Chinese social media and the teacher’s identity was swiftly discovered. According to Chutian Metropolis Daily (in Chinese), the man in question, surnamed Liu, was an assistant teacher at a high-end, private kindergarten in the city of Ruijin, in southeastern China. RYB Education, the company that operates the school, is one of the largest providers of early childhood education services in the country.

In a statement released today, the kindergarten said that after reviewing surveillance footage and interviewing other staffers at the facility, it could confirm that Liu told “several children” to smell his foot during a “play session.” However, the school stressed that it found no evidence of “child abuse” or “child molestation,” saying that it let the teacher go because he “seriously violated the school’s code of ethics for educators” and “caused a bad impact” after becoming a hot topic on the internet. The kindergarten added that it would fully cooperate with the police investigation and properly punish people involved based on the findings of the probe.

In an interview with Chutian Metropolis Daily, the boy’s mother revealed that the school contacted her on Monday, telling her that her kid sniffed a teacher’s foot while “playing a game.” Unaware of what exactly happened and how the teacher described the “game” on WeChat, the parent said she shrugged it off initially, telling the school that “it was not a big deal.” But after seeing the teacher’s WeChat post, the mother was sure that her child was a victim of child abuse. 

The Weibo user who posted the screenshot told the newspaper that he hoped the kindergarten would give the parent “a satisfying answer.” “The firing of the teacher shouldn’t be the end of the story. He must be forbidden from working with kids in any capacity again,” he said. 

This is not the first time that RYB Education has landed in hot water due to child abuse allegations. The company was thrust into the international spotlight in 2017 when Beijing officials investigated parents’ claims that their children were drugged with sleeping pills, jabbed with needles, and forced to strip naked for “health checks.” 

Back then, facing public outcry and boycotts from worried parents, RYB said it would perform a thorough self-inspection across all teaching facilities and pledged to ensure the safety of students. But two years later, a foreign teacher working at an RYB kindergarten in Qingdao was arrested for molesting a girl.

RYB is just one school operator that has been tainted by scandal: China’s preschool education industry has boomed over the past decade, attracting many private businesses, some of which are unsavory. Government regulations and the number of qualified teachers haven’t kept pace with the industry’s growth, which has left young boys and girls vulnerable to abuse and neglect.