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China’s Disappearing Rural Schools: Teacher Keeps School Open for Two Students

In a rapidly urbanizing China, small rural schools are slowly disappearing. This teacher keeps his school open for two remaining students.

Manya Koetse

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In a rapidly urbanizing China, small rural schools are slowly disappearing. As children move out to the cities with their parents, some schools – once lively village institutions – have now become empty buildings. In the mountainous region of Youyang County, one teacher keeps his school open for two remaining students.

A typical People’s Daily “warm China” (#温暖中国#) Weibo story recently featured a teacher from a village in the Chongqing region who multitasks at his school for the two students that are left in the mountainous area. The story was initially published by the Chongqing Morning Newspaper on January 13.

Mr. Yang cooks for his students during lunchtime.

Yang Jinhua (杨进华), 54 years old, has been working at the village school in the Youyang county – southeastern Chongqing – for 35 years. As there are less and less children in the area, Yang is now working at the school all by himself; he fulfills the tasks of teacher, concierge, and cook for the two students that are left.

“I would do the same if there’s just one child left,” he told the Chongqing Morning Newspaper.

Ringing the school bell for the two students left on this remote village school in the Chongqing region.

According to the Chongqing Newspaper, Yang’s teaching career has seen many ups and downs. There were times when there were over 100 students at the school and only three teachers. But all that has changed now.

The story received ample attention on Chinese social media recently, where many netizens praised the teacher for his good work.

Teacher Yang and his two pupils.

The story about Yang and his two students, heartwarming as it is, represents a much bigger societal issue; that of China’s disappearing rural schools. The small schools in remote areas that are still around, also referred to “sparrow schools” (麻雀学校), are struggling to keep their doors open.

 

“63 rural primary schools, 30 learning centers and 3 middles schools closed on a daily basis.”

 

In 2001, the Chinese government launched a reform campaign for rural schools across the country as a result of the country’s rapid urbanization. It entailed the closing of remote village schools, shifting the focus to centralized county or town schools.

In 2013, China.org reported that rural schools were closing at an alarming rate in the decade following the reforms, when 63 rural primary schools, 30 learning centers and 3 middle schools were closed on a daily basis.

Due to the mass closing of village schools, some students from the more remote parts of China’s countryside had to walk for hours to reach the most nearby school, often making it unsafe or even impossible for village children to travel to and from school (Lam 2016, 82).

While many children dropped out of school, and when centralized schools were getting overcrowded, the government halted the plans to shut down small village schools in 2012 – but thousands of schools had already closed, while those that survived were struggling to stay open.

The lack of students is not the only problem for China’s ‘sparrow schools’; there is also a lack of good teachers, as those who are qualified often rather go to a central school than a remote village one.

As for Yang: he started working at the village school when he was just 18 years old. Throughout the years he has taught himself how to be a teacher by reaching out to experienced teachers from other schools, and by ordering books on education and preparing himself to be a good tutor. By now, with over three decades of educational background, he has become an experienced teacher himself.

 

“Amidst the giant rush to the city, many rural places in China are becoming more isolated and empty.”

 

Amidst the giant rush to the city, many rural places in China are becoming more isolated and empty. This process has started since the beginning of the post-Mao era, when agricultural production went up after farmland started to be partially privatized.

A surplus of rural labor and an increased labor demand in the cities caused a huge flow of peasants moving to the city to look for jobs there, leaving rural schools practically empty as children go with their parents who leave to work in other provinces. In 2015 alone, nearly 169 million rural workers migrated to cities.

But there are also those children who are left behind by their parents to go to school. China’s hukou or ‘household registration’ system – that is assigned at birth based on one’s community and family – makes it hard or even impossible for migrant children to be accepted at state schools in the cities where their parents work.

Here comes the catch: even if parents choose to leave their child behind under the care of family members for the sake of their education, their journey to school may be too long or dangerous to undertake. When families do not have the means to let their child attend boarding school in a nearby town, they soon become drop-outs.

 

“We simply cannot guarantee the quality of education here, but at least this is much better than letting these kids herd the sheep.”

 

The hyped story of Teacher Yang and his two children comes at an important time, as the Chinese Ministry of Education is expected to release guidelines this year on new standards to govern the levels of funding allocated to rural schools (Caixin 2016).

The problem of China’s disappearing rural schools has been going on for years, and has become a vicious cycle. Even if village schools stay open, the lack of students and teachers is negatively influencing all parties involved.

On Weibo, some criticize the existence of schools like that of Yang: “With only one teacher, although I applaud him, nobody can guarantee the quality of his teaching,” one netizen says.

Others see these school in a different perspective: “We simply cannot guarantee the quality of education here, but at least this is much better than letting these kids herd the sheep. At the very minimum, they can enjoy some sort of education and will not be illiterate.”

“The media is misleading,” another person says: “So many of these schools have already been torn down. The editor [of this article] would not even think of letting their child attend a small village school like this. These children are part of a society that is going through enormous changes, and the fact that they are educated like this is shameful (..) – instead of only praising the teacher, we should perhaps also advise him not to just place emphasis on himself.”

But many disagree with this view. One post-1990 netizen from Chongqing (@于杨鱼羊) writes: “My uncle also was a teacher for over a decade (..) and he put all of his energy into his students (..) Without having him, I would have since long dropped out of school to start working, and would have been lost in the waves of migrant workers. If it weren’t for him, I would not be where I am today.”

“There are many ways to take within education, but taking the way of education is always the best way,” another person writes.

Perhaps the students of Yang indeed are amongst the ‘lucky ones’, as bittersweet as it may be. Different from many children their age, they receive the full attention of their tutor and are able to attend school while still being close to their family.

Teacher Yang makes sure they get home safely; he personally walks them back to their house every day after school. It is one of the perks of attending a “sparrow school.”

– By Manya Koetse
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References

Lam, Sara G. 2016. “From Rabun County to Yonji County: The Foxfire Approach and Community-Based Education in Rural China.” In Hilton Smith & J. Cynthia McDermott (eds), The Foxfire Approach Inspiration for Classrooms and Beyond, 73-83. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.

Sheng Menglu and Li Rongde. 2016. “Battered by Closures, Rural Schools Await New Guidelines.” Caixin Global, Dec 14 http://www.caixinglobal.com/2016-12-14/101026544.html [15.1.17].

©2016 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Marisa Vosloo

    January 23, 2017 at 9:02 am

    I have just seen a documentary on CGTN about this admirable teacher. He loves his students, and he is teacher, father and grandfather to them. What a wonderful person he is!

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China Food & Drinks

Clean Your Plate, Waste No Food – China’s Anti Food Waste Campaign Is Sweeping the Nation

These are the main trends and topics in the context of China’s nationwide ‘Clean Plate campaign.’

Manya Koetse

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Empty plates, small orders, stop promoting excessive eating – China’s anti-food waste campaign is alive and kicking all across the country. These are some of the main social media topics and trends in the context of the ‘Clean Plate campaign.’

Since the call by President Xi Jinping to fight against food waste earlier this month, new regulations, initiatives and trends are popping up all over the nation to curb the problem of food loss.

Following China’s COVID-19 crisis, the ongoing trade war with the US, and mass flooding, President Xi called the issue of food waste “shocking and distressing,” as he stressed that the country needs to “maintain a sense of crisis about food security.”

According to numbers posted in online information sheets by state media, some 38% of the food at Chinese banquets goes to waste. In 2015 alone, an estimated 17 million to 18 million tons of food was wasted.

This is the second time in a decade for China to launch a ‘Clean Plate’ campaign (光盘行动). There was a previous campaign in 2013 that used the slogan “I’m proud of my clear plate.” The estimated annual wastage of grain in China at the time was estimated to be 50 million tons.

On Chinese social media, the 2020 “Operation Clean Plate” is receiving a lot of attention. These are some of the trending topics we have seen on Weibo in relation to the anti-food waste campaign.

 

RESTAURANTS

“N-1” Is the Way to Order, the “Waste Prevention Supervisor” Will Help You

One way restaurants are now addressing the problem of food waste is implementing the “N-1 ordering mode” (N-1点餐模式) which basically means that instead of a group of ten people ordering eleven dishes (N+1), they are advised to only order nine.

Famous Peking roast duck restaurant company Quanjude (全聚德) now advises groups of, for example, seven people to either take their set meal or to order no more than five or six dishes from the menu to avoid wasting food.

They have even appointed a “Waste Prevention Supervisor” (制止浪费监督员) in their restaurants to oversee customers’ orders.

The “N-1” idea is now being implemented in various cities across China.

Earlier this month, Sixth Tone reported that the Wuhan Catering Industry Association (武汉餐饮行业协会) was taking measures to limit the number of portions restaurant patrons can order. Now, the same measures are also being taken in other cities, like in Shijiazhuang (Hebei), Xianning (Hubei), Xinyang (Henan), Guangzhou (Guangdong), Quanzhou (Fujian), and other places.

One restaurant in Changsha got a bit too carried away recently, as it encouraged customers to weigh themselves and order food accordingly. The restaurant apologized after causing some controversy on social media.

 

TRAINS

Smaller Portions on the Gaotie

In line with the country’s anti-food waste campaign, some Chinese highspeed railway trains have also started introducing smaller portions for their in-train food services.

Instead of larger portioned rice meals or noodles, the Nanchang Highspeed Train now offers customers different small size portions in ‘blue and white porcelain’ bowls.

The initiative became a topic of discussion on Weibo (#南昌高铁推出青花瓷小碗菜#), where some applauded it while others complained that the meals were still relatively expensive while being small.

 

SCHOOLS

Be an “Empty Plate Hero”

China’s anti-food waste campaign is also actively promoted in schools across the country. Hundred primary schools in Jinan, for example, teach their students about combating food waste with a slogan along the lines of “Don’t leave food behind, be a ‘clean plate’ hero” (*the original slogan “不做“必剩客”,争做“光盘侠”” also has some word jokes in it).

The schools have also set up various activities to raise awareness of food waste.

 

ONLINE MEDIA

Operation Clean Plate: Empty Plates Snapshot

“Operation Clean Plate” is not just actively promoted in Chinese restaurants and in schools; Chinese state media and official (government) accounts are also promoting the campaign through social media.

The Weibo hashtag “Operation Clean Plate” (#光盘行动#), initiated by the Chinese Communist Youth League, had over 610 million views by August 21st, promoting the idea of “treasuring food, and refusing to waste it.”

Besides the Communist Youth League, other official accounts including China Youth Daily and People’s Daily also actively promote awareness on wasting food and encourage people to empty their plates. China Youth Daily even initiated the online trend of posting a pic of your own empty plate under the hashtag “Clean Plate Snapshots” (#光盘随手拍#)

Another hashtag, the Big Clean Plate Challenge (#光盘挑战大赛#), initiated by People’s Daily, had 290 million views by August 21, with hundreds of netizens posting photos of their before and after dinner plates.

Using the “clean plate” hashtags, many netizens are posting evidence that they are not squandering food.

 

EATING INFLUENCERS

Big Stomach Stars Need to Turn it Down a Notch

In 2018, we wrote about the trend of China’s “big stomach stars” (大胃王) or “eating vloggers’ (吃播女博主), an online video genre in which hosts will consume extremely large amounts of food (also known as the ‘mukbang‘ phenomenon in South Korea).

Since attempting to eat 17 kg (35 pounds) of meat by oneself – something that is actually done on camera by these kinds of vloggers – does not exactly fit the idea of China’s anti-food waste campaign, these eating vloggers are now being criticized in Chinese media.

Social media platforms such as Douyin (the Chinese Tiktok) have also taken action against the ‘big stomach stars.’ On August 12, the Douyin Safety Center published a video saying the app will not allow any behavior on its platform showing food-wasting or otherwise promoting activities that lead to food loss.

For now, popular Chinese eating influencers will have to adjust the content of their videos. Little Pigs Can Eat (逛吃小猪猪) is one of these influencers who recently has showed smaller portions and more empty plates in her videos.

 

By Manya Koetse, with contributions by Miranda Barnes

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2020 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Insight

Chinese Online Responses to the ‘TikTok Problem’

Manya Koetse

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Trump’s TikTok and WeChat bans have been all the talk over the past weeks. These are the main viewpoints on the issue as recently discussed on Chinese social media.

News of US President Trump signing executive orders on August 6th to prohibit transactions with TikTok and WeChat parent companies Bytedance and Tencent remains a hot topic of discussion on social media.

Both apps have been described as posing a threat to America’s national security, with President Trump claiming that the app’s use in the United States heightens the risk of potential espionage and blackmailing practices. The apps are also accused of censoring content that is deemed politically sensitive to the Chinese government, and of being channels for disinformation campaigns.

Over the past three years, Bytedance’s Tik Tok app has become super popular in the United States, where it has approximately 100 million active users. Tencent’s WeChat has 19 million daily active users in the United States.

Until Trump’s executive orders go into effect (the September 20th deadline has been moved to November 12th), much is still unclear about the possible consequences of such a ban – and what the (vague) orders actually mean.

Will Tik Tok be sold to an American company? Will TikTok and WeChat be banned from Apple and Google app stores? How will the ban affect those for whom Wechat is an important communication tool in their everyday personal and business life? Will iPhone users in China still be able to use China’s number one app?

While news developments are still unfolding, the “TikTok problem” remains to be a hot topic on Chinese social media, with hashtags such as “How Do You See the TikTok Storm?” (#如何看待tiktok风波#) and “What’s the Main Goal of Trump Banning TikTok?” (#特朗普封禁TikTok的核心目标是什么#) receiving thousands of views and comments.

These are the main takes on the issue in the Chinese online media spheres recently.

 

“It’s all about US (technological) hegemony”

 

During a press conference on August 12, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Zhao Lijian (赵立坚) expressed that America was showing “bad table manners” for pressing down on “non-American companies,” and that the Tik Tok app had “nothing to do with national security.”

The fragment went viral on Chinese social media and was reposted many times by media accounts and Chinese web users.

Under the hashtag “Zhao Lijian Responds to the Tik Tok Problem” (#赵立坚回应涉TikTok问题#, 87 million views on Weibo), many Weibo users noted how Zhao did not say that the US was pressing down on ‘Chinese’ companies, but that it is suppressing ‘non-American’ companies (“非美国企业”), suggesting that it is all about American power and hegemony.

A few days earlier, Chinese state media outlet Global Times also published an article stating that, according to legal experts, the US government will be able to order Apple and Google to remove all products owned by ByteDance from app stores around the world based on the recent executive orders.

Illustration by Liu Rui published in a Global Times article on US technological hegemony.

Similar to the statement issued by China’s MOFA, Global Times also writes that the Trump administration “has displayed its ugly face that prevents any non-US company to break the US technological hegemony.” The issue of Chinese apps threatening US “national security” is called “a shameless excuse” that is used to “destroy China’s most successful globalized internet company.”

The phrase ‘non-American companies’ was probably also used by Zhao to emphasize that Bytedance has stepped up efforts over the past year to separate its international Tik Tok business from its China-based operations.

The company took on Disney’s head of streaming efforts Kevin Mayer to become its CEO of TikTok, an app that is different from its Chinese version, Douyin (抖音).  TikTok claims that all US user data is stored in the United States, with backup redundancy in Singapore, and that their data is not subject to Chinese law.

Other media outlets, such as Sina Tech, also stress the fact that any claims of TikTok or WeChat posing a risk to US national security are completely unsubstantiated and are merely another excuse to target Chinese products.

“The success of TikTok undermines the absolute American influence on the internet,” one Weibo commenter (@财务琳姐) writes: “They’ve nothing left to do but to discredit China.” Others say: “They’re beating down on China’s entire internet business to contain China’s developments.”

The same sentiments were reiterated by Zhao Lijian in a press conference on August 18, where he said that the US is engaging in a deliberate attempt to “discredit and suppress” Chinese companies.

 

“Shooting themselves in the foot”

 

A recurring way of responding to executive orders on WeChat and Tik Tok in Chinese online media, is that a possible ban on these Chinese apps would only have negative consequences for the United States.

Directly after news came out on Trump’s executive orders, the question “Apple or WeChat” started trending on Chinese social media, with many assuming that a possible ban would mean that Apple phones will no longer allow WeChat on its phones.

For the majority of people, the question is not a difficult one. As a messaging, social media, payment app and more, WeChat has become virtually indispensable for Chinese web users – they would simply stop buying iPhones.

The hashtag “US Shutting Down WeChat Will Affect iPhone Sales” (#美国封杀微信将影响iphone出货量#) discusses the stance of analyst expert Guo Mingji (郭明錤), who recently said that the ban on WeChat will have major impact on iPhone sales and could possibly lead to a drop of 25-30% in its sales volume.

One Weibo user (@赵皓阳) commented: “For the Chinese market, not using an iPhone could have some impact, but not using WeChat would mean cutting yourself off from society.”

“Ban it, just ban it, Chinese people will just switch to the high-end Huawei phones, and it will beat down Apple – great,” another netizen (@黄多多成长记) wrote.

 

“Shifting public attention away from COVID19 crisis”

 

The COVID19 crisis in the US has been receiving a lot of attention in Chinese media recently, and the American struggle to contain the virus is often linked to Trump’s mission to crack down on Tik Tok, WeChat, and Huawei.

“Focus on your own COVID19 epidemic, instead of trying to divert the attention all the time,” one Weibo user (@凯MrsL) writes. Similar comments surface all over Chinese social media, suggesting that the ‘anti-China’ strategy is just a way to distract the attention from the continuing spread of the coronavirus in the US.

Others write that Trump has made “a terrible mess,” and that “beating China” is the only card he has left to play. “This all about the upcoming elections,” some suggest.

The People’s Daily wrote on August 18 that, since the US is confronted with the severest situation of COVID-19, it should make “greater efforts than any country in the world to cope with the pandemic,” adding: “Surprisingly, it seems that such normal logic doesn’t exist in the minds of certain U.S. politicians.”

 

“An eye for an eye”

 

Amid all different perspectives in which the recent Tik Tok/WeChat ban developments are discussed, there is also one other recurring sentiment that stands out.

Reflecting on the Chinese online environment, there are also multiple Weibo users who argue that China virtually blocked so many American companies from thriving in the Chinese digital market (unless they would be willing to transform their products to comply with China’s strict cyber regulations), that it is not surprising that the US would also strike back to make sure Chinese companies cannot thrive in the American digital environment.

China has already banned so many American products, from Google to Facebook, from Instagram to Pinterest and Twitter, that “there is nothing left to ban” for China: “We have few countermeasures left to take.”

 

By Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2020 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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