The Most Run-down School in Guangdong

(  The Most Run-down School in Guangdong Province.  December 25, 2008.

This is the Jiutang School in Fukeng district, Zhongba town, Zijin county, Heyuan city, Guangdong province.  It has seen 60 years of storms but the students are still learning under such appalling conditions.  During the rainy season each year, the teachers and students live in fear.  These conditions have existed for several decades.  However, the Heyuan city leaders, the Zijin county leaders and the town government have not paid any attention.  Should these young flowers of the motherland be subjected to such devastation?

(Southern Rural News)  Seventy-year-old Man Was Substitute Teacher For 50 Years At "The Most Run Down School In Guangdong."  January 6, 2009.

On December 25, 2008, the's Guangdong Development Forum carried a series of photos of the perilous conditions at the Jiutang Elementary School in Zijin County, Heyuan City, Guangdong Province.  The school was called as the "most run-down school in Guangdong province."

The person who made the post also divulged: "Jiutang Elementary School has witnessed 60 years of storms under which the helpless children attempt to learn.  During the rainy season, the teacher and his students lived in fear.  The relevant government departments paid no attention to them.  Can the young flowers of the motherland be neglected this way?"  In the same post, there were also photographs of the majestic buildings of the relevant government departments in Zijin county.  This was a way for expressing the anger over the  long-term negligence of the problems at the Jiutang Elementary School.

This story about the bitter lives of these children was shocking.  Within a few days, the photos became red-hot on the Internet.

But many Chinese people clearly do not have knowledge about the uneven development within Guangdong province.  Given the "aura of the number one province in terms of the economy," many netizens were skeptical about these photos who looked like as if they belong in western China.  "Can there be places that are this impoverished in Guangdong province?"  But more netizens sighed and commented: "Sign, what kind of age is this?  This is even worse than the school that I went to ..."

Although this reporter can manage to compose a composite of the miserable conditions at the Jiutang Elementary School based upon these nine photographs, his actual field trip at the end of the year can only be described as "unbelievable" in terms of the personal shock.

The reporter set off from the not very prosperous Zhongba town.  As the reporter and his motorcycle passed through the heart of Fukeng village, they swallowed by the shadow cast by tall mountains.

It was a maze of a journey which tested the patience of the reporter.  One after after curve followed and the steep mountain road was always still ahead.  The reporter's hope to see the real Jiutang Elementary School was dashed time and again.

Even as the patience wore thin, the reception signal from China Mobile decreased.  After thirty minutes, the motorcycle finally stopped in front of the Jiutang Elementary School.  The mobile phone showed the rarely seen message: "No service available."

This was the last stop in this 6-kilometer winding road.  It is also the starting point of the dreams of twenty-one children.

There is no sign at this school.  On the wall, there is the highest directive from the Great Leader: "Long live the Proletariat, Down with the Capitalist."  This is the most eye-catching slogan at the Jiutang Elementary School and it has been there for decades without change.

There are three village brigades under Fekeng Village: Xintang, Jiutang and Chejuetang.  Since 1950, they have shared the educational resources of this school.  Even today, the voices of 21 first- and second-grade students still resonate in the schoolhouse and continue the 58-year-old life of Jiutang Elementary School.

If the Jiutang Elementary School has to be described in just a few words, then "sparse," "dim" and "cold" are unavoidable.

Although several rays of sunlight come through the holes in the roof, the uneven ground and the flaking walls seemed to encase the entire classroom inside wet mud.  A thin wall divides the one hundred plus square meters of space into two.  Some mischievous child has made a big hole in that wall, so that the wall can no longer serve to keep sound out.

The news of the Internet debate has obviously not reached Jiuang Elementary School yet.  On December 26, 2008, everything was normal at the Jiutang Elementary School.  In the warm sunlight, the children played with their familiar and interesting games.  Some of them are already looking forward to the spring vacation with firecrackers and red envelops.

Indeed, for these 21 children, their presence on this tall mountain meant that they are separated from the outside world.

This was near the end of the school term and exams were due.  The pace of teaching at the Jiutang Elementary School has accelerated.

Xiao Mao, who only began attending the school six months ago, asked the same question repeatedly of one person: "What are exams?  Are exams fun?"

The person who was asked is the only teacher at Jiutang Elementary School -- 71-year-old Liao Guoliang.

As Liao Guoliang looked at the smiling young faces in front of the crumbling school building, he was filled with worries.

Of course, he was not worried about the results of the final exams.  After 50 years of teaching, exams are no longer a challenge to Liao Guoliang.

For several decades, Jiuliang Elementary School has not been able to shake its reputation as a small "sparrow" school since the enrolment size was always around 20 students or so.  As a result, the teaching accomplishments of Liao Guoliang went unnoticed since he was just a "sparrow" outside the "system."

The nearly Zhongba Town Centre Elementary School and the Fukeng Elementary School are where the Jiutang Elementary School students will mainly go.  Even the worst student at Jiutang Elementary School will place among the top five at those schools, "normally within the top three."  Many parents don't even mind the terrible conditions at Jiutang Elementary School and sent their children over there.  This year, there are two such students who live outside the school district but are being taught by Liao Guoliang.

After the accumulated experience of 50 years of teaching, every arithmetic problem and every person and story in the language course have leapt from the pages of the book inside the brain of Liao Guoliang.  Although this 71-year-old man has to teach 5 classes a day, he can handle everything easily.

But Liao Guoliang was able to achieve an higher reputation because of his devotion to this post for 50 years.  Fifty years ago, he became a substitute teacher; fifty years later today, he is still a substitute teacher.  The lines on his face reflect the waves and waves of students that he has taught and sent on.  Although Liao Guoliang had been treated unfairly and lost the chance to become a full-time teacher thrice, the crumbling school building of the Jiutang Elementary School was still the most attractive place for him.  "As long as the parents have faith in me, I will continue to teach."

The rainy season is when Liao Guoliang is the busiest.  As the streams of water fall through the cracks in the roof, the students quietly watch this old man climb on the roof and craw back and forth.  Occasionally the children will exclaim when the old man slips a little.

So the days went by year after year.  "From grandfather to grandson, I have taught three generations of his village."  Liao Guoliang showed three fingers to indicate this greatest spiritual wealth.  "No, I'm the fourth generation," a cute little girl immediately corrected her teacher.

In 1958, Lao Guoliang was the youngest teacher at Jiutang Elementary School.  In 2008, he is still the youngest teacher at Jiutang Elementary School.  Since the transportation is very inconvenient and the conditions are very harsh, there has not been a formal teacher at Jiutang Elementary School since 1963.  Liao Guoliang is the lonely dancer on the stage.

Liao Guoliang's greatest worry is the lack of a successor.  It is the lack of a teacher that will be the gravest threat to the continual existence of Jiutang Elementary School.

A granddaughter-in-law is regarded as the best person to recruit for his position.  But Liao Guoliang has no confidence that he will be able to get this young person to leave the well-paying production line for this damp and dark classroom.

The spirited Liao Guoliang said, "If possible, I would like to work until I am 80."

If Liao Guoliang really accomplishes that, he will no doubt set a certain record in the history of education in China.

Of course, nobody with the right mind would want this to happen.  This reporter wishes that Liao Guoliang can spend his last years in peace.

Since 2003, the Jiutang Village Brigade and Liao Guoliang himself have called for the their superiors to repair the dangerous conditions at the school.  Their questions have gone unasnwered.

Most surprisingly, the omnipresent local government is hard to find in the history of the Jiutang Elementary School.  Ever since its founding in 1958, the Jiutang Elementary School has never received any maintenance money from the upper level government.  It was left to live or die on its own.

The villager Liao Guojun has often called the Jiutang Elementary School a "bastard son."  The longstanding indifference of the local government has made him wonder if this was a private school.  Therefore, the various petition documents always listed "changing the administrative system of Jiutang Elementary School" was the top priority.

As for the future of the Jiutang Elementary School, the local government has offered one possibility.  The former Zhongba town education office leaders had said, "If the Jiutang Elementary School building is fixed up nicely, the town will send a teacher over there."  But the assumption is that the Jiutang Village Brigade will raise the construction fund on its own.

Liao Guoliang wants most of all to see a regular teacher stationed there.  Yet, it is almost impossible for the impoverished Jiutang Village to sustain the elementary school without outside aid.

The Jiutang Village Brigade leader Liao Tianyin told the reporter that they have done their best to try to reform the Jiutang Elementary School.

The Jiutang Elementary School bilding used to be a two-story brick/wood building.  In 2004, the villagers got worried that the rotting wood may cause a roof collapse and so they came up with more than 2,000 yuan to reduce the building to a single story.  This was the biggest maintenance project in the more than 50 years of the history of the Jiutang Elementary School.  Aprt from that, the regular water-proofing and other maintenance projects cause more than 100 yuan per year.

But these small fixes cannot cure the root problem.  In 2003, a special project of the Guangdong province aged district construction association gave a ray of hope for the complete rebuilding of the Jiutang Elementary School.  At the end of that year, the relevant leaders asked the provincial aged district construction association allocated 50,000 yuan specifically for the reconstruction of the Jiutang Elementary School.  But after some twists, the 50,000 yuan "life-saving" money was given to someone else in the end.

According to the recollections of the persons involved, the 200,000 yuan for the construction of the Fukeng Elementary School and the 50,000 yuan for the reconstruction of the Jiutang Elementary School were sent together to Zhongba town.  But during the process, Zhongba town combined the two sums and used it all to construct the Fukeng Elementary School.

Zijin County Aged District Construction Committee former deputy director Peng Junfei confirmed to this reporter that a special sum was allocated for the reconstruction of Jiutang Elementary School in 2003.  But as to why the money never got there, this 80-something-year-old revolutionary said: "Something must have gone wrong along the way."