September 8, 2012, Wuhan - September 1st is the opening date for most schools and universities in China. Parents of pupils in Shunhe Town, Macheng City, Hubei Province in central China were preparing stationery and other outfits to send their children to school. For many of them, the most important outfit was desk.
"We finally find an appropriate desk for Siling after a whole day's effort!" father of 5 years old Lu Siling said happily, "Desk was still not available for her just before the school opening day. We asked several relatives to lend us a desk, but until yesterday evening, we did not succeed."
The father is not alone. Totally there are 5000 pupils in Shunhe Town, but the local government only allocated 2000 sets of desks and chairs to schools in the town, which means parents of the other 3000 pupils had to prepare desks and chairs in order that their children could enter a public primary and middle school.
Lu Siling was a lucky girl compared to some others whose parents failed to find a suitable desk for them. Some parents had to bring a tea table as the substitute for a desk for their children. And for 6 years old Wang Ziqi, school desk was not a problem on his first day of school, but as one of the millions of Chinese left-behind children whose parents are working in big cities for better pay usually hundred kilometers away, he and his sister could only be brought to school by their grandparents, who found it a tough task to toil the ten-kilogram heavy desk for hundred meters to school.
And Shunhe Town is not the only place of China that requires parents of schoolchildren to provide desks and chairs for their children's schooling. Shunhe Town is just a miniature of rural China. Although China has practised 9-year compulsory eduction for all Chinese children for more than 20 years, due to the shortage of budget on overall eduction, "compulsory" does not necessorily mean free eduction. And especially the state spenditure on education of rural pupils has been significantly less that on urban schoolchildren, bringing desks to school by their own is still widely practised and dropout children are still in large numbers in rural China.
The report originally from local newspaper Changjiang Daily and photographs have been widely republished on major newsportals of China and surely enraged many Chinese netizens who have never heard of or experienced such ridiculous thing. But to many netizens coming from the countryside, this news not just draws their anger, but more their painful childhood recalling. According to comments on the popular 163.net, many of the 1970's, 1980's and 1990's from rural China recalled the experience of bringing own desks and chairs to school or being required to pay certain amount of money for the desks provided by schools. Some netizens say they did not think it ridiculous when they were required to bring own desks to school ten or twenty years ago when China was still poor, but they can not understand even today when China has beome the second largest economy of the world, their younger brothers and sisters or even their children still have to pay the desks by their own.
Since the photographs were published, many Chinese have demanded responses from local government officials. And finally they got it a week later: the economy of Macheng City is still too poor to provide enough desks for the schoolchildren. But this statement immediately draws even fierce criticism and few believe in the government. A netizen cchgq commented on 163.com: You can spend 30 million RMB on the township office building, you can give Phillipines several hundred million to build water projects, you can present developed nation Macedonia free schoolbuses, but you say you have no money to buy desks for Chinese schoolchildren, who can believe it?