Yu Jianrong on closing of migrant schools

After news spread in China last week that a number of schools for the children of migrant workers in Beijing would be closed and demolished, many Chinese expressed anger at the inequalities facing migrant families in the city. Anger was then compounded later in the week as news spread that the state-linked charity China-Africa Project Hope aimed to build more than 1,000 schools in Africa using donations from wealthy Chinese.

For more background on the controversy surrounding China-Africa Project Hope, the World Eminent Chinese Business Association and billionaire Lu Junqing (卢俊卿), see our reviews here, here and here.

Getting back to the issue of migrant schools, in fact more than 30 migrant schools have been closed in Beijing this year, according to Chinese media.

On August 17, QQ.com hosted an online chat with well-known Chinese Academy of Social Sciences professor and CMP fellow Yu Jianrong (于建嵘). The chat gave Chinese web users an opportunity to express their views and ask Yu about his views on education, property demolition and migrants’ rights.

The interview is an interesting illustration of how internet portals, which are prevented under Chinese regulations from news reporting, employ other means to address topics of interest to their audiences.

Over the past six months, more than 30 schools for the children of migrant workers have been closed down in Beijing’s Chaoyang District, Daxing District and other areas. Thousands of migrant worker children face a situation in which they have no schools to go to. Whose interests did these migrant worker schools come up against? Why were these schools for the children of migrant workers abandoned? On August 16 at 7:30pm, Tencent’s “Sharing Ideas” (思享时间) program invited Yu Jianrong (于建嵘), a professor at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences Rural Development Research Center to explore this question: Who did schools for migrant workers come up against?

Zhang Anping (张安平): Hello, Professor Yu. Concerning the multitude of forced demolitions and cases of resistance against forced demolition, I have four questions. 1. Is the issue that local governments pursue only GDP growth and disregard the central government’s 305 order (中央三令五申) [against forced demolition]? 2. Or is it that the central government is giving tacit permission, and 305 is just to appease the public, doing something on the surface. 3. Is it illegal for the people to oppose forced demolition? 4. If one meets with forced demolition, what is the best thing to do?

Yu Jianrong: With demolition there’s the issue of political point-making by local governments, and then there’s the issue of the interests of local leaders, and these actually concern the politics of the central government. Right now many local [governments] are [supported by] land financing (土地财政), and the nation emphasize stability before all else. Without land financing, local governments would have no way of operating, and that’s the most outstanding stability issue. But forced demolition is just about the stability of a few. If it came to a choice between the two, of course they would choose the former. [NOTE: Yu is saying that between being insolvent by not playing the land financing politics that lead to violence and the stability issues that emerge from demolition, leaders choose the former path, opting for demolition and removal of residents.]

Jiang Xiaohua (蒋小华): I wonder why Professor Yu does not recruit the best people possible and jointly create a national chain of schools for migrant workers’ children. The whole country is avoiding this question, but the issue of education for the children of migrant workers is really important. There are many people in China who prioritize education and it would certainly gain everyone’s support. What do you think?

Yu Jianrong: I don’t know how to do it. If you have a good plan, of course I would support you.

Chen Hui (陈慧): Schools can be demolished, but why aren’t various other factors considered first? Why is it that no thinking is done at all? What kind of humanity is that? It seems all [our our] policies come without full plans and just go blazing ahead. Is this the result of habit or the bad outcome of [unchecked] power?

Yu Jianrong: I too believe that arrangements should first be made for schooling for the children before demolition goes ahead. Allowing children to go without schools is an intrusion on citizens’ right to equal education.

Fish Lover of the West (西部爱上鱼): Professor Yu, is it possible to use the opportunity presented by the demolition of these schools to “force” public schools to open up, making public schools open up to them?

Yu Jianrong: Of course the hope is that public schools can be opened up to them. But actually doing this is difficult.

Zhang Yifei (张一飞): Why do we have to use terms like ‘migrant worker’ (农民工) and ‘outside laborer’ (外来务工人员) [to describe this population]? I rarely ever see them described as citizens. So are they are considered a step below city residents (城里人)?

Yu Jianrong: Actually, whether we call them migrant workers, or laborers entering the city (进城务工人) or citizens, the crucial question, yes, is whether there is basic equality of rights.

Teacher Eggplant (茄子老师) As a teacher myself, I feel sick about this. What is the reason for demolishing these schools?

Yu Jianrong: The official word is that they are carrying out a management action, but in fact it is a kind of shirking of responsibility.

Kong (孔): Could we send city [kids] to the countryside for schooling? I think its really necessary to send city students to the countryside to be reeducated!

Yu Jianrong: That would be difficult. Rigid demands and regulations aren’t what we need. Complete freedom of choice is also not the right way.

He Mingfeng (何铭峰): Education in the big cities is so developed. Essentially [students] can rather easily test into a good university. But in the countryside, if you want to test into a decent university you have to work ten times harder than people in the cities . . . Inequalities in regional development of education has resulted directly in inequality of educational opportunities. I’d like to ask Professor Yu, if teachers salaries and benefits were equalized across the country, would there be a change in the way people see the situation?

Yu Jianrong: I don’t think it’s an issue just of equalizing teacher’s benefits. Another very important issue is equipment and infrastructure, and the balanced development of other resources.

Laughter (欢笑): Professor Yu, in the eyes of many people in our country, you are now a representative of Them. Do you really think you can help Them solve this issue?

Yu Jianrong: What I’m most afraid of is people speaking this way. How have I become a spokesperson? All I do is voice my own personal views on a number of public issues. I cannot resolve this or that issue myself. All I can do is say something when I see inequality.

Brother Pillar (柱子哥 ): Within [Beijing's] Fifth Rind Road there are tens of thousands of children who have now lost the ability to go to school. But Project Hope runs off to Africa to build 1,000 schools. Can’t they pay attention to problems domestically first? Can’t we first ensure than kids in mountainous areas get to eat breakfast before we plan banquets? What does Professor Yu think about this?

Yu Jianrong: As soon as some action or another has becomes politicized, then its difficult to judge it according to common sense. Actually, protection the equal rights of the citizens of this country should be the politics that takes precedence above all.

8 Comments to “Yu Jianrong on closing of migrant schools”

  1. David says:

    XinWenChong:

    Right you are. There is rich video material now available online. We are hoping, in fact, to incorporate a video news section, but contextualizing it for non-Chinese readers is time consuming. However, we have regularly directed readers to video through our CMP Newswire — including those excellent Caixin Media videos.

    Best,
    David

  2. XinWenChong says:

    Hi David,

    apropos “web portals” and their platforms (and engadgment with the online audiences)

    Another media channel you guys could also monitor,comment and present more is the huge “untapped” market of Internet TV (online videos) .

    Of course, i’m not taking about “funny” videos on youkou, tudou. I’m also not talking about online video of material that was already broadcasted on TV. I’m talking about video that you only find online.

    I’m talking about the traditional big media portals (sina, netease , caing etc) and all those special issue on XXX, special coverage on YYY专题/访谈/专访/沙龙 (salon?) , debates, interviews, recorded online interaction with the public of authors and commentators during their interviews. You can find stuff on almost everything you also comment here on CMP, current social affairs, books, cultural debates, critical views of history, politics, economy media etc.

    There is so much interesting stuff going there. Both the interviees (well known and lesser known, famous and non famous) and the engadgement and comments left by the 网友. Stuff that you couldnt possibly imagine being aired on CCTV. It offers the outsider such a refreshing perspective than at least some part of the audiences do have a more demanding quality standard and critical media sense. Of course it’s not aimed at China’s average Joe, but it doesnt also mean it’s just for the intelectuals.

    Some examples

    netease/163:
    (you guys had one here already about 张木生 latest book and interview)
    http://book.163.com/special/00923KMN/yueduketing.html (book authors, sometimes you really find interesting social commentary there)
    http://book.163.com/special/xinhai1/ (special issue on the Xinhai revolution )
    http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&source=hp&biw=1066&bih=712&q=site%3Ahttp%3A%2F%2Fbook.163.com%2Fspecial&btnG=Google+Search&aq=f&aqi=&aql=&oq= (all the “special” series)

    caing’s video channel (not only economics, lots of comment on current international affairs with interviews and statements you could never find on xinwenlianbo)
    http://video.caing.com/

    phoenix:
    (of course)

    sina:
    http://book.sina.com.cn/bn/index.shtml
    http://book.sina.com.cn/wentankaijuan.shtml

    many others …

  3. ltlee says:

    “The interview is an interesting illustration of how internet portals, which are prevented under Chinese regulations from news reporting, employ other means to address topics of interest to their audiences.”
    Meaningless statement which can be added to describe any interview anywhere. Don’t agree with me? Feel free to point out any interview anywhere and explain why such interview did not serve anyone’s interest.
    Reality check. Regulation or no regulation, the presses together are always a small group of people writing on a small number of subjects according to the writers narrow point of view relative to the number of potential story and the number of view point.

  4. ltlee says:

    @XinWenChong
    Actually, the problem is fully addressed in the Chinese media. And there is a lot of effort to solve the problem. Examples below.
    http://gongyi.qq.com/a/20110818/000013.htm
    “事实上,为了不让这些孩子失学,三区政府采取了种种措施,努力安排相关学校接收愿意在京继续接受教育的随迁子女。海淀区、大兴区教委正有序开展分流安置工作,海淀区政府将专项投入900余万元,用于校舍修缮、改造,搭建临时教室,配备课桌椅,增加配备师资144名。
    此次朝阳区共分流4574名学生,该区出台3项措施增加学位,包括对周边公办校挖掘潜力;增加委托办学学校数量,整合出6所公办校校所,进行委托办学;对已开办的委托办学学校进行改扩建,增加学位。通过这些途径,该区已准备共计5300多个学位,可容纳所有分流学生。记者采访北京市朝阳区教委社会力量办学科科长周滢了解到,截至8月24日中午,该区已对3650名学生进行了登记分流,其中3089名学生完成了录取手续。”
    http://news.sina.com.cn/c/2011-08-18/040023008509.shtml
    “北京海淀5所公办小学接纳关停打工子弟校学生”

  5. David says:

    Adam:

    Your point is more than fair. The usually idea-rich Yu Jianrong comes off as thin and sometimes even bored. But I did think it was an interesting look at the way web portals use this platform — sometimes to more effect than others.

    Best,
    David

  6. Dr. Jones Jr. says:

    Except for the question Yu Jianrong answers by describing the priority placed on land finances due to high dependence of China’s local governments on land sales, he says very little.

    I feel this was mostly an exercise in letting various common critical opinions be aired (and hopefully find the ear of a technocrat or two) without being seen as an instigator himself. While I feel rather disappointed by the lack of substantive answers from our supposed interviewee, I do agree that this “chat” is quite interesting as an example of a method for web portals to indirectly report how average Chinese feel about issues like this, without formally doing any “reporting”.

  7. Adam says:

    Sounds like he said…absolutely nothing.

    This is a remarkably poor interviewee.

  8. XinWenChong says:

    (…)The interview is an interesting illustration of how internet portals, which are prevented under Chinese regulations from news reporting, employ other means to address topics of interest to their audiences.(…)

    This “is an interesting illustration of how XXX” , and the “employ other means to YYY” is exactly what makes visiting and using your media project website.
    These kind of commentary, asides and explanations are sooooo much useful for anyone studying and learning to read media in China. You cannot imagine how usefull your project is. It hads so much more to just reading “china hands” analysis and commentaries on the “main stream” media (NY Times, Post, BBC, etc) sprikled with 5cent party reply comments.

    You also had a post some weeks ago explaining the use of colors, graphical layouts (leaving some parts of a page in blank; ) and headline word puns.

    Please keep adding these side notes and commentary. Such a great learning experience. These apparent “obvious details” for you guys, are so much important and not obvious for the average reader.

    Thanks for such a great work !

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