The death of Zheng Qingming
August 1, 2004 4:33 AM   Subscribe

"All he has left now to remember the grandson he once carried on his back is a stack of workbooks -- trigonometry, politics, history. Mr. Zheng does not recognize enough Chinese characters to read them. But he keeps the books as memorials." The best human interest story of the year, and a look into the lives of China's rural poor.
posted by Tlogmer (11 comments total)
Great article, thanks. I think it's pretty clear throughout history that societies start to melt down when the gap between the very poor and the rich grows the way it has been in China. I wonder if the Chinese government will wake up to this problem or try to put a cap on it by opressing the poor even more..
posted by Space Coyote at 11:05 AM on August 1, 2004

The problem here isn't the systemic oppression of the poor rural class but the issue lies in the refromation of the provincial bureaucracies, especially their mentality. China's government is not a single cohesive entitiy, but as a Sinologist once wrote, a fragmented authoritarian system. What the central government is doing right now is not oppressing the villages, rather they have neglected them for too long and lost sight of their needs by catering to the urban classes. This creates the class of rural leaders who do not see a way of sustaining themselves except by taking it out on the people they administer over.

Tragedies like this probably happen alot. The only bright light is that the NYT got hold of this story as did other Chinese press. Hopefully, if these stories eventually reach the urban Chinese, reforms may be possible.

Great find Tlogmer!
posted by phyrewerx at 12:49 PM on August 1, 2004

Wait a sec. A country where colleges have *entrance* fees? A place where access to higher education is systematically biased toward the rich, sometimes with tragic results? Yeah, must be China.

Try telling any U.S. college you can't afford their application fee and see how far you get. Even the state schools have application fees.

Next time you post a link detailing the horrors of the "Communist system" try thinking about whether the same critique applies to our own.
posted by louigi at 3:14 PM on August 1, 2004

louigi, if you tell a US college that you can't afford their application fee, they'll give you a waiver so that you don't have to pay it. While the US "system" certainly has its problems, that's not really one of them.

Great article -- thanks!
posted by LittleMissCranky at 4:02 PM on August 1, 2004

A brilliant student in the U.S. will not usually face a life spent subsistence farming. Diminished prospects, yes, but not so radically diminished. (I'm for free U.S. college education for poor, talented students, for the record.)

Of course, most countries in which a large portion of the population consists of subsistence farmers don't have any decent universities at all. They also have very low suicide rates. This is what makes China, and this story, intersting.

It's not a China vs. U.S. thing. And certainly not a communism vs. capitalism thing. Authoritarianism vs. democracy, maybe, but even that's shakey. It's an outstanding, moving human interest story, and draw what conclusions from it that you will.
posted by Tlogmer at 4:11 PM on August 1, 2004

That is absolutely heartbreaking. Good find.
posted by TungstenChef at 5:07 PM on August 1, 2004

Fair enough, Tlogmer. And it was a good article. Thanks.
posted by louigi at 10:23 PM on August 1, 2004

What astonishes me is how Americans can read this -- tens of millions of Chinese so desperate for education that the rare outlier will actually kill himself when frustrated -- and then contenance, in America, handicapping our educational system with multi-culturalism, self-esteem, affirmative action, de-tracking, "multiple intelligences", teacher union self-protection, and a dozen other self-inflicted wounds. Americans need to take a note from China and rediscover an education system oriented solely towards achievement and demanding the utmost in motivation and displine.
posted by MattD at 5:18 AM on August 2, 2004

What does that astonish you, MattD? I'm all for a better educational system, but it should be obvious -- even to someone who disagrees with them -- that none the things you mentioned are unifomly considered bad for education.

This isn't really the place for an affirmative action debate, but I have a couple friends at the University of Michigan who went to public schools in Detroit. There's no way they would have gotten in without affirmative action -- fairly low test scores, because the schools they went to were underfunded and unbelievably bad (I've heard stories of a ostensible math teacher passing around a joint during class) -- but they're doing fine.
posted by Tlogmer at 4:55 PM on August 2, 2004

Such a sad story. And I do find it interesting that the party that calls itself communist is in fact just as, or more oppressive of the proletariat than the bourgeoisie would be.
posted by dejah420 at 9:49 PM on August 2, 2004

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