40th Anniversary of Reform and Opening Up
An Influential Figure in Education

— Yang Guiping

Author: Na Yang
Guangming Newspaper

Guizhou, known as the “barbarian” land in ancient times, is surrounded by mountains, home to many ethnic minorities. Its traffic conditions are extremely backward, and it is unknown to the outside world. Barren land, mysterious Miao townships and Dong villages, and multi-cultural and mysterious stories intertwined here give rise to its endless charm.

However, After Yang Guiping took a 24 hour flight from the United States to Guiyang via Hong Kong, then took a 7 hour train trip to Kaili and a 3 hour bus ride to Leishan Mountain, and finally bumped for 3 hours on a pig truck before she had her first knowledge of this place where the sky won’t be clear for three days and land is not flat for three miles. Luo Yixian, who brought her here, said with a smile, “Take it easy. Let’s go. There’s still a distance of 35 kilometers to go ahead.”

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After climbing three mountains and crossing two rivers, Yang Guiping’s feet were swollen seriously when villagers came to look for them with kerosene lamps at 12:00 p.m.

She finally saw Fangxiang Township, Leishan County, China’s poorest rural area in 1988, and finally understood why the young secretary of the Tongren Prefectural Youth League, who she had just met on the plane, said he wanted to take her to the poorest part of China to have a look.

At this time, it has been 48 years since Yang Guiping was born in Guizhou.

From “Defending the Diaoyu Islands” to “The Zigen Fund”:
The Era Calls for Compatriots

Yang Guiping has a profound family background of learning. Her father was the dean of the Cultural Institute in Taiwan, so she had been immersed in Tang poetry and Song Ci since she was a child. She has a strong historical and cultural identification with China.

As soon as she graduated from college, she married a Chinese-American scientist, settled down in the United States, and led a life of a young lady with three children.

However, this was not what she wanted. “Leaves in autumn fall one by one, and I sit in front of my house reading, far away from home, feeling lonely, and that no one in the world could communicate with me.” ” Defending the Diaoyu Islands” completely changed her life trajectory.

In 1971, Yang Guiping, a student at the University of Southern California, and many students from Taiwan marched on the streets, setting off a massive campaign to defend the Diaoyu Islands.

The campaign made her decide to break away from her former “cultural elite” life, get divorced and marry Dong Xulin, student leader of the “Campaign to Defend the Diaoyu Islands”, and publisher of the Journal War Communique for the Campaign to Defend the Diaoyu Islands, to actively do something for the motherland.

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Dong was later employed by the United Nations and participated in the One Percent Foundation, whereby members contributed 1% of their monthly salaries to support small-scale development projects in developing countries. “Maybe you can set up an organization with the same experience.” The couple decided to build a public welfare organization themselves targeted for China. Thus, the American “Zigen” Fund came into being.

Since its foundation, this non-profit organization has responded to the concept of “people-centered and sustainable development” advocated by the United Nations, hoping to make efforts to build an equal and just society and do some substantial little things for China. She has persisted in this trivial matter for 30 years.

In the past 30 years, she has led “Zigen” to carry out public welfare projects in nearly 30 counties and cities in 12 provinces and municipalities, including Guizhou, Yunnan, Hebei, Shanxi, Gansu, Henan and Hubei, covering over 3,000 schools and over 100 villages, benefiting 150,000 person-time with student subsidies and one million person-time directly.

Persistence for Thirty Years:

Support for Women’s Development and Girls’ Education

“To educate a boy is to educate a man, and to educate a girl is to educate a family, a nation, and a country. Investment in girls’ education is investment in a country. ” The importance of girls’ education has increasingly become the consensus of the international community.

In Leishan, Yang Guiping met a lot of girls laboring with their brothers and sisters on their backs. She was shocked that many of them could not go to school even in their teens.

Yang Lihua’s family in Fangxiang Township has four children, and she was the second child. Because the family’s money was only enough to support her younger brother’s tuition and fees, Yang Lihua, who was already nine years old, could not go to school, and she had to help her family collect grass for pigs and cook meals.

Such scenarios were so different from what Yang Guiping was familiar with. She no longer wanted libraries or agricultural training, and immediately decided to use the money to support the schooling of rural school-aged girls.

In 1990, Yang Guiping surveyed 12 villages in Fangxiang Township and found that the enrollment rate of local school-aged (6-12 years) boys was 77%, while that of girls was only 27.8%.

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Students, except for a few girls in the first and second grades, were all boys in many schools, and even in some schools there was no one female student at all, and there were even fewer girls in higher grades. The factors affecting local girls’ schooling were complex, but the main ones were the high cost of schooling and the fact that the school was too far away from their home and they could not go to a nearby school.

For this reason, the early work of “Zigen” focused on providing subsidies, allowing poor girls in rural areas to attend school free of charge. After discussion with Leishan County Bureau of Education, “Zigen” provided tuition and miscellaneous fees to more than 300 girls aged 6 and above in 12 remote villages in Fangxiang Township to assist them in completing their six-year primary education.

At the same time, under the advice of “Zigen”, Leishan County Bureau of Education upgraded some schools to the complete primary school from the one with enrollment every other year to help students go to school nearby.

“With subsidies, all the school-aged girls in the village came to school. Some 14-year-old girls attended the first grade, and some came to school with their younger brother or sister on their backs.” Speaking of this, her eyes were filled with tears of joy.

Today, Zigen’s Girls’ Subsidies Program has expanded to some of the poorest villages in Taijiang, Majiang, Huangping in Guizhou, and in Yunnan, Shanxi and Hebei, and other provinces. It supported girls from about 100 villages to attend school at most, from primary school to university, and support was extended to orphans and poor boys.

Yang Guiping believes that getting girls to receive education is a worldwide issue, especially in developing countries.

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It is a necessary condition for achieving equality between men and women, and can increase their economic income and job opportunities, thereby changing their lives. More importantly, it can build up girls’ confidence to become an important force in developing their hometown. This has been proved in the practice of “Zigen”.

After being subsidized, the enrollment rate of local girls has maintained at 85% to 100%. Some of these girls stay in rural areas, farming in a scientific way.

Some become the first female teacher and the first female health worker in the village to repay their hometown.

Some continue to go to high school and university, and become civil servants, and office clerks in the county after graduation, and have realized their self-worth while repaying the community.

However, Yang Guiping thinks that “Zigen” must not be confined to directly subsidizing girls’ schooling. Instead, promoting women’s all-round development is its goal.

Therefore, It helped establish women’s groups in Leishan, Guizhou Province so that they can inherit local embroidery culture, and engage in small-scale cooperative economy;

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It supported women’s cooperation in Rongjiang, planting watermelons in an ecological way to promote rural women’s participation in environmental protection and public affairs of the village;

In Qinglong, Hebei Province, it supported the establishment of women’s schools to promote local custom and civilization, carry out parent education, care for left-behind children, deal with conflicts between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, inherit local culture. It also set up women’s Yangko Team to excavate and inherit intangible cultural heritage.

Question Closing and Merging Schools:
Voice from Folks

The 30 years Yang Guiping worked in rural areas was also the 30 years witnessing China’s reform and opening up. As a witness and promoter of rural education, she is delighted to see the changes in rural education over the years.

“When we first arrived, we found the desks and chairs were not in uniform size and classrooms were in shabby conditions. But then the state gradually implemented a lot of preferential policies for education, especially the nine-year free compulsory education starting in 2006, which had a great impact on rural education. The school buildings become brighter and the burden of the peasants is reduced. The school of children, especially girls, are basically guaranteed. At the same time, the problems brought by the development of urbanization also shock her.

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“In the past, the rural areas were complete, with children, parents, old people, and primary schools in each village. But now only old people, left behind children and women are left. The reason for this is that young people go out to work and earn money.” Yang Guiping said.

In 2001, the State Council issued The Decision on the Foundation Education Reform And Development. Article 13 stipulates that “the layout of rural compulsory education schools shall be adjusted according to local conditions” and “the layout of schools shall be rationally planned and adjusted in accordance with the principles of the nearby enrollment policy for primary schools, relatively centralized policy for junior high schools and optimized allocation of educational resources”. This decision is referred to as “closing and merging schools” among folks. Since then, the rural educational pattern of “village-run primary schools” has been broken by the goal of popularizing nine-year compulsory education.

Although the Ministry of Education has repeatedly stressed the need for appropriate mergers to facilitate students’ access to schools and retain the necessary teaching points in areas where transportation is inconvenient, there is no uniform standard for the implementation of closing and merging schools across the country.

“In order to facilitate management, the one-size-fits-all policy was adopted. In some counties, schools with less than 100 students were all to be merged. When a village school was to be closed, there were 120 students. Parents strongly objected to the closing, but they ended up nowhere.” Yang Guiping has divergent opinions about about this.

Educators in the front line have a deep understanding of the negative impact of “closing and merging schools”. According to Zigen’s survey in a county in Hebei Province in 2008, it cost less than 500 yuan a year to go to the village school, eating and living at home.

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After the merger, accommodation, transportation and pocket money amount up to 2000 yuan a year. Some county schools can not provide boarding or the conditions are too poor, parents need to rent a house in the vicinity of schools to accompany the child.

That is to say, a large part of the school-running costs reduced by closing and merging schools has actually been transferred to parents, thereby increasing the burden on farmers instead.

“Some children, at the age of six or seven, carry heavy schoolbags, carry branches, rice and pickles to be cooked during his residence on campus, and walk three or four hours to the central primary school braving the harsh weather conditions in winter and summer. In some places, children even have to live at school from kindergarten.” The reality of “closing and merging schools” is far from the original intention of the policy.

Yang Guiping constantly received calls from parents, teachers and principals for help. She began to run around and appeal to put an end to “closing and merging schools”.

The strength of “Zigen” began to be felt: in 2006-2009, with the support of the local education bureau, “Zigen” helped to preserve Dasendian Primary School in Qinglong County, Hebei Province, Tianjiacha Primary School in Shilou County, Shanxi Province and supported the postponed merging of over ten teaching points in two counties.

Zhao Yinfeng, principal of Dasendian Primary School, witnessed this period of history: “Thanks to “Zigen”, a green campus with 143 students has been developed from a teaching site with only 12 students at the beginning, and 828 villagers in the whole village have been included in the overall education program, which is flourishing and prospering now. ”

“In remote mountainous areas, a school is the center of a village. It can preserve the integrity and cultural heritage of the countryside. Without schools, the countryside can only be abandoned. ” Yang Guiping said excitedly.

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To get more support, she asked the director of the Department of Film, New York University to film the documentary No Grade Five. She has penned a systematic research report on the Adverse Effects of Closing and Merging Schools on Poor Rural Areas, and appealed on various occasions.

In March 2011, Hu Weiwu, deputy to the National People’s Congress, referred to Yang Guiping’s report, put forward a proposal to re-examine the “closing and merging schools” at the session of the National People’s Congress. Several major school bus accidents at the end of 2011 heightened people’s doubts about “closing and merging schools”.

In 2012, China News Weekly made a special report on Ten-Year Examination of Closing and Merging Schools, which aroused widespread concern. Relevant departments of the Ministry of Education and some educational experts went to Shilou to investigate on-site and affirmed the “Zigen” project, and she was also named “Public Interest Watcher” among “2012 Moved China Top Ten People” by “China News Weekly”.

With the joint efforts of all sectors of society, the General Office of the State Council issued a circular on September 7 of the same year, requesting all localities to redesign the layout of rural compulsory education schools and stop the closing and merging of schools and teaching points before they are submitted to the State for review and filing.

Developing Non-governmental Organization:
Education Promoting Sustainable Development

In the past 40 years since the reform and opening up, China’s non-governmental organizations have gradually matured.

“The government is not omnipotent, and can not solve all the issues itself. In places where the government has not played its role or played it well, non-governmental organizations can play the role of having a wide range of contacts, and flexible mechanisms, as a supplement to the government functions.”

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Yang Guiping feels that non-governmental organizations are far from playing their role in China. In the future, China can tap their tremendous potential to involve more people to participate and become responsible citizens.

Over the years, the rural areas are plagued with serious environmental pollution, sudden disappearance of local cultures, prominent left-behind phenomenon, and desolation.

Therefore, in 1995, Yang Guiping set up “China Zigen Association for Rural Education and Development”, which has really realized the goal of “taking root” in China, and started to promote education for sustainable development in China’s rural areas.