Chinese Modern Classics - Crisis in a Rural School in China

Price: $19.79 $13.91 (Save $5.88)
Add to Wishlist

The Sky Dwellers describes the lives and struggles of primary school teachers in Jieling, a tiny, fictional community nestled high in remote mountains in China. These teachers are not state teachers, with regular salaries and pensions to look forward to. They are, instead, community teachers (or “minban teachers” – a term which literally translates as “people-supported” teachers) whose wages are paid by the local community and who might not have received much beyond primary school teaching themselves. During the 1960s, 70s and 80s, most children in China were taught by minban teachers. From the early 1990s onwards, the role was gradually phased out, and some minban teachers were lucky enough to become state teachers.A minban teacher’s life was one of poverty. State subsidies provided only part of their wages and local cadres were supposed to make up the rest from often very limited village funds. But often the cadres did not pay on time, or at all. Inevitably, this would result in tensions – a theme explored in this novel. Each of the teachers in the book responds differently to the pressures of life as a minban teacher. But the novel is not just about the teachers’ lives, it also deals with the impact they had on the children and the community they served. Set in the 1990s, a time of great social and cultural change in China, The Sky Dwellers is a compelling, personal and moving account of a part of China’s recent past which is often overlooked.
Sample Pages Preview
The September sun gave no hint yet of its softer winter warmth. The moment it rose over the mountains it brought people out in a sweat, then hung red and proud until the time came for it to set in a blaze of scarlet. That was when the small mountain village of Dazhang shook off its sunbaked torpor and came to life. After a day of quiet, it was now impatient to let off steam. A black dog drove a clutch of chickens out from the bamboo grove. The commotion was too much for an old ox, returning home at day’s end. It
lifted its head and let out a long bellow. Black smoke spilled from the chimneys and was carried swiftly up the hillsides where it gathered and grew into dark clouds.

Night was falling. Zhang Yingcai had spent the day beneath the large camphor trees at the edge of the village. He turned the last page of a novel which he was reading for the second time. He could hardly bear to put it down. A Small Town Youth was written by a cadre from the county’s cultural centre. When he graduated last summer, Yingcai had staged a burglary from the school library so he could keep this beloved book to himself. It was a large operation, six burglars in total. Originally there had been just five, but they’d run into Lan Fei in the library. Fortunately, they discovered he was also there to steal books. First, Lan Fei tucked a book on the political treatise “Thick Black Theory”under his arm, then several volumes on Machiavellianism in bureaucracy. The others picked out books on domestic appliance repairs, machine maintenance, breeding, and cultivation. Yingcai only took this novel, then went outside to stand guard. He’d heard that Station-Head Wan, the head of the township’s education station, was due to visit, so Zhang Yingcai went to wait at the edge of the village every day, taking the book with him. He finished it in just a few days.

The more he read, the more he realised the wisdom of his class teacher’s catchphrase for motivating his pupils: Better to die in the sewers of a real city than to live among the springs of Jieling. Jieling was a tiny settlement, perched on the highest, most distant and inaccessible spot in these mountains. Just standing at the door and looking up in its direction was exhausting.

The thought made him reflect on his time at high school. He had spent four years there instead of the usual three. The fourth year was a repeat, personally arranged by Station-Head Wan. Obsessed with reading novels, Yingcai failed to pay proper attention to other subjects. He never scored more than thirty per cent in any maths test. His class teacher reprimanded him for letting his uncle (the station head no less) down. He even suggested, with great sadness, that Yingcai must surely have been sneaking sweet potato
from Jieling to have performed so badly in maths. The mountainous settlement produced not only sweet potatoes, but also sweet-potato shaped people. (They even had a different name for the vegetable, calling it hongshao instead of the more common hongshu.) People from Jieling were such stupid, fat sweet potatoes they couldn’t even use chopsticks. Jieling is also famous for the fact nobody there had ever been to university. When Yingcai started his third year, the main school gate faced in the direction of Jieling.

But by the time he repeated that final year, the parents of other children who were re-sitting years had given money to have the gate moved. It now faced away from Jieling — and the passing rate in the national university entrance examinations had doubled. Sadly, the beneficiaries had not included Zhang Yingcai.
Chinese Modern Classics - Crisis in a Rural School in China