HONG KONG-The Year of the Tiger got off to a gloomy start for hundreds of children of migrant workers in the Chinese capital, as authorities locked the gates of their schools and warned the principals not to carry on teaching them.
"The village and township officials all came to the school," said Principal Wang of Taoyuan School in an eastern suburb of Beijing, which is currently home to thousands of migrant workers from rural China.
"[Then] some security guards came and locked the school gates, then went away again," said Wang, whose school lies in Cuigezhuang, one of a number of areas scheduled for demolition and redevelopment in Beijing's eastern Chaoyang district.
Local residents said at least seven schools in the same area had been similarly affected, with students unable to resume class after the Lunar New Year holidays.
Authorities had already served the schools with notices that they should close by Feb. 28., and the gates of several schools were locked by officials early Monday morning.
"Nobody dares to open the schools," Principal Wang said. "The local government has made it very clear that they have their own methods of dealing with it if we go ahead and open the school, including violence," he said.
"There were more than 20 security guards who came to the school ... It's the same in Shanggao, Beigao, Shanggezhuang, and Cuigezhuang," Wang said. "This is a unified plan of action."
Authorities in Naixi village had also closed the Wende School there Monday, although the village wasn't yet in an area scheduled for demolition. The school still had some time left to run on its rental lease, the school principal said.
"The school was prevented from opening by security officials from the village government," Wende school principal Cui Kezhong said. "After they came, I went to find the landlord and to see the village committee. They shunted me around from department to department. None of them would take responsibility," he said.
He said the officials moved in spite of the lease, after informing the school that the land use rights would revert to the village government.
Lost to developers
Local media reports said at least 30 schools in several Beijing suburbs, including Chaoyang, Shijingshan, Changping, Daxing, and Fengtai districts were likely to be lost to developers by June this year, with more than 10,000 school-age children affected by the closures.
In Chaoyang alone, more than 20 schools looked set to disappear, mostly those providing an education to the children of migrant workers, according to a recent report in the China Youth Daily.
The 400-odd students at Cuigezhuang's Taoyuan School have yet to find somewhere else to study, principal Wang said.
"It's the children who are losing out the most," Wang said. "All we school officials are losing is money. The government won't do anything, and it's such a shame for the parents and the children."
"These parents don't have anywhere else to go. They can't move ... If they can't afford the high fees somewhere else, then the kids just won't go to school at all."
A single parent surnamed Du currently living in Cuigezhuang, said he had begun looking for a school for his daughter as soon as he heard Taoyuan School would be closed, but to no avail.
"There aren't any places, so I can't even move her to another school," said Du, who is a migrant worker from the eastern city of Suzhou.
"What am I to do? The hardest thing is that the state-run schools are all full up, and some are too far from our home. But we still have to keep looking. Otherwise the child's education will be affected."
Principal Li Junshan of Yuhong primary school, which was also recently closed in the same village, said they too had had no help from government officials.
"Some of the kids are just running around. Others are on the streets... I feel very sad and hopeless."
Calls to the Beijing municipal government complaints office, which has already received appeals about the school closures, went unanswered during office hours last week.
Original reporting in Mandarin by Ding Xiao and in Cantonese by Lee King. Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.