'The Government Has Just Dropped Us'

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china-classroom-may-2013.jpg Pupils at a countryside school in Guizhou province, March 11, 2013.

Li Zhongyan was recruited in 1979 by authorities in Qitaihe city in the northeastern Chinese province of Heilongjiang as a cover teacher, as part of a drive to boost teacher ranks in schools by hiring bright young high school graduates from rural areas. Attracted by official promises of promotion, Li taught for nearly two decades in rural schools, but lost her job amid mass layoffs of teachers in the program. She told RFA's Cantonese service that she and others like her have been petitioning for some sort of social assistance, pension or compensation from the government, for the past 16 years:

It was my parents' influence [that made me take up teaching]. My mother was a teacher, but my family circumstances were tough. I was the eldest of eight children. I was good at schoolwork, though. At that time they were recruiting teachers, and they said that [cover teachers] would be able to formalize their status later, which is why I took the test. I got the highest marks.

I feel it's very unfair that other people were able to become full teachers, but those who worked the hardest and achieved the most weren't able to upgrade their status.

We are all in our fifties and sixties now, which means we are close to retirement age. I am really quite depressed, because we have been seeking out [officials] for so many years now, with no result. We have to take manual labor jobs to survive, which is a heavy burden. Some of the teachers who are also farmers can till some land, but some are so poor that even the roofs on their thatched huts leak.

The government has just dropped us, and won't give us the time of day. They say what we are doing is illegal. Recently they drove us out into some deserted place and beat us up. I was beaten till I was black and blue and my clothes were all torn. They also took our money away. At the time I was so angry that I had a heart attack, and had to be taken to hospital for emergency treatment. But I didn't die. We have been roughed up by them in the past, too.

People like us have absolutely nothing. Petitioning is such a hard way of life. But we are still determined. We're not going to give up now, after we've been petitioning all these years.

Reported by Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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