Published: 12:54, November 14, 2022 | Updated: 12:54, November 14, 2022
PDF View
Education opportunities for girls rising
By Li Hongyang

Reforms and assistive policies have overcome traditional gender imbalance in nation's classrooms. Li Hongyang reports.

Students who formed a chorus funded by the Spring Bud Project sing at an event in Beijing in October last year. (ZHANG YUWEI / XINHUA)

Editor's note: To mark the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, China Daily is producing 10 profile stories to show the changes in the subjects' fields in the past decade. This is the ninth in the series.

Born in an area with a traditional belief that girls didn't need a good education because they were destined to become housewives, Wang Fumei went on a hunger strike to protest her parents' decision that she should quit school.

Wang, now 43 and working as deputy head of Temuli, Butuo county, Liangshan Yi autonomous prefecture, Southeast China's Sichuan province, said she would have lived a very different life if she had quit school and got married as her parents had wanted.

In the 1990s, most of the girls who lived in villages deep in Sichuan's mountains dropped out of school after just a few years because they were either engaged or in arranged marriages. The betrothal gift from the man's family was a form of wealth they earned for the family.

No matter how capable you are and no matter what situation you are in, you must be grateful in your heart. Only you can change your destiny: no one else can do that for you.

Wang Fumei, deputy head of Temuli, Butuo county, Liangshan Yi autonomous prefecture in Sichuan province

Wang wanted to change her destiny by completing school, but her parents disagreed on the grounds that the family couldn't afford it.

However, in 1992, the Spring Bud Project, founded by the China Children and Teenagers' Fund, opened pilot classes in Butuo to help girls who had dropped out to continue their education.

Wang's thirst for knowledge was rekindled when she heard the news. Having dropped out of school at age 15 and stayed at home for two years, she was about to enter an arranged marriage.

Family standoff

When she told her parents about her dream of attending classes again, she was met with opposition. Her mother refused because Wang was the family's oldest child, so she had to do farmwork and take care of her younger siblings. The lack of available labor meant the family could only just make ends meet by planting corn and rice.

Moreover, her fiance was worried that she would leave the county and move to a big city if she received an education.

"I envied the lifestyle of female teachers and doctors in my village. They didn't have to do laborious work or endure a hard life like my parents," she said.

"I knew they had their difficulties, but the only thing in my mind back then was that education can change people's destinies. If I wasn't permitted to go to school, then I'd rather die."

When her request was refused, Wang started a hunger strike. On the seventh day, seeing Wang's determination, her parents finally allowed her to go to school and her arranged marriage was canceled.

The old school in Butuo's Yizi village, where Wang was born and raised, was poorly equipped. There were a few desks in the building, and teachers were employed on a temporary basis. When one teacher left, the students had to wait for the next one to arrive, Wang said.

Under the Spring Bud Project, the classrooms in a renovated building in the county's Xixihe Central School were spacious, and featured new desks and chairs.

Wang Fumei, deputy head of Temuli, Butuo county, Liangshan Yi autonomous prefecture in Sichuan province. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

The students received school uniforms and new dormitory bedding, and there was a dedicated teacher for each subject. Most importantly, tuition was free.

The girls' class had 30 members, but most of the students at the school were boys.

"The boys envied us because the girls' classes were highly valued by the local education bureau and they were taught by the best teachers from the county," Wang recalled.

She cherished the opportunity so much that she spent four years studying at the school. It was a three-hour walk from her home, so she only returned to Yizi once every two weeks.

Following middle school, Wang was admitted to the Sichuan Radio and Television Technical School in Xichang city to major in accountancy. In 2000, she returned to Butuo to work as a civil servant.

In 2019, after getting married and moving around the county for work several times, Wang was transferred to Boshi, a village in Butuo's Lada township, to work as an official. At the time, Boshi was listed as one of the most impoverished villages in the county.

Determined approach

"I made up my mind that I wouldn't leave until I had improved the lives of the people in the village," Wang said, recalling how she coordinated resources to build roads and houses, and promoted the relocation of people who lived in remote areas. In addition, she led the villagers in planting walnuts and herbs, and introduced training courses for farming skills.

She also helped solve the problem of local children dropping out of school as there was still an attitude of "boys over girls" in the isolated village.

To deal with the situation, Wang used her own experience as a guide.

She told the residents: "Even though I am married, if my parents are sick, I will still take care of them. You want to take care of your daughter? Well, let her study: her life will be good and she will definitely repay her parents."

To illustrate the benefits of education, she pointed out that illiterate women were unlikely to understand how to use modern appliances, such as smartphones, which would adversely affect their chances of finding well-paid employment.

When dealing with old-fashioned customs such as expensive betrothal gifts, which parents use to get daughters into arranged marriages when they are young, Wang usually said: "Look at me. If I hadn't broken off my engagement in my youth, would I still be me today? If you parents don't respect your child's opinion, she will not do well and neither will you."

Over the years, the number of girls dropping out of school has fallen dramatically, so the situation has improved. When a new semester begins, all the girls register on time, thanks to the country's assistive policies, according to Wang.

"The biggest change the project made for me is that I am able to live the life I want and I don't need to do manual labor in the countryside. Meanwhile, after the success of poverty alleviation measures here in the past few years, we can say that many beneficial changes have taken place," she said.

"No matter how capable you are and no matter what situation you are in, you must be grateful in your heart. Only you can change your destiny: no one else can do that for you."

Contact the writer at