Last month Beijing shut many schools for children of migrant workers. The Christian Science Monitor in Beijing school closures leave thousands of migrant children without classrooms and the New York Times in China Takes Aim at Rural Influx covered this story well.
The children of Beijing residents at least can all go to school, but they also face many challenges. Unless you are very connected it is nearly impossible to get into Beijing’s best public schools, even with large bribes. The competition for the few available slots requires enrolling in for-profit tutoring enterprises run by the schools. Caijing recently highlighted this problem, writing in Middle School Enrollment Process Tainted by Hidden Interest Chain that:
A research report released by Xicheng District Procuratorate in June 2011 shows that “crime by taking advantage of duty” in the education system has shown a rising trend in recent years. It is primarily concentrated in primary and middle schools, and mainly features abusing authority to enroll students, secretly admitting extra students, and misappropriating school funds.
Training institutes that specialize in providing mathematics, English and language tutoring have profited by taking advantage of parents’ desire to give their kids access to the best education. In general, if a student takes all three courses, yearly fees will exceed 30,000 yuan.
The institutions also benefit from illicit transfers. A source from a training institution in Beijing told Caijing that some institutes establish relationships with primary and middle school principals and charge high intermediary fees to parents in exchange for introducing students to elite schools.
The enrollment process for students entering junior middle schools is interwoven with parents’ mentality of blindly pursuing elite schools; however, in the final analysis, this phenomenon still reflects the uneven distribution of education resources and the reality of inadequate investment in education. As money and elitism continue to rule the system, the enrollment process has evolved into a ruthless secret war.
The title of this post comes from a 21st Century Business Herald article (小升初”之战 都是“拼爹”的游戏) that also looks at the problems with Beijing’s public education system. Ms. Wang, who is doing everything in her power to enroll her child in a top school, tells the reporter that one of the reasons she is pushing is so hard is she fears her child attending a school with bad students and migrant worker’s kids:
“万一把你的孩子给派位到一所薄弱校，学生天天抽烟、旷课，好多都是外地孩子，你愿意自己的孩子跟卖菜、卖大米的孩子上同一所学校吗？”王女士有点自己的“歧视”。What if you send your child to a weak school, the students smoke every day, skip class, a lot of them are migrant workers’ kids. Are you willing to send your child to the same school as the children of vegetable and rice sellers?
Discrimination against migrants is official policy, as evidenced China’s hukou regime. That prejudice is also common to many urban dwellers.
As with the rest of China, Beijing has too many people and too few resources. We have already seen Beijing limit purchases of cars and homes, and it is inconceivable that Beijing will reform the hukou system and allow anyone who applies to become an official Beijing resident. As I wrote earlier this year, it seems Beijing’s motto is becoming less “Beijing Welcomes You” and more “Beijing for Beijingers.”
This kind of mainstream discrimination is also relevant to the “China Fantasy” some foreign observers seem to hold about the eventual “democratization” of China. Beijingers, and probably most urban dwellers in China, are highly unlikely to ever allow rural Chinese to have equal status with them.