When he finally received his admission letter from a college in July 2012, Zhang Xinwen, a young man from the mountainous area in Weixi Lisu autonomous county, southwest China’s Yunnan province, sat in silence for a whole night with his brows knitting.
For Zhang, the admission letter was proof that although he was from a poor family, he could earn a ticket to college by himself. However, going to college was something he could not afford.
His father was sick and the whole family relied on Zhang’s mother for livelihood. Zhang knew clearly that the family had already done everything they could to get him through high school.
Since he went to school later than most children in the country, Zhang was already 20 years old when he got the letter of acceptance from college. Thinking about the situation of his family, he was tortured by the dilemma of whether to find a job or continue to finish college.
“I’ll go out to find a job so that we can have a better life sooner,” Zhang told his parents his choice calmly, and then the three of them remained silent for a long time.
“We can be poor all our lives, but we can’t always yield to difficulties the whole lifetime,” said Zhang’s mother after the long silence. She didn’t go to work that day, and said a lot to her son.
“We must get you through college, even if we have to smash our pots to sell the iron for money,” she said. Among all the things she said to Zhang, the remarks impressed him the most. Zhang’s mother is illiterate, but she is unyielding just like most Lisu people.
Continuing with his studies meant a considerable sum of money the family had to pay. Zhang and his parents carefully calculated the money they could possibly gather to pay tuition.
However, after counting all the money they could collect, the family found that the money they had was still not enough for tuition.
Just when they were at their wits’ end, Zhang Jianjun, an official in their village, told the family that each student who was admitted to college could apply for a subsidy of 2,000 yuan from the civil affairs bureau of Weixi Lisu autonomous county.
The 2,000 yuan was an essential support for Zhang. In the same year when Zhang finally went to college, many other students from poor households in Weixi Lisu autonomous county like him also got to pursue higher education outside the mountains because of the subsidy.
As of the end of 2019, the county had provided subsidies for 1,631 poor students for education in institutions of higher learning. Basically all the students who needed help with their tuition fees had been admitted.
At the end of August, 2012, Zhang finally entered the campus of his college. Although it was the first time that he left his hometown, he knew the door to a promising future was opened for him.
In an effort to relieve the economic burden on his family, Zhang worked every vacation he had during his years in college. As the three years of Zhang’s college life flew by, the situation of his family got better and better.
“Would you like to teach classes at our school?” a leader of Weixi Lisu autonomous county No.1 middle school asked Zhang over the phone in 2015 as the young man was looking for a job after graduation from college.
Later, Zhang became a substitute teacher in his hometown, and then a formal teacher in 2017 through examinations.
As Zhang got a steady income, his family was removed from the list of impoverished households according to relevant policies.
In the elementary school of Baijixun township of Weixi Lisu autonomous county where Zhang works at, most of the students are local children of the Lisu ethnic group. They have poor foundation of preschool education, and some children from remote mountain villages even can’t understand Mandarin Chinese as they enter the school.
In order to better teach them knowledge, Zhang often spoke Mandarin first, and then explained what he said to them in Lisu language.
“The first batch of students I taught are now fourth-graders. They can speak Mandarin better than me,” Zhang said, adding that education has not just changed him, but is changing the whole mountainous area.
As the environment of the school Zhang is working at improves with each passing day, more and more people with bachelor’s and master’s degrees have become his colleagues. Meanwhile, students in his school have started to learn to surf the Internet and have more expectations for the outside world. These great changes make Zhang feel more confident about future.
As Zhang passed by a book corner in the corridor of a teaching building before noon break, several students who had been reading book saw him and stopped him with a bunch of questions. Zhang decided to sit down and read a story together with them.
“Children who love reading books won’t be hindered by these mountains,” Zhang said.