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In The Field - School Stories - Gao Jianming

Comparatively well off for their small migrant village, the Gao family struggles to give their son a top notch education in the migrant school system, and aims to pay for both their children to attend university.

Gao Mei's* arms were crossed in slight reticence as she sat on her bed, speaking in accented Mandarin about her child's education. "I pay my son's teacher fifty yuan per weekend to give him private tutoring," she explained. This is on top of the five thousand yuan tuition Mei already pays for her son to attend the village migrant elementary school. "He will definitely go to high school. If he doesn't pass the exams, I will pay for him to go to vocational training school." Jian Ming is one of the lucky students at Yuhong School. Mei's husband Xu Guan started a small business with his cousin repairing elevators in Beijing, making the Gao family one of the better off families in Dongxiaokou.

Mei's residence was humble but characteristically kid-oriented. The walls were pasted with old newspapers and Christmas-themed snowman cellophane. A TV in the background had a Chinese soap opera on silent, while a goldfish swam about a dirty fish tank beneath the TV table. Mei's sister Xui Li came into the main room with two bowls of steaming pot stickers in delicately painted porcelain bowls. Meanwhile, the two boys fake-sword fought in the courtyard with old pipes.

Mei continued: "We moved here five years ago from Sichuan. My son started off at a different private school, but our community there was condemned by the government and everyone was forced to move out. That school was better: the management was more professional," she explained. "At Yuhong School, students are punished physically if they do something wrong." Jian Ming came in from playing with his cousin in the courtyard and half squatted with his arms out, smile on his face. Mother explained pointing to him: "This is what they force them to do if they misbehave. Stand in half squat!" Jian Ming giggled and took a sip of his bright blue packaged tea.

"I can't help him with his homework. I only graduated from primary school," revealed Mei. All the same, she has high hopes for her two children. Her 18-year-old daughter Ting recently graduated from high school, and hopes to attend university. Ting is interested in accounting for a career. Jian Ming has even higher aspirations though:he wants to be a rock star. Mei commented on his career ambitions with a slight smile: "I'd prefer if he had a more regular job, maybe a state-owned company."

Despite her modest background and position as a migrant in Beijing, Mei maintained a certain resoluteness when discussing children's future: "I would do anything for my children's education." Above her head hung a car advertisement calendar with transplant English words "My empowerment be with you." It sounded like a bad Star Wars translation, yet for some reason it seemed all too fitting for this transplant family in the suburbs of Beijing.

*Names have been changed to protect anonymity

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