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In The Field - School Stories - Lee Miahua

Lee Zhiqiang is the proud father of three hardworking daughters and an infant son. But even with driven children, the Lee patriarch discusses difficulties and frustrations navigating Beijing's broken education system for migrant students.

Lee Miahua* walked into the room and handed its residents each a bottle of water, then returned to her bed and sat down with a sweet but self-assured smile. Her father Zhi Qiang observed her with big black admiring eyes and lightly touched her head. "She has always been in the top three of every single class," he said. When asked her study secret, Miahua responded, hands folded in front: "I listen to the teacher carefully, and then I complete my homework seriously" in a methodical high-pitched voice.

Zhi Qiang continued: "My older daughter Hui Zhong is also a good student. She recently won a speech competition at a local university." Miahua's teacher Shian chimed in: "The Lee family has three daughters in school and they all study veryhard." They also has a newborn baby boy that slept soundly in the corner of the parents' bed.

The family moved to the suburbs of Beijing from Henan in 1992. "Initially, I missed my hometown," Zhi Qiang confessed, "but now that I am used to Beijing, I like it better." The family used to live in a bigger residence with the house owner, but was asked to leave by house owner after their fourth child was born. Now this family of six lives in a one room residence in Jinzhan. But despite cramped space, their room was tidy aside from pink and flowered clothing piled up everywhere. The TV was covered in sparkly Mickey Mouse stickers, and the daughters' bunk beds had more than their fair share of stuffed animals.

"To be honest, I'm not satisfied with the quality of education at this school. Most students who attend elementary school here have to repeat a grade when they re-enter the public school system," Zhi Qiang explained. "We sent our eldest daughter home for junior high so she would be better prepared for the high school test." He stood straight gesturing with one arm and the other planted behind his back, public speaking style. His shirtless chest and elaborately tattooed arms, glistening with sweat in the blistering Beijing heat, seemed slightly contrary to his formal demeanor. Zhi Qiang continued: "I am very happy my children are learning English though. It's a useful skill, and my daughter seems to be interested in it." Educational posters teaching the English names of animals decorated the walls. Miahua left the room abruptly and then returned with a plate of sliced watermelon.

"All of my children are going to university," he said. Zhi Qiang went to school up to junior high and his wife attended high school. "My wife helps them with all their homework every night." He explained the family had money saved up because Zhi Qiang used to own a restaurant and then sold it. "Right now I am looking to buy another restaurant though." As he spoke he spat black watermelon seeds onto the concrete floor. When he finished his melon slice, his daughter hopped up, took the peel from him and threw it in the trash.

"She can do whatever she wants after University," Zhi Qiang said, touching his daughter's shoulder lightly, "but I want her to be a doctor." Miahua looked up at him with big brown eyes. I got the feeling that she just might end up a doctor.

*Names have been changed to protect anonymity

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