Liu Zhenlong, 18, is a senior at Gan Quan County Senior High School. Zhenlong ranks #4 out of his class of 65 students. His favorite subject is math and medicine, and he aspires to one day become a doctor.
The Liu's family home.
However, it is not clear how Liu can finance the tuition and other costs of a university. His father contracted polio at age 2, which stunted his growth and leaves him unable to do physical labor. His father used to work as a "barefoot" doctor, serving rural patients, but he explains that now days the patients prefer to go to doctors in towns, at modern facilities. His mother has suffered from epilepsy for many years. The family's income is a limited to poverty aid assistance from the government and the little they can earn on their 4 mu (2/3 of an acre) of arable land. Their "house" is a two-room cave, carved out from high on a dirt mountainside, 50 kilometers away from the high school. They have few other assets.
Liu's mother and father.
Despite obvious challenges, the family does have one rural scholar. Liu's older brother passed the competitive exam and is now a sophomore at Ya'an University. Having a role model to emulate has helped Liu achieve academic success. However, with a family member in university, it is especially difficult for Liu to finance his educational dreams. The family's own resources are fully exhausted, and they are in debt to many in their village. Nobody will lend them more money, and private, educational loan programs in China, stopped in 2004, are not available. In this environment of financial constraint, one sibling's success can crowd out achievement by others. It is ironic that his brother's example of success in making it to a university may in fact be the financial impediment that keeps Liu from realizing his own potential. Liu wakes each day at 6am to get ready for classes and study, which lasts past midnight. When asked what his favorite university is, Liu looked surprised. "Favorite?"he wondered aloud. He then explained, "he cannot; answer that question, I don't have a favorite. I am only focused on doing the best I can."