According to figures released by China’s National Bureau of Statistics, the 2004 annual per capita income of rural people in China’s impoverished counties is 1,582 yuan (US$190).
Yuzhong County, where farmer Yang Yuxiang lives, is one of the poorest counties in Gansu Province. Yang has two children, both enrolled in senior high school. The burden of high tuition fees forced Yang to decide by drawing lots which child would drop out of school.
He chose his 18-year-old daughter, Yang Yingfang, who, out of despair brought on by her father’s choice, attempted suicide by jumping off a cliff.
Yang Yingfang’s 53-year-old father has earned only 1,000 yuan ($120) so far this year. The annual tuition for each child was 860 yuan ($103). On August 24, 2005, apparently, Yang Yuxiang decided to draw lots to choose which of his two children would have to drop out of school. But in fact, the two lots were the same; neither was marked, both were identical. Yang had already decided that he needed to keep his son in school, so he let his daughter draw first for the chance to leave school.
According to the Southern Metropolis Daily, after Yang Yingfang was told she needed to drop out of school: she prepared a meal for her younger brother, finished the farming work in the fields, and then jumped off a cliff near Xinying village in Yuzhong County. She said she had no regret for killing herself because her only chance to escape a life of poverty had perished.
Among the 3,600 students in the high school where Yang Yingfang attended, 95 percent are from poor rural families. The monthly cost of living for these children ranges between 90 to 150 yuan ($11 ~ 18).
The village where the Yangs live has about thirty households. In recent years only one person from this village had passed the college entrance exam, and Yang Yingfang was the only female who was able to attend senior high school. After she returned to the village neighbors told her, “Let your brother receive an education. It is not that important for a woman.”
On the afternoon of the same day, Yang Yingfang went out to work in the flax field until approximately six o’clock that evening. After finishing her work, she walked alone on the mountain ridge; the thoughts of despair enveloped her and then she jumped from the cliff.
Two days of searching by the Xinying villagers led to finding Yang Yingfang’s body lying midway up the cliff. Her clothes were torn apart, and there was blood all over her body. She remained in a coma for two days but her life was saved.
A recent survey conducted by China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation indicates that the tuition fee amounts to 28,000 yuan ($3,360) at least for a four-year college education. This is equivalent to thirty-five years’ income for the average farmer in these impoverished counties. On top of that, living expenses, the costs of food, clothing, medical expenditure, and a retirement fund have to be factored in. Before Yang Yingfang attempted suicide, she said an education was the only way out of her poverty-stricken life.