College Students Given a Food Subsidy

By Shi Shan, Radio Free Asia
April 20, 2008 12:00 am Last Updated: April 20, 2008 12:00 am

The Chinese government will provide 1.9 billion yuan (approximately US$271 million) to subsidize 20 million undergraduate and graduate college students to offset recent food price increases. Experts believe this measure is to prevent a possible college students' protest caused by the large increase in commodity prices.

The subsidy is estimated to be 20 yuan (about US$2.8) per student per month. The official Xinhua News Agency reported: The central and local government authorized 1.6 billion yuan and 0.32 billion yuan respectively. The 1.6 billion yuan is to subsidize 20 million undergraduate and graduate college students, while the 0.32 billion yuan is to subsidize 4 million students from financially stressed families. The total subsidy is 1.93 billion yuan.

The report quoted the officials of the China Ministry of Education claiming that this measure has been effective, and that students generally responded that the subsidy had reduced their financial stress.

Food Prices Up 50 Percent

Ms. Qi, a resident of Lanzhou City, Gansu Province, has a sophomore son. She told the Radio Free Asia (RFA) reporter that food prices have increased substantially in the past three or four months, and that the less than one yuan per day subsidy helps nothing. “The prices have increased at least 50 percent in the recent three or four months. Beef noodles used to be 3 yuan, but now are 5 or 6 yuan; vegetables used to be 3 yuan, but now are 4.5 yuan. The 20 yuan per month subsidy can only pay for two or three meals.”

Liu Feiyue, the head of Hubei Civil Observation, a rights group website, indicated that the scale of the recent price increases is beyond people's expectation; many families have started to feel the pressure in dealing with it. Being in the education system himself, Liu indicated, “The price increase is truly severe, especially in the food area. The pressure is very high for some poor students.”

Overseas media also noticed the announcement of this measure. The Associated Press reported that the large increase in commodity prices in 1988 was one of the events that triggered the 1989 Tiananmen Student Democratic Movement. China's government was apparently very worried that the recent price increases might also cause the same impact. The report specifically emphasized that Beijing university students received 60 yuan in subsidy, 200 percent higher than the average.

Tiananmen Déjà Vu

Liu indicated that the government's concern was apparent. “The problem that appears in college students' lives is not merely the problem of hunger, it makes them think, 'What makes this kind of thing happen? Why is it that we cannot have enough to eat?' After careful thought, they would make a judgment on Chinese society, even the system of China's government. This is not what the authorities would like to see.”

Fang Jue, a former Chinese official who now resides in the United States, said that the social group that has been affected most by the price increases was not the students, so the purpose to subsidize students was quite apparent. The “Tiananmen Democratic Student Movement was caused by price increases, which lowered the students' living standard in combination with other political reasons. The memory of this event is still fresh to the Chinese government; therefore to subsidize students first, not the public, is primarily for the consideration of preventing a student protest movement.”

On the Eve of the Olympics

Fang feels that the timing of China's regime in dispatching the student subsidy, on the eve of the Olympics, shows the government's lack of confidence that the Olympics can be held without a hitch. The student subsidy was exactly for the purpose of reducing the possibility of the occurrence of any problems.