Donation to Poor Children in China Comes With Propaganda Strings Attached

February 7, 2016 Updated: February 9, 2016

In October last year, Chinese leader Xi Jinping outlined ambitious plans of lifting 70 million Chinese out of poverty by 2020—with a particular emphasis on the young. But when it comes to what actually takes place on the ground in China, the reality is rather different.

Below are two recent cases where schoolchildren who were originally the target of poverty relief efforts were tricked or extorted by officials or their teachers, triggering outrage online.

A Donation Minus Lunch Costs

About a month after Xi’s speech, a company in Hefei, the capital of Anhui Province in eastern China, decided to donate 1,200 yuan (about $183) to 30 poor students at the Song Temple Elementary School in Yongqiao District, Anhui. Days before the donation was officially handed out, however, Party officials at the school summoned the parents of the student recipients and outlined the strange conditions for the gift.

“School officials told us that we must treat the company representatives to lunch, since they came all the way here to make such a donation,” a parent going by the pseudonym Wang Ming told, the official mouthpiece of the local government.

“Then they told us that because the school was short on funds, the children getting the donation must pay for lunch.”

The school demanded 200 yuan (about $30) from each student candidate for donation—about 16 percent of the donation.

When she refused the request, Wang said she was told that the school would choose another child for the donation. Upon hearing that, Wang said that all parents simply turned up and silently forked over their 200 yuan.

Attending the lunch were company representatives, school officials, and the 30 students, as well as local Party officials.

The story quickly went viral on Chinese social media, leading to the headmaster Ma Jijie being fired.

On Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter-like service, Chinese Internet users were on a warpath. One netizen called for Ma to be “shot in the head” for allowing the extortion from students; others were quick to point out that the problem went beyond the headmaster.

“The school headmaster has been fired, alright. But what about those Party officials who were there at the lunch?” asked an Internet user from Heilongjiang. “What does it mean that they’re ‘being dealt with’? How come they weren’t fired as well?”

Chinese media reported that several Party officials were being investigated, but it was unclear if any sanctions had been administered.

“It is the same thing with colleges in China. When you get a scholarship, you have to share it with school officials,” wrote a netizen calling him or herself “UNIQUE Duan Jianfei” from Jilin Province. “Don’t ask me why. It’s an unspoken rule.”

Students Become Tools For Photo Op

On Jan. 15 this year at the Jinshan High School in Dawu County, Hubei Province, 183 poor students were invited by their teachers to participate in a photo session, showing how they are receiving financial aid. Each was asked to hold up one-hundred yuan bill and wear a beaming smile, reported business magazine Caijing.

But at the end of the session, not only did the school take back the bill, but they also failed to give the students the more than 1,000 yuan in aid each was promised.

Dawu County has been designated a “poverty county,” and many of the students at the school are so-called left-behind children—that is, children of rural migrant workers who have moved to the cities to find work.

Mr. He, an English teacher at the school, told Caijing that the school withheld the money because they were afraid the students might lose it. When asked why they were nevertheless made to smile for the photo, Mr. He responded: “You can’t possibly look sad when receiving financial aid, can you?”

An investigation was carried out, and the headmaster was suspended. All 183 students eventually got their financial aid. Nevertheless, the story touched a nerve among Chinese netizens.

“Anti-corruption, anti-corruption—when will the educational industry be the target of the anti-corruption campaign?” asked a netizen from Henan Province with the name “cocrear.”

Another netizen with the name “Hao Luo” wrote: “Nowadays, poor students cannot change their fate even if they go to college. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.”

“A common phenomenon. Don’t take this to be something strange in this magical country,” wrote a netizen from Gansu Province.

Follow Frank on Twitter: @HwaiDer