Text by Guan Qianyu Photographs by Zhu Xiyong
In the depths of the mountains of Yunxi County, Hubei Province in central China, is a middle school located on the edge of sheer cliffs. With no access to the highway, it requires students to spend 20 minutes climbing the hill, and daily necessities can only be transported by hand. The school is known as Mt. Jinluan Middle School.
Mt. Jinluan is at the end of Qinling Range, and surrounded by steep cliffs on four sides. A stone path leads up the hill. The school, first built in 1982 during the early days of China’s economic reform and opening up, was constructed in an abandoned Taoist temple halfway up the mountain. Another two-story building was later constructed, which is far from large enough to accommodate the 540 students and teachers who board there. Nevertheless, the school has invigorated students’ hope for the future through excellent educational services.
Two “treasures” for students are a woven bag and a plastic water bottle. The bag is used to carry supplies up the mountain. During the dry season, water must be fetched from the river at the foot of the mountain.
“The school considers ‘transportation’ as part of the physical education class,” reveals Li Meiqing, the principal. Each student endures at least one such “class” each week. To purchase fresh vegetables in summer, the P.E. class is doubled. Such exercise actually works wonders for fitness, and the school leads the county in athletic performance every year.
However, accommodation conditions are very poor. The dormitory, 20 square meters in area, sleeps more than 30 students in two levels of big beds. Each student has space only 350 cm wide on average. It’s not strange to see two or three students share a single blanket. Another 65 students live in one room that is a little larger, but neat.
Accommodations for teachers are not much better. Guo Qingming, dean of students, has worked there for 23 years. His wife also teaches at the school. His 76-year-old mother lives with him. The family of three has one small room and a half. For those whose spouses live elsewhere, two teachers share one room. For young unmarried teachers, four live in a single room. Three other staff members live in a nearby temple hall.