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The Fight for the Right to Schooling


Text by Cheng Yu

It’s been ten years since Zhan Haite began residing in Shanghai. She considers herself a Shanghai resident who should enjoy the right to attend a local high school; regulations disagree. On June 8, 2012, she launched a Weibo account to begin relating her tales of struggle.

Fifteen-year-old Zhan Haite soon attracted national attention by demanding admission to high school for residents of Beijing and Shanghai regardless of their registered hometowns.

Actually, Zhan wasn’t the first person to question the policy. In mid-2012, the Chinese central government asked local authorities to brainstorm solutions and promulgate measures by the end of 2012.

The Dilemma

The problem is related to Chinese household registration system. Since China resumed its college entrance examination in 1977 after more than a decade of suspension, candidates have had to take the entrance exams in their registered hometowns. However, according to the sixth national population census in 2010, some 220 million Chinese residents live or work outside their hometowns, leading to schooling problems for the next generation, particularly when they must travel back to their hometowns to take entrance exams.

Over the last few years, the local governments have provided two possible resolutions: grant permission to certain non-registered candidates to participate in the exams and accept some as local residents through household re-registration. In 2012, for instance, Shanghai allowed a certain number of non-native candidates to take their national college entrance exams if their parents met any of ten conditions, such as exceptional talent in their field, post-doctoral candidates in institutes of higher learning and research institutions, and “educated youth” — high school graduates who worked in poverty-stricken and border areas in support of the local culture and economy during the “cultural revolution” (1966-1976).

Zhan Haite’s parents met none of the requirements. Even worse, the fact that she has a brother and a sister makes it even more impossible for her family to register in Shanghai because they violated the one-child policy. According to current regulations, the municipal government grades applicants for household registration on seven factors including educational background, employment status, and income tax returns. For Zhan’s family situation, the current process leaves no hope at all.

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