Peasant Autonomy
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Story 148

A hamlet in Hebei Province, China – 1997

Not one student less

for bigger picture click on this photo

(Photo: Bill Benson)

Hebei Province.

“But who are you?” the young woman who is lying on the bed asks. “I am Wei Minzhi, the substitute teacher. Master Gao had to leave, and now I am here temporarily. But, where is your son Zhang Huike? He is not at school, he has to go to school. That's mandatory. It is not permitted to be absent.” “He is no longer here,” the mother answers, “he left for the city, to earn money. We have debts, my husband is dead, and I am ill. He is the only one who can help. He went there with a few older kids from the village.”

Wei – long black braided hair, red-cheeked – walks away angrily. “Make sure that there is no student missing when I come back in a month,” teacher Gao had said. “When all are again there, I will arrange for you to get the fifty yuan the mayor promised you. Of the thirty-eight students we had last year, already ten have run off. You know what, when all twenty-eight are again there, I will give you ten yuan extra myself.”
Wei is only thirteen years old, she only completed the six-year primary school, but the mayor couldn't find anyone else. Teacher Gao was not at all happy about it, but he urgently needed to visit his old mother who was gravely ill. He showed Wei everything, gave some instructions, and then left.

for bigger picture click on this photo

(Photo: BenBenW)

Hebei Province.

Halfway to the school, Wei changes her mind. She doesn't go back to the school, she goes to the mayor! Let the village help the sick mother, then Zhang won't have to work in the city. But the mayor, a middle-aged farmer with a shabby grey suit and a grey cap on his head, doesn't want to hear about it. The village has simply no money for it, and that's the end of it.

At night, when Wei is lying in her bed, she almost wants to cry when she thinks about what happened to her that day. She can forget about that sixty yuan. Then she gets an inspiration. Tomorrow she will go to Zhang’s mother, ask her the address in the city where Zhang stays, and pick him up on Sunday. She doesn't have money for the bus ticket, but it doesn't matter, she will hitch-hike. With a faint smile on her face she falls asleep.


Not one less (1999) is a moving film from the Chinese director Zhang Yimou. The actors have their own names and play themselves.

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= the next page: The Baobab - a village in the Sahel, Africa – 1999, story 149.
= the Table of contents, story 148.