Who Am I (I)

 

秦继杰 (Qin Jijie)《我是谁》 Who Am I12
要问我是谁 If you asked me who I am
过去我总羞于回答 before I was ashamed to answer
因为我怕 because I was afraid,
我怕城里的孩子笑话 I was afraid city kids would make fun of me.
他们的爸爸妈妈 Their parents
送他们上学 drive them to school
不是开着本田 in Hondas
就是开着捷达 and Jettas,
而我坐的三轮大板车 while I go to school on a tricycle,
甚至没有装马达 that doesn’t even have an engine
要问我是谁 If you asked me who I am,
过去我总羞于回答 before I was ashamed to answer
因为我怕 because I was afraid,
我怕城里的孩子笑话 I was afraid city kids would make fun of me.
他们的教室宽敞明亮 Their classrooms are bright and spacious,
大操场上有跑道,还有足球和鞍马 the playground has a running track, a football field, a pommel horse,
而我低矮昏暗的教室 yet mine is small and dark
像鸟笼,困住我自由活泼的心灵 like a birdcage, trapping our free and lively minds.
要问我是谁 If you asked me who I am,
过去我总羞于回答 before I was ashamed to answer
因为我怕 because I was afraid,
我怕城里的孩子笑话 I was afraid city kids would make fun of me.
他们渴望的二零零八 They are eager for 2008,
被音乐老师谱成了歌 their music teacher even wrote it into music,
被英语老师译成“very good” their English teacher translated it as “very good”
而我只能用加减法 yet I can only add and subtract
算出自己还没到十八 to calculate that I won’t be 18 by then.
要问我是谁 If you asked me who I am
现在我可以回答 now I can answer (proudly),
因为爸爸盖的高楼很高 because my father builds very high buildings
妈妈扫的马路很宽大 and my mother sweeps very large avenues.
刚刚开过的人代会 The just opened NPC
要把我们的教育写进宪法 wants the Constitution to guarantee education.
老师说,打工子弟和城里小朋友 The teacher says migrant workers and urban kids
都是祖国的花 we are all our motherland’s blossoms,
中国的娃 we are all China’s children,
都生活在城市的屋檐下 we all live under the same urban roof.

Many things have changed since Qin Jijie wrote this poem in 2004, notably the expensive cars that many urban parents drive. The school for migrant workers’ children (nongmingong zidi – 农民工子弟) he opened in Beijing in 2000 now has more than a thousand children enrolled. Local governments have introduced some policies to guarantee better access to compulsory primary education for migrant children. However, the hukou system continues to act as a stumbling block for access to public schools in cities, as well as a social stigma that thwarts migrant’s urban integration.

Since the children of migrant workers don’t have a local hukou, they are not taken into account by the local government when calculating the education budget. Therefore, public schools continue charging additional fees to migrant parents. On top of the temporary student fees (jiedu fei – 借读费),3 migrant parents have to deal with extra fees such as the “school selection fee” (zexiao fei – 择校费) that for some popular schools can be as high as 230,000 yuans.4 Although not exclusive to migrant parents, it puts a lot financial pressure on low income households. The zexiao fei is still widely used by public schools to increase revenues. It refers to activities parents undertake to gain entrance for their children to the school of their choice.

Moreover, migrant parents have to produce some official documents such as work permits, proof of residence, temporary residence permit, or household registration booklets, a requirement that effectively leaves many migrant children excluded from public schooling. Since many parents are self-employed, it is very difficult for them to obtain a work permit. In some places, a tax certificate can replace it, making this hurdle easier to overcome. Apart from the difficulties in getting access to public schooling, the discriminatory hukou represents a social stigma. According to a survey in 2012, among the approximate 2500 migrant children who responded, 86% of them said they did not mingle with local children5.

Those migrant children left out of the public school system have to attend private schools. Private schools are affordable but lack proper facilities and even the necessary licence. According to a report carried out in Beijing from 2011, out of 300 schools surveyed, only 63 had a licence.6. The demolition of unlicensed schools has been commonplace during the last few years. Sometimes it is carried out without prior notice and migrant children find themselves without a place to learn from one day to the next. Many children end up enrolling at private schools located far from where they live or are sent back to their hometowns.

  1. This is the original version of the poem, not the edited version recited during the broadcast of the Chunwan(春晚)of 2007 []
  2. Author’s own translation []
  3. Although this fee has been banned by the central government, some local governments continue to charge it to migrant parents under a different label. []
  4. The Children of Migrant Workers in China. China Labour Bulletin. May 8, 2009. http://www.clb.org.hk/en/content/children-migrant-workers-china-0. Last accessed November 4, 2013. []
  5. Zhuanjia cheng lianghao jichu jiaoyu shi liudong ertong jiankang chengzhang de guanjian – 专家称良好基础教育是流动儿童健康成长的关键. http://www.chinanews.com/edu/2012/12-18/4418208.shtml. Last accessed November 4, 2013 []
  6. Migrant Workers and their Children. China Labour Bulletin. June 26, 2013. http://www.clb.org.hk/en/content/migrant-workers-and-their-children. Last accessed November 4, 2013 []

Miguel Elosua

Spanish qualified lawyer; PhD in Chinese Law. UrbaChina Research Officer. Has lived in China since 2006.

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