From Time Weekly:
78-year old Su Huawen sat quietly on the side of his bed, wearing a blue Chinese tunic with worn out sleeves he’s been wearing for the last 30 years, and black-rimmed presbyopia lenses. Lying on the bed was his 66-year-old wife who was suffering from brain shrinkage and cerebral arteriosclerosis, covered in thin but stiff cotton quilt.
“He has so little money that he has to make his quilt cover with clothes from a used banner,” said Su Guotong, one of Su Huawen’s students.
Like many other citizen-managed teachers, Su Huawen is a teacher in rural citizen-managed schools and he does not receive the normal remuneration from the government. He’s been teaching in Shanwei Village Primary School for half a century and has educated numerous students. He could have retired as an honorable teacher and lived well for the rest of his life had it not been for the document issued in 2000 by government of Leizhou City, which fired all the citizen-managed teachers overnight, canceling out all their work they’ve done. He lost his source of income, plus the wife’s brain illness, the old couple has sunk deep into poverty.
He tried to claim the 12,000 yuan severance payment that he deserves, yet it is now 10 years from the day he got sacked and not a penny has come. He picked up farming, however due to old age and bad health, he couldn’t generate enough from the field. Last year, he put 1,000 yuan into growing chili, but only regained 20 yuan by far.
“Mr. Su has been teaching for so long that 3 generations of most of the families in our village are his students. Nobody would have imagined our teacher will end up in such a desperate situation.” said Su Guotong, who posted in ifeng.com on Jan. 13th, describing his teacher’s misery.
In 2000, Leizhou City sacked over 600 registered citizen-managed teachers and more than 300 substitute teachers, none of whom managed in getting any remuneration. Some teachers fought for regular teacher qualifications and succeeded, but many others ere less lucky.
Su Huawen is a famous local scholar that started teaching in Shanwen village in 1953. He was responsible for several grades in teaching classes such as Chinese language, math, PE, even music. Villagers called him “Master” for his capabilities in multiple fields.
In the 1980s, local citizen-managed teachers’ monthly wage is 30 yuan, public teachers 200 yuan; and after 1993, wage for citizen-managed teachers rose to over 300 yuan, while 900 yuan for public teachers. Although the work is the same, the pay gap between public teacher and citizen-managed teachers keeps widening. Yet Su Huawen still kept his job. He was listed as a First Grade teacher in 1991, and named a Superior Teacher two years later.
In 1992, Su Huawen was hired as a citizen-managed teacher instead of substitute teacher. “I was registered in provincial education bureau, and that is different from being a substitute teacher,” said Su Huawen and then presented relevant documents and certificates to prove his qualification.
He could have turned into a regular public teacher, because according the policy in 1992, all registered and teachers under the age of 58 can apply without examination. Su Huawen changed his age, but filled the truth –6 children– in the “scheduled birth” column; therefore he failed for “exceeding the stipulated limit of the birth-control policy”.
“He was just too honest, every teacher exceeds the birth limit at the time,” his student said.
Su Huawen stayed on the post for hope for re-applying, and the love for teaching. However, in August 2000, two village cadres knocked on his door and left the following message “you don’t have to teach anymore.” In the absent of any kinds of document or notice, Su Huawen was sacked.
“After that happened, I am utterably sad. I have a land beside the school, which recalled my mixed memories every time I went there.” Su Huawen expressed desperately, “I myself, was one of the founders of that school, but now…”
Back in 1982, Su Huawen wrote to his good friend Su Ziqiang, who worked in Hong Kong, saying the present school in Shanwei village is too broken and badly in need of renovation, and asked for a donation from him. His request was answered with 150,000 yuan, which was collected by Su Huawen and 5 other people including the head of the village. The primary school changed its name to Shanwei Ziqiang Primary School thereafter.
The document issued in 2000 by the government read：
“The government has decided to dismiss any teachers who has scored under 28 points in the 1998 Public Teacher Application Examination, as well as those who didn’t take the examination. Severance will be calculated as 300 yuan per teaching year, and pay at one time by each town from the educational surcharges.”
Su Huawen didn’t take the exam for old age, thus he belong to the dismissed list, and was entitled to 12,000 yuan according to the document.
For the old and sick couple, the severance was their financial means for their later life. He went to the town’s educational office time after time, and appealed to the city educational bureau. But nobody gave him anything.
“I am still counting on the severance promised in the document to live up everyday.” Su Huawen mocked himself.
Other victim teachers are scattered in Nandu Village, Gangdong Village, Meitian Village of Nanxing Town.
Su Guotong, the writer of that post, is the accountant of the village committee, according to whom Shanwei Village collected 30 yuan per year from each person as education surcharged during 2000 and 2003. All the sums were submitted to Town Financial Office.
However, Chen Ze, the head of the Town Education Office explained that the education surcharges were used in the infrastructure construction of schools, leaving nothing to cover the severance.
The head of Education Bureau of Leizhou City has a different story on the phone: “All the severances are well prepared and arranged, but those teachers are reluctant to claim because they want to apply to be regular public teachers.”
Sacked teachers disagree: “If it’s prepared and arranged, how come nobody ever informs us to pick up the money? How can you tell that we are unwilling to get the money if you never let us know?”
Wang Cangrao, another teacher who was sacked in 2000 unveiled the reason behind the issue: “it is because of the appeal.”
“In 2000, those teachers organized for times to appeal for higher authorities, they have delegates appealed to Leizhou City, Guangzhou and even Beijing. Through the process, some demand the alternative of turning regular, which was misinterpreted as ‘unwilling to get severance,” said 60-year-old Wang Cangrao, the teacher who was transferred to serve for Gangdong district, Nanxing Town for 6 years before he returned to be principal of primary school. All of these transferences were not recorded, and no file was created for Wang even though he’s been principal for 4 different primary schools. In 2000, he was sacked just because he wasn’t a registered teacher.
One teacher named Chen was among the team that appealed. As he recalled, he wrote to Zhang Dejiang, the then secretary-general of Guangdong province on behalf of the 600-some registered citizen-managed teachers. A year later he organized another appeal, and called up peers to protest in front of Guangdong Education Bureau. The appeal team was received and brought to the negotiation table with Laizhou officials. In 2008, this 44 year old Chen finally attained the public teacher qualification and returned to teaching, along with some other people who appealed.
Though many others are less lucky. There are 6 other teachers in Nanxing Town who have a similar experience with Wang Cangrao. The youngest one is Wang Rushang, who was qualified for becoming regular teachers but just hasn’t gotten a chance.
Chu Zhaohui, a researcher at China National Institute for Educational Research said 10 years of severance debt to fired teachers such as in Leizhou reveals the defects in our management of society.
“Substitute and citizen-managed teachers contribute to the country’s education prosperity in certain periods, they deserved their severance and remuneration. In fact it is an invisible debt that the governments owe to those teachers,” Chu Zhaohui said. “It is not only the education bureau’s business, civil administration and financial departments should also be responsible. When the severance cannot be settled at the city level, it’s high time provincial and even national financial departments step in to do the job.”