After news spread in China last week that a number of schools for the children of migrant workers in Beijing would be closed and demolished, many Chinese expressed anger at the inequalities facing migrant families in the city. Anger was then compounded later in the week as news spread that the state-linked charity China-Africa Project Hope aimed to build more than 1,000 schools in Africa using donations from wealthy Chinese.

For more background on the controversy surrounding China-Africa Project Hope, the World Eminent Chinese Business Association and billionaire Lu Junqing (卢俊卿), see our reviews here, here and here.

Getting back to the issue of migrant schools, in fact more than 30 migrant schools have been closed in Beijing this year, according to Chinese media.

On August 17, hosted an online chat with well-known Chinese Academy of Social Sciences professor and CMP fellow Yu Jianrong (于建嵘). The chat gave Chinese web users an opportunity to express their views and ask Yu about his views on education, property demolition and migrants’ rights.

The interview is an interesting illustration of how internet portals, which are prevented under Chinese regulations from news reporting, employ other means to address topics of interest to their audiences.

Over the past six months, more than 30 schools for the children of migrant workers have been closed down in Beijing’s Chaoyang District, Daxing District and other areas. Thousands of migrant worker children face a situation in which they have no schools to go to. Whose interests did these migrant worker schools come up against? Why were these schools for the children of migrant workers abandoned? On August 16 at 7:30pm, Tencent’s “Sharing Ideas” (思享时间) program invited Yu Jianrong (于建嵘), a professor at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences Rural Development Research Center to explore this question: Who did schools for migrant workers come up against?

Zhang Anping (张安平): Hello, Professor Yu. Concerning the multitude of forced demolitions and cases of resistance against forced demolition, I have four questions. 1. Is the issue that local governments pursue only GDP growth and disregard the central government’s 305 order (中央三令五申) [against forced demolition]? 2. Or is it that the central government is giving tacit permission, and 305 is just to appease the public, doing something on the surface. 3. Is it illegal for the people to oppose forced demolition? 4. If one meets with forced demolition, what is the best thing to do?

Yu Jianrong: With demolition there’s the issue of political point-making by local governments, and then there’s the issue of the interests of local leaders, and these actually concern the politics of the central government. Right now many local [governments] are [supported by] land financing (土地财政), and the nation emphasize stability before all else. Without land financing, local governments would have no way of operating, and that’s the most outstanding stability issue. But forced demolition is just about the stability of a few. If it came to a choice between the two, of course they would choose the former. [NOTE: Yu is saying that between being insolvent by not playing the land financing politics that lead to violence and the stability issues that emerge from demolition, leaders choose the former path, opting for demolition and removal of residents.]

Jiang Xiaohua (蒋小华): I wonder why Professor Yu does not recruit the best people possible and jointly create a national chain of schools for migrant workers’ children. The whole country is avoiding this question, but the issue of education for the children of migrant workers is really important. There are many people in China who prioritize education and it would certainly gain everyone’s support. What do you think?

Yu Jianrong: I don’t know how to do it. If you have a good plan, of course I would support you.

Chen Hui (陈慧): Schools can be demolished, but why aren’t various other factors considered first? Why is it that no thinking is done at all? What kind of humanity is that? It seems all [our our] policies come without full plans and just go blazing ahead. Is this the result of habit or the bad outcome of [unchecked] power?

Yu Jianrong: I too believe that arrangements should first be made for schooling for the children before demolition goes ahead. Allowing children to go without schools is an intrusion on citizens’ right to equal education.

Fish Lover of the West (西部爱上鱼): Professor Yu, is it possible to use the opportunity presented by the demolition of these schools to “force” public schools to open up, making public schools open up to them?

Yu Jianrong: Of course the hope is that public schools can be opened up to them. But actually doing this is difficult.

Zhang Yifei (张一飞): Why do we have to use terms like ‘migrant worker’ (农民工) and ‘outside laborer’ (外来务工人员) [to describe this population]? I rarely ever see them described as citizens. So are they are considered a step below city residents (城里人)?

Yu Jianrong: Actually, whether we call them migrant workers, or laborers entering the city (进城务工人) or citizens, the crucial question, yes, is whether there is basic equality of rights.

Teacher Eggplant (茄子老师) As a teacher myself, I feel sick about this. What is the reason for demolishing these schools?

Yu Jianrong: The official word is that they are carrying out a management action, but in fact it is a kind of shirking of responsibility.

Kong (孔): Could we send city [kids] to the countryside for schooling? I think its really necessary to send city students to the countryside to be reeducated!

Yu Jianrong: That would be difficult. Rigid demands and regulations aren’t what we need. Complete freedom of choice is also not the right way.

He Mingfeng (何铭峰): Education in the big cities is so developed. Essentially [students] can rather easily test into a good university. But in the countryside, if you want to test into a decent university you have to work ten times harder than people in the cities . . . Inequalities in regional development of education has resulted directly in inequality of educational opportunities. I’d like to ask Professor Yu, if teachers salaries and benefits were equalized across the country, would there be a change in the way people see the situation?

Yu Jianrong: I don’t think it’s an issue just of equalizing teacher’s benefits. Another very important issue is equipment and infrastructure, and the balanced development of other resources.

Laughter (欢笑): Professor Yu, in the eyes of many people in our country, you are now a representative of Them. Do you really think you can help Them solve this issue?

Yu Jianrong: What I’m most afraid of is people speaking this way. How have I become a spokesperson? All I do is voice my own personal views on a number of public issues. I cannot resolve this or that issue myself. All I can do is say something when I see inequality.

Brother Pillar (柱子哥 ): Within [Beijing’s] Fifth Rind Road there are tens of thousands of children who have now lost the ability to go to school. But Project Hope runs off to Africa to build 1,000 schools. Can’t they pay attention to problems domestically first? Can’t we first ensure than kids in mountainous areas get to eat breakfast before we plan banquets? What does Professor Yu think about this?

Yu Jianrong: As soon as some action or another has becomes politicized, then its difficult to judge it according to common sense. Actually, protection the equal rights of the citizens of this country should be the politics that takes precedence above all.