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School Uniforms in China

10 May 2007

In China, school uniform is an issue, with accusations of school administrators using it as a money generating instrument heard from time to time.

The latest allegation involves a primary school in Yunnan in China's southwest. It is said that the school authority demanded 50 grade six students, who are about to graduate in couple of months, to purchase new uniforms, and this was the third set of the uniforms that the students were ordered to buy in four years.

Do those kids all come from China's newly affluent families? Sadly, no. The school is located in a poor mountainous region where the average annual income of a peasant is just a little over 1,200 yuans, that is about half a US dollar per day. With 45 yuans - the price tag for the uniform - many poor students could survive on meager meals for half of the school term.

The school administrators apparently have discovered an inexhaustible revenue stream in uniforms. But oddly, the school buildings are still seriously rundown and ill-equipped, and the students were seen doing their outdoor activities barefoot on an unpaved, dusty playground.

Since '90s, some certain elements in China promote tirelessly an unchecked free market model and an unrestrained commercialism spirit, and the national psyche has experienced a rapid shift, with many schools beginning to view themselves more a business enterprise than an educational institution. To some of them students are just commodities, and they are pretty happy to squeeze as much profit margin out of them as possible. The tuition fees used to be their big money draw, but since early this year the central government decided to foot the bills for rural students, there is little that they can mess around. But so what, they still have school uniforms to play around with.

A villager girl carries her baby sibling on her back.

Since all ethnic minority Chinese, that include Bais, Dongbas, Tibetans and Uighurs, are not targeted by one-child policy, the cozy scene of sibling interaction can still be observed among these people.

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