Wednesday, 16 February 2011

China’s Big Society

As promised, a post on a positive and heartening aspect of life in China, to add a touch of balance to the mainstream media’s largely downbeat reportage on life in the PRC.
In 2003, an otherwise unremarkable man from the province of Anhui, wealthy Eastern China’s impoverished inland cousin, was injured along with the rest of his family in a fireworks explosion near their home. Shi Qinghua 石青华, his wife and son all travelled to Beijing to seek treatment, and he ended up living rough. Helped to find medical treatment and given financial support by people they met, Shi Qinghua and his family eventually got back on their feet, whereupon Shi Qinghua decided in turn to help the homeless children he’d come across in the city. 
He founded the Guang’ai 光爱 (Light and Love) School in the town of Zhangjiawan 张家湾, just a few miles east of downtown Beijing, offering homeless children and orphans shelter, food, an education, and the love and attention they’ve never had. On the Light and Love School’s website, they claim to apply the educational techniques of developmental psychologists such as Harvard’s Professor Howard Gardner and the American-educated Tao Xingzhi 陶行知, a champion of progressive education in China between the wars. That’s as maybe, and having no real understanding of Gardner or Tao’s theories I wouldn’t want to comment on how far the school puts them into practice. 
What Shi Qinghua has achieved, though, is humbling to anybody like myself who is full of platitudes and good intentions yet through inertia or trepidation never actually gets around to doing anything concrete for people in real need - and you don’t get much more in need than the orphans who live on the streets of China’s big cities.
The Light and Love School brings to mind what the positively saintly Camila Batmanghelidjh has achieved with Kids Company in south London, or what Dr Barnardo himself did when he gave up an ambition to work as a missionary in China, of all places, to found an orphanage in the East End in 1870.
If there any Western journalists out there looking for a story, you could do a lot worse than getting on the Batong Line to Tuqiao, flagging a taxi to the old Zhangjiawan Middle School 老张湾中学, and wiring a few hundred words to your editor on how the Chinese government is supporting private initiatives like this in their own version of David Cameron’s “Big Society”.

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