Class Is Very Much in Session in China

By Fish, Isaac Stone | Newsweek, September 6, 2010 | Go to article overview

Class Is Very Much in Session in China


Fish, Isaac Stone, Newsweek


Byline: Isaac Stone Fish

Although China has far higher ambitions than to be the world's factory, you wouldn't know that by looking at its best schools, whose students hail overwhelmingly from China's urban minority. Consider Tsinghua and Peking universities, known as China's MIT and Harvard. Each has roughly 30,000 students, most of whom are now drawn from the country's upper crust. Peking took only 16 percent of its students from rural areas in 1999, down from nearly 60 percent in the 1950s. Tsinghua took 17 percent from rural areas in 2000. Experts and students say the numbers have shrunk even further since then. (Media officers at both schools did not respond to requests for comment.) Pan Wei, a professor at Peking University's School of International Studies suggests that rural enrollment there today might be as low as 1 percent--a claim that's even more shocking when you realize that more than half of China's 1.3 billion people are country dwellers. "We can hardly find anyone here with a rural household registration," Pan tells NEWSWEEK.

Times have changed drastically since Mao's day, when peasant students packed the classrooms at topnotch universities. (Widespread urbanization has also trimmed the number of peasants across the country.) Premier Wen Jiabao, who turns 68 in September, boasted in a speech last year that 80 percent of his classmates were from peasant villages. …

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Class Is Very Much in Session in China
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