longling: where the children are…

The second station on the Chinese side of the Kowloon-Canton Railway, Buji was an important Hakka market town that during the early years of reform was a center of manufacturing. Today, Buji is a street office (办事处) with an estimated population of over one million. Most Buji families live in an urban village and their children attend minban (民办) schools. A minban school is owned and operated by private companies, filling educational needs that are not met by the public school system. Elite minbans tend to be international and position graduates for university abroad. However, the most common type of minban school in Shenzhen is the urban village minban, which has been set up to educate children who are ineligible for a public education. The most common reason for being ineligible for a public education are hukou related; often families are not long-term residents of the city, which means their children are only eligible for public education back home, or the child was born outside the family planning policy and the parents cannot afford the fines to send the child to public school.

In comparison to Shenzhen’s public schools, minban schools receive limited government funding, but are expected to achieve similar results. This means that urban village minban schools, which educate the city’s quasi-legal second generation face interrelated challenges. On the one hand, although minban schools cannot pay teachers comparable salaries to those of public school teacher, nevertheless, they are expected (by parents) to prepare students to succeed in the zhongkao. What’s more, this pressure is particularly onerous because if students do not do well on the zhongkao, they must leave Shenzhen are find a job. On the other hand, because their parents overwhelmingly work wage jobs and live in neighborhoods that are targeted for renovation (if not demolition), minban students have less stable learning environments than do public school students.

On Tuesday, September 25, I visited the Longling Elementary and Middle Schools to learn about one of Shenzhen’s more successful minban schools. The school succeeds through a combination of creative sharing of its resources with the community, creating study areas for students, and providing extracurricular activities in an innovative building. Indeed, I am particularly interested in the school’s shared use model. Their library, for example, is open to the Longling community after school and on the weekend, while they are also opening a museum onsite. Unlike the school itself, the the library and museum programs are eligible for outside funding as are various lecture series and onsite community activities. These additional sources of funding allow the school to pay teachers and keep tuitions low enough that families can afford to send their children to school.

Impressions of Longling School and its embedding in Longling Community, below.

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For those who have visited both downtown Shenzhen and Buji, or Shekou and Dalang, or Futian and Henggang, you know that Shenzhen’s inner (guannei) and outer districts (guanwai) are very different cities. Even as housing estates and attached shopping malls have become the most common urban form in the inner districts (with the exception of Baishizhou), handshake buildings, factories, and street markets remain the most common features of outer district neighborhoods. The demographics of the inner and outer districts are also strikingly different. Most inner district residents have Shenzhen hukou or long-term residency. In contrast, most outer district residents have long- and short-term residency. In other words, inner district residents are presumably “permanent” Shenzhen residents while outer district residents are most likely to be “temporary” Shenzhen residents, even if they have live in the city for decades and have raised or are raising families here.

The city’s “Come and you are a Shenzhener” campaign targets recent high school and college graduates. However, by the time the campaign began in 2006, it was already something of an anachronism. During the 80s and 90s, many migrants were in fact young and single. When I arrived in 1995, for example, I was told (repeatedly and by different people) that Shenzhen’s average age resident was 18 or 19 years old. What’s more, if not young and single, many first generation migrants were married men who came and lived as if they were single because wives and families were back home. However, by 2000, most family members had joined husbands and fathers, while many of the young migrants had married and started having children. Indeed, by 2000 Shenzhen was experiencing a baby boom and not just a one-child boom, but a multiple children boom a good fifteen years before it was legal for urban residents to have two children.

I have written about Shenzhen’s official second generation (also here) and how the children of migrants are shaping the city’s sense of itself, its possibilities, and its rhythms. However, what distinguishes the outer district Shen 2s (深圳二代) from inner district Shen 2s is their right to the city.  This means that many of Shenzhen’s second generation have been raised in urban villages.  Consequently, at stake in debates over the status of urban villages is not simply the question of where young, single migrants will launch themselves, but also (and in many ways more importantly), how accessible is family life in the city of Chinese dreams?




One thought on “longling: where the children are…

  1. What constitutes a long time resident? When you refer to children who cannot attend public schools because they are not long time residents of the city, does that mean that those families whose parents have emigrated or the elite?

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