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Since 1st March, 1999
 
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RED SALUTE TO THE WORKER

In a country cynical after it discovered that baby milk powder is adulterated with the knowledge of the authorities, some rays of hope. A government official actually worked so hard that he collapsed and died from exhaustion; and, a school teacher has worked in a remote mountain school for 11 years on an annual salary of 182 kg maize. Luo Shibin was only 45 when he collapsed last week in a Sichuan hospital. Luo worked in Pingwu county, Mianyang City, very near the epicentre of the May 12 Sichuan earthquake. Almost 22,000 people died in Mianyang City alone, among them 11 of Luo’s relatives. Luo’s job was to resettle survivors from the county, and also to improve the infrastructure after the earthquake. He was responsible for relocating more than 1,300 households.

Luo’s colleague revealed that they would work till 10 pm every day, and took no weekends off after the disaster. Luo had told him just two days earlier that he needed a good rest. Luo’s wife, who fainted at the news of his death and had to be hospitalized, said she had barely seen him after the earthquake. He had lost more than 10 kgs since the quake, and had not been sleeping well, she said. When he finished work on October 23, Luo complained of a headache and was sent to a nearby hospital. He died there at 3 am. In fact, that evening his wife had called, asking him to come home. “He said he could not come back for the next few days and begged for my understanding. He was at a meeting. These were the last words he spoke to me.”

Not much else has appeared about this exemplary government servant. After his death, the county head said the government would try to give its employees some leave.

No need for rewards

Luodian county, where Li Zixi teaches, has few visitors, but is a geologists’ hot spot. Guizhou province in which it falls, is also not much on the tourist route. Home to 15 ethnic minorities, Guizhou is famous for its karst landscape. Interestingly, only one official — the vice-governor of the province — is listed as hailing from this area in “China Vitae”, which lists the biodata of top Chinese officials.

Not surprisingly, villages in this county have had to go without teachers — most take the first chance they can to escape to the cities. Thus, when Li Zixi was asked to be a ‘substitute teacher’ in Jinxiang village, which had had no primary teacher for two years, he agreed to give it a try for two semesters. He was 19, and had just finished his junior middle school education (the equivalent of our junior college).

Jinxiang village was more than an hour’s walk from Li’s own village; and it had no primary school. Li began teaching in a local official’s home, using the ground as a blackboard. He had less than 20 students, to whom he taught basic Chinese and maths. Li had no regular salary since he wasn’t a regular teacher. But the villagers gave him 182 kg of maize every year, and he got to keep whatever remained of the 30 yuan each student was supposed to pay as the annual book fee. Trouble is, some couldn’t afford to pay even that. Li began teaching in 1995, and is still there.

He toyed with the idea of migrating to the city once, but when a parent tearfully asked him what would happen to their kids if he left, he gave up the plan. Three years back, Li had to sell his family’s pig to pay for his students’ textbooks. That’s when the local press got to know of his plight.

The government then began paying him a salary of 600 yuan per month — which is the starting salary of urban migrant workers less educated than Li. Li also got a 2,000 yuan award from an education foundation. However, the remaining 70 ‘substitute teachers’ in Luodian county have not been so fortunate.

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