China Trends: ‘labor education’ for kids and a poor town that borrowed billions

A remote Chinese town that went on a borrowing spree in the past decade has come under fire following a video showing its extravagant, debt-funded buildings.
Located in the southwestern province of Guizhou, Dushan County is in a mountainous area and has a large poor population. Despite having an annual revenue of less than 1 billion yuan ($140 million), the local government borrowed some 40 billion yuan ($5.7 billion) from 2010 to 2018, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency.
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The local Communist Party leader at the time, Pan Zhili, was charged with accepting bribes and abusing power in 2019. The court has yet to make a ruling.
In a recent report, Chinese media outlet Guan Video visited some projects funded by the debts, including a Forbidden City-like museum filled with copycat artifacts, a half-finished 24-story ancient-style wooden structure and an empty “Hong Kong science city.”
The video prompted a wave of criticism toward the debt-driven development model that often sees local officials investing in ostentatious, unsustainable infrastructure projects to boost GDP and show off their achievements.
“It makes me want to vomit,” says a comment on the Twitter-like Weibo. “40 billion spent on this trash. Why can’t it be used to support poor students and build schools?”
“This is the tip of the iceberg,” another comment said. “How many places like Dushan are there hidden around the country?”
In response to the outrage, the Dushan government said in an online statement on July 14 that it is reflecting on past mistakes and is trying to hire companies to take over the unfinished projects.
The Chinese government is setting a minimum time for children to practice physical labor as part of its push to promote labor education in schools.
Children in the first and second grades will be required to spend at least two hours per week doing work like cleaning classrooms and doing housework, according to a directive posted by the Ministry of Education on Wednesday.
Third-graders and older students are required to work for three hours a week.
Labor education has long been a part of the Communist Party curriculum in China. But some people have said that schools tend to focus on preparing students for exams instead of teaching them skills like cleaning and cooking.
On social media, some have applauded the new labor education campaign for encouraging children to work more, but others say such requirements will only add to the pressure of the already overburdened students and their parents.
“Secondary school students are getting up at 5am and doing homework till 11pm,” a Weibo comment said. “Now they also need to do physical labor.”
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