China has pledged time and again to wipe out illiteracy, which makes the story of Zhou Jihan quite awkward. Not because she has yet to master her Chinese characters, but because there are still many millions of Chinese struggling like her to learn to read and write as adults. . .
In 2000, the Chinese government announced that it would wipe out illiteracy among adults as well as ensure free nine-year compulsory education for children by 2005. In 2002, state media reported great strides: the illiterate share of the population had fallen from 22.3 percent in 1992 to just 8.7 percent. That was the last time Beijing released official figures on illiteracy.
But in April, the state-run English-language China Daily announced that illiteracy had returned to “haunt” the country. The article quoted a top education official, Gao Xue-qui, saying at a conference that the number of illiterate Chinese had grown by more than 30 million from 2000 to 2005, creating a “worrying” situation.
Zhou, now 36, grew up in a poor family in a remote village in western China. Because even the local primary school charged high fees, Zhou’s parents made what the whole family considered an easy choice: Zhou’s brothers went to school, and she and her sisters stayed home to work on the farm. “I never went to school once in my childhood,” said Zhou. “We followed the tradition of paying more attention to the boys of the family than to the girls.” [Full Text]