Human Rights in China deplores the Guangzhou authorities' efforts to prevent the children of an imprisoned rights defender from attending school and urges Premier Wen Jiabao (温家宝) to protect the two children from such attempts to inflict punishment on the family as a whole. Zhang Qing (张青), the wife of imprisoned rights defender Guo Feixiong (郭飞雄) (also known as Yang Maodong), has authorized Human Rights in China (HRIC) to publish her June 29 open letter to Premier Wen urging him to consider the plight of Guo's son and daughter, who are being barred by the Guangzhou authorities from enrolling in school.
"This denial of school enrollment to the son and daughter of Guo Feixiong represents a new low, punctuating the long list of abuses suffered by Guo and his family because of Guo's rights defense work and exposure of official corruption," said Human Rights in China Executive Director Sharon Hom. "The right of a child to education is the foundation of the future of any society. The authorities' calculated infliction of collective punishment on these innocent children is a grave affront to the rule of law."
Guo provided legal advice in a number of controversial rights defense cases and served as the main legal counsel in 2005's Taishi Village incident, which involved corruption among local officials. He was imprisoned for five years in 2007 for "illegal business activity" for a book he edited about a political scandal in Shenyang City in 2001. Guo has complained of torture and other inhumane treatment during his long detention, and has gone on hunger strikes numerous times in protest.
In her letter, Zhang recounts how the Guangzhou police (广州办案单位) previously threatened Guo Feixiong that they would prevent his children from attending school. Zhang describes how she went to register her son Yang Tiance (杨天策) at Hua Kang primary school (华康小学) on the first day of enrollment for this year, but his name did not appear on the list of accepted students and Zhang was told by the school in mid-June that she had to wait and has still heard nothing. Her son, who was supposed to begin primary one in 2007, has already been denied enrollment for more than a year, and Zhang now fears her son will be shut out for yet another year. Zhang also says her daughter, Yang Tianjiao (杨天娇), is being prevented from attending Tianhe No. 47 Middle school (天河区47中学) on the fictitious pretext of insufficient space.
"I hope that, with your authority and sense of justice, you can change the situation that they face. They should not have to encounter hardships and injustice like this at such a young age," Zhang writes Premier Wen.
Human Rights in China calls on the local authorities to immediately carry out domestic legal obligations in the Constitution, as well as China's international obligations, including under the International Convention on the Rights of the Child, which provides for the right to education for every child.
Dear Premier Wen Jiabao,
I have written President Hu Jintao and yourself in the past concerning the unjust case against my husband Guo Feixiong and the cruel torture he has received in detention. Today I am sending you an open letter on the trouble surrounding my children's enrollment in school. My son has already been deprived of a year of school. We have waited quite awhile this year for a notice of his enrollment, but it has not yet come. My daughter, who should be starting middle school this year, is also faced with the danger of being denied enrollment.
In writing about my children's school enrollment issues, I should first mention their father, Guo Feixiong's, situation.
For many years, Guo Feixiong has been involved in rights defense work, providing legal aid to those whose rights have been violated, and taking a leading role in the rights-defense movement. To quote him, he stands for an "open, lawful, moderate, responsible, localized, grass-roots, progressive, and orderly rights-defense movement." He seeks to "promote 'political reform in China under the rule of law,' and implement constitutional democracy in a progressive and orderly manner." He also advocates expansion of the civil rights movement "without violence, enemies, or bloodshed."
He has been pressured and persecuted many times by the police. He was illegally beaten three times and illegally detained three times. In the third illegal allegation against him, Guangzhou police handed Guo Feixiong over to the police in Shenyang because they lacked valid evidence and could not proceed with the investigation. He was tortured by both Guangzhou and Shenyang police, and in the end they used a high-voltage electric baton to shock his genitals. This qualifies as a case of unjust political persecution.
In the process of establishing this as a case of injustice through political persecution, Guo Feixiong received five or six threats from the Guangzhou police with who were handling his case. Three of these included:
The first threat, that they would send Guo Feixiong to Shenyang for even crueler torture, was fulfilled in 2007.
The second, that they would not allow his son to attend elementary school, was fulfilled in 2007.
In 2007, my son should have enrolled in his first year of elementary school; but this was prevented by related departments. His enrollment application was rejected, causing him to miss a year of school. This year, on the first day of recruitment for the 2008–2009 school term, I went to the elementary school to fill out an enrollment application. On June 11, when enrollment notifications were mailed out to parents, we did not receive one for Yang Tiance [杨天策]. I called the school to inquire, and the official said to wait another week. One week later, the school said to continue waiting. My son has already missed one year of school and yet he, one year older than his potential classmates, still does not know whether or not he will be permitted to enroll in school. Already one year behind, perhaps he believes that being deprived of school is normal.
My daughter should be beginning middle school this year. Now, the third threat, that she would not be allowed to enroll in middle school, is in the process of being fulfilled.
The situation is as follows:
To enroll Yang Tianqiao [杨天娇] in middle school, I called Tianhe District No. 47 Middle School, the school to which students of Huakang Elementary School should progress directly. I explained that I was the parent of Yang Tianqiao, a student at Huakang Elementary School, a resident of Mingyayuan. I explained that my daughter's hukou (residence permit) was not for Guangzhou and that I would like to pay the "assistance fee" for her to attend school on a temporary basis.
The director of student recruitment replied that the affiliated elementary schools for No. 47 Middle School are Huayang and Huakang Elementary Schools, but that enrollment at No. 47 Middle School was limited and they could only accept students who had been registered at either Huayang or Huakang Elementary School, and had a Guangzhou hukou. Students who did not meet these two conditions would not be permitted to enroll in No. 47 Middle School. Also, because enrollment capacity was limited, the school would not be accepting temporary students. Students without a Guangzhou hukou would not be able to attend No. 47 Middle School.
Shortly thereafter, I received a phone call from one of my daughter's teachers. I told her that I had just learned that Yang Tianqiao would be unable to enter No. 47 Middle School. I told her that No. 47 Middle School had said that enrollment capacity was already overwhelmed, thus Huakang students without a Guangzhou hukou would not be able to enroll there. It would be futile for me to pay the "assistance fee" and apply to attend on a temporary basis.
Her teacher replied that this was correct; Yang Tianqiao would not be able to enroll in No. 47 Middle School. "Assistance fees" and applying for temporary attendance were both futile as there were simply no spots available. She would only be able to apply for temporary attendance at another school nearby, and "assistance fee" should not be too expensive. I told her: if No. 47 Middle School was not a possibility for my daughter, then we would just have to find a school farther away from home. This would definitely be better than her not going to school at all.
I explained to my daughter that No. 47 Middle School does not have any free spaces left, so they would not be accepting any students for temporary enrollment. Therefore, she would have to go to a school a little farther away. She found this difficult to understand, and replied that all of the other students could directly progress to No. 47 Middle School, so why wouldn't paying the 'assistance fee' and applying as a temporary student work? "If I go to another middle school," she said, "I'll still have to pass No. 47 Middle School every day and see my classmates from Huakang. When they ask me why I don't go to No. 47, which is better and closer to home, how am I supposed to answer them? What will they think of me? Why are so many unfair things happening to us?"
I told her that the school did not have the capacity for additional students and could only take in those who have hukou in the surrounding area; we would just have to accept it. Even if she were a teacher's student, she would still have to accept unreasonable requirements sometimes. We would just have to put up with this. I told her she could study anywhere, it would not be a problem.
Afterwards, I called another middle school, explaining that I was the mother of Yang Tianqiao, a student at Huakang Elementary and that I would like to enroll my daughter into the school on a temporary basis. The person who received my call said that the school was not recruiting any students and was only accepting those from the local area, then hung up. He said that the school was not recruiting temporary students, but this is not true. There is a Korean child who lives on the eighth floor of our apartment building whom I know well, and I know that he has temporarily enrolled in that school.
If it were not for this school's refusal and for the false reason given, I would not challenge the validity of No. 47 Middle School's claim that they had no capacity for additional students. When I attended a meeting of the school’s parental association in early May, I took notes during the No. 47 Middle School Assistant Principal's speech. The Assistant Principal said that there were 331 students between Huayang and Huakang Elementary Schools, yet only 300 spots available at No. 47 Middle School. No. 47 Middle School would be unable to increase the enrollment capacity. However, I know that there are many students who will be attending a private boarding school—at least 10 students from Yang Tianqiao's class alone have already registered for this type of school. There are more or less ten students from every class who will not be enrolling in No. 47 Middle School, and with ten classes between the two schools, that adds up to 70 students who will not be enrolling in No. 47 Middle School. This adds up to much more than the 31 extra students from Huayang and Huakang Elementary Schools, and therefore all of the remaining students from Huayang and Huakang Elementary Schools should be able to enroll in No. 47 Middle School. Essentially, it is not due to the school's lack of capacity for more students that they are unable to recruit temporary students, as the school stated. It seems that they merely gave me a weak excuse in order to more conveniently refuse Yang Tianqiao's enrollment. Their objective behind all this is to fulfill the threat made to Guo Feixiong in 2007—that his daughter would not be allowed to enroll in middle school.
Can they deprive them of their basic right to go to school by simply providing the false excuse that they lack enrollment capacity for temporary students?
Last year, my son was refused enrollment to the first grade. At that time the school stated clearly: If we dismiss your son from school then we would be violating the Compulsory Education Law, but if we do not even let him enroll, then we would not be violating the Compulsory Education Law.
Perhaps it was this logic that was behind their actions. Please allow me to ask you, Premier Wen Jiabao, whether or not this is the case. Is it true that dismissing a student violates the Compulsory Education Law, while not accepting a child does not violate the Compulsory Education Law? Should a child be punished for his father’s actions and not be allowed to attend school in the city where he was born and raised? Can he not enroll even if we pay the "assistance fee"? Can a child be deprived of his basic right to education under the false pretense of lacking enrollment capacity for temporary students? Is allowing a child to endure this type of injustice and harassment proper conduct for a government who serves its people? Is a child’s right to education not a fundamental right?
Premier Wen Jiabao, with your work this year during the snowstorms and your presence at the Wenchuan earthquake disaster area, everyone saw that you are a Premier who is concerned with the hardships of the masses. We saw you hold the small hands of children after the earthquake, encouraging and consoling them. Now in Guangzhou, we are facing a different disaster; namely, children being deprived of their education and prevented from progressing in school. As the mother of these children, I am greatly distressed that children in modern China are still being deprived of education. With this in mind, I am writing you this open letter and asking you to extend your hand of morality and justice. Show your concern for a child, who, at almost 7 years old, has already been deprived of education for a year, and for a child that was prohibited from enrolling in middle school.
I hope that my son will be able to attend Huakang Elementary School, and that my daughter will be able to continue on to No. 47 Middle School. Due to the large number of students who are enrolling at private boarding schools, there should be many spaces available at No. 47 Middle School. Please allow my daughter to continue her education with her classmates at No. 47 Middle School, as this is neither an unreasonable nor unrealistic request. If Guo Feixiong's children still have the right to education in China, then Guangzhou, the city where they were born and raised, should permit them to attend school. I believe that treating children with fairness and justice is the key to constructing a fair and just society. Our government and society should fight for a child's basic right to education, right to fair treatment, and right to not be deprived of these rights based on false pretenses. Is not protecting the rights of children and ensuring that their minds are not corroded much more important?
I also must state here that many people perceive school, particularly elementary school, as a pure, untouched part of society. The Contemporary Education Law stipulates that teachers have the right to protect students. During the Wenchuan earthquake, there were many touching news reports of teachers sacrificing their lives to protect children. They have used their lives to pronounce a certain truth: that an educator is the best type of person. It is a Chinese child’s great fortune to be able to preserve this function and role in society for educators. [The government] has used the Ministry of Public Security’s authority to infiltrate the educational system; they have used teachers to control the rights of children—including the right to enroll in school; they have forced teachers to act as policemen in their treatment of children and cooperate with the Ministry of Public Security throughout all of this. This can only make teachers reflect on their actions with bitterness as they watch themselves do what they do not wish to do; use the might of the government to pick on young children. This is disgraceful and takes away the government’s dignity in trying to promote a harmonious society.
Premier Wen Jiabao, my son has already been deprived of education for a year, and my daughter is prohibited from entering middle school. With regard to their many problems with school enrollment this year, they sincerely hope that you can help. I hope that, with your authority and sense of justice, you can change the situation that they face. They should not have to encounter hardships and injustice like this at such a young age.
June 29, 2008
(This open letter will be sent by post to Premier Wen and simultaneously sent to the relevant departments and leaders: Huakang elementary school, Tianhe District No. 47 Middle School, Tianhe District Education Bureau, Guangzhou Mayor Zhang Guangning, and Guangdong Provincial Party Committee Secretary Wang Yang.)
For more information on Guo Feixiong, see:
For more information on UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, see: