A 15-year-old girl has made waves in the Chinese press recently for her fight against Shanghai authorities after she was banned from taking the high-school entrance examination because she does not hold a Shanghai hukou (household registration). She and her family have experienced harassment from locals and authorities as a result of their advocacy.
I’d been preparing for the high school entrance exam on June 16 and, although we didn’t have much hope, my parents and I never gave up talking to Shanghai’s education commission. I wanted to take that exam, same as my classmates at junior high and thousands of other Shanghai students.
I wasn’t doing badly at junior high, and I believed I could get into a good high school in Shanghai if I was able to take the exam.
All hope disappeared on June 7, coincidently the first day of this year’s gaokao (national college entrance exam). We were told I was not able to take the exam this year by the education commission.
I was desperate and I wanted to seek help from the public, so the week before the exam I set up an account on Sina Weibo using my real name.
The Internet is an efficient platform to speak out and gain support. My mother was against it, as she was worried I might be attacked by malicious netizens. But our family is open-minded and she respected my decision.
I started telling my story on Sina Weibo and received many words of support that encouraged me in my fight to defend my rights.
It was inspiring when celebrities such as Yuan Weishi and Shi Shusi forwarded my posts. They backed me up. I was not alone.
There were many disagreements, and I’ve received many comments from Beijing and Shanghai residents against the children of migrant workers taking the exam with their children. Some talked in a disrespectful way, which I was not happy about, but I tried to talk to them and persuade them to think about equality.
“Disagreements” is a mild way of putting it. Zhan and her family have been beng harassed. From an article about her in the Economic Observer:
15-year-old Zhan Haite has already been out of school for half a year, but in addition to studying English and Math on her own, she has been keeping busy helping her parents deal with all kinds of harassment. Recently, on November 28, an official from the local family planning commission came to the family’s home; “Someone called and complained that [the Zhan family] was preparing to have another child, so [the official] came to investigate whether we really were planning another birth,” Zhan Haite recalled.
Zhan says that this kind of baseless complaint is common harassment from locals who dislike that the family is ‘stirring up trouble’ by advocating that migrants be allowed to attend Shanghai schools. And the harassment directed at her isn’t just coming from locals. The official response to Zhan’s case hasn’t been much warmer.
After ‘dropping out’ of school, in addition to studying high school content on her own, Zhan Haite has sometimes gone along with her father to petition [the government]. The more they went, the more hopeless she became. Every time the answer was the same, and later after writing several letters to Shanghai authorities and having [the case] transferred to the education committee, the official response was just as cold.
(In fact, Zhan Haite’s father was even detained by the Shanghai police recently, although it appears that as of this morning he has been released or at least has come to an agreement of some kind with them).
So Zhan has been pleading her case on Weibo. She now has nearly 10,000 followers on Sina Weibo, and she and her family were even invited to do a Q&A session on Tencent Weibo. Unfortunately, before the Q&A took place, someone decided it wasn’t a good idea and shut it down. One of Zhan’s most recent Weibo posts reads, “The authorities have ordered us to shut down [the Q&A], I’m sorry.” The text is followed by the image of a heart breaking.
To [Zhan Haite], being blocked on Weibo is a common occurrence. “Either they say I have touched on sensitive topics of they say I have been reported, and there are too many complaints about me,” she said. As she sees it, all of this is done by the “skinheads,” a name she has used to refer to [anti-migrant Shanghainese] since a group of Shanghinese youngsters posing as maintenance staff came to Zhan’s apartment and threatened [the family].
Zhan’s weibo has also attracted some harsh comments from locals, some of whom present arguments about her family’s legal status and others of whom just sling violent slurs like “stupid cunt” at her.
Still, it may be telling that this incident has gotten so much attention in the Chinese press. Experts seem to agree that the hukou system has outstayed its welcome, and the media’s fixation on Zhan may help to push for reforms. Of course, it also helps that Zhan Haite seems to be quite an articulate girl; her case is not at all unique but it isn’t too difficult to understand why the media has fixated on her for the moment.
Additionally, though, Zhan may be an interesting example of what I might term the “dissidentification” of Chinese protesters. I have noticed and mentioned before how people frustrated with a specific issue in China seem to eventually become protesters and advocates in a more broad sense. Six months ago, Zhan was just a student, and shortly after that, she was just an opponent of Shanghai’s hukou policy. Now, though, her self-description on Sina Weibo beginss thusly:
A young citizen, a warrior for freedom, on the vanguard for democracy.
True, Zhan’s focus of discussion has remained mostly on hukou-related issues. But that language — and the fact that she chose to put all of that before mentioning hukous specifically when describing herself — is definitely interesting. I’m now following her on Weibo and will be interested to see if she becomes an advocate in other arenas as well as time goes on (that is, if she can keep her weibo account from getting blocked).