Zhang Hua was born in 1978 and has been a primary school teacher in a small remote village in west China from the age of 17. Many village folk have moved to urban areas, and Zhang teaches the children left behind in the village. The number of pupils has decreased in the past ten years to a mere six today.
Many a villager living in the remote mountains in west China has left home and moved to the town as young people flock to big cities for jobs with the increasing pace of urbanization in China. Zhang Hua also intended to find a job in the city after graduating from secondary school in 1995. But her teacher, who was going to retire soon, insisted that she stay behind to teach the children in the hills, as no other teacher was willing to take the job in this poor area. Zhang has stayed for ten years since then and turned from an ingenue to a mature young woman of 27. The number of pupils in the primary school has decreased from a few dozen to only six today. Zhang is the last and only teacher and she teaches language, math, science, music, arts and sports. The pupils gather in a cave dwelling for lessons. When one class is having its lesson, the other pupils turn their backs to the blackboard to study on their own. Zhang receives a monthly salary of about 100 yuan but she often doesn’t get paid on time with delays sometimes extending to more than a year. Yet she ignores the suggestion from her father and others to stop teaching when she fails to receive salary. “It is no fault of the children; I cannot ruin their study,” she says. A relative of Zhang found her a job in the city some years ago so that she could leave the poor mountain village. She had packed up her belongings but on the next day, after a long night of consideration, she went back to school again. “I will not find a job outside until the last pupil leaves the school,” says Zhang.