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Once an oasis - The tragedy of Dongqi School
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By David Ferguson

China.org.cn correspondent reporting from Sichuan

A message of terrible poignancy

Someone took a lot of trouble to provide the students of the Dong Qi Experimental Middle School with a beautiful and serene place to study. The school lay at the north end of Hanwang Town on the banks of the Mianyuan River, right on the spot where it tumbles out of the mountains on its way towards Mianzhu and the Sichuan plain.

The entry to the school was an impressive arch tiled in blue and white ceramic façade. Above the entrance, the school's motto was picked out in splendid gilt relief, urging its students to be diligent, honest, and hard-working. Immediately on passing under the arch, on the left hand side was the school's Honour Roll, a pictorial tribute to the students who had best lived up to these ideals.

In a sign of simpler times, above the Honour Roll hung framed pictures of legendary Chinese heroes of the Korean War. On the facing wall hung maps of China and of the World. These were topped with portraits of symbols of an earlier revolutionary age – Engels, Marx, Lenin, Stalin and Mao. Between the two walls was the School Clock.

Strive to be honest, diligent and hard-working

The arch ushered you between two pillars, each decorated with a fine ceramic tile painting – one a pheasant and the other a phoenix – into a cool, shaded garden. Trees and shrubs provided an atmosphere of green seclusion. A neo-classical statue was the centrepiece of a fountain and pool in which carp swam. A high stone wall ran the length of the garden, with a covered vennel that added to the sense of privacy.

In the middle of the wall were a small doorway and a set of steps that brought you up on to a paved walkway running for hundreds of yards along the riverbank – from calm shadows into fresh bright airs. Every few steps along this path there was a bench of massive, carved stone logs. Looking down on the sparkling water and the white stones carried down by the current over thousands of years, and across to the nearby mountains, it must have been a perfect place to read or think on a pleasant summer's day.

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