A charity formed last year is struggling to raise 20.002 million yuan (about US$2.41 million) needed for 10,001 needy college students before their enrollment day on September 1.
The New Great Wall is a relief program launched by the China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation (CFFPA) to provide subsistence assistance to needy college students.
Although the program has received donations from institutions, enterprises and individuals including high-ranking officials and ordinary workers, it has raised only 7 million yuan (some US$840,000) after two months has passed.
"There are only 10 days left but we still have 13 million yuan (about US$1.5 million) to raise, which means 6,000 needy students are still waiting for the money for their basic subsistence," Li Li, a CFFPA official in charge of the program, said.
"If we fail to get the money for these young people, I will feel uneasy and guilty," Li said.
"They placed their hope on us, but we might let them down."
Ye Dawei, an official in charge of the volunteers working on the program, hoped the deadline could be extended.
"I dare not imagine how their hopes will be dashed when they learn they will not be able to get the funds."
Statistics show that 20 percent of the nation's 16 million college students are from needy families who struggle to pay fees that have been rising since the country launched a reform of its higher education system in the mid 1990s.
A college student in the 1980s paid only several hundred yuan (tens of US dollars) a year for fees, but today, annual college fees generally range from 3,500 yuan (over US$420) to 5,000 yuan (about US$600).
He Jianming, an author known for his writings on the disadvantaged, said that it is impossible for needy families to afford such high fees for their children on their own.
The country has adopted a series of measures to assist college students from needy families since it began to reform the higher education system.
The Ministry of Education reiterated in recent years that no college or university should deny students from needy families because of difficulty in affording fees.
However, He said, the expense of lodging and feeding these students after they are admitted into colleges is still a problem for students from poor families.
Li Jianguo, a volunteer from prestigious Peking University who went to outlying, poverty-stricken areas in Hebei Province last summer to look for needy students, said that he learned the importance of his voluntary work after he saw the living conditions of the needy families.
Tang Jun, a researcher of social policy with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said that it was a good thing for society if more young people from needy families could help shake off or ease their family poverty by going to college.
Rejecting to label college students from needy families as disadvantaged, Dong Yaohui, chairman of the China Great Wall Association, noted that the aid to needy college students was not poverty relief in a general sense.
"We do not assist them out of sympathy. Instead, we do it out of our respect and admiration for their courage and success."
Zhang Hu, a student of the Beijing-based China Agriculture University from a needy family in the mountainous Zhangbei County of north China's Hebei Province, is both a donation receiver and a volunteer of the New Great Wall program.
Zhang said that it seemed a kind of torment to tell media his family hardship, but it is worthy if the torment can earn back more donation for his peers.
Lin Xue, a beneficiary of the program from Shenyang-based China Medical University in northeast Liaoning Province, came to Beijing to work for the program the second day after her summer vacation started.
Lin said that she had asked her faculty for permission to return several days late for the new semester.
"Not until I see myself all 10,001 of my peers get the donation can I feel at ease."
The donation hotline for the New Great Wall program is 86-10-62611023 and 86-10-62615766.
(Xinhua News Agency August 22, 2003)