As the only appointed political advisor from the Naxi ethnic group, Yang Yiben, also the vice mayor of Lijiang City in Yunnan Province, has brought two proposals with her to the Fifth Session of the Tenth National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) in Beijing, a far cry from the 14 that she presented at the First Session in 2003. Yang's decision to keep proposal numbers down this year reflect her focus and determination to drive home the need to increase education investment in West China's rural areas and to enhance protection of the country's cultural diversity.
Education in west China's rural areas
At last year's CPPCC session, Yang submitted two proposals on rural education in the western regions calling on the central government to increase investments in this area. In an interview with China.org.cn, she revealed that her efforts last year bore fruit. More funds were allocated, which enabled education authorities to retain teachers, particularly in the more remote areas.
Her proposal this year focuses on the children of migrant workers who have been left behind in the villages while their parents leave for the cities in search of work. These children are sometimes referred to as "left behind children".
"Millions of farmers are flocking to China's cities, seeking work in an effort to provide better lives for their families left behind in rural homelands," Yang said.
"Once a father leaves his family, greater responsibility falls on the children, not just in terms of household chores, but also in looking after younger siblings, or even their grandparents.
"In school, 'left behind children' often fall into one of two groups: they either top the academic tables, or languish at the bottom. Problems related to the security, education, physical and emotional well-being of these children who are normally in the care of their aging grandparents or relatives are becoming an increasing issue of concern.
"Although some migrant rural workers can afford to take their children with them to where they work, it is almost impossible for their children to be given equal education opportunities in the cities because of the hukou (household registration) system.
"As a member of the CPPCC, I have the responsibility to speak for all these migrant workers and their children who have no other representative."
On unique ethnic culture protection
Yang is the pride of the 300,000 Nanxi people in Lijiang City not only because of her position and status, but also because of her untiring efforts in cultural protection.
Before she became Lijiang City's vice mayor, Yang worked on ethnic culture research for more than 20 years. She has translated 17 ancient Dongba books into Chinese, and transcribed over 30,000 lines of Naxi folk songs in the Naxi text.
"The beauty of Lijiang City is not only in its splendid natural scenery, but also in its unique ethnic culture that includes the old town of Lijiang, which is a World Heritage site; ancient Dongba literature; and its three rivers. If we are to practice viable sustainable development, we must protect our culture."
In Yang's opinion, the old town is different from other World Heritage sites in that it is neither a historical site nor a museum. It is an organic community of people who continue to live there. Protecting the town is a bit of a challenge for its inhabitants and the local government because the people want development.
"People live in the old town of Lijiang have a right to want more comfortable and modernized living conditions. We cannot expect them to continue with their aboriginal lifestyles just so we can protect the site. We need to find the right balance between protecting the culture and development.
"I submitted 14 proposals during the First Session of the Tenth National Committee of the CPPCC. This year, I've only brought two with me because I want to stress that our government needs to pay more attention to the protection of ethnic cultures. My hope for the future is that we are still able to tell the world of our living cultural diversity, rather than describe it as something that we used to have."
(China.org.cn by staff reporter Wu Nanlan, March 8, 2007)