Wearing a white cotton shirt and a confident smile, Zhang Guohao looks no different from his schoolmates in Beijing.
But Zhang is different. He's the son of migrant parents. He now studies at the Honglian Primary School, one of the few schols that now have both local children and children from migrant workers' families in Beijing.
More than two-thirds of the 460 pupils attending the school are from migrant families. With such a large number of migrant students, the school is playing a key role in promoting a nationwide programme called "Hand-in-Hand," aiding children from rural areas or poor families find mutual understanding and respect in cities.
"I have already found six hand-in-hand partners in school, most of whom are from local Beijing families," Zhang said proudly.
The boy came to the capital with his father two years ago from a small county near Handan, a city in North China's Hebei Province.
"Now I live with my father, who earns his living in Beijing by helping others print and dye patterns onto clothes. My mother still stays in my hometown," Zhang said, not showing any unease.
Though Zhang's family is still in tough circumstances, according to his teacher, Cheng Shi, the boy does not show any sense of inferiority when compared with his city fellows, something that is all too common among children from migrant families.
"When I first visited the home of my hand-in-hand partner Zhang Guo, I was so nervous that I didn't dare eat the fruit and candies his parents offered me," said Zhang. "But later we became good friends."
Fourteen out of 25 pupils in Zhang's class come from migrant families, and now, each of them has at least one hand-in-hand partner in school.
"Everyone is treated equally, wherever he comes from," said Cheng. "No discrimination is allowed."
According to Cheng, mutual respect prevails among the pupils, which creates a healthy environment for shaping students' personalities.
"Instead of laughing at rural children who may carry strong accents from other dialects, city fellows strive to help them pronounce words in standard putonghua," Cheng said proudly.
Meanwhile, the good qualities rural pupils display, such as consideration, diligence and endurance, seem to exert a subtle influence on their city partners.
"Before my hand-in-hand partner Ge Liming showed me farmland, I could hardly recognize a single plant," said Zhou Fei, a 9-year-old girl at the school. "But now, I realize that farming is really hard work."
At the school, children from migrant families come from as many as 22 provinces.
"Since some parents do not send their children to school on time due to busy working schedules, or they do not attach enough importance to their children's education, we teachers often come early but leave late," said Cheng.
"However, nobody complains. That's because the moment we chose teaching as our career, we chose devotion."
With the principle of "equality, harmony, balance and development" in mind, the school promotes the Hand-in-Hand Programme among its pupils in all it does.
The programme, which is jointly operated nationwide by the Communist Youth League of China and the National Working Committee of the China Young Pioneers in the early 1990s, links urban and rural children together.
Hand-in-hand partners send letters and books to each other, and visit each other's homes if possible.
"We will make the programme a continuing focus of our work," Zhang Xiaolan, secretary of the Communist Youth League of China, told China Daily while at the premiere of the movie "Blossoming Rhapsody" on May 26.
The movie depicts the hard life of a little girl from a migrant family in Beijing.
A report from the Chinese National Bureau of Statistics shows that currently there are more than 100 million migrant workers working in urban centres, away from their rural homes.
(China Daily June 1, 2005)