Original publication date: 2/26/13
It was back to class yesterday for all elementary and middle school students in China. Parents and children in Beijing’s Dongcheng district lined up at the Jiaodaokou area Wulanhua Bookstore after school let out to buy supplementary textbook materials. Within just a few hours, hundreds of people were lined up in front of the store. There’s no problem with buying books, but why do so many people gather at one bookstore? Lining up for more than an hour in the cold winter wind, still having not purchased the books, why can’t they just buy them tomorrow? With these questions in mind, reporters went to the scene to interview some of the parents and students lined up.
Lining up for more than an hour in the winter wind
Last night at 6 PM, reporters arrived at the Jiaodaokou Wulanhua Bookstore to find a more than 100-meter-long line of people buying supplementary books. According to rough estimates by reporters, the line of parents and students contained more than 300 people. The line contained parents who’d taken their children along to buy materials, as well as groups of students who’d come together, all standing in the winter wind for more than an hour. Reporters found the students and parents holding clearly written book lists.
“In past years we’ve come here to buy books and although there were many people, it’s the most extreme this year,” said one parent, who found hundreds already lined up upon his arrival. He already had nearly 300 people behind him lined up to buy books, some of whom were sitting right on the ground after having stood too long. Although the bookstore had sent staff specifically to maintain order in the line, it was still extremely long. Many parents complained: why can we only buy the books at this store?
Students grumble: we have to buy the books today
“Students in Dongcheng district regularly come to our bookstore, it’s like this every year,” said one bookstore employee. Soon after the store was set up, it positioned itself as a supplementary materials bookstore. With a decade of time and the praise of all the schools in Dongcheng, it’s no surprise that so many students come here to buy books.
Reporters on the scene saw students from Jingshan Middle School, #25 Middle School, Dongcheng Middle School and others, covering practically the entire Dongcheng district. “We need the supplementary materials we buy at this bookstore to do the homework that’s assigned to us. We have to turn on some of the homework tomorrow, so we have to buy the books today,” one student told reporters. The student originally wanted to buy the books at the Wangfujing Bookstore, but couldn’t find them, so came here. “The teacher wanted us to go to this bookstore to buy the books all along,” added the student.
Parents question: why can we only buy the books at this store?
Through numerous interviews with parents and students, reporters verified that this is a “teacher-specified” bookstore. Parents find this very confusing.
Although students supposedly “voluntarily” go to the teacher-specified bookstore to as well as “voluntarily” buy the specified books, they are in fact forced to do so. As one student said, “The teacher wrote the book list. We have to buy these books because our homework comes out of them. If we don’t buy the teacher-specified books, we can’t even do our homework. Who’d dare to not buy them? Who could possibly not buy them?”
“It’s a free market full of competition now, why do we have no choice but to come to this specific store to buy these books?” Some students and parents think that although the selection at the bookstore is very complete, their ability to handle customers is limited. So even if there are specified book stores, why can’t they have a few more specified book stores to choose from so that people don’t have to line up in the cold winter weather?
Bookstore explains: we have the most complete stock
The bookstore denies it has “connections with teachers,” and says that so many people come to the store because it has the most complete stock. “Many teachers know our store has the most books, so they recommend students come to by them here.” A worker at the store revealed, “The stock is so complete because we work with the most publishers.” The bookstore did not respond to this point.
News links: City education authorities ban teachers from recommending supplementary materials
In May of last year, city education authorities published a Notification on the Scope of Elementary and Middle School Supplementary Teaching Materials Usage, which clearly pointed out the issue of non-uniformity of supplementary teaching material usage in the city’s schools, and stated that all homework assigned by schools should be free of charge. The document also specified that teachers are strictly prohibited from recommending or selling any supplementary teaching materials to students, and must not provide any supplementary materials sales service to students. Schools that are found to be in violation will be publicly criticized as well as investigated to determine the individuals responsible for the activities.