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A little known fact of life in China came to light when the diary of a 14-year-old peasant girl made it from a remote town in rural China made it to the bestseller lists in France. The book, which has now been published in 16 countries around the world, tells the story of a young girl who is desperate to stay in school, despite the problem of sky-high school fees, which her parents can not afford.


7 avril 2004 3 07 /04 /avril /2004 00:00
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Letter 23 - April 2004

Dear all,
First of all, some news from Ma Yan, who has now returned to her village and to school from her fabulous trip to Paris. Her mother rang us to say she had found her transformed - in a good sense - as well as matured. And Ma Yan herself has written to us to thank us for giving her this opportunity to discover Paris : ‘It was wonderful. I have met so many new uncles and aunts who are helping us, as well as friendly, smiling teachers and students. I was very happy. I have also been to lots of places and great monuments, and all in just a few days...’ Ma Yan addresses these greetings to all the members of the Association : ‘You are wonderful people who work so hard to help us. We will never forget you. You are angels in our hearts.’ Ma Yan’s father, who had accompanied his daughter to Beijing for the first time, on the occasion of her departure from Beijing for Paris, asked his daughter to add a few lines from him : ‘Thanks for having given Ma Yan the opportunity to go abroad. And thanks also for having allowed me to go to Beijing ; this is the greatest journey I have ever made in my life. After this, I have nothing to complain of. Thanks again ; you have done so much for us.’
On her arrival back home, Ma Yan had a surprise in the form of a visit from a British journalist from the british daily newspaper The Daily Telegraph, who was already waiting for her. Following this visit Richard Spence published a long piece in his paper on the entire Ma Yan saga, including the history of our Association (read the full report in our "in the press" section) ...he interviewed her on her journey to Paris, and asked her if she did not feel intimidated by the great changes that have come about in her life. ‘She is matter-of-fact about her visit, and does not understand a question about whether she is intimidated by the changes to her life. "How could I not be happy ?",’ he writes.
In his article, this journalist also relates the story of Yang Juan, one of our bursary recipients, whom her parents wanted to withdraw from school. ‘I was furious, because people’s beliefs here are so backward !’ The journalist adds to this : ‘Now, thanks to Ma Yan, she is also at secondary school. The money raised by Libération’s readers and then the book royalties has been used for a fund to support other children from the village, particularly girls, whose lives are now also being transformed.’ But the journalist also mentions some perverse effects of our intervention in this place, for instance the fact that some of the children are now keeping diaries in the hope of somehow replicating the ‘miracle’ that happened to Ma Yan... He quotes the director of the primary school of Zhang Jia Shu village who stresses that the positive effects of our initiative far surpass the negative ones. Today, Ma Yan and her fellow students are concentrating on one goal : the final exams at the end of the year, which are coming nearer. In Ma Yan’s case the exams will decide whether or not she can move on to Senior High School and, depending on her grades, to what kind of Senior High School.
Some further news :
BURSARIES : at the suggestion of the director of Yuwang High School we have taken on nine new bursary recipients, whose families were unable to pay the school fees for the second term, and who consequently were threatened with being expelled from school.
SALE : On 10 April there was an auction of works of art at the gallery ‘China Arts Seasons’ in Beijing, the profits of which were given to our Association. About fifty contemporary Chinese artists had donated works, all of which were sold at the fairly reasonable price of about 300 Euro. The exhibition and sale drew a number of visitors and bidders to this gallery located in Dashanzi, an industrial district of Beijing, which has in fact become one of the most highly reputed places for contemporary art in Beijing. It should be noted that this initiative came from the Chinese director of the Gallery, after a public reading of Ma Yan’s Diary in Chinese. She allowed us not only to take the profits, but also gave us an opportunity to inform a new section of the Chinese public about our initiative. Several local journals made mention of this auction. Our thanks go to Nie Mu, Shi Shi, the entire team at China Arts Seasons, and all the artists who have generously donated some of their works.
CONFERENCES : Also in China, I have been invited to convene a conference on our experience and on the school education of girls in Ningxia province, at Fudan University Shanghai on 17 May. The Conference is part of a programme entitled ‘V-Day at Fudan’, which is intended to raise awareness of the general situation of women. This programme will also include two performances of the ‘Vagina Monologues’ and five conferences/workshops on topics relating to women in China.
THEATRE : A bit later, in Dunkerque in northern France, on 19 June, extracts from Ma Yan’s diary will be acted out by young people from La Maison de Quartier de l’île Jeanly, from the Carré de la Vieille et des glacis, together with the elementary school of Glacis. The performance is part of a festival "Les quais de Chine", organised by the theatre company of Bateaufeu. The character of Ma Yan will be represented by a human-size puppet, made and played by Remi Verbraeken.
All best wishes

Pierre Haski


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