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World’s Scariest School Run? Chinese Children Tackle 800m Cliff To Get To Lessons

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Friday, May 27th, 2016
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Authorities in south-west China have vowed to come to the aid of an isolated mountain village after photographs emerged showing the petrifying journey its children were forced to make to get to school.

To attend class, backpack-carrying pupils from Atuler village in Sichuan province must take on an 800m rock face, scrambling down rickety ladders and clawing their way over bare rocks as they go.

Images of their terrifying and potentially deadly 90-minute descent went viral on the Chinese internet this week after they were published in a Beijing newspaper.

There are 17 vine ladders on the 800-meter-up way home, but the most dangerous part is a path on the cliff without vine ladder. Photograph: Feature China / Barcroft Images
There are 17 vine ladders on the 800-meter-up way home, but the most dangerous part is a path on the cliff without vine ladder.
Photograph: Feature China / Barcroft Images

 

The photographs were taken by Chen Jie, an award-winning Beijing News photographer whose pictures of last year’s deadly Tianjin explosions were recognised by the World Press Photo awards earlier this year.

Chen used his WeChat account to describe the moment he first witnessed the village’s 15 school children, aged between six and fifteen, scaling the cliff.

“There is no doubt I was shocked by the scene I saw in front of me,” he wrote, adding that he hoped his photographs could help change the village’s “painful reality”.

 

A boy on a cliff on his way home in Zhaojue county. There was a cable transportation service taking the children to the valley, but the villagers could not afford the electricity bills and the cable got dismantled later. Photograph: Feature China / Barcroft Images
A boy on a cliff on his way home in Zhaojue county. There was a cable transportation service taking the children to the valley, but the villagers could not afford the electricity bills and the cable got dismantled later. Photograph: Feature China / Barcroft Images

Api Jiti, the head of the 72-member community, told state media there had been insufficient room to build a school for local children on the mountaintop.

But the perils were evident. Api Jiti told the Beijing News that “seven or eight” villagers had plunged to their deaths after losing their grip during the climb while many more had been injured.

The trek to school is now considered so gruelling that the children have been forced to board, only returning to their mountain top homes to see their families twice a month.

More than 680m Chinese citizens have lifted themselves from poverty since the country’s economic opening began in the 1980s but grinding poverty continues to blight the countryside.

Children of Atule’er Village climb the vine ladder on a cliff on their way home in Zhaojue county. Photograph: Feature China / Barcroft Images
Children of Atule’er Village climb the vine ladder on a cliff on their way home in Zhaojue county. Photograph: Feature China / Barcroft Images

In Atuler village, residents reportedly live on less than $1 a day.

Uproar over the students’ hair-raising commute brought promises of government action

The oral history of Atule’er Village said the ancestors pick this isolated and dangerous location to avoid wars. Photograph: Feature China / Barcroft Images
The oral history of Atule’er Village said the ancestors pick this isolated and dangerous location to avoid wars. Photograph: Feature China / Barcroft Images

The region’s Communist party secretary said a steel staircase would be built to connect the deprived hamlet with the outside world while a permanent solution was found.

Additional reporting by Christy Yao

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