School's quake hero wins Teachers' Day hearts

Updated: 2012-09-10 21:35


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KUNMING - Zhu Yinquan may have been new to his teaching staff rostrum, but his heroic rescue of students from earthquake debris has won him recognition as a noble educator.

Zhu, who made his name after multiple quakes struck Southwest China's Yunnan province and claimed 81 lives since Friday, is the principal and only teacher for all 22 students in a village school.

Chinese media and Internet users called him the "most adorable teacher in the Yunnan earthquakes" as this year's Teachers' Day falls on Monday.

Zhu, who received no training on education, started teaching at the school in Jiaokui Township in Yiliang County just two days before the quake struck at 11:19 a.m. on September 7.

Followed by more than 60 aftershocks, the quake toppled the classroom and buried seven children who were having lunch there. Zhu, who was in a nearby house of a relative, rushed to the site and called in villagers to help.

"We heard children yelling under the ruins. We broke larger chunks of debris with hoes and then used our bare hands to dig for survivors, fearing tools might hurt the children," Zhu said.

He and other rescuers pulled four of the seven children out alive, but three were sadly found dead after having been buried for about 20 minutes.

Photos of Zhu and his swollen fingers after the bare-handed digging have triggered an outpouring of sympathy on the Internet, with netizens calling for increased aid to fund-strapped schools and their "substitute teachers."

"His act has proved that he is a true, great teacher," according to one post on Sina Weibo, China's most popular microblogging site.

Many schools in China's impoverished rural areas struggle to find teachers and have to turn to literate villagers. These temporary teachers are not on the government's payroll unlike their college-educated, certified colleagues. Schools manage to pay them a meager wage that is sometimes held in arrears in times of financial difficulties.

Zhu's school has seven students in Grade-One and another 15 in a pre-school class studying putonghua, or Mandarin Chinese. All the 22 pupils shared a dilapidated mud-brick classroom.

After the previous teacher, disappointed with the meager pay of 500 yuan ($78.9) a month, left the job, villagers asked 34-year-old Zhu to teach Mandarin to students from the local Miao ethnic group.

The hero said he had planned to find a better-paid job outside the mountain but finally decided to take over the school as he could stay home to attend to his wife, who was injured doing farm work.

"I finished my own primary school study in the very same classroom," he said. "I can speak fluent putonghua because I've been a migrant worker in other parts of China for years."

Apart from giving lectures, Zhu also cooked for seven students who live far from the school as part of the free-lunch national program. Other pupils escaped their ill fate last Friday as they had left school for lunch at home.

In an interview with Xinhua, Zhu said he did not want to celebrate Teachers' Day as he was saddened over the loss of three students.

"I just hope the government can restore the school so our classes can resume," he added.