By Carlos Barria
In a remote farming area of China’s central province of Henan, kids are roused from their warm beds at 5 a.m. as revolutionary songs play over the loudspeaker system. In the freezing morning they gather around a cement courtyard for their morning exercises.
Mr. Xia Zuhai, principal of the Democracy Elementary and Middle school — where the curriculum stresses the teachings of China’s late Chairman Mao Zedong — blows his whistle and encourages the students while they run around in the darkness for 20 minutes.
Then, the children enter a cold classroom where a big portrait of Chairman Mao is seen on the wall, decked out with colorful balloons in preparation for the 120th anniversary of Mao’s birth on Dec. 26.
Teacher’s aide Xia Jingjing starts the two-hour lecture reciting quotations from Mao Zedong’s famed ‘Little Red Book’ before breakfast.
The school was founded by Mr. Xia, a farmer-turned-educator, in 1994. At its peak in 2005, the school had close to 600 students. The students, who come from poor farming families, receive standard curriculum such as math, chemistry and English. They also have long and intensive classes that involve reciting from Mao’s book and watching movies about Mao’s life. Xia said he emphasizes Mao’s lesson of ‘serving the people’ above all else.