It's time to tell your grandpa to stop complaining about walking uphill both ways to school. Last week, the state-run Beijing News ran a series of shots by photographer Chen Jie that showed 15 school kids in the country’s mountainous Sichuan province traveling to class. To get there, the students have to leave their tiny rural village of Atuleer, and climb over 2500 feet down a sheer, half-mile cliff using a chain of 17 bamboo ladders secured to the rock, CNN reports.
The trip is so arduous that the schoolchildren, ages 6 to 15, board at the school and only return home once every two weeks. As for the so-called “sky ladders," they're nearly as old as the rural village. "We replace a ladder with a new one when we find one of them is rotten," Chen Jigu, a resident of the Atuleer village, told China Daily.
These preventative measures aren’t always enough. Aluteer’s chief, Api Jiti, told Beijing News that seven or eight villagers have died after falling from the ladders, and that plenty more have been injured.
According to the Associated Press, following the circulation of Chen Jie's pictures, local government officials are now taking steps to ensure the province’s residents a safer journey. Last Friday, they issued a news release stating Atuleer’s residents will be provided with a new set of steel stairs until they think of a more permanent solution.
Not only are the sky ladders unsafe for kids, they've also been detrimental to Atuleer’s 400-some residents, who are members of China’s Yi minority group and earn less $1 a day as farmers. According to the statement from the Liangshan prefectural government, traders knew that the villagers couldn't carry unsold goods back up the cliff. This knowledge was used to exploit the farmers for lower prices.
“The most important issue at hand is to solve the transport issue," county Communist Party Secretary General Jikejingsong reportedly said in the news release. “That will allow us to make larger-scale plans about opening up the economy and looking for opportunities in tourism.”
Officials are also considering building a road to the village, the Global Times reports. However, the proposed project might end up being too expensive. Experts want the villagers to relocate, but also acknowledge that they face the risk of losing their livelihoods if they move.
While China has large cities filled with stunning architecture, high-speed trains, and countless other technological innovations, millions of people live below the poverty line—particularly farmers, herders, and members of marginalized minority groups in rural inland areas.
According to The Guardian, president Xi Jinping aims to dramatically reduce the country’s poverty rates by 2020. “Although China has made remarkable achievements seen across the world, China remains the world’s biggest developing country,” Xi said at a conference last fall. Xi says the government plans to provide financial support to China’s estimated 70 million rural residents. Experts say that the plan doesn’t take China’s “new urban poor” into account and that officials need to come up with a better solution to address the nation’s income gap.
Watch a video of the children's cliff journey above, courtesy of ABC News.
Banner image courtesy of iStock