Growing up in mountainous Xihaigu, northwest China's Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, once one of China's most impoverished areas, 54-year-old Su Fa believes in knowledge. But schools were beyond the mountain, getting in her way of receiving a decent education.
"I have never attended a school, but my children must have access to education," said Su. "They don't have to suffer the economic hardship like me due to lacking knowledge."
Today, her two daughters and one son make a good living in bigger cities, benefiting from their college degrees.
In 2000, with the help of the local government, Su and her family were relocated to a more habitable area near the Yellow River, as their hometown was long plagued by drought and fragile ecology.
Su's husband worked as a village doctor after relocation, but the family could hardly make ends meet, and they were included in households enjoying the minimum living guarantee. However, the couple spared no effort to cover the expenses of their children and agreed to send them to the school across the street.
Since 2001, China began to provide free compulsory education to students in rural areas and provide them with additional living expenses. Students who come from poverty-stricken households also get subsidies during high school and college.
The son Bai Yinbang recalled he received financial assistance every month in high school, and he paid off his student loan in college only six months after graduation.
According to a report on financial assistance to students in China, in 2020, over 21.7 million students from families with financial difficulties enjoyed free compulsory education and received living subsidies, with the total amount surpassing 21.7 billion yuan (about 3.4 billion U.S. dollars).
Also, over half a million students benefited from a state-subsidized student loan project, with the loan value totaling 37.8 billion last year.
"The national policies have significantly benefited my three children and relieved our burden," said Bai Yuzhuo.
Now, Bai Yinlan, the older daughter, teaches math in a middle school, and the younger girl Bai Yinfang took the baton of her father as a doctor. The youngest son works in the sector of improving the computing and programming capabilities of teenagers.
Bai Yinbang said education brought life-changing opportunities for the family. "Without national subsidies and free compulsory education, my sisters might have gotten married at a very early age, and I might have become a migrant lacking skills," he said.
This year, the Bai family is proud to witness their country realizing the goal of building a moderately prosperous society, but they are prouder to have lived a well-off life five years ago.
In 2016, the couple built a new house in the relocated village, equipped with modern facilities and a delicate Chinese-style courtyard. "Our children have all bought apartments in cities where they work," said Su.
It is never too late to study, according to Bai Yuzhuo in his 50s. He was the oldest student in his class when graduating from a college for professional training in Ningxia, majoring in clinical medicine, a few years ago.
Su, who was also unwilling to stay behind, started to learn words with her grandson and opened a social media account sharing the life of her big family.
"I'm thrilled to share our happiness of three generations online, and I usually receive plenty of likes following my posts," she said.