US-China Review: Fall 2005.

At the Shandan Bailie School
Benefiting girls in rural Gansu Province
Marjorie King, Ph.D.

One of the founding members of the USCPFA was Ida Pruitt, a tiny woman who fiercely fought to promote Chinese-American friendship. Ida was born in Shandong Province in 1888, the daughter of Southern Baptist missionaries. She worked in her mother country for fifty years as a teacher, social worker, writer, translator and political activist.

During Ida’s lifetime, China suffered from the poverty and warfare that accompanied the end of the Qing Dynasty and foreign occupation. As a teacher and social worker, she realized that education and employment were crucial for the survival and dignity of the nation and individuals. She recognized the importance of offering extra support to women, whom tradition had put at a disadvantage. Ida adopted two Chinese daughters and one Russian daughter, taught in a girls’ school, published the stories of several elderly Chinese women, trained the first professional women social workers, and supported women’s cooperative enterprises.

To mark the twentieth anniversary of her death in 1985, a scholarship project has been recently started. Its mission is to honor Ida and to support girl students at the Shandan Bailie School, which she fought hard to establish.

The Shandan Bailie School was first established to help refugee children who were orphaned by the Japanese occupation of China after 1937. The School was named after a 19th Century American missionary, Joseph Bailie, who devoted his life to helping China’s common people learn the agricultural skills necessary to support themselves. New Zealander Rewi Alley organized the school and George Hogg, a young Englishman, became the first headmaster. American citizens donated the bulk of the initial funding through the umbrella organization United China Relief. Ida Pruitt spearheaded the fund-raising and oversaw the difficult task of sending material, machinery, books, teachers, technicians and even food to the school.

Rural Gansu province was selected as the site of the Bailie School because it was far from both the Japanese military forces in China’s cities and the corrupt Nationalist Chinese government in “Free China.” Gansu is one of the cradles of Chinese civilization, located in the upper reaches of the Yellow River in northwest China. The ancient Silk Road runs through the province, which is home to Kazak, Mongolian, Tibetan, Hui, Dongxiang, Tu, Yudu and Manchu ethnic groups.

Today, the population is 20.7 million, dispersed over an area of 390,000 sq. km. It is one of the poorest of China’s provinces. Many Gansu farmers’ income is less than $300 a year, eked out on parched land and supplemented by sheep-raising. Most farm work is done by women because men migrate to cities looking for jobs to supplement the meager family income. Farm income can be raised through crop specialization and diversification. However, many rural women lack the means to become literate, attend school, and learn modern farming technology. Of the 85 million illiterate and semi-literate Chinese, the majority live in rural areas of western China and 65% are women.

Under Rewi Alley, the school’s curriculum offered many practical vocations. His philosophy, “Hand and brain together, create and analyze” is still displayed on campus. Today, eleven vocational courses are offered, including agriculture, forestry, and animal husbandry as well as secondary education, adult education, and short-term training courses.

In addition, Bailie School students are taught how to organize and administer their own small businesses. Job creation is a crucial but often overlooked component of education in rural China, where 70% of Chinese still reside. The Canadian Cooperative Association and the International Committee for the Promotion of Chinese Industrial Cooperatives, a Chinese non-governmental organization, have initiated a joint project in the city of Shandan to train Bailie School students and city residents in cooperative business governance and management. The goals are to increase economic efficiency and management effectiveness, as well as to raise gender awareness.

One of the two current scholarship recipients, seventeen-year-old Wu Jing, studies Electrical Technology. Since her father’s paralysis ten years ago, he has not been able to work and her mother recently lost her job. After Wu Jing graduated from middle school, her mother pressured her to leave school and find work to help finance her brother’s education. Wu Jing desperately wanted to stay in school. “Mother ran back and forth, with tears in her eyes, seeking money from all sides, and got just enough financial assistance from relatives and friends for our studies. Facing our family’s poverty, and unable to exert any strength, father tried to kill himself nine times. The tears of his wife and children convinced him (not to kill himself.)… I think at the Bailie school I can study technology, then find a good profession in the future in order to repay my debt to my parents.”

A generation ago, Ida Pruitt and many other Westerners responded to China’s wartime needs and began friendships that still continue. Now, the needs are somewhat different. For all of China’s impressive development, the women of the rural western provinces feel the brunt of growing social inequality. China is the only country in the world with a higher suicide rate for women than for men. According to Chinese government officials, three quarters of the 300,000 annual suicides occur in the countryside.

The Shandan Bailie School, true to its namesake, is offering China’s rural youth the means to support themselves in today’s changing world. Currently the enrollment is 1800 students in grades 7-12. Annual tuition and expenses total $300 (U.S.), of which the Chinese government pays half. Families must pay the remaining $150. Fully 20% earn less than this amount per year.

The Ida Pruitt Memorial Fund offers scholarships of $150 a year to needy, academically qualified girls. If you would like to help sponsor a student, you may send your contribution to the USCPFA, Tucson Chapter, P.O. Box 41598, Tucson, AZ 85717. For more information, check out the website or contact Marjorie King at (or

To learn more about the Shandan Bailie School and Chinese girls education, consult the following sources:
Canadian Co-operative Association

  • Gansu Basic Education Project
  • “Gender equality and poverty reduction in China: issues for development policy and practice,” by Du Jie and Nazneed Kanji, August 2003, Department for International Development, UK.
  • International Committee for the Promotion of Chinese Industrial Cooperatives
  • New Zealand China Society

Marjorie King was privileged to know Ida Pruitt. Her biography of Ida’s life, China’s American Daughter: Ida Pruitt, 1888-1985, is now available through Columbia University Press.

Look for a new article and update on the Scholarship Project in an upcoming issue of
US China Review


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