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Jointly sponsored students, a floating banquet

July 15, 2014

Uncovering the secrets behind jointly sponsored students going from elementary to junior middle school


Ninth month, the new school year is about to start, 12 year old Wang Hao (alias) was getting ready to go to his new school, a city level demonstration school [demonstration school is a euphemism for priority school]

Unlike the majority of children his age, he did not have to suffer the humiliation of the Math Olympiad, nor was he dragged around by a parent to take entrance exams at prestigious schools. His transition to middle school was unusually tranquil.

The reason Wang Hao had this good fortune, was that his father’s company could rely on the so-called jointly sponsored policy. The government departments and state run enterprises, to satisfy their employees and staff in regard to their children give them financial or material support, setting up a “jointly sponsored” connection with notable schools. Along with the financial support, their children do not need to take entrance exams to get in.

In Beijing, for the past 20 years, the jointly sponsored trend has been getting worse and worse. Every year more people, through secret channels, get their children into the longed for schools that everyone looks up to.

The jointly sponsored schools furnish degrees to their students, the jointly sponsoring companies furnish convenience, and the jointly sponsored students are the product of this benefit swap.

In order for his son Wang Hao to enter a favorable school, the father Wang Zhenan (alias) began his preparations two years before.

Wang Zhen’an, a little past 40 this year, after graduating from college was allotted to a top-listed [assets over 1 million yuan] state run company, and after 10 years in various places in the company, he became the section chief of one business office. His unit is in Xicheng district close to Yuetan, in the neighborhood of Chang’an Road where the central ministries and commissions are concentrated.

Two years ago, he heard that his company had jointly sponsored schools, and he went to the trade union cadre to ask about it. The trade union head cadre told him that their company jointly sponsored four schools in the vicinity. Two of these were priority schools, and the other two were demonstration schools. The quota of jointly sponsored students for each school was not the same. The cadre recommended that Wang Zhen’an get to understand the situation of each school in advance, along with his child’s aspiration to take the entrance exam, and prepare accordingly.

“You know the education quality of Xixheng district. There are four prestigious schools here, moistened with the rain of benefits from our company.” Wang Zhen’an smiled.

At the beginning of last year, he began preparations in earnest. He gathered information through different channels about the schools, and sought the advice of fellow workers who had previously sent their children to these schools, and after going back and forth over what he learned, he decided, “the jointly sponsored schools are not that easy.”

A female co-worker had the experience of being shut out of the company affiliated jointly sponsored schools. After filling out and submitting the required forms, some time passed. She suddenly got a call from a school staff member, telling her to bring her child on Sunday to the company meeting room, to attend a meeting explaining about the school.

On Sunday she came to the meeting room, only to find out that instead of explanations they were holding an exam. The school sent specialized teachers to administer a printed test, a surprise exam testing the children’s academic progress.

“We were not prepared, the exam questions were difficult, my child did not feel he was able to do his best,” she said. In the end, the exam results were not made public. However, she did not have to wait long before she got a phone call from the company trade union cadre, saying her child did not pass the exam. “At that time, I was crazed with anxiety. It was the end of June, my chid had finished the school term and where he would go in the fall was not yet settled.” Afterwards she used other connections to get her child into a priority junior middle school in another district.

To avoid a recurrence of this “tragedy,” Wang Zhen’an sought out the vice-principal of the school that he was most interested in, thinking that he would ask him whether there would be a surprise exam or not this year. “It turned out that our company had jointly sponsored the school for many years, therefore the vice-principal received me very politely. In the end, he couldn’t tell me whether they would test or not, but he asked about my present situation in the company, what position I was in, and he filed a registration for me.

This year second month, the company trade union cadre formally gave him the applications for school entrance exams. Because he was a mid-level manager, and he was also a reserve cadre [cadres recruited by the Party for potential leadership positions], Wang Zhen’an was given preferential treatment. He was allowed to fill out forms for two schools. “There is actually a stipulation that each company person can only apply to one school (for the entrance exam), but they let me apply for two,” Wang Zhen’an said with satisfaction.

After applying, Wang Zhen’an began what seemed like an endless wait. Many times he thought about calling up the trade union cadre for news, but he kept himself in check, knowing that this sort of thing could not be rushed. At the end of June, he finally had a visit from the trade union cadre informing him that his first choice, the demonstration school, would accept Wang Hao, if he paid the jointly sponsored fee of 30,000 yuan(4,866 dollars).

“Once I paid the money, I felt as if a heavy weight had fallen off my chest.”Wang Zhen’an said with deep feeling. The trade union cadre told him, the reason it had gone so smoothly, was connected to the fact that before this there was a period of two years during which the company had not recruited new college graduates. At that time there were less young employees marrying and having children, therefore the peak of employees with children that were now ready for elementary school had passed. For this reason, this year Wang Hao faced few competitors for the available spots.

Without a doubt Wang Hao was fortunate. He is about to begin at the city level demonstration school. This year the school had 7000 applicants, only admitting 400. It is no exaggeration to say this was like using a powerful force to push past and cross a bridge of a single plank.

“His company is a major joint sponsor. The children of those in powerful government or state related offices are not required to take entrance exams or anything like that. They have a 100% guarantee of making the quota, this is called a ‘small sponsorship,’” a person in the know said. This is open to those in the General office of the Communist party, General office of the state council, ministries and commissions under the State Council, the four headquarters of the people’s liberation army, along with the monopoly companies of state run enterprises, like china oil, China petrochemicals, etc., or those of great social clout, or those with big purses. They have relationships with jointly sponsored schools, which take every one of their children, unrestricted by any quota.

The schools which participate in joint sponsorship are Beijing’s best elementary and middle schools. A person in the know divulged that, at present, these include the Beijing Experimental #2 Elementary, Zhongguancun #3 Elementary, Yumin Elementary, Fuxue Elementary School, the People’s University affiliated Middle School, #4, #2, #8 middle schools, Normal University affiliated middle school, Experimental middle school etc.

Of course, these schools use the money they receive from joint sponsorships to enhance their facilities and give their teachers better material benefits. For instance, a nationally well known middle school in the Haidian district every summer conducts a training session for teachers, and another one for school principals, the participants coming from all over the country, numbering 500-600 people. The reason this site was chosen, is the a company which jointly sponsors the school pays for everything.

Many education specialists believe this kind of arrangement is beneficial for schools in general. The jointly sponsored student is just a product of mutual benefit: financial support from one side leading to a degree given by respected school on the other side.

A floating banquet

“When I was on the Education Commission, “jointly sponsored” did exist, but these days it has become a frenzy, I feel over the last few years it has gotten worse and worse,” said Li Jiandong (alias). During the 90s he was a deputy director of a certain Education Commission in a Beijing district, and he experienced the whole process of development of “jointly sponsored” from isolated cases into a system. According to him, already in the 80s there were a few “memo students.” Important leaders wrote memos to the directors of priority schools, requesting special consideration for a few students. “These cases were not that many, just a few very high up leaders writing memos for their grandsons or granddaughters,” Li Jiandong recalled. These were the third generation children of the leadership cadres, they were called the “grandchildren class.”

Later, the leadership cadres’ memo children changed to their secretary’s children, the “grandchildren class” changed to the “secretaries’s class.” Then again, as various government departments developed joint sponsorship connections with schools, the “secretaries’s class” expanded to the “government employee’s class.” The arrangement now extended to the children of all government employees, but in particular to children of mid-level cadres. After the 90s ended, joint sponsorship was systematized, but the word “joint sponsorship” [or “jointly sponsored”] did not appear for another ten years, according to Li Jiandong.

According to a person in the know, joint sponsorship has become so ubiquitous, that it has moved from government agencies to every type of company, including foreign companies, real estate, small and medium size businesses, and even to the local tax office, police sub-station and fire station near the school.

So each year how many students enter priority schools under joint sponsorship? Neither Beijing city or the Education Commission keep any statistics, but the personal estimate of education commission vice-provost Wen Feng, based on inquiring at various schools, is 10% of the student population.

In a report by the 21st Century Education Institute entitled, “ How do we bring into control the fever of getting into select junior middle schools in Beijing?” we find this admission, “Taking Beijing #8 middle school as an example, the percentage of jointly sponsored students is 17%. In 2011 the school admitted 10 classes, with 40 in each class, for a total of 400. Among those, the number of jointly sponsored students was 70. This year more than 400 jointly sponsored students will take the admissions exam, and the school will admit only those who perform well on the exam.”
The Beijing city policy for admission to junior middle school consists of three types: a computerized lottery, reserving places for excellent students based on their performances in tests and competitions, and joint sponsorship. Li Jiandong believes that former two are every year getting smaller, while joint sponsorship is expanding.

Wen Feng knows of a household head who held office in a residential district, but had a relative who was a mid-level cadre in the central government. The household head paid his relative to write in the name of his child in the roster of jointly sponsored students. For this he paid the relative a sum of money, which is called the “seat-seizing cost.” On the list of jointly sponsored students of some priority schools, many of the names on the list are actually those who got in by the “seat-seizing cost.” Those in state enterprises and the central government sometimes offer places on these lists as gifts to their clients or officials they have a connection with, as a type of public relations.

Since 2010, the Beijing city education commission has demanded that each district strictly regulate the number of sponsoring institutions and the number of jointly sponsored students, that it certify the institutions, oversee the student rosters, and restrain the “false sponsorships.” But in actual practice, “not only do the institutions trade sponsorships, but the schools also fabricate them,” said an insider. This is because jointly sponsored students are not restricted by academic record, registered permanent residency, or school zone, and the schools can freely choose whichever ones they want to admit.

“The basket of joint sponsorships is very wide and flexible, you can put anything you want into it,” said Wen Feng. It exists as a kind of floating privilege, which people in the social stratum of Wang Zhen’an can avail themselves of, and get admission to the grand banquet of a top-class education.

However, these days Wang Zhen’an has another worry. He has heard the school his son Wang Hao will attend, divides incoming students into several differing classes. There is the experimental class, the regular class, and the jointly sponsored class. After asking all around, he heard that the experimental class is the one with the best teacher, and he wants his son to go to that class.


共建生 jointly sponsored students
奥数 Math Olympiad
“牛校” prestigious schools, schools in demand for their track record in training students to succeed at exams
西城区 Xicheng district
工会负责人 trade union cadre
小升初 from elementary to junior middle school
小共建 “small sponsorship”
北京实验二小 Beijing Experimental #2 Elementary
中关村三小 Zhongguancun #3 Elementary
育民小学 Yumin Elementary
府学小学 Fuxue Elementary School
初中则有人大附 People’s University affiliated Middle School
师大二附中 Normal University affiliated middle school
实验中学 Experimental middle school
流动的“盛宴” floating banquet
条子生 memo students
孙子班 grandchildren class
秘书班 secretaries’s class
公务员(微博)班 government employee’s class
占位费 seat-seizing cost




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