Chinese authorities make perilous cliff-face school run safer

Children climb up an 800-meter cliff on a steel ladder (now) and on a rattan ladder (before). Photo: Imaginechina/REX/Shutterstock

Authorities in south-west China have come to the aid of schoolchildren who had to climb an 800m cliff to get to and from school – by installing a thin steel ladder at the site.

Atuler, a mountainside hamlet nicknamed “cliff village”, is located on a plateau in the Chinese province of Sichuan and is home to the Yi people, a minority ethnic group also found in Vietnam and Thailand.

Fears arose for the schoolchildren after images of their 90-minute descent to the school at the bottom of the cliff went viral earlier this year, following their publication in a Beijing newspaper.

Api Jiti, the head of the 72-family impoverished farming community, told Beijing News that “seven or eight” villagers had plunged to their deaths after losing their grip during the climb.

Until now, wooden ladders were the secluded village’s only way to reach the outside world, with children forced to scale the rock face to get down to their school.

Residents reported that the ladders were hundreds of years old and only replaced when one of them was found to be rotting.

So perilous was the climb that a Chinese reporter who was once dispatched to the village burst into tears as she attempted the ascent.

The photographer behind the original pictures, Chen Jie, described the moment he first witnessed the schoolchildren, aged between six and 15, scaling the cliff. “There is no doubt I was shocked by the scene I saw in front of me,” he wrote, adding that he hoped his photographs could help change the village’s “painful reality”.

Jiti said there had been insufficient room to build a school on the mountaintop. The government subsequently promised to take action, and the region’s Communist party secretary said a steel staircase would be built to connect the deprived hamlet with the outside world while a permanent solution was found.

The ladder was finally put in place earlier this month.

While the climb remains difficult, locals said the ladder has made a significant difference, and the climb now takes an hour less than it used to.

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