Nigel Austin 

author of The Robin Gibson series

It was good to see Chinese officials react so promptly to the plight of the schoolchildren of Atelier village in the remote western province of Sichuan. The 15 children, aged between 6 and 15, faced a perilous climb of some 800 metres up a sheer cliff face, on a series of bamboo ladders, every fortnight when they returned to their village from the school at which they board.

It's actually the same problem faced by the villagers who take their produce to market, albeit they are  stronger and, arguably, better able to negotiate the large gaps between the ladder rungs. They have doubtless come to accept this as the price they paid for being a minority community, living well beyond the spotlight of attention largely reserved for China's modern, prosperous, industrial east.

​Posted 29th May 2016

A Stairway to Heaven?

It would be uncharitable to infer hasty over-reaction to international media exposure from the sudden arrival of 50 officials from Zhaojue county government’s transport, education and environmental protection departments to assess the situation. Or to ask why the the steel stairs now promised weren't installed long before now. After all, how could anyone possibly be expected to know that such appalling risk accompanied the children's attendance at the school or their parents' heavily laden journeys?

If the same effort is invested in this project as China has been pouring into strategic bases in territorially disputed areas of the South China Sea recently, the inhabitants of Atelier will not need to wait long for a safer climb. Helpfully, the local Communist Party Secretary has sensibly identified that solving the transport issue "will allow us to make larger-scale plans about opening up the economy and looking for opportunities in tourism.” Clearly, he has an instinct for knowing what the local people need... a stairway to heaven, maybe?