A German man the Chinese call Lu Anke arrived in China in 1997 to teach children. He taught in remote villages in Guangxi province, where there are no telephones and no access roads. He did not receive any payment, as he was there on a voluntary basis. While there, he grew to care deeply about his students’ lives and took a different approach to teaching.
He believed that understanding is more important than knowledge, and “irrespective of whether someone is an adult or a child, true education is learning about oneself.” Lu Anke practiced tolerance based on the concept of love and compassion, which he felt was more important than memorizing facts.
Initially, Lu Anke taught illiterate youth how to repair roads and draw maps in his attempt to improve their lives. Later, he found they lacked expressiveness and creativity, so he decided to start teaching music and art to his elementary school students. However, when the children went to junior high school, a large number of them dropped out of school, went to work in the cities, and disappeared in the vast sea of people. In 1999, he was dismissed by a middle school due to complaints from parents and his failure to boost academic performance.
In 2001, he went to Banlie village in Guangxi to teach in a primary school. Initially, this blonde-haired man aroused the vigilance of the local authorities. After he was found to be “honest,” he was allowed to stay in this autonomous village.
The children loved him. In their eyes, he was their best friend, a teacher who cared for them and climbed the trees and played in the mud with them. Lu Anke said that what the children needed most was to see “a person who is his true self; while accompanying me, they forget all their notions and stay true to themselves.”
In his blog, he criticized standard education methods. He said that if children can learn to create their own ideas, they can feel equal to more prosperous people. This drew the media’s attention, and some even regarded him as a role model in rural education; however, there were also those who thought he was dangerous, and even suspected him of pedophilia.
The media attention disrupted his peaceful life and overwhelmed him, so he decided to close his blog. “I’ve become a time bomb that can be ignited by the media at any time,” he wrote. In the winter of 2013, he left Banlie Village never to return.
People in the village agree that the curiosity and confidence he instilled in the children are his legacy. A villager said: “Lu Anke, a foreigner, had selflessly come to teach our children. Think about it; we should always be on the same side as our children.”
Translated by: Chua BC