Chaguan

Being blind and young in China

Only five blind students took China’s university entrance exam this year. What a waste of potential

SEVERAL STARTLING things awaited 20 blind Chinese youngsters attending a residential course last month in Shanghai, designed to prepare them for university. Adult instructors, many of them also blind, broached topics that protective parents rarely raise, from the rules of raucous student party-games to the perils of falling in love. Learning to navigate a campus alone is not just about finding libraries or canteens, noted Yang Qingfeng of Golden Cane, the charity organising the course. It is pretty vital if teenagers ever hope to go on unchaperoned dates.

In pep talks, students were urged to think beyond the few careers traditionally offered to blind Chinese. Since the 1950s, when China opened vocational schools for disabled war veterans, the visually impaired have typically been pushed to become musicians or, above all, to work as masseurs in state-run clinics or private parlours. People may say there is nothing wrong with being a masseur, a rapt audience heard from Cai Cong, who attended a blind-massage college a decade ago before persuading his parents to let him work as a radio journalist. Well that is fine, said Mr Cai—as long as it is your choice.

Several students, all neatly clad in black trousers and yellow polo shirts, admitted to nerves about the final test of the course. It will involve leaving the hotel alone to find a…