Father pursues university degree

Su Yibin attends a class at Jiangcheng College, China University of Geosciences. The 44-year-old is studying for a marketing and business planning degree.

Like many fathers, Su Yibin accompanied his daughter when she left for university; unlike other fathers, he stayed on campus.

Always sitting in the front row of the classroom in Jiangcheng College, China University of Geosciences, the 44-year-old is studying for a marketing and business planning major. He ranked fourth in a class of 34 last semester, and attained full marks in advanced mathematics.

"I intended to major in computerized accounting, but my daughter resolutely refused to be in the same class with me. There was nothing I could do but switch," says Su.

"She has grown up, and I respect her wishes," he says helplessly.

Although it is unusual in China for someone his age to study at university, Su doesn't worry about being older than the other students.

"I am concentrating too much on listening to the lectures to be aware of anyone else," he says.

Su has never missed a lesson and is always present at the morning and evening self-study sessions. At 5 or 6 am, he wakes and catches up on some reading. After breakfast, he checks the attendance of the morning self-study class. At 8:30 am, he attends his own self-study class or prepares for the next lesson he will conduct. He is an assistant instructor in two computerized accounting classes, which earns him 1,800 yuan ($292) a month.

In the evening, he can usually be found reading or doing exercises. Sometimes he becomes so obsessed by a challenging puzzle that he can't sleep.

There are two shelves in his dormitory loaded with books.

"The books on the left shelf are those from when I helped my daughter prepare for her college entrance examination, and the ones on the right are the used books that I bought in college."

Those on the right shelf include some books to help him with his Chinese and English.

"They are relatively weaker, so I need to read more to catch up," Su says.

The preserved fish and meat hanging in his dormitory are from his hometown.

"These are enough for the whole semester. I only need to buy some vegetables. They save me a lot money.

"I wish to be a math teacher in the future because I like math very much," Su says.

Among all 96 students in advanced mathematics, Su was the only one to get full marks, and his talent means he is often consulted by his classmates during the breaks.

"Uncle Su asks us to work on the problems on our own at first, and when we get confused then we turn to him," says Ruan Ying, a student in Class 3.

But although Su gets on well with his classmates, it's a different story when it comes to his relationship with his daughter, Xiaomei, who turned 17 in March.

Su can feel his daughter's love for him - during the interview he lifts his feet up and proudly shows off his shoes, saying, "Xiaomei bought these for me with the money she earned in her first part-time job."

However, he knows she hates the fact he is on the same campus, as she refuses to speak to him.

Separate lives

"The problem between me and my father, no one or two words can say it clearly.

"You have no idea how he forced me to study," Su Xiaomei says. "I still remember the first semester in my middle school. He forced me to do the exam papers until 2 o'clock in the morning every day, and I had to get up at 5 in the morning to practice football. I was just a child, but I only had three hours' sleep a day."

Now they are in the same college. Xiaomei has made her father promise her that during these four years, as long as she does not do anything bad, he must not interfere in her private life.

"A father and daughter need distance. I would go crazy if he stayed with me 24 hours every day."

Although she says she does not understand her father, Xiaomei still knows her father loves her a lot.

"Even one day when I grow up and get married, I will still be his baby daughter. I know he has done everything for my own good, but I just can't accept the way he's doing it."

After her father promised he would no longer control her private life, Xiaomei says she feels so much happier. "Now I know what is called freedom and hope."

A passion for study

Su lost his father when he was 12 years old, and he and his two sisters were brought up by his mother. Poor as his family was, there was no preventing his strong desire to study.

However, during the busy farming periods, he would have to ask for leave from school to help out on the family's farm. To catch up he sold foodstuff to get money for tuition. "At that time, there was no ambition except to put an end to my farm work," he says.

In 1989, he took the university entrance examination in his hometown, scoring 495 points, which was 10 points lower than the enrollment mark for Hubei province, though much higher than the passing marks of many other regions.

"I could have been enrolled as a self-supported student at that time if I paid 3,000 yuan, but I was too poor to go," says Su.

As he was the most learned man around, Su became the head teacher in the village primary school, even though he was only 19.

However, in 1993, Su left for Wuhan, where he worked in a restaurant as a cook. In Wuhan, he met Xiaomei's mother and got married. Su and his wife divorced when the daughter was a boarder in her second year of middle school.

Su by this time had his own restaurant, when he found out that his daughter was skipping classes and her grades were declining rapidly. He closed the restaurant and took his daughter back to their hometown Gong'an, which was a three-hour drive away from Wuhan.

Su carefully "diagnosed" the cause of his daughter's setback. He was still hopeful that his daughter could catch up under his supervision.

"She was just a little naughty in childhood, but she is very smart. When she fell behind in middle school, she lost interest in learning," says Su.

To motivate his daughter's interest in studying, he promised not to interfere in her life when she entered college. He picked her books and prepared for the college entrance examination together with her.

Xiaomei took the college entrance examination in Wuhan in June last year, while Su took it in Gong'an as a social examinee. When the scores were released, the daughter had 270 points, while her father achieved 296.

"A lot of people think that I go to college for my daughter. Actually it is not the truth. It was my long-standing desire to go to college," Su says.