New students at Mangbu Secondary School, Zhenxiong county, Yunnan province, line up to form the phrase "No 1" during military training in 2019. (SHEN JIE/FOR CHINA DAILY)
Mangbu Secondary School's success has brought renown to Zhenxiong, a county that was once mired in poverty.
Even though he graduated three years ago, Wang Qiaosong is still an idol for many students at his old high school in Zhenxiong county, Yunnan province.
That's because he was the first alumnus to be enrolled by Peking University — aka PKU — one of China's most prestigious schools.
Mangbu Secondary School is located in Mangbu township, about 30 kilometers from Zhenxiong's county seat. The only bus between the two places takes more than 60 minutes along a zigzag mountain road.
At the end of 2020, Zhenxiong was one of the last counties in China to eradicate poverty. It once had the reputation of being a county with low-quality education and a poor level of development.
However, last year, 77 percent of the 1,061 high school graduates from Mangbu Secondary School enrolled at universities, with 211 gaining admittance to prestigious schools.
Wang, 21, who scored 691 points out of a possible 750 in the national college entrance exam, or gaokao, spent all his primary and secondary school years in Mangbu.
His parents left home years ago to find work in larger cities, so his grandparents cared for him.
"I have never found studying hard — perhaps that's because I have helped my family with farmwork since childhood, so I know that studying in class is easier than working in the fields," he said.
The school day starts at 6:30 am and ends at 10:30 pm. It is a strict, repetitive schedule, and in order not to be late, some students can run up five flights of stairs in about 30 seconds.
Wang said that despite the grueling schedule, he chose to focus on the brighter side of studying.
"For example, I could see the sunrise in the mountains before the morning reading session and enjoy the beautiful sunset during the evening self-study period. Sometimes, if the door to the roof of the teaching building was unlocked, I could also watch the stars," he said.