The literal translation of Liangshan is “cool mountain.” Our organization is named for this rugged region of high peaks and deep valleys in the southern part of Sichuan Province. Much of Liangshan is officially administered as Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture; it’s population of five million is about 45% each Nuosu and Han Chinese, with 10% belonging to other minority groups.
Liangshan became known inside and outside China when Mao Zedong’s Workers’, Peasants’ ,and Soldiers’ Red Army passed through the region on their Long March in 1935. Red Army leaders and local Nuosu headmen formed a pact to allow the Red Army to pass through unmolested by the well-armed and suspicious local population. After the People’s Republic was founded, local Nuosu leaders were incorporated into the government and Communist Party bureaucracy, but in 1956 when the Party instituted reforms of the social system in 1956, some local leaders revolted. The revolt was suppressed and since then Liangshan has gone through all the same historical events that have affected the rest of China, including the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution, the Reforms of the 1980s, and China’s rapid development in the last few decades.
Reform and development have had great effects on Liangshan; villages now have electricity, roads, and running water, and since 2007 elementary and secondary education have spread widely. But Liangshan remains one of the poorest areas in China; the rugged topography and the cool climate make both agricultural and industrial development difficult. As a result, around 2000 massive numbers of Nuosu people started migrating to cities in Sichuan and elsewhere to work in factories, construction, and service industries. Often this has meant that students do not go beyond middle school, or even drop out of middle school and migrate to work before they finish. Cool Mountain Education Fund’s scholarship programs enabled many more students from Yangjuan and Pianshui to continue with their education to high school and college, when they would otherwise have been forced by family economic hardship to quit school and migrate for labor.