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Field studies - of a sort

It is hard to be a pupil in rural China. Harder still if your teachers decide that sending you for a spell of labour on a cotton farm might be profitable for them. Even tougher, if you are chosen to work in a nightclub as a teenage hostess.

Authorities in the south-eastern Guangxi Zhuang district are investigating a school that sent pupils, some only 14, on "internships" to bars in the lake resort of Hangzhou near Shanghai.

The girls, who believed they had enrolled at a school specialising in dance, were required to drink with strangers and lie about their age. For this they earned 100 yuan per night, with half going to an agent and 25 yuan going to the school.

A better rate at least than the 0.8 yuan paid per kilo of cotton picked by 40,000 pupils in the north-western county of Minqin. Chinese media reports say the students had been forced to labour 8 to 12 hours a day for more than 10 days each cotton season since 2003 "to toughen them up a bit, and teach valuable skills".

Education leaders for the county have all been sacked. Meanwhile, the distressed pupils from Guangxi have been told they can put away their evening frocks and return to more conventional studies

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