|Girls in Xuchang, Henan province, attend a dance class during the summer vacation. China Photo Press|
Wu Yonghui enrolled her 11-year-old daughter for painting class at Tianjin Youth Children Center during the summer vacation.
Wu hopes by doing so, her daughter will be better than her peers in middle-school or even make painting her lifelong career.
Her daughter, Li Ping, has demonstrated talent and great interest in painting, but she says her school's art class is boring and does not help to improve her skills.
Wu is not alone.
While arts classes are readily available in schools, Chinese parents are throwing cash at dazzling array of arts training centers during summer and winter vacations.
Cathay Future, a noted children's art center in Tianjin, has enrolled more than 1,000 children this summer vacation. Painting, dancing and singing are the three most popular.
In China, students with extraordinary talents in any form of arts have an upper hand getting into reputed schools. Their entry requirement in terms of academic scores is lower.
Ironically, it is common for primary or middle schools to make light of arts education.
For example, music, which is supposed to be a compulsory course, is often neglected and treated as an irrelevant subject.
"In China, enrollment rate is the overriding benchmark of a school's rank and popularity. Schools put students' marks at the core, and thus marginalize their artistic development," says Xiong Bingqi, vice-president of 21st Century Education Research Institute and a professor from Shanghai Jiao Tong University. "Expectations for arts teachers are not high, no wonder children play during arts classes in school."
Piano teacher Emma Chen recalls her gloomy days teaching in a national Chinese school in Tianjin.
"My music class was regularly replaced by teachers who taught core subjects such as Chinese and math teachers," recalls Chen, who has quit her job at the school to join an international school. "My mastery of music was stagnated."
The situation in second- and third-tier cities or smaller towns is worse.
Zhang Li, an art teacher at Mingdao Primary School in Haian county of Nantong in Jiangsu province, says most of the teachers, parents and students label arts classes in school as a waste of time and energy.