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China: New Oriental to sell farm produce

A leading Chinese education company plans to close 1,500 learning centres and expand the business into the agricultural playing field, as China cracks down on private education.

Yu's switch to agriculture has gained appreciation on Chinese social media platforms. Photo: iStock

"The reason for diving into the agricultural sector is my love for farming"

Yu Minhong, the founder of New Oriental, announced in a live broadcast on Sunday that the company will set up a new e-commerce platform where he will sell agricultural produce with the help of hundreds of teachers, as part of a business transformation plan.

“The reason for diving into the agricultural sector is my love for farming,” said Yu.

“My life was spent in the countryside until I was eighteen and I have grown every single one of the farm products that can be grown in my hometown.”

New Oriental aims to help farmers increase their professional skills and earn higher incomes through the platform. They also hope to encourage more young farmers to return to their hometowns and spend time with their children so that there will be fewer children left behind in China.

This comes in the wake of China’s new rules for the tutoring industry, which requires for-profit companies to switch to non-profit status and bans foreign investment in such companies. The reform was implemented to decrease workloads for students and ease financial burdens for parents, according to Chinese officials.

New Oriental clarified it will not close education services as a whole but only suspend K9 tutoring operations. According to New Oriental’s social media post, nearly 80,000 sets of desks and chairs were donated to schools in rural areas as 1,500 learning centres are planned to be closed.

“[Yu] is a decent person and it is a respectful ending of an era”

The action has gained appreciation on Chinese social media platforms: “He is a decent person and it is a respectful ending of an era,” said one social media user.

“While being in the rain, he is still holding an umbrella for others.” said another.

The wealth of Yu has sharply decreased to seven and a half billion RMB (£880m) from 26 billion RMB (£3bn), according to the Hurun Rich List 2021 released in October. But the stock of the company advanced 3.4% on Monday as Bloomberg reported despite its 89% slump this year.

Beijing plans to issue licenses for education companies to resume after-school tutoring as Dow Jones reported. This is seen as a sign of stabilising market volatility in the education sector, according to Bloomberg and The Wall Street Journal. But the Global Times, a Chinese newspaper, said the issuing of the licenses is part of the regulation and the rules will only “grow stricter, won’t bounce around”.

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