They say it's never too late to learn.
After attending a 10-day literacy course, Zhao Shunjin, who had never learned to read or write, mastered over 100 Chinese characters at the age of 100.
Zhao, a former vegetable vendor from Hangzhou City in east China's Zhejiang Province, had never been to school and knew no characters except her own name before taking the course, part of a government-funded program.
Most people who applied for the community literacy classes were aged 70 to 80. "We never expected [Zhao] would apply," said Shen Yundi, one of the teachers at Sanbao Community in Jianggan District.
"Considering her age, we arranged one-on-one tutoring for her," Shen explained. "She spent two hours learning every day. Sometimes she would come to the classroom accompanied by a relative or sometimes a tutor would go to her home to teach her in private."
Zhao's son Luo Rongsheng said, "I pushed her to the classroom in her wheelchair. When we met friends on the way and they asked where we were going, she always replied proudly 'I'm going to study'."
Zhao passed the test at the end of the course, and received a literacy certificate on July 13. She has since been sticking to the habit of reading and writing.
"Every day, she goes through her textbooks and reads aloud the characters and words," Luo said.
Since Zhao has bad eyesight, her textbooks were specially made by her son and the community workers. Characters in the books are palm-sized.
According to Luo, his mother's inability to read caused her a great deal of trouble when she was young. She once received a big order from a university in the 1950s. Every day, staff from the university canteen would send her a list of the vegetables they needed. Zhao's fellow villagers were just as incapable of reading the list as she was, so she had to walk miles to find someone in the neighboring village to read it for her.
This is the fifth literacy course Sanbao Community, with 300 illiterate residents, has organized since 2014. Elderly people are paid from 300 yuan (48.3 U. S. dollars) to 500 yuan each to attend the course.
"Many of them were attracted by the stipend in the beginning, but later on they found it a fulfilling experience, as they made friends and learned new things," Shen Yundi said.
Communities would like more funding for the scheme. A community teacher in Hangzhou's Tonglu County said, "These literacy classes are solely funded by governments. Compared with those in downtown Hangzhou, many literacy programs in townships are short of of money."
A census in 2010 found China's illiteracy rate was 4.88 percent, compared with 80 percent after the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, thanks to a campaign that began in the 1950s. The figure means there were still over 54 million illiterate people in China in 2010, with most of them living in rural areas.