‘Fault Lines On The Face Of China: 50 Reasons Why China May Never Be Great’ - Excerpt 7ChinaBounder's comments:
“One of the reasons behind the system of pressure [in higher education] is the extraordinary changes higher education in China has seen in recent decades. China’s universities were shut down in the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). In the years since they reopened, 36 million students have been admitted. Expansion in Chinese higher education has taken place at a truly astonishing rate. In 1999, the country’s colleges admitted 1.08 million students. By 2002, that number was up to 2.75 million. In 2007, said China’s Ministry of Education, 5.7 million students would be enrolled.
No matter what course a student signs up for – or, more often, is coerced into attending, either by parents or the system itself – he or she must also take a number of mandatory courses that have nothing to do with the major.
The most burdensome of these are political indoctrination courses, such as ‘Mao Zedong Theory,’ ‘Deng Xiaoping Theory,’ and, naturally, copious quantities of Marxism, all designed to espouse political theories that almost no-one – even the tutors – believes in. Political indoctrinization courses continue right up to PhD level, and a large amount of political hagiography must be memorized and repeated by rote.
There is extremely little room for any creative thinking or disagreement in these courses; a student who has the temerity to argue against the political effectiveness of Mao, for example, will simply fail the course – no matter how cogently he or she argues – and without passing the course, they student cannot complete the degree.”
China’s higher education system sucks. It is lazy, corrupt, and ideological. Try as I might, I can find nothing good to say about it. Well, except that it provides a great source of ChinaBounder’s lovers – but that’s another entry altogether.
Again and again I talk to students about their attitudes to higher education. Their responses are almost wholly negative. And while there are a few students who will begin by giving positive comments about their university, it does not take many questions from me before they agree that their university is indeed shoddy and unprofessional.
One of these students (name withheld) recently had his MA viva at what is regarded as one of Shanghai’s better universities. A viva, for those not in the know, is an interview panel of academics who quiz the student about their paper. Its purpose is to ensure the student really did write it, and to ask questions arising from the paper to test how wide the student’s knowledge of the subject is. The viva is meant to be a flexible academic debate, a give-and-take tussle. At least, that is what happens in a proper university. A university that takes education seriously.
Now I have read hundreds of essays written by students in China during recent years, across all levels, BA, BSc, MA, PhD. Very few have been worthy of academic respect. But this was an extremely accomplished paper, one that was certainly fit for publication in an international journal. How frustrating, then, that the academic rigor which this student put into his paper was totally disregarded by his university.
The questions that the panel asked were all decided in advance. Each academic had his script. And how do I know this? Because the chief examiner of the viva panel wrote out the questions for each examiner to ask each student, and handed them over to two of the MA students to type out. These students promptly shared the information with their peers.
China is creating an entire generation of people who do not think, do not question. How can China ever hope to change when this is the caliber of its best-educated people?
There is also a contradiction here, one of the many that makes Chinese society so fascinating and so hard to read. Though most Chinese students will agree the education sucks, most do not care. They do not want a rigorous, creative and flexible education. Sure, they all want less of the bullshit politics courses which are mandatory for all students, and most would be grateful if their accommodation was a bit less like the gulag.
Do they want to learn? Do they want to be challenged? Most of the students I have met simply want to get their degree, to chalk up the points. All that matters to them is having a degree with the name of a half-way respectable university with which to impress employers. The quality of received education is not a consideration. And this is why too many Chinese students are content to drift through their education, doing the minimum, copying their essays and obediently, uncomplainingly, jumping through the hoops the university sets out for them.
Let me put it another way; in all my years in China, I have met perhaps five students who take pride in their academic work.
While the Communist Party keeps its Neanderthal grip on power, maintaining present educational policies, this cannot change.
The students cannot wholly be blamed for not demanding a decent education. In Chinese education, just like everyday life in the nation, it is dangerous to stand out, dangerous to be an individual with alternative opinions. Unfortunately, it is from students like these that the next generation of academics comes, and so the system repeats itself, over and over.
Those few tutors who have some spark to them are soon crushed. Take an actual tutor (name withheld) at the same university I just mentioned. He completed his doctorate in the United States and returned to China to teach literature.
Perhaps, having been so long in the dynamic States, he had forgotten how lazy, how idle Chinese undergraduates were. For he set his students to actually read books – read books! – from cover to cover, not just a selected chapter from here or there, as is usual in a ‘literature’ degree in China. Worse than this, he wanted his students to read beyond the core curriculum. His greatest error was that he tried to set up seminars in which students could discuss ideas.
His students revolted. They complained to the university authorities. ‘Too much hard work!’ they bleated. ‘Too much reading!’ they whined.
Pause a moment, and consider the irony of that. English Literature. University Level. Too much reading.
Chinese university students, generally too apathetic or timid to complain, only made a fuss because the education was too good.
‘Fault Lines’ asks, “Will your university allow you to think?”
I reply: Does anyone in China really want to?
And certainly not about sex.
‘Fault Lines On The Face Of China: 50 Reasons Why China May Never Be Great’ - Excerpt 8
“The authoritarian treatment of students extends into every area of their life. Sex, for Chinese students, is also a subject for control by university regulations. Shanghai University, for example, expelled a student because he allowed his girlfriend to spend the night in his dorm room.
The student, Zhu Bin, explained that his girlfriend had come to see him from another university but had missed the last bus home. 'I originally intended to arrange for her to spend the night in a nearby internet café, but it was too dangerous for a girl to stay overnight with male strangers about' he said, so he took her back to his dorm. He planned to allow her to have his bed while he slept in a chair but, suffering from a fever, he lay down beside her. The next morning a dorm mate informed on Zhu, and teachers discovered him and his girlfriend on the bed.
In insisting ‘nothing happened’ Zhu perhaps legitimized the belief that sex is indeed shameful. And certainly Zhu’s mother said ‘I know that my son did something wrong, but things are not the way teachers think… the school should give him an opportunity to reform.’
When the Family Planning Commission of China’s southern Guangdong Province wanted to install condom machines in eight provincial universities in 2004, some reacted strongly. Kong Xiaoming, publicity chief of the Guangdong University of Foreign Studies, said ‘We firmly oppose to condom vending machines on our campus. On campus, this very move is definitely prohibited, and we would never allow students to have sex experience while in college [sic].’
Also in 2004, Beijing University – one of China’s most prestigious institutions – rejected plans to hand out condoms on World AIDS Day, saying that it was ‘inappropriate to hand out free condoms openly on campus.’”
Don’t forget: ‘T’ for Tibet and ‘X’ for Xinjiang at the Beijing 2008 Olympics.