Category Archives: education

“Hong Kong backs down over Chinese patriotism classes”

After weeks of protests and the threat of further politicizing a populace that has been turning against mainland rule and the Communist Party, the HK government has offered a partial surrender on the issue (via BBC):

City leader Leung Chun-ying said the classes would be optional for schools.

“The schools are given the authority to decide when and how they would like to introduce the moral and national education,” he said.

The plans sparked weeks of protest and the changes came a day after activists said more than 100,000 protesters rallied at government headquarters.

Unlike the rest of China, Hong Kong enjoys a high degree of freedom, including a free press, the right to assemble and transparent, accountable institutions.

The BBC’s Juliana Liu, in Hong Kong, says the row is the latest example of the cultural, social and political gap that exists between Hong Kong and its mainland masters.

It also highlights the deep suspicion with which many Hong Kong people continue to regard the Chinese government.

I wonder how schools will take this- might China try the same financial incentive schemes they use abroad to support Confucius Institutes abroad, or encourage Communist Party members in school administrations to implement the classes? And how will Hong Kongers react to schools that ‘choose’ to hold these classes- boycott the schools, or just let it go?

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“The State of Chinese Higher Ed”

Tsinghua lecturer David Lundquist on Chinese universities:

The weaknesses of the Chinese classroom are more or less well-known: rote learning, an America-inspired fixation with metrics for professorial performance (scholarly publications) and students with upwards of twenty-five class hours per week, resulting in large class sizes.

Libraries, the cathedrals of learning necessary for any university, are not up to specification. Newly built yet still cramped, they contain a ragtag collection of discarded books from American universities. The typical American community college boasts about the same. Contrast this with formidable collections of Chinese literature at elite American institutions.

Housing facilities are also inferior. Students live four or six to a room, with a bathroom at the end of the hall. That’s not to say that American-style amenities are the way to go–there’s obviously some waste. But exactly where is the emotional development on Chinese campuses? Amenities, perks and comfort zones might be what students need during four years of emotionally taxing, intensive social experiences.

A narrow concept of learning is prioritized over wider notions of personal growth common to many Americans. Chinese students are not only less likely to graduate without pleasant and fulfilling romantic experiences, they’re also less likely to know themselves in many senses that Americans see as essential: tendencies under stress, life trajectory or, more practically, career preferences.

Chinese students seek release from stress just like everyone–a little recreation or time to let go. But as for on-campus entertainment for students, China fails again. Lacking a student meeting hall, group meetings are often held in cafeterias amid the aroma of fried rice, above drips and drops of sauce and soup.

Like many Chinese elites, a large number of Tsinghua students will later seek graduate degrees in the United States. Tsinghua estimates that 40-60 percent of graduates who study abroad do not return. The government has tried to stop this brain drain by providing money for talented researchers, especially Chinese scientists already established abroad. This is not easy, one professor explains, when funding in the PRC has traditionally been divvied up based on connections.

Having spent time teaching in a much more ordinary university than Tsinghua, I can definitely confirm that this experience is very typical of Chinese higher education.

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February 9th: TibetWatch

There hasn’t been much else about yesterdays protests yet, but AFP is reporting that Tibet Party chief Chen Quanguo is holding to his threat of dismissing officials if protests or other disturbances occur in their districts:

Tibet’s top leader has fired three officials for failing to crack down on unrest in the region, state press said Thursday, a day after another Tibetan set himself alight to protest China’s rule.

Chen Quanguo, Communist Party head of Tibet, announced the sackings in a Wednesday meeting at which he also called for increased pressure on Tibetan separatists led by what he called the “Dalai clique”, the Tibet Daily reported.

The three fired officials worked for the region’s human resources department, a government organ responsible for job placement.

His appointment was met with muted optimism, and firing officials instead of carpet-bombing districts with PAP might sound like an improvement… but firing them for not ‘striking’ the ‘Dalai Clique’ hard enough… Yeah, that sounds pretty ominous.

Meanwhile, ChinaDialogue has an article about the efforts to resettle Tibetan nomads. Given the prominent position herdsmen have had in recent protests, this could likely be called a major source of discontent across Tibet:

The provision of adequate public services is one of the biggest challenges. Infrastructure in some of the relocation sites is excellent, just like in a modern town. But in some cases, basic amenities including water, electricity, roads, schools, toilets and healthcare facilities, not to mention television, have not kept pace with the rising population. These services have a direct impact on migrants’ lives, and their absence makes it harder to attract inhabitants, as well as making future development work much harder.

In Guoluobanma county, for example, the influx of migrants has put serious pressure on the local healthcare system: the county hospital cannot cope with the increased numbers, while the Tibetan medicine hospital has no inpatient beds. The nearest alternatives are distant. The town of Dawu is 320 kilometres away, and Xining, the provincial capital, 786 kilometres away. Access to medical care has become a major issue for local people.

Housing projects built by the local government are mostly located on the outskirts of towns. We have seen places with cable television wired up – but no electricity, or vice versa. Even when television is available, the herders don’t watch it much, as many of them don’t speak Mandarin. And of course, they can’t easily communicate with the rest of the community. Existing residents tend not to welcome the newcomers, and there’s little sense of kinship or belonging.

Just getting by is hard. The herders used to live by moving their herds around the grasslands, finding fresh grass and water, but relocation has taken away their livelihood: they are not herders anymore, but nor are they farmers or urban workers, and low incomes have become a major problem.

The herders had expected to live comfortable lives in the towns; they put a lot of faith in the local government. They never expected that they would not only lose their original way of life, but also suffer what they call the “four hardships”: not being able to afford meat, milk, butter tea or heating fuel. The herders’ standard of living is generally lower now than it was before – and much lower than that of other locals. In Guoluo, a typical migrant’s income is around a fifth of that of an established resident. Poor locals, moreover, receive government welfare; not so poor migrants.

In the village of Xiangda, in Nangqên county, virtually everyone lost their land and several thousand people across the prefecture now struggle to make ends meet. These people are not ecological migrants – they have not been relocated – but they are demanding the same treatment as those who are. They too have made sacrifices for the sake of protecting the ecology of Sanjiangyuan, and the government should not ignore their hopes and needs.

Finally for today, Merab Sarpa has a great exploration of Chinese education policies in Tibetan areas. From their conclusion:

In The Will to Empower, Cruikshank (1999) questions and analyzes power relationships and asserts that in spite of the emancipatory claim of those who seek to empower others, the relations of empowerment are themselves relations of power. This seems to be case with China’s attempts to empower its minorities, although here the government’s intention is dubious. In Chinese government discourse, education to the minorities in Mandarin and Han Chinese culture represents an attempt to empower the minorities and bring economic and educational development to ethnic minority regions. Yet, from the minorities’ perspective, it has clear disempowering effects, as the educational displacement causes low school enrollment and erosion of their language and culture.

One of the central issues in the discourse on minority education is national unity and stability. In the case of Tibet, the government establishes a link between Tibetan Buddhism and language with local ethnic nationalism. Thus, deliberate attempts were made to exclude Tibetan culture, including religion and language from education. However, government efforts have not diminished ethnic nationalism, but rather increased alienation and created sense of exclusion. It is quite evident from the Tibetan and Uyghur experiences that the cultural exclusion, ideological education and mainstreaming seldom results in national integration. On the contrary, it has led to protests and unrest that threaten national unity. Uprisings in Tibet and Uyghur area in 2008 and 2009 respectively, and Tibetan students’ protests in 2010 are cases in point. A more culturally oriented education could in fact bring the minorities closer to the Chinese nation and promote unity in diversity. Beijing must recognize that the child’s community and local milieu form the primary social context in which learning takes place, and in which knowledge acquires its meaning.

Thus, a genuine bilingual education rooted in minority culture could be the true panacea for China’s minority educational problem. In the case of Tibet, Tibetan language should be promoted as the first language. Along with that, it is important to create economic and political expanse for Tibetan language to gain functional utility. This entails making Tibetan language the language of administration and commerce. Without the prospect of political and socio-economic gains and opportunities, even the choice for an education in Tibetan language would be a ‘false choice’ (Zhou & Ross, 2004).

I really hope Merab Sarpa can keep up this quality of writing.

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“Chinese lessons in leadership”

Another part of Melissa Chan’s series on Al Jazeera Blogs, this time about the Beijing Communist Party School, where cadres receive their training:

There are 80 million members of the Communist Party and more than half of them work in the government in some way – whether directly in a ministry or in a state-owned corporation. Training them in management and administration requires what is probably the biggest human resources department in the world: the Communist Party School system, with some 2,000 satellite campuses.

We were taken to a seminar on Marx’s Das Kapital. I wondered how the professor would fit the current Chinese market economy with Chairman Mao’s vision. The Party has changed from its 1949 revolutionary roots. Karl Marx would not have recognized modern China as any proletarian state.

Five minutes in, and Professor Liu Changlong was up there flatly dismissing the old textbooks and saying there was nothing wrong with capitalism to a room of middle-aged cadres.

Liu didn’t exactly fawn over the new economic model, either. He went on to mull over private ownership and the unproductive way, as he saw it, wealthy people were getting wealthier, noting the growing income gap in the country. He openly mused about the motivations of citizens willing to work as officials, and pointed out that one’s ability to govern does not necessarily translate to any accompanying sense of ethics or morality.

It was a jab right at the officials sitting before him. He moved on glibly to discuss corruption. I was somewhat stunned.

“We have to talk about and analyze sensitive issues,” Liu said. “The academic and teaching environment here is very relaxed. There are no limitations to what can and cannot be discussed.”

The Party School is an open forum, Liu went on to explain, because it has to be. Officials can’t afford to avoid problems that could directly threaten their governance. The Propaganda Department may present news to the public, selecting facts and fabrication for inclusion. But on the closed campus of the Party School, officials must consider the real issues of income inequality, protests, and what direction the country should be headed, both politically and economically.

Participants in the classroom came from all walks of the party: a professor at a university, someone from the education bureau, a doctor at the medical college, a museum curator, a judge, and the chief engineer of a state-owned construction company.

Some of them were staying on campus. They had a schedule: from morning exercises in the courtyard to meals in the dining hall at night.

It is a great opportunity for cadres from different ministries and departments to network, and the development of friendships from time spent on campus probably equal the utility of studying Marx. For some party officials, attendance is a prelude to promotion, depending on the ministry or department.

Plenty of my old students would have loved to have real discussions in their political classes on these subjects- too bad the standard issue political classes in China are completely worthless.

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“More Tibetan Students Will Be Educated in China”

High Peaks reports that China is making greater efforts to tear more Tibetans out of their society and educate them in the middle of overwhelmingly Han cities- this is pretty good old-fashioned colonialism at work:

According to recent information released by the Tsolho Prefecture Government of Qinghai Province, the Education Department of Jiangsu Province agreed to aid the development of education in Tsolho Prefecture. In September, eighty middle school students from Tsolho will be sent to Jiangsu to study.

According to reports on August 29 in the media, Tsolho Autonomous Prefecture education department has reached an understanding that within the next five years, five thousand Tibetan students from both middle and high schools will be sent to Shandong Province to receive vocational skills training. On August 30, five hundred students from poor families of the prefecture were sent to Qufu Secondary Normal School and Dongping Vocational School in Shandong respectively.

In order to implement the spirit of the Central Party’s Fifth Meeting on Tibet Work, the Confucius Professional Centre, under the direction of United Front Department of the Party, has made arrangements. In July, the working relationship between the Confucius Education Trust and Tibetan Prefecture of Tsolho was established to promote development.

If better education is the aim, why not build these schools where the students actually live? The real goal is to remove them from a Tibetan environment in favor of a Han one.

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‘For China’s Muslim schools, a balancing act”

An interesting article from The Hindu about Islamic education in Ningxia:

For the Ningxia Islamic College’s 420 students, lessons can often be confusing.

During their morning classes, the students, all from China’s 10 million-strong Hui Muslim minority group, recite verses from the Koran and study Arabic.

When afternoon lessons resume, after prayers, their teachers shift tack: the students pore over Chinese textbooks on Socialist theory, learning about capital, labour and Communist Party philosophy.

In the Islamic college in Yinchuan, teachers said their priority was to ensure that students placed “patriotism over religion”. “Love your country, love religion,” reads a sign at the entrance of the college.

“The country comes first, and then your religion. That is our message,” said Mr. Ma.

China’s five “autonomous regions”, which include Ningxia, Xinjiang and Tibet, are home to most of the 55 minority ethnic groups. They are allowed to set up their own education systems under the Regional Ethnic Autonomy Law.

In practice, policies are set by Beijing and directed by local Communist Party secretaries, who hold more power than their government counterparts, said teachers and officials in both regions.

In most primary and middle schools in Ningxia, Huis do not study the Koran or learn Arabic. “We are only allowed Koran study once we are in college,” said one Hui student at the Yinchuan college.

All this meddling, despite the fact that the Hui are extremely well-integrated with Chinese society.

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“Confessions of a Chinese graduate”

In China education has a different sort of flow than in many Western countries. Here, high school is the hard one, where you struggle to survive an onslaught of classes and tests. After that college is a breeze, with many students openly sleeping through the majority of their classes. Even doing so much as a minute of serious study seems to be voluntary, and while plenty of students do make that choice, many don’t. Eric Mu from Danwei recounts his experience- the entire thing is definitely worth a read, but here’s a bit:

I have to say that high school is a monastery and an army boot camp combined. 11 classes every day. We had to rise before dawn and went to bed after 11. After the last class, we were encouraged to use any bit of extra time for study. There was one student who would go to read his lessons every night in the toilet, because that was the only place where the light would be kept on 24 hours. Everyone hated him, because his breach of a delicate equilibrium that is vital for us to live in peace with each other — he studied just a little too hard. The school encouraged us to be frugal with our time. It had a slogan hanging from the main building: “Time is like water in sponge; if you squeeze harder, there is always more.”

Even though you can always squeeze, even God may need to take a day off every week. For high school students, it was every four weeks. The day was meant for us to go home to pick up some spare clothes and money to sustain us for the next four weeks. But it also offered a rare chance of leisure. One day, think about it, ten hours of freedom, plus undisrupted sleep. How wonderful! I always anticipated the day so much that I kept planning and planning: Going to the bookstore to read the history book that I hadn’t finished? Going to the noodle place in the market to have noodles with lamb soup? When the day eventually came, not a single second passed without causing great anxiety in me like a stingy man counting every penny that he has to shell out.

Teachers are a mixture of army training sergeants and Amway salesmen. The former abuses, the later promises. A teacher is not only expected to teach, he also needs to motivate. Some male teachers were very good at that, capable of evoking in their subjects the deepest sense of shame that even a Freudian would admire. They did it with verbal ingenuity that a rapper would envy. I remember a teacher once warned us that if we didn’t work hard we would “go and poke a dog’s teeth,” What he meant was that we would end up being tramps or beggars. Now many years have passed but the image of myself with a beggar’s pole trying to fend off a bunch of barking dogs still haunts me.

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