“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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