Archive for June, 2012

I’m Swiss. I live here now, but I’m actually a Swiss… nationally.

June 16, 2012 Leave a comment

It’s been kinda difficult to be British in Beijing lately- first there was the spectacular Youku implosion of a video of drunken/stoned/retarded/possibly-all-three Briton attempting to rape a Chinese woman in Xidan.  Now we’re even more in hock with the CCP because David Cameron met up with His Holiness The Dalai Lama.

With panther-like reactions, the Global Times churned out an op-ed that lambasted the UK and Norway for their arrogance (yes, that’s Chinese men calling other countries arrogant, just in case you didn’t get it first time around.  Incredible I know).  Like a lot of Chinese tub thumping, the actual content is questionable, and the article is one of those paper-rattling nationalist things that Chinese people like so much.

The speculation is probably correct. In both cases China’s core interests have been offended. Proper countermeasures are necessary for a big country. If China takes no action, it would be tantamount to tolerating a vicious provocation. This indifference would be despised at home and in the world.

Er.  No.  Just at home, as it happens.  No one else cares.  Ok, so the anonymous author doesn’t really point out why China has the right not to be offended.  Lots of countries and lots of governments are attacked by media outlets everyday.  China’s just going to have to grow up and learn to take it’s knocks like everyone else.

Since its reform, China has accepted some political concepts of the West, but that is not the same as unconditionally following orders from the West. Studying the West has to take place under the condition of resisting its pressure, otherwise, it is to accept being conquered by the West.

As I commented on the story itself, China didn’t really “reform and open up”, the government just stopped interfering with people’s lives so much after Mao died.  A classic CCP maneovre of waiting and seeing and then taking credit for what happens next.  As far as anyone knows, the political system that China did take from the west was one of the worst political ideologies created that China’s inept leaders of the time thought they needed in a deperate bid to modernise the country.  Almost every country that embraced communism (and most have subsequently discarded it) ain’t exactly the type of place that you’d want to retire in.  With the exception of Cuba, but they’ve actually got a decent health system.

The UK and Norway are developed countries with relatively small populations. China is aware of their political advantages. However, governing a country of 1.3 billion people is beyond their imagination. It is naïve and arrogant to try and teach China what to do. 

It was only a matter of time before one of the Holy Trinity of Chinese excuses was trotted out.  Chinese people are immensely proud of their immense population, and their apparent inability to manage it properly.  Corruption running rampant?  Well, China has a large population.  Poison in your milk?  Well, China is a developing country, you know. 1.3billion people isn’t beyond our imagination, it’s just that the systems that the corrupt morons that run China can’t scale up beyond the neighbourhoods of the politicians that dream them up over a baijiu soaked dinner.

 They must pay the due price for their arrogance. This is also how China can build its authority in the international arena. China doesn’t need to make a big fuss because of the Dalai or a dissident, but it has many options to make the UK and Norway regret their decision. 

The way to build authority in an international arena is to stop personalising every little slight and stop making overblown puff pieces about how sensitive you all are and how we should treat you all with respect.  If Chinese politicians actually just stopped brown-nosing the CCP machine for just five minutes, and started doing things for the good of the people, rather than saying that they’re doing stuff for the good of the people, we might be able to make some progress.

Spending thousands of RMB on banners saying that Chinese people are 文明 doesn’t actually do anything to change people’s minds.  Becoming civilised and not acting like a dick in public is not something that people can osmotically achieve simply by being bombarded with thinly veiled propaganda day and night.

Oh, and by the way, outside of Bond villians, no one “must pay the price” for shit these days.

China-UK cooperation will have to be slowed down. Free trade agreement talks between China and Norway have also been upset. The ensuing loss is a small one for China. 

Free trade won’t be upset, the sky will not fall, and the worst that would happen is that China goes a sulks in the corner for a while.  No one likes a cry baby and you have to stop playing the victim.

It’s not easy to have Chinese society’s sympathy on China’s sovereignty issues. The West has presented various honors to Chinese dissidents, and Chinese people won’t be fooled into believing it is a simple coincidence.

Shockingly, what happens in “the West” is that people that try and change things actually get recognised for trying to change things.  We don’t give out random gongs to people just because we want their job when they retire (with the obviously exception of the British Civil Service, naturally).  To get a pat on the back, you need to do something other than get fat and smoke cigarettes and retire to go die of cancer, it’s just doesn’t work like that.  The Chinese government has to stop looking at everything as though governance is one long gaokao.  There are certain things that you can’t be taught, and as long as current status quo exists, it never will be.


Good, Good Study. Day, Day Up.

June 8, 2012 Leave a comment

Education has famously been part and parcel of Chinese culture for millennia.  While the Japanese were relying on their social standing and the prestige of their families to ensure a decent salary, the Chinese were introducing standardized testing, and encouraging children to get at least as far as their parents got, so that the parents could live in relative comfort during their retirement.  The idea is that you spend whatever is needed on your child to make sure they get the best job, because you’ll be relying on that job to provide financial support after you finish working.  

Most universities, indeed most high schools, focus on learning by rote, usually in classes of about 30 to 40 students.  The teacher stands at the front of the class, tells the students how to do things.  The problem is that, for some unknown reason, the Chinese look towards the top 5% of successful Chinese, and deduct that because 5% made it, the system must work.  Of course, since the system fails people 95% of the time, one can also deduce that something is terribly, terribly wrong with the education system in the PRC. 

This week, Chinese high school students will take the gaokao – the national college entrance exam where 9.15 million students will compete for 6.85 million university places.  It lasts for three straight days, and will ultimately determine the entire future of a student’s life.  Students regularly study sixteen hours a day in order to get the all important perfect score.  Competition, is, as you can imagine, pretty tough.  It’s so tough in fact that the university have instigated a kind of upgrade/downgrade system that you usually find on airlines: if the  places on a particular course have been filled, the students simply get bounced to another course – whether they like it or not.    

As part of the modernization drive to educate it’s people into the 21st century, the Chinese government has made English lessons compulsory up to the second year of university – so students typically go through nearly 7 years of language instruction, and still manage to level out at a mediocre level of second language ability.  Conversations with a Chinese English student are riddled with Chinglish – a particular blend of directly translated English that grates on the nerves after six months in the country – and other fossilized errors that students apparently show little intention of making any effort to eradicate.  

That’s not to say that some people make it.  The laws of chance dictate that at least some of the unfortunates that are forced through the Chinese higher education system make it to a decent level of fluency, but for most, speaking English is a tool, something that will get them a certificate that will get them a job – job that many thousands of other similarly qualified Chinese graduates will be competing for.  

The obsession for learning English is such that with only 59 “schools” in China, Wall Street Institute – a private language school – was bought by publishing giant Pearson for $92 million.  And it’s the money that is increasingly dictating the quality of education one receives – if you have enough you can send your child abroad to an American or, more commonly, a Canadian university (the visa application is a little less stringent in Canada), if you don’t have enough hard cash for that, you’ll have to settle for a “top-tier” university.  Chinese students are enrolling in US universities in droves, but the rote style of education isn’t preparing them for the Socratic methodology used in western countries, inevitably leading to friction between the American and Chinese students.  

Zhao Jun, in an interview with The Atlantic, says that he supports his son’s decision to study in the US – and he’s the editor-in-cheif of a government produced education journal.  He gave a fairly damning description of the current Chinese educational system, “the course design is too rigid, the method of teaching is too mechanical, and the standard for measuring talent is too one-dimensional.”  He’s not the only one, either, Gaokao applications have declined by 700,000 students since 2009, many of the students favouring the best education that money can buy – outside China