Blog EntriesContemporary Society

ZGBriefs The Weeks Top Picks, April 10 Issue


Solving China's Schools: An Interview with Jiang Xueqin (April 8, 2014, New York Review of Books)

Ian Johnson interviews Jiang Xueqin, a Chinese-born Canadian about the differences (and growing similarities) between the Chinese and American educational systems.

A Canadian citizen whose parents emigrated from China, Jiang, who is thirty-seven, helped establish an experimental high-school program in Shenzhen in 2008 and now works for Tsinghua Fuzhong, Tsinghua University's Affiliated High School. He just published a book in China called Creative China about his experiences in Chinese public schools. I spoke to him in Beijing in late March about the future of education in China.

Speaking about the gaokao, which, he contends, reached its apex in the 1990's, Jiang says:

The gaokao was a good way to produce engineers and mid-level bureaucrats. It was perfect for these goals because it filters out people with the highest analytical intelligence. China in the 1980s and 1990s was basically a sweatshop economy. It was about organizing the masses and producing Nike sneakers for the American market. Everyone believed that the best route to success was to do well on the gaokao, get a degree in China, and then go to the United States for graduate school.

But starting around 2004 and 2005, the middle class was rising, more people were going overseas and seeing other cultures. They began to question the validity of a gaokao education. If China is to progress, it needs people with different skill sets. It needs entrepreneurs, designers, managersthe sort of people China doesn't have.

Writing about the similarities between the Chinese and US system, he says this:

But if you look at it really broadly, there's little difference between how kids are raised in either country. Middle-class parents in both countries are trying to maintain their social standing and propagate it to the next generation. The Amy Chua complex. But Amy Chua is just being honest and direct. The way she raises her kids is no different from the way other upper-middle class parents raise their kids. They're just more nuanced, subtle in the way they manage their kids: "We really care about your individuality. We really care about the choices you'll make for yourself and we really want you to have a rich and diverse experience. But it would also be amazing if you went to Harvard and became a corporate lawyer.

This is a particularly helpful read for anyone working in the education sector in China.

Cultural Revolution Nostalgia (April 9, 2014, The New York Times)

Chinese novelist Yu Hua pens an op-ed in this week's New York Times looking at the growing nostalgia for the (perceived) simplicity of the Cultural Revolution era. The reason, he argues, is that the Party has never allowed for open dialog on the event:

So in official discourse there is no truthful accounting of the Cultural Revolution, and it is only in society at large that discussion of it sometimes surfaces.

Now, helpless and indignant in the face of such ugly modern realities as environmental degradation, income disparity, pervasive corruption, theft and murder, drug abuse, human trafficking, land seizures and forced demolitions, many who lived through the Cultural Revolution have begun to wax nostalgic. That's because, when Mao was lord and everyone was under the regime's thumb, social problems were not so widespread and contradictions were not so acute.

In other words,

In today's China, more and more people speak in positive terms about the Cultural Revolution and hanker for a return to that era. Most of them don't really want to turn the clock back: It's mainly their dissatisfaction with current realities that fuels their interest in revolution.

Here's another question: does the fact that there is so little (none) truthful accounting increase the chances that it could happen again?

An excellent resource on the politics that drove the Cultural Revolution is the China History Podcast.

Chinese citizens need a passport to visit parts of their own country. Here's why (April 9, 2014, 22 Words)

If you've ever travelled from a city in China to Hong Kong or Macau, you may have been surprised to learn that, even though those two cities are now a part of China, getting there means crossing an international border. Or at least it seems like an international border. This great video clip will explain it all!

Photo Credit: Stuart Franklin/Magnum Photos

Today we are starting a new feature, linking this blog with another of our publications, the ZGBriefs Newsletter. Every Friday, we will highlight four articles from the ZGBriefs newsletter that we consider the must read articles of the week.

Herewith are this weeks:

The good, the bad and the exiled? Chinas Class of 77 (CNN)

In this article, Jaimie FlorCruz, CNNs Beijing correspondent, reflects on his time as a student at Beijing University beginning in 1977, and some of his fellow students. These include Premier Li Keqiang, disgraced former Chongqing Party Secretary Bo Xilai, and exiled dissident Wang Juntao. Its an interesting look at the university careers of these three men, and the different paths they took beyond the academy walls.

When I enrolled at Beida in the fall of 1977, the university was steeped in the political ferment that followed Chairman Mao's death and the start of Deng Xiaoping's reforms.

My classmates, many of whom had worked on farms or in factories during the Cultural Revolution, were viewed by many as China's crme de la crme. They belonged to the storied "Class of '77" who passed the first college entrance exams held after the Cultural Revolution.

During the four years I spent at Beida, I met many other fascinating fellow students who went on to become important players in China's divisive political scene.

Among them was Bo Xilai, once one of the most powerful politicians in China, now disgraced and sentenced to life in prison for corruption and abuse of power.

Kept women (Aeon Magazine)

One of the unfortunate features of society in old China (pre1949) was the practice of having multiple wives, or concubines. When the Communist Party came to power in 1949, it was banned. With the relaxation of state control over the private lives of individuals (somewhat), coupled with the economic prosperity, this practice has made a comeback (albeit not officially sanctioned) in modern China. This article is a rather in-depth look at the modern phenomenon of mistresses in China today.

Shanshans $550 shoes came from her lover, but the soles of her feet, as hard as leather, came from her childhood. We used to play barefoot in the village, she told me. All the girls in the karaoke bar had feet like this.

At 26, Shanshan has come a long way from rural Sichuan, one of Chinas poorer southern provinces, famous for the spiciness of its food and its women. Today her lover, Mr Wu, keeps her in a Beijing apartment that cost 2.5 million yuan ($410,000), and visits whenever he can find the time away from his wife.

Inside the world of Chinas shadow banks (Marketplace)

In the West there is often concern about the financial health of Chinas banking system, and rightly so. However, there may be something more worrying than the Chinese banking system, and that is the shadow banking system, an off-the-books, totally unregulated banking system that a Chinese think-tank suggests is already at 40% of GDP.

"I began making cigarette lighters 20 years ago," continues Huang. "Four of my family members each put in $1,500 and lent it to me without interest. Thats what we call a Wenzhou loan."

Thanks to his Wenzhou loan, Huang Fajing made a fortune selling cigarette lightersChinese media now call him the lighter king.

On his road to cigarette lighter fame and fortune, the Lighter King watched on as more money flowed into Wenzhou. Over time, loans were no longer limited to just family and friends. The Wenzhou loan, says Huang, became a lot less innocent.

"Bigger groups of lenders began to form. They pooled money together and took turns taking out loans. Then they started lending money with very high interest rates - to strangers."

The House Churches Understanding of the Three-Self Church, Chinese Government and Themselves (Pacific Institute for Social Sciences)

This article, written by a house church leader in China (translated), gives an interesting glimpse into the division between the house churches and the official Three-Self Church.

The primary issue for Chinese house churches today is how to manage the relationship with the Three-Self Church and the Chinese government. The relationships among the Three-Self Church, house churches and the government are very complicated. We can only discuss them briefly at this time. If God permits, we should discuss them in greater depth in the future.

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ChinaSource Team

Written by members of the ChinaSource staff.  View Full Bio