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ZGBriefs The Weeks Top Picks, February 27 Issue

My top picks this week center on architecture, education, and the plight of the disabled in China.

Designed in Chicago; Made in China (February 21, 2014, Chicago Tribune)

This article will hit particularly "close to home" to those who have lived or currently live in a Chinese city. The Chicago-Tribune takes a look at the building boom (and Chicago firms that are trying to participate) that is taking place amidst China's rapid urbanization, focusing on the massive high-rise communities that dot the landscapes of Chinese cities. Blair Kamin writes of the thinking and design behind these vast complexes:

Chinese leaders and builders see things differently. The housing blocks are an integral part of a government-directed migration from farms to cities that has already lifted half a billion people out of poverty and that experts predict will increase the number of Chinese urban dwellers to 1 billion by 2030. For their part, the builders say customers embrace the look-alike towers because the high-rises give each complex a distinct identity within China's vast urban transformation.

They want an overall plan. You know it's the same development," said Hu Bin, a director of engineering for Agile Property Holdings, a Chinese company that's building more than 30 residential towers on the outskirts of the southern city of Guangzhou. When completed, the high-rises will house 30,000 people.

He then draws a contrast between life in the high-rise communities of Beijing and the old hutongs, where people lived more as members of a community.

Beijing's courtyard houses reflect the values of a culture that puts far more emphasis on the family and society. Their walls are punctuated only by the main entrance gate or an occasional window. The ballet of city life that plays out beyond those walls, however, is vital and vivid.

By contrast, life in the new "towers" that ring the urban core lack, not only community, but often social amenities, such as access to hospitals, shopping, and parks.

But critics say the housing blocks exact a collective cost because they often sit on the urban periphery.

In Beijing, the outlying areas have far fewer public services than high-income areas close to downtown, according to an upcoming report by researchers at Beijing's Tsinghua University. The inner areas were home to 32 percent of the city's population but had more than 60 percent of the best schools and hospitals, says the study.

Nine-hour tests and lots of pressure: welcome to the Chinese school system (February 22, 2014, The Guardian)

Many in the west look to results of test score surveys in China and see nothing but success. But a closer look often reveals a harsher reality. In the lead-up to a China visit by the British Education Minister, the Guardian takes a closer look at what the system is really like:

In recent weeks British parents and educators have been in a panic about the discrepancy between the Chinese education system and the UK's. In December the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) released the 2012 results for its triennial Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) test a reading, maths and science examination administered to half a million 15-year-olds in 65 countries. Shanghai students topped the rankings; the UK ranked 26th.

Next week education minister Elizabeth Truss will lead a "fact-finding mission" to Shanghai to learn the secrets of China's success. She plans to adjust the UK's education policy accordingly.

Yet Chinese parents and educators see their own system as corrupt, dehumanising, pressurised and unfair. In fact, many are looking to the west for answers. Huang said that some parents bribe Shijia primary school to admit their children (though she declined to say whether she had done so herself).

Interestingly, while the west looks for ways to emulate what China is doing, thousands and thousands of Chinese parents are looking for ways to get their children out of the system, and sending them to high school in west.

Sinica: The Disabled in China (February 22, 2014, Pop-up Chinese)

Earlier this week, I wrote a post called "Being Salt and Light Among the Disabled in China." It was a summary of an essay at Aeon Magazine called "Abled Lives" about the plight of the disabled in China.

The Sinica Podcast takes a more in-depth look at the subject this week:

This week on Sinica, Kaiser and Jeremy are joined by James Palmer and John Giszczack for a discussion of the disabled in China. Join us as we discuss how the Chinese language defines the concept of disability, what public attitudes are prevalent about the disabled, and what resources the Chinese government makes and doesn't make available to help those with disabilities integrate themselves into society.

If you read the essay, you'll definitely want to listen to this podcast.

Photo Credit: Galaxy SOHO Beijing, by Rob Deutscher, via Flickr

Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman is senior vice president of ChinaSource and editor of ZGBriefs. Prior to joining ChinaSource, Joann spent 28 years working in China, as an English teacher, language student, program director, and cross-cultural trainer for organizations and businesses engaged in China. She has also taught Chinese at the University... View Full Bio