Blog Entries

ZGBriefs The Weeks Top Picks, November 7 Issue

My top picks for this week fall into two broad categories: English teaching and violence. The articles about English teaching were of interest to me because once upon a time I was an English teacher in China. The articles on violence are interesting and sober reads and help us understand that underneath the veneer of stability, there are some serious social tensions.

This article on the WSJ blog China Real Time Report may be of particular interest to those individuals or organizations involved with English teaching in China: English May be Losing Its Luster in China.

Estimates vary, but state media China Daily said there were many as 400 million English-language learners in China at the beginning of this decade. In 2011, the market for English-language training was worth 46.3 billion yuan ($7.5 billion) according to market data provider Beijing Zhongzhilin Information Technology Ltd.

Yet as China's economy matures, creating a domestic consumer class and homegrown companies to serve it, many Chinese such as Ms. Wang see new job opportunities that don't require English. Meanwhile, some critics blame an overemphasis on English in schools for contributing to an erosion of Chinese skills in young people.

"We may be on the brink of a change of status in relation to English in China," said David Graddol, an education consultant based in Hong Kong and author of a recent book on English in China.

"In the past, the main driver of English has been the need to pass national exams. In the future this may declinebut the need to be able to communicate in English may increase," he said.

Will the demand for foreign English teachers also begin to decline? This will definitely be an interesting trend to keep an eye on.

Speaking of English teaching, I enjoyed this retrospective by Marketplace correspondent Rob Schmitz about his return to Zigong, where he had taught English as a Peace Corps volunteer in the mid-1990's. The title is "One City, Many Changes: A Reporter's Return Trip to Zigong."

One of the kids, 12 year-old Zeng Yang, knocked on the door after I had been there a week. He declared that I was the first foreigner he had ever seen, and he asked if I could teach him English. His father was a teacher in the art department. They lived a few floors above me in a drab, concrete apartment block. His family like most families in Zigong made less than a hundred dollars a month.

Seventeen years later, Zeng picks me up in the provincial capital of Chengdu in his brand new Volkswagen bug. Each day, this city limits traffic to certain numbered license plates to curb air pollution. To get around that, Zeng simply bought five cars one for every day of the week. He's on the move. At 29 years old, he's now one of China's top young artists. "When I was young, I played with toy cars, but I never imagined I'd ever be able to buy one," Zeng tells me as we speed down the expressway.

I look forward to reading similar stories 20 years from now written by the current crop of English teachers.

While verbal battles in the US rage about health care and health insurance, in China the health care battles are of a more tangible nature patients attacking doctors when they are unsatisfied with the outcome of treatment. The China Hospital Association reports that there is an attack on medical staff every couple of weeks in China.

The Sinosphere Blog at the New York Times had a good piece this week about the problem in a piece by Did Kirsten Tatlow titled "Chinese Doctors Becoming Targets of Patients' Anger." After relating some recent incidents she gives a bit of background on the problem:

The reasons for the problems in China's health care system are, by now, well known: a widespread lack of trust in doctors and hospital administrators, the high cost of care, long waiting times and short appointments and corruption, at every level. A public that lacks basic knowledge about medical problems and outcomes is also a factor, commentators say.

But why turn to violence? One reason is illness can bankrupt a family. People who exhaust their savings on care want to see positive results and blame doctors when that's not possible, commentators say.

The medical profession has begun to fight back, with doctors and staff staging demonstrations demanding protection. In addition the government has also ordered hospitals to hire more security guards.

On November 6, a series of bombs went off near the Communist Party headquarters in Taiyuan, the capital of Shanxi Province. One person was killed and numerous passers-by were injured. In the past, the Chinese media may never have reported such incidents. Today, however, they are not only reported, but also widely discussed on Chinese social media.

The website Tea Leaf Nation, which tracks online commentary, wrote about reaction to the explosions in a post titled "After Taiyuan Explosions, Netizens Debate the Value of Violence:"

Online responses to the attack highlight the important debate occurring in China between those who sympathize with anti-government violence and those who don't. The attack is big news there: The top three searches on Sina Weibo, China's Twitter, all relate to the explosion, and an announcement about the explosion from the local police's official Weibo account is the #2 trending post, with over 8,000 related comments. Among the hundreds of comments sampled, a surprisingly large portion expressed sympathy for the perpetrator (or perpetrators). One Weibo user wrote that under enough government pressure "common people are all possible terrorists." Another wrote that "people explode" when the pressure is high enough.


Other users pushed back against the tide of encouragement. Many wrote that it was wrong to harm "innocent people" (although even statements of sympathy often appeared to exclude government officials.) Some confronted cheering netizens more directly. "I don't know what is wrong with people who are praising this," one user wrote. In a widely-shared comment, one user described a lunch-room argument with a colleague hours after the bombing. The colleague was a fenqing, or angry youth, who seemed "extremely sympathetic" to the Taiyuan killer, who the youth thought might be someone oppressed by the government. "I walked over to him," the user wrote, "and dumped my lunch on his head.

As social tensions increase, these types of incidents are likely to become more and more common.

Photo by Khun-Hans, 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 of Northwestern-St. Paul …View Full Bio

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