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Several years ago, when I was working in a very rural university, I hosted a group of college graduates from the United States. They were invited to visit with the students, and one of them became very popular with the girls in class. He always had more attention than any of the others, perhaps because he was incredibly friendly, had a bright smile, and was by most accounts handsome. However, what the fawning girls didn’t notice was that my friend was gay. So after a week or so of having girls ask for his QQ number, I asked if he would be willing to host a very special English corner. Even though it was specifically in my contract that I was not to challenge traditional […]


Just a quick thought today: As I tell people in the States, when it comes to China, seemingly good news is often bad, and seemingly bad news is often good. In many cases, like increased numbers of AIDS cases, higher numbers of people living below the poverty line, and shrinking college admissions, bad news can actually be signs of problems being acknowledged and addressed. On the other hand, reforms to the criminal code, the completion of bridges and rails, and “elections” often serve as reminders of how far China has to go in terms of human rights, safety, and developing a gov’t that is actually selected by the people. In a story published the other day in People’s Daily, the gov’t announced that it planned […]


Yesterday we started looking at some of the strategies China has used to weather the first financial downturn. Today we’ll continue that by looking at two other strategies as well as their potential benefits and costs. One of the major things that was supposed to happen after the economic downturn was that China was going to shift from being the world’s factory to a position higher up the production chain. The idea was that many of the factories on China’s east coast were shutting down, but increased domestic consumption and new college graduates would soon alleviate the slowdown. Increased College Enrollment When I arrived in 2007, my average class size at the rural college was 35, by the start of the 2009 school year that […]


Being thousands of miles away from home isn’t exactly how most people picture celebrating Christmas. In fact, it’s a holiday that can be pretty hard to enjoy without family. So, like many expats, I did my best to recreate the Christmas experience with my students and co-workers. For the four weeks leading up to the holiday, we spent the last 10 minutes of every class practicing a few festive songs. I think for the most part the students enjoyed the challenge, and the rest liked having the time to make noise. Finally, on Christmas day, we made a call from the classroom to my grandparent’s house where my whole family was and surprised them with a seasonal medley. It was a moment I’ll never forget; 30 […]


The other day I was visiting my favorite jianbing salesman (煎饼 a delicious crepe type breakfast food), and he asked me if America was safe. I told him that regarding food and transportation, America is pretty safe, but we still have too much violent crime. I figured this was a fairly safe answer, China has been plagued by food safety problems and fatal accidents in the double digits are fairly common. It would have also played into the stereotypical idea that America is dangerous because we all have guns, which would make it easy to believe (more on that tomorrow). Instead the chef just shook his head and said, “China isn’t safe”. His two female co-workers agreed. “Too many thieves,” one said. Even in the […]


Last week we looked at my first hand experience in a rural college, and we explored the current state of rural schools and a few of the underlying problems. Today we’ll be looking at why there are few great teachers in the countryside. Two kinds of teachers The first type is a “certified teacher”, and is considered to be on par with other gov’t employees. These positions are very stable, and the pay is decent. It is a coveted position, with 60% of the salary guaranteed by the national gov’t.  However in rural schools this kind of teacher can be hard to find. Village teachers only earn 1/3 of what they could earn at a county level school. This has led village teachers to move from […]


At this conference we’ve been discussing some of the recent studies about the massive gap between rural and urban education. For example: Urban children are 6.3 times more likely to attend college than their rural counterparts, and when rural children do go on for further studies it is usually a 2 or 3 year program. For us to get further into these problems, I think its important to take some time to review past posts about Education in China, since there is a lot of background information necessary to frame the topic of this conference. Then over these next few days we’ll be looking at just how serious this gap is, and why it is not as depressing as it might seem at first. Student […]


A few months ago America tossed itself into panic mode again, like it does every year when it realizes how low our students are ranked on standardized tests. So it may surprise some of you to learn that despite China’s number 1 ranking on the tests this year, the best Chinese students all want to go somewhere else for college. I had a number of students over the years talk about their aspirations to go study in the US or England, but none of them eve had the money to make that a possibility. It turns out there are very few scholarships for international students; schools expect them to be able to pay. So it’s only now that I’m living in a city where people […]


Please Vote for Me caught my eye because I was interested to see what exactly would happen when a Chinese teacher tried to introduce Democracy to the classroom. The film follows a group of 3rd graders in an elementary school in Wuhan to observe the students’ experiment with democracy. The film starts with the teacher explaining to her rowdy class that democracy means that they will choose their own leader, so for the first time in the history of the school the students will get to choose their own class monitor. The process they used seems to have been a fairly decent replica of politics at the third grade level. They begin the election cycle with a talent show, which seems to be a decent […]


My wife pointed out to me last night that over the last few days I had fairly completely torn apart the Chinese educational system. My goal in writing these posts was not meant as a way of proclaiming the complete failure of the schools. So today I’d like to focus on the parts of the educational system that show great promise, but still need a bit of work. Creating World Class Universities If you look at this list of the top 100 universities in the world you will notice that China occupies 3 of the places (Sorry Chinese gov’t, you don’t get credit for universities in Taiwan or HK). Upon looking for the other up and coming BRICS, you will notice that China is the […]


Yesterday I detailed the many ways in which school officials cheat to pass inspections, so it’s no surprise that teachers often turn a blind eye to cheating in the classroom. Cheating/copying is pervasive throughout China, in every level of education and industry. A gov’t spokesperson even went so far as to say that copying was a kind of innovation. If you’ve read my posts about copyrights in China (here, here and here) you already know about the problems caused by copying, so today we are going to look at the lighter side of cheating. In the west I think we tend to idealize Chinese/Asian students as incredibly hard workers who are completely focused on their studies and hold their teachers in high regard. Many foreign […]


I know I promised more on creativity, but education is a big topic, and I think if you read through the comments on yesterday’s post, you will find a wealth of information on that topic. In China every college/university goes through a thorough inspection every 2 years (inspections are common in all institutions in China). This process is meant to evaluate the level of the school and to ensure that the school is up to the government standards. It involves interviewing teachers, monitoring lessons, and evaluating student work. These inspections are a collosal waste of time, and do nothing to improve the educational system. Today I’ll be showing you how even the worst universities manage to pass these evaluations (I was told by one of […]


I have been teaching in Chinese universities and middle schools for almost 4 years now as well as having observed classes at all levels in China’s educational system. So forget what you’ve read lately about China’s schools rating number one in the world, the educational system here is full of problems. Over these next few days I’ll be outlining some of the major problems with the system as well as presenting a shocking exposé of what may be the worst school in China. I can already hear angry readers scrolling down to leave a nasty comment, so I think we should start by looking at a few things that they do very well before we look at the limits of such a system. There are […]


Yesterday’s look at why one person didn’t join the Party gives us a good starting point for looking at what the Party actually is, and how it fits into China’s government system. I’ve asked many of my friends and students over the past few years why they joined the Party, the most common answer the students give is that being a party member will help them get a better job, which is true. The author of yesterday’s post has pretty much reached the pinnacle of his career since he is unwilling to join the party. Also, once a teacher is a Party member, they will almost never be at risk of losing their job. Other students said their parents wanted them to join the Party. […]


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