Chinese Education Cornerstones

By Fredo Nan

Ever heard of the Asian Dad meme? Ever pointed out that the fact your friend is smart is because he is Chinese? And for many of us out there, ever FEEL that you are smart, and being Chinese has a lot to do with it (much credit to our stereotypical Asian parents).

Though stereotypes are just that, stereotypes; one can’t dismiss the fact that Chinese population in the US is surging. Chinese population applying to top U.S. universities is all time high. Asians are now the second largest race (after Caucasians of course) at these top universities. And here is an interesting statistics for you, Asian consists of 4.8% of the US population; the Chinese makeup more than one-fifth of that (LOL, just tipped over 1% the past decade).

So why haven’t we taken over the world already? Sure we had the Cultural Revolution, which kind of set us back a few decades. But hey, the world isn’t going anywhere, right? But even if we give China time to play catch up, China will do exactly that, playing catch up.

Take China’s first stealth jet for example. The Western World was still baffled at how exactly China was able to produce a stealth jet so quickly. When the US first saw the leaked photos of the WTF-ery, they realized they gave China the knowledge, in the form of an F-117 Nighthawk shot down over Serbia in 1999. In ten year, the Chinese has reverse engineered a freakin’ stealth jet (and here I am trying to figure out how to put my computer back without trashing it out of frustration). One finds it hard to visualize hundreds of Chinese engineers taking the damn F-117 Nighthawk apart, laying all the pieces spanning four warehouses, and then directing the manufacturer to replicate all the pieces. Who needs scientists when you can have engineers!?

This goes back to my initial point; we are smart and can build a jet without even reading the MANUAL!!! That’s how good we are; but why are we still behind?

There is something wrong with the education.

“But isn’t being good at education what the stereotype is about?”

The stereotype is more about the Chinese being book smart. Sure Chinese parents (Tiger Moms and Dads) have a lot to do with this. But how did they end up that way (Tiger Grandma and Grandpa)? The problem goes further back than just to helicopter parents.

Primary Education

The common consensus is that both China’s quality of life and standard of life is not really something to brag about. Sure you have a few (extremely) wealthy individuals, but the country is still considered to be developing, not developed. With the world’s largest population, the education has to make compromises. Starting from a young age, students realize that they are only one in many, easily replaceable. This unconscious cut throat, must-win complex starts to develop. Furthermore, with such a high student – teacher ratio, it is harder to foster individualism, further exasperating the preexisting Confucianism ideal of always listen to your teacher despite what comes out of the teacher’s mouth.

Secondary Education

Ahhh, the golden age: High School, where students can frolic and indulge in various teenage escapades. Except in China, where you have a bunch of sexually repressed bookworms cramming for College. Oh yes, in China, most Colleges accept base on test scores or money. And yes, they RANK EVERYONE, moneywise too (imagine: Sorry, son, you can’t go to Columbia. The neighbor outspent me 10000 Yuan’s; you have to go to NYU now). Here is where all those years of competing against your friends shine. Students, and their families, resort to bribery, cheating, political influence/intimidation and various other art of “Who the hell cares, as long as I can get what I want”. Many Chinese students, equipped with powerful tools and a dangerous mindset, start to pursue a higher education overseas.

Higher Education

In college, students are often pressured into being a major that spells out financial security in one way or another. The big three: Doctor, Lawyer, Engineer, will almost always be Chinese parents’ top choices for their children.
English? Psychology? How about Art History? These are considered “useless” for many. For the Chinese, majoring in them comes with months of arguing with your family, various threats of disownment, stalemate for a while, and then arguing resumes until one side caves.

And after college? There is a startling trend of reverse immigration back to China. And we now have more engineers than ever, joy!


People’s Republic of China is currently communism…. or pseudo capitalism….. or pseudo comm, whatever. But that still doesn’t change the fact that there is media censorship, and no basic guarantee to right of speech and assembly. Education ends up suffocating along with civil liberties. If one lives either to make as much money as possible, or to stay alive, or in many cases, both; then there is little room for one to make innovations and free trade of information and technology. Sure China welcomes any new technology, but it carefully filters out everything that goes to and from. And since the government can copy stealth jets, why can’t everyone else copy and plagiarize everything else. As a result, lax intellectual property laws leads to a degeneration of creativity.

Which brings us to the conclusion, exactly how does one country advance without any innovation? We are great at copying, but we are still years away from being able to create. All the engineers and lawyers and doctors are great, we will always need them. But we also need more politicians, more historians, more writers and journalists, and especially more teachers and professors.

With Obama being president, when do you think we will get a Chinese president? I think the first Chinese president will happen when China finally gets on the Democracy bandwagon. If changing the country is so hard from within, perhaps the Chinese overseas can help. Next time your parent brings up you switching over to Computer Science because it is so (re men -热门), why not let them know the benefits of majoring in political science with a concentration of international affairs? Who knows, maybe we can finally get a break from Angry Asian Dad.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: What do you call someone who grew up in China, then assimilated in the US to be even more American than ABC’s? That was the ultimate irony against my tiger parents’ parenting techniques. But ended up upholding the stereotype of going to an IVY and majoring in Computer Science, so I am the most confused son of a bitch.

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