Further News from the Front Sugggesting That China Might Be in a Pre-Revolutionary Condition

 

My correspondent in China — the one whom I quoted at some length here after I posted my piece not so long ago on Tocqueville in China — wrote to me again recently and had this to say:

Late last year, some journal or the NYT, which I generally try to avoid, ran an article on corruption in education in China. Wanting to ascertain the truth of it, I translated the article for my friend who has a young middle-school age daughter (15). Not only did she verify, but she also added data asserting if you don’t have money, your child will likely not get a good education. She made these assertions: if you want the teacher to pay special attention to your child, you must pay; if you want your child to sit in the front of the classroom, you must pay; if you want your child to get into a good high school or university, you must definitely pay. She was not talking school fees but bribes. The corruption is so rampant and so blatant that some parents give the teacher a bank card for an account into which the parents deposit money monthly to guarantee extra special attention.

What happens to children whose parents can’t pay? It depends on the teacher, and some teachers are dismissive of them, haranguing them as stupid.

Recently, my friend spent anywhere between 15,000-30,000 RMB to pay a visa consultant so her child could get a visa to come to the USA for an English program, which the mom hoped to parlay into a low cost private school and then USA university. She didn’t get the visa, but the fires burn bright for her child to get an American education. I don’t know if she’s thinking about fair educational treatment, but she’s certainly wanting more than is available here.

Furthermore, she says, parents here are seeing a generation of children so self-centered and lazy that it boggles the mind and augurs not well for the country’s future, except that the children of the poor have a hunger to succeed burning inside them. Consider this, many parents have spent considerable substance to send their children to USA Ivy, Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and such. Having graduated, the kids decline to meet parental expectations of career and financial independence. Why? The kids esteem that if mom and dad could afford to pay Ivy tuition then they are rich enough that junior doesn’t need to work. Therefore, the kids refuse to work.

Another thing is this, one of the pitfalls new foreign teachers encounter here is the entertainment of the idea that grading is performance-based. It is not. This country exemplifies what Obama would push the USA into: outcomes-based education, especially at the university level.

To get into university here is extremely difficult because the entrance exam is hard. To switch majors often means going back to high school and redoing the entrance exam after a year. The unsuccessful, unlike their American counterparts, are forever shut out of the halls of academe. However, once admitted, failure is impossible. Everyone MUST pass. So, if the final grades signify failure, they will be elevated by administrators to passing (depending on the popularity of the school, the offending teachers do not receive a new contract). High achievers whose teachers give grades in the 90’s will see final grades in the 80’s. Why? They claim there must be room for improvement and children must be encouraged. This is analogous, perhaps, to the American passion for paying attention to the learning disabled at the expense of the gifted.

It is hard to read my correspondent’s remarks without thinking that things may soon come apart at the seams. This level of corruption is the sort of thing that drives parents stark-raving mad.

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Members have made 29 comments.

  1. Profile photo of Keep_the_Change Inactive

    These things being said, I would not at all say that China is “pre-revolutionary.” I think that Americans take for granted a certain capacity for independence of thought that is extremely scarce here in the PRC, even among the educated. For example, in several oral English classes I had the students give a speech about their “hero.” The most frequent hero was Chairman Mao, who “built China and fought China’s enemies.” I remember one post-graduate student sitting in the back (let’s call him Paul) whisper in my ear that his hero was Chiang Kaishek, whose ideas of freedom and capitalism were right even though he lost to Mao. He went on to say that he couldn’t say this in front of the class. I remember Paul also telling me after the first class that his favorite movie was Rambo because “it’s not about killing; it’s about American ideas: freedom.”

    My point is that Paul is outnumbered and he is scared, so he sits in the back and keeps his mouth shut. I teach my students American values, but I have to do it indirectly or else… The revolution will not be televised, folks.

    • #1
    • January 23, 2013 at 1:14 am
  2. Profile photo of Trace Inactive

    I believe that while many parents make gifts to teachers, I don’t believe that the quid pro quo is quite as explicit and rampant as your friend describes. There was a recent CCTV piece decrying the high cost of tutoring classes which went viral in the country. It suggests that the pay-to-play culture is not as common or as commonly accepted as your friend implies.

    • #2
    • January 23, 2013 at 4:53 am
  3. Profile photo of BrentB67 Inactive

    The revolution will be short lived when it is pitch forks vs. guns. I think it will look more like class genocide sanctioned by the UN as the USA stands idled by $Trillions in debt.

    It will be an interesting historical item to watch from afar, otherwise nothing to see here.

    • #3
    • January 23, 2013 at 5:13 am
  4. Profile photo of Foxman Inactive

    You may see a revolution as a good thing. I am not sure. Had some of that recently in the Arab world. Did not work out so well.

    • #4
    • January 23, 2013 at 5:55 am
  5. Profile photo of Scott R Member

    Did you put three g’s in sugggesting because it’s so c-c-c-cold at Hillsdale this evening?

    • #5
    • January 23, 2013 at 7:25 am
  6. Profile photo of Scott R Member

    “This level of corruption is the sort of thing that drives parents stark-raving mad.”

    Certainly it would for American parents, but I wonder if Chinese parents aren’t more accepting. Somewhat related: Last year we were on vacation in Canada and struck up a conversation with a local who told — very matter-of-factly — of bribing a surgeon with a “gift” to get his wife’s hip replacement done sooner. We were outraged, but him not at all.

    • #6
    • January 23, 2013 at 7:41 am
  7. Profile photo of Pseudodionysius Member

    Paul,

    Your correspondent confirms what I’ve been seeing here locally. I don’t want to disclose my location for reasons of privacy but I am not living in a port and we would not be considered a place known for high Chinese immigration. That said, the young Chinese university students I’m seeing fit your description to a T. Not all, but many. 

    They drive around in high end luxury vehicles, wear hairstyles befitting American Idol, dress in the EMO style and generally carry themselves with a body language that screams: slacker.

    Our state school is no Ivy League, so this finally explains what I’ve been seeing for several years.

    • #7
    • January 23, 2013 at 7:42 am
  8. Profile photo of Pseudodionysius Member
    Scott Reusser: “This level of corruption is the sort of thing that drives parents stark-raving mad.”

    Certainly it would for American parents, but I wonder if Chinese parents aren’t more accepting. Somewhat related: Last year we were on vacation in Canada and struck up a conversation with a local who told — very matter-of-factly — of bribing a surgeon with a “gift” to get his wife’s hip replacement done sooner. We were outraged, but him not at all. · 0 minutes ago

    As a Canadian, I’m not surprised by your story at all, though I’m surprised for the price he didn’t send his wife somewhere else in Canada or down to the US.

    • #8
    • January 23, 2013 at 7:43 am
  9. Profile photo of MMPadre Inactive

    When I was teaching in the PRC 12 years ago, I came to a point where I just told students at the beginning of the first class that if they wanted to learn, stay, and I would work with them. But if they didn’t want to work, don’t bother coming to class; I would pass them anyway. Cynical? Practical.

    That said, I think the phrase “pre-revolutionary condition” is a bit over-the-top. They have experienced a revolution; it is a living memory. No one wants any drastic change –that leads to a very bad place. Things would have to become far, far worse than routine corruption (of which China has a long history, anyway) before people would feel moved to take really drastic action. China is not Egypt; it is in much better shape than a lot of countries that no one would say are on the verge of revolution. Upward (and outward) mobility are still possible, people are able to buy (even obsess over) consumer goods. Enough people are invested in and benefit from the system, and everyone has too much to lose should things go radically south.

    • #9
    • January 23, 2013 at 7:50 am
  10. Profile photo of Jerry Carroll Inactive

    Is China is any more corrupt than India, where bribery and sloth are a way of life? There is not Communism to blame there, or in Greece for that matter. Italy also comes to mind, as do many of the Latin American countries and New Orleans.

    • #10
    • January 23, 2013 at 8:06 am
  11. Profile photo of Nick Stuart Thatcher

    Actually, sounds a lot like what’s coming to the United States (to the extent that it’s not already here).

    • #11
    • January 23, 2013 at 8:12 am
  12. Profile photo of tkdee Inactive
    Keep_the_Change:

    If we fail them it only means that we have to re-test them at the beginning of the next semester on our own time. After the “re-test” they will inevitably join their classmates at the next level no matter what their score is. The result is that we focus our attention on the students that want to learn and let the rest play video games on their iPhones. This is not an exaggeration. This is common practice. · 7 hours ago

    I taught at a low tier university in central China and saw some of the same behaviors Keep the Change observed. Few students were motivated to learn, and they could pass and graduate and get a job without ever needing to do so.

    • #12
    • January 23, 2013 at 8:21 am
  13. Profile photo of Paul A. Rahe Contributor
    Paul A. Rahe Post author
    Scott Reusser: Did you put three g’s in sugggesting because it’s so c-c-c-cold at Hillsdale this evening? · 12 hours ago

    Not deliberately, but I wore long johns yesterday.

    • #13
    • January 23, 2013 at 8:25 am
  14. Profile photo of Paul A. Rahe Contributor
    Paul A. Rahe Post author
    Illiniguy: I’ll reiterate what I said in your earlier posts, I’d really like to know how anecdotal your source’s comments are, or if they signify something systemic. I don’t doubt that what you describe is happening, but to then say that it puts China in a “pre-revolutionary” condition is a bit of a stretch. China’s culture is much older than the current regime, and to say that what we see as corruption leading to revolution could be nothing more than something that’s long been a facet of Chinese life. · 10 hours ago

    I cannot answer your question. I do not know enough. But see #13-14 above — which certainly suggests that what my correspondent is describing is widespread.

    • #14
    • January 23, 2013 at 8:32 am
  15. Profile photo of Foxman Inactive

    I am told that in Japan the students virtually kill themselves to get into the best universities, and there are “gifts” expected to school officials for preference. Once into the university, they screw-off for four years. I cannot testify to the above as I have no direct experience.

    • #15
    • January 23, 2013 at 8:38 am
  16. Profile photo of Aelreth Member

    This definitely explains their aim towards war with Japan.

    • #16
    • January 23, 2013 at 8:49 am
  17. Profile photo of Demaratus Thatcher
    MMPadre: Upward (and outward) mobility are still possible, people are able to buy (even obsess over) consumer goods. Enough people are invested in and benefit from the system, and everyone has too much to lose should things go radically south. · 48 minutes ago

    I agree with all of your points. China will drift on, producing the worlds consumer goods, until its population ages to the point where the number of workers begins to shrink. Then, things may get interesting.

    Unless they have a banking crisis, of course. A collapse of their economy, even for a short while, might be a great enough spark to ignite a real conflagration.

    • #17
    • January 23, 2013 at 8:54 am
  18. Profile photo of tkdee Inactive

    Another revolution in China will not be sparked by the things Paul’s source wrote about. These practices are wide spread and accepted as normal. In addition, they may have little to do with communism or the current regime. American General Joseph Stilwell was disgusted by the amount of corruption during World War II under Chiang Kai-shek.

    The culture of corruption goes much further back than a century.

    Why is corruption less prevalent in some cultures?

    • #18
    • January 23, 2013 at 8:55 am
  19. Profile photo of Foxman Inactive
    tkdee: Why is corruption less prevalent in some cultures? · 0 minutes ago

    <Mounts soap box-starts frothing at the mouth>

    Because the more the government controls, the more opportunity for corruption.

    <realizes he is preaching to the choir, gets off his soap box>

    • #19
    • January 23, 2013 at 9:11 am
  20. Profile photo of Valiuth Member

    “The kids esteem that if mom and dad could afford to pay Ivy tuition then they are rich enough that junior doesn’t need to work. Therefore, the kids refuse to work.”

    Darn they’re smart! To be fair though they learned this trick from universities. Who reason that if the parents can afford to keep their kids from working they can afford to pay higher tuition. A vicious cycle. 

    • #20
    • January 23, 2013 at 9:12 am
  21. Profile photo of Aelreth Member
    Demaratus
    MMPadre: Upward (and outward) mobility are still possible, people are able to buy (even obsess over) consumer goods. Enough people are invested in and benefit from the system, and everyone has too much to lose should things go radically south. · 48 minutes ago

    I agree with all of your points. China will drift on, producing the worlds consumer goods, until its population ages to the point where the number of workers begins to shrink. Then, things may get interesting.

    Unless they have a banking crisis, of course. A collapse of their economy, even for a short while, might be a great enough spark to ignite a real conflagration. · 27 minutes ago

    Edited 27 minutes ago

    10% or bust!

    • #21
    • January 23, 2013 at 9:23 am
  22. Profile photo of Illiniguy Member

    I’ll reiterate what I said in your earlier posts, I’d really like to know how anecdotal your source’s comments are, or if they signify something systemic. I don’t doubt that what you describe is happening, but to then say that it puts China in a “pre-revolutionary” condition is a bit of a stretch. China’s culture is much older than the current regime, and to say that what we see as corruption leading to revolution could be nothing more than something that’s long been a facet of Chinese life.

    • #22
    • January 23, 2013 at 9:27 am
  23. Profile photo of Z in MT Member

    The anecdotes here from Chinese universities don’t seem that different from American students at US universities.

    • #23
    • January 23, 2013 at 9:31 am
  24. Profile photo of Lance Member

    Is corruption relative? Do the chinese see a problem with corruption of this type? Are critics in-country critical out of principle or out of jealousy for lacking the means to participate as much as others?I spent several years working on campus at UCLA, and the Asia population, American by birth or immigration, but American all the same, were overweming in their dedication to excellence, even as they carried on with all the other extracurriculars that came with college. The interesting and very much and admittedly anecdotal contrast was a Chinese national that worked along side me. She came to the US to attend grad school. Educated to the nines, but lacking much of the spark and drive that defined her immigrant cousins. I have always believed since then that the American system is particularly compatible with the proclivities of the Asian immigrant culture. Perhaps the relative lack of corruption here is a driving factor.

    • #24
    • January 23, 2013 at 9:43 am
  25. Profile photo of RushBabe49 Thatcher

    Is rampant corruption found in most communist societies? Black markets certainly are-people finding ways around the system to get what they want. It must be very difficult to have a “partly capitalist” society, where just as you are making it, the obstacles appear.

    But in regards to revolution, in China the people know that most of the PLA soldiers would fire on them if push came to shove, so that must be taken into account when contemplating revolt.

    • #25
    • January 23, 2013 at 9:43 am
  26. Profile photo of The Mugwump Inactive

    Are aborted expectations enough to push China into revolution? Anecdotal evidence is suggestive, but hardly definitive. History is replete with examples of repression and deprivation leading to revolution, but I’m not aware of any revolution based on the idea that good wasn’t good enough. Perhaps the American Revolution is the exception.

    A very crude reading of history would suggest that Party A starts a revolution when it thinks it has the upper hand over Party B. One set of thieves replaces another. Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose. In democratic societies we are given the privilege of electing the people who steal from us. I guess that’s civilized in that it cuts down on the bloodshed when it’s time to change governments.

    I’m not being (completely) flippant. Has anybody other than Karl Marx established a theory for why, when, and how revolutions occur? And even if we did have a theory, surely local considerations like culture, tradition, and history would modify the reasons. This is complex stuff. I’ll consider the opinion of a qualified Sinologist if anyone can recommend one.

    • #26
    • January 23, 2013 at 11:19 am
  27. Profile photo of Keep_the_Change Inactive

    Excellent piece, Paul.

    I am a young, male American foreign expert currently teaching English at a second tier university in China. I can’t speak to all of the claims you make, but I can confirm that my colleagues and I are discouraged from failing low effort, low performing students, of which there are many here. If we fail them it only means that we have to re-test them at the beginning of the next semester on our own time. After the “re-test” they will inevitably join their classmates at the next level no matter what their score is. The result is that we focus our attention on the students that want to learn and let the rest play video games on their iPhones. This is not an exaggeration. This is common practice.

    With regard to the pre-operative “gift” discussed by Scott Reusser, I can tell you that that is absolutely true. Locals call it the “red envelope.” As my tour guide in Beijing explained to me, “If you forget the red envelope before surgery, the doctor may forget something during surgery.” This too is common practice.

    • #27
    • January 23, 2013 at 12:56 pm
  28. Profile photo of Duane Oyen Member

    What percentage of the population are we talking about here? Chinese people are very clever and determined about these things- there are private schools on every street corner.

    But this is still not a broad population sample- this is a person in a large city. And the corruption of the PRC provincial and local party leaders is actually being addressed, case-by-case, because the central committee recognizes the threat to stability. The bank and real estate bubble, because it affects jobs and growth, looks like a bigger problem to me.

    I repeat my comment about this person’s last e-mail.

    • #28
    • January 24, 2013 at 1:46 am
  29. Profile photo of TheRoyalFamily Member
    Foxman: I am told that in Japan the students virtually kill themselves to get into the best universities, and there are “gifts” expected to school officials for preference. Once into the university, they screw-off for four years. I cannot testify to the above as I have no direct experience. 

    I haven’t heard about the “gifts,” but the rest matches what I’ve heard, from several sources, though all of them were From the Internet.

    • #29
    • January 24, 2013 at 3:06 am