Change Comes to China’s “Granite Women”

June 5, 2012

Change taking place in China is not happening as fast as many Western critics want it to. To these critics, China should flip the feudal switch to democracy and the light should come on without effort.

However, in spite of Western pressure to speed things up, changes are taking place as planned by China’s government—one step at a time.

For example, foot binding was around centuries when the Qing Dynasty (1644 to 1911) first attempted to end the practice that would continue until 1949.

In 1976 when Mao died, twenty percent of the population was literate. Today more than 90% can read with a goal to reach 99%.

In 1985, school reform was implemented making nine years of education mandatory for all children. Academic achievement became the new priority over the political consciousness of the Mao era.

An example of how China’s education policies have brought about change may be seen among the “Granite Women”, who live near the coast in southeast China.

For centuries, these women carried blocks of granite from the quarries where their husbands, brothers and fathers worked cutting the stone.

However, today, China’s economic reforms along with education are changing the old ways.

Younger women, who have now had an education, know what they don’t want to do with their lives.

For centuries, others such the Qing Dynasty and the Nationalists failed to improve the quality of life in China for women. Where these others failed, the CCP appears to be succeeding.


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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Note: This revised and edited post first appeared on November 7, 2010

On Education – Learning to Love and Hate while teaching ESL in the Middle Kingdom

April 2, 2012

In 1949, China’s peasantry, more than 85% of the population, was still largely individualistic, illiterate, superstitious and lived in extreme poverty. Fast forward to the early 21st century and we may understand how much China has changed in the sixty-three years since then.  Today, more than 90% are literate and learning English is mandatory in China’s public schools.

“Yes China” by Clark Nielsen is an honest memoir written by a young American going to China to teach English in an alien and foreign culture. Nielsen pulls no punches in describing himself and his experiences teaching ESL in China, and is not shy when it comes to scorching himself and his former religion in the process.

In fact, his vivid descriptions of teaching in China reminded me of my three decades as an English and Journalism teacher in US public schools.

In the late 1970s, I worked as a substitute teacher and the descriptions of the first classes Nielsen taught reminded me too much of the American grade school, then middle school and eventually high school students I taught 1975 – 2005.

Songs that help teach English as a second language.

For example, in 1977, I was a substitute teacher in Southern California and as the fifth-grade students I taught one day—and never to see again—flooded into the classroom at the beginning of school, one boy saw me, squealed “Sub!” and then started to chase and pummel other students while knocking over desks as if having a substitute teacher was a ticket to mayhem.

I suspect that the young Chinese students Nielsen first taught may have had similar thoughts when they saw his foreign face.

Like Nielsen, I had classes I loved to teach and others I hated to face each day, and this went on for the thirty years I was a classroom teacher.

I hate to say this but the old phrase, “kids will be kids” has a ring of truth to it even though I hate hearing it since many parents seem to use it as an excuse to do nothing to correct unacceptable behavior.

From Nielsen’s vivid descriptions of the behavior of Chinese grade-school students, I discovered that there is little difference between America’s children and China’s — it seems that “kids will be kids” in any country/culture  if the parents allow them to behave as if they were wild animals and/or barbarians.

However, similar to my experience as a teacher, Nielsen also found gold in some of his students. In fact, the last semester he taught in China, he fought back tears as he said goodbye to one of his good classes.

There are also vivid scenes, from his foreign perspective, of what it must be like to live and work in a developing country where more than a billion people still live in poverty.  Before 1949, the average life span in China was age thirty-five. When Nielsen arrived to teach ESL, that number had changed drastically. Today, the average lifespan is 73, and less than 3% live in severe poverty.

China is a developing country on steroids and Nielsen’s experiences in China reflect that. For this reason, when wanting to discover what it is like to move from a Western culture such as America’s to an alien and foreign land, it is best to read more than one memoir on that subject for a better perspective.

For example, I found “Yes China” an interesting contrast to Janet Elaine Smith’s memoir, “Rebel With a Cause”. While Nielson rejected and abandons his Mormon religion, Smith went abroad to spend nine years as an evangelical missionary in Venezuela. She was not a Mormon and her motives were almost the exact opposite of Nielsen’s.

Before becoming an expatriate, Smith worked with Native Americans and Latinos in the US, so the culture shock was not as great, and Nielsen did not work with people living in extreme poverty as Smith did.

However, Smith was not prepared for the extreme poverty of most of the people the mission she was with were serving, and, unlike Nielsen, she used teaching English to become more of a part of the culture.

Smith was “warned” by her superiors not to minister to the wealthy class, as they would never accept the gospel. Nielsen probably worked mostly with children of middle class and wealth parents in urban China.

When Smith was approached by a bank president, a physician, a teacher and a government officer to teach them English, she took the open door as a “sign” from God and defied the orders and held free English classes out of her home.

For a richer experience and to understand the culture she was living in, she exchanged the English lessons for Spanish classes to help her learn the local vernacular of Spanish and the customs of the Venezuelan people—something Nielsen and most Western/American ESL teachers in China do not do. Instead, they arrive in China ready to criticize anything different that does not fit the Western lifestyle they are used to.

For Smith, this different attitude paid off. Later, when Smith needed help for paper work, cashing checks, medical care, etc. Venezuelans were available to help her, while her American Evangelical overseers struggled trying to find such help.

Although Nielsen meets his future wife in China—a Chinese citizen—and they both live in Utah today, I doubt that he truly understood or embraced the Chinese culture as Smith did in Venezuela due to the differences in how they approached their experiences as expatriates teaching English in a foreign land—a developing and/or third world country, which is very different from being a citizen in North America.  In Smith’s memoir, I do not sense the love-hate relationship that Nielsen had with China. He seems to have no purpose for going there to teach English other than some need to rebel and escape Mormon Utah where he grew up.

In fact, Nielsen’s passages that paint an unflattering picture of Mormonism reveal his true motive for going to China. I felt as if Nielsen fled to China to escape the reaction of his Mormon friends and peers after he let them know he wasn’t going to go out as a missionary, which is expected of all Mormons, and in spite of himself, once he arrived in China, he found more acceptance from the Chinese than he did in Utah. After all, he came home with a Chinese wife and that was not the reason he went to China.

I enjoyed reading Nielsen’s memoir and found myself laughing at his misadventures while teaching ESL in China.  In addition, on his days off from teaching, he traveled about the country as more than a tourist but less than someone like Janet Elaine Smith who found a way to reach across the culture gap and accept and understand the differences that exist.

Another book I recommend is Tom Carter’s “China: Portrait of a People”, which shows his experiences in China in mostly pictures with some text.  Carter, like Nielsen, taught ESL in China and then married a Chinese citizen, but Carter is still working in China. In addition, he visited, often on foot, every province of China and took thousands of photos of his two year epic journey.

“Eating Smoke” by Chris Thrall is another recommended expatriate memoir taking place in China.

Four books/memoirs of expatriates in developing countries with four very different stories, motives and perspectives.

Discover Tom Carter and Chris Thrall through book reviews of their work.


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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America’s Lost Work Ethic and the End of its global Exceptionalism – Part 5/5

December 13, 2011

The educational system and labor market in China are based on merit, while in the United States, the emphasis is on self-esteem and feeling good about oneself.  In America, merit is not important and the happiness of the individual is.

In China, those that work harder and do a better job, regardless of self-esteem or happiness, tend to prosper. in fact, Asian-Americans have the lowest self esteem in the United States.

Gallup studied China’s work ethics. Not surprisingly, the credo “work hard and get rich” is by far the most popular choice, selected by 53% of respondents. About one in four Chinese (26%) opt for “don’t think about money or fame, just lead a life that suits your own tastes,” while less than a tenth of Chinese identify with all the other responses. Perhaps most telling: Only 2% of Chinese choose the collectivist exhortation to “never think of yourself, give everything in service to society.”

In short, it would appear that the country’s commitment to material self-betterment through hard work is firmly rooted and unchallenged.

However, in the United States, a, ABC News Piece said, “Between 1979 – 2007, the income of the top 1% of Americans increased by 275%. For the other 99% of the population, income only increased 29%.”

The problem is that when prices of everyday items such as food goes up due to inflation, many people cannot afford to buy them. In addition, equity in homes, where most of middle class wealth is, lost value.

Chinese Education: Social Life and Work Ethic

  Studies also show that countries that have a large income gap such as the US, also have high numbers of unemployed, incarceration, teen pregnancy, poor health and lower life expectancy. It may not surprise you that Chinese-Americans [including all Asian-Americans] have the lowest teen pregnancy rate too.

In fact, prison inmates by race breaks down to about: African-American 39.4%, White 33%, Latino-Hispanic 20.6%,  and Asian-American 1.7%.

That’s right. For Asians it was one “point” seven percent [1.7%] and Asian-Americans graduate from high school and college in the highest ratios.

In addition, the King’s College of London’s World Prison Population List reports, “The United States has the highest prison population rate in the world,” while China doesn’t even make the top sixteen list.

The US has about 2.3 million people behind bars at 756 per 100,000 people, and China has 1.56 million at 119 per 100,000.

Since the lack of an education often lands Americans in prison, low paying jobs or unemployed, one would think that working hard to earn an education would be popular in the US, but it isn’t. Instead, in the US, it is the old blame game. “It’s the teacher’s fault I earned a failing grade or the class was boring.”

It does not matter if the child does not do homework, study for tests or hates to read [because it gets in the way of video games, Facebook or TV], it’s still the teacher’s fault. However, in China, it is seldom the teacher’s fault and parents often take all or most of the blame for a child’s failure in school.

The Wall Street Journal in From College Major to Career says, “Choosing the right college major can make a big difference in students’ career prospects, in terms of employment and pay… Some popular majors, such as nursing and finance, do particularly well, with unemployment under 5% and high salaries during the course of their careers.”

In addition, the attitude of America’s Baby Boomers is not much better than the children they raised that are now having trouble finding jobs because they did not take earning an education seriously as most Asian-Americans do.

The next question should be, “How long will the United States hold onto global super-power status with attitudes such as these?”

Return to America’s Lost Work Ethic and the End of its global Exceptionalism – Part 4 or start with Part 1


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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The Politics of Fear – Part 5/5

September 18, 2011

The prescription that leads to a successful “noble or big lie” is keeping people semi-literate or illiterate so it is more difficult to recognize the “Politics of Fear”.

However, what is literacy and how do we define it? There are no universal definitions and standards of literacy. Unless otherwise specified, the most common definition is the ability to read and write at a specified age.

In addition, literacy is learned, while illiteracy is passed along by parents who cannot read or write, and in 2003, 5% of Americans that read Below Basic did not graduate from high school, 44% spoke no English before starting school, 39% are Hispanic/Latino adults, 20% are African-American/Black adults, 25% are age 65+ and 21% have multiple disabilities.

But, at 18, many of these illiterate people are eligible to vote and votes can be influenced with little and BIG lies—especially when the voter reads at Basic or below, which is more than 40% of the population of the United States.

Manufacturing Consent: Necessary Illusions: Thought Control in Democratic Societies says that in the United States, “14% of the people read ‘Below Basic’, which means no more than the most simple and concrete literacy skills; 29% read at the ‘Basic’ level, which means these people can perform simple and everyday literacy activities; 44% read at the ‘Intermediate’ level, which means they can perform moderately challenging literacy activates, and 13% of readers are ‘Proficient’, which means many of these readers can perform complex and challenging literacy activates” and are the most difficult to fool.What is more shocking is that compared to the rest of the world, the U.S. is doing well.

According to the latest International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS), between 19% and 23% of American adults performed at the top levels for each of the three literacy scales: document literacy, prose literacy and quantitative (number) literacy. Sweden is the only country that scored higher. People that are literate and read often are harder to fool.

Yet, many Americans are being left behind. The same survey found that between 21% and 24% of U.S. adults performed at the lowest level. Source:

The state of literacy in America explains why neoconservative voices such as Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck may influence millions of listeners and talk to them as if they cannot think or reason.

In fact, Rush Limbaugh often says on his neo-conservative radio talk show that he will do the thinking for his audience so they do not have to, and his audience may be as large as 30 million—which is a large number of votes to influence.

This also may explain why ABC World News started their piece about China’s first aircraft carrier with, “the U.S. government directed a pointed question at the Chinese military: Why would you need a warship like that?”

Since China is now the world’s number one energy consumer and the second largest economy, why not, if it is in China’s national interest to have an aircraft carrier?

In addition, if Brazil, France, India, Italy, Russia, South Korea, Spain, Thailand and Britain all have one or more aircraft carriers, why can’t China join that club?

How is this a threat to America, which has twenty aircraft carriers?

What we have is simple language for simple minds to generate fear and control public opinion. If you read the ABC World News piece, you will notice they don’t mention the other countries that have aircraft carriers or how many the U.S. has.

Return to The Politics of Fear – Part 4 or start with Part 1


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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Wanted in China – “an education” – Part 5/5

September 12, 2011

Aaron Brown introduces the fourth segment of this PBS: Wide Angle documentary on high school education in China, showing parents waiting anxiously for their children as the exams end.

Brown says that the students will not find out how they did for weeks after the test. He then tells us the results for each of the students the documentary focused on.  We learn that the results of the exam decide the college each student will attend.  The highest scores go to the top colleges while lower scores go to lower rated universities.

The high school, senior class president, scored high enough to fulfill her dream and went on to attend one of China’s top two colleges where she will study journalism.

She says, “When I was studying so hard, I thought the most important thing was freedom. You cannot demand freedom from this society, your school or even your own family. You must rely on yourself to find your freedom. If you can set your own heart free, than nothing can stop you.”

After learning the future of these students, Aaron Brown sits down to interview Professor Vanessa Fong, assistant professor of education at Harvard University, whose work has focused on Chinese youth and identity.

Brown starts out saying, “People (Americans/Westerners) that watch the film will say that it is almost inhumane how hard they drive these kids, how much pressure is on them, how much discipline is expected of them—all of that. How do they see Western education?”

Professor Fong replies, “When they are kids, they really envy it.” While doing her research in China, the Chinese students often asked her what American teenagers do. She answered, “They spend half their day at school but the other half they are playing sports or in school plays or hanging out with their friends or go out and party.”

The response from Chinese students, “That would be so nice.”

Aaron Brown questions the Chinese system and Professor Fong defends it by saying, “The exam system is the one level playing field most of them will see in their lives and that is why they value it. It is a place where the children of poor farmers and the children of high officials can compete on a level playing field without anyone knowing their name on a mostly multiple choice, objectively graded national  test anonymously.”

Brown asks if this is true and Professor Fong says it is true.  She says the fairness of this exam is so secret that any kind of corruption is likely to be crushed and one case of corruption could cause a major upheaval (riots and protests) in China that would probably sweep the nation.

Now that we have discovered how serious earning an education is in China, we now know that the title of a series such as this on American education may be titled, “Wanted in the United States – high self-esteem and lots of fun”.

Return to Wanted in China – “an education” – Part 4 or start with Part 1


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

To subscribe to “iLook China”, look for the “Subscribe” button at the top of the screen in the menu bar, click on it then follow directions.