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.

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