Tuesday, 18 July 2017

My Thoughts on China - 2017

My thoughts on China fall into two categories: good and bad. 

The good is the people, culture, historical sights, and most importantly my students. Seeing my students in Shanghai and Beijing was wonderful. I just wish that I had more time and opportunity to see more students. Next time! Other people—I found helpful people everywhere I went, from a Kunming bus station guard who spent half an hour showing me to a cheap charlie hotel for an unplanned overnight stay due to a transport screwup (my own fault), plus many other locals who helped me, even taxi drivers. The sights, were many, varied, and endlessly pleasing. I visited museums, art galleries, and a myriad of other tourist destinations. Simply seeing the Shanghai ‘Bund’—the pre-communist buildings along the foreshore, the Hong Kong nightlife, and of course the famous historical sights in Beijing. I want to go again!

The bad is subtle, essentially the Chinese government is fascist and dictatorial (to make a distinction where there is none). This is all too apparent everywhere in China. Public spaces, there are few public spaces and even fewer spaces where individuals can gather in groups. Something not immediately obvious, but public parks have seats, grassed areas, but no large open spaces. Bus and train stations have KFCs, ticket counters, lots of shopping, but no seated areas. No public spaces—No future Tiananmen Squares! When travelling long distances ID cards are required, and of course, the big problem, the blocking of foreign websites. Why indeed does instagram need to be blocked in China? It is a sign of a paranoid ruling class that is attempting to control the population by regulating access to information. Many Chinese, even senior Chinese government officials regularly circumvent ‘The Great Firewall of China’, but institutionally it is omnipresent. In 2017 the Chinese government is making further attempts to limit foreign access by preventing the usage of VPNs, ignoring the fact that VPNs are necessary for confidential (e.g. banking) transactions.

The humorous side of this, to the extent that it is humorous, is that the tech people, who work towards maintaining the firewall, are often the same people who sell the tech means to circumvent the firewall. Their customers, amongst others, are senior party officials who wish to sample the delights of the west. Hypocrisy, inefficiency, and a general short-sightedness stupidity rolled into one, with a large dash of ineffectualness.

The problems with this firewall are clear, to the extent that the Chinese business community are quietly muttering their complaints. Lack of access to Facebook does hinder business. Also the Chinese people do want to be part of the world, not locked away as obedient workers and quiescent citizens.

I will certainly state the the firewall makes travel just that more difficult. Google maps is blocked, the single most used app by travellers. Yes, it is possible to get around the firewall, but that is just one more hassle when you don't need hassles, and sometimes you just cannot access maps. Etc.

Education, Chinese students are up to scratch, to make a general statement, however, for all its success the Chinese education system suffers from several inherent failures. Essentially, it is a top-down, teacher focused system, that rests upon rote-learning and repetitiveness. This is of course one more generalisation, but as with at least some generalisations, it is generally true. Classroom study involves listening and writing, little discussion or debate. Homework, there is lots of homework. All the time, not merely school nights, but weekends and even holidays. The goal seems to be to fill every spare moment with homework. The flip side to this is that the homework is largely a rehash of the classroom work, no alternative required, and that teachers rarely check the homework—essentially, pointless and useless.

You may well ask therefore why Chinese students succeed, well, in fact, many don’t. There are schools and colleges, and universities which issue spurious results, results that give students a higher score than their level of attainment deserves. I have been told stories of teachers who teach superficially during the day, but at night run their own special classes and tutor the same students, for extra payment of course—sadly. However, how do Chinese students reach the high level of accomplishment mentioned previously? This is produced because, first the system as it is does work, albeit mediocrely. Second, many students, certainly the better students study in their own time and in their own fashion.—the saving grace of Chinese education is not the education system, but the students themselves. The third point, Chinese culture that values education and holds getting the job done, success (hard work) in high regard.

This leads to the conclusion of my thoughts on China. Over the past generation it is undoubtedly true that China has made great strides forward. Strides, developments, and progress that the Chinese people can be proud of—and foreigners can admire—however, to put all this into perspective, the progress has been to copy and implement 20th century technology. The building of roads, dams, and aqueducts, is all well and good, but little is of a revolutionary nature. With this China has developed all of the all too familiar trappings of fascism, of an oppressive state, albeit more efficient than most. What it has not done is move forward into the 21st century, it has not embraced human rights or democracy, its progress has been economic not social. This must change. The idea of a 19th century ruling class is obsolete in the 21st century, and will only hurt China and the world. A lesson we should all learn in all countries.

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