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August 13th, 2008
China Prep
Aaron Brown Interview: Vanessa Fong

Aaron Brown sits down with Vanessa Fong, assistant professor of education at Harvard University, whose work has focused on Chinese youth and identity. Fong is also the author of Only Hope: Coming of Age Under China’s One-Child Policy.

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AARON BROWN:
Professor Fong, it’s good to have you with us on WIDE ANGLE.

VANESSA FONG:
Good to be here.

AARON BROWN:
Have a chance to see the film? What’d you think of the film?

VANESSA FONG:
It was great. I think it really captured a lot of the stress of the students. I mean, I thought it was amazing that the students would talk so naturally to people who were so outside of their experience. And I think you did a really good job with getting them to speak sort of naturally.

AARON BROWN:
Do you think that’s just generally true of students or particularly true–? Or were you surprised that Chinese students, in particular, would not be reticent?

VANESSA FONG:
I think, well, especially this kind of, you know, third year top students. They’ve been pretty sheltered for most of their lives, or all of their lives. And they’re not that sophisticated in the sense of dealing with all kinds of people. They’re somewhat innocent, because their parents and their teachers really make sure that they–especially for the top students. You know, like the little girl was saying that she studies for 16 hours a week, and spends a few hours on meals. I mean, that’s their whole life. You know, and they’ve been doing this since they were little toddlers. Many of them have been doing this since preschool. Every day, they’re just in the school studying. So they didn’t have a lot of experience. I mean, when I was doing my research at a college prep high school that was far below the academic level of this school, it was similar. And there were the kids who, after grade three, the same year, after the senior year of high school– when they actually went out after the exam, they finally had their first summer vacation in their whole life, where they didn’t have to study, they went around the city and they were amazed that there were all these new department stores. And they were getting lost–

AARON BROWN:
Really?

VANESSA FONG:
Yeah. Because they hadn’t had time to go and see the department stores had come up while they were studying. So–

AARON BROWN:
So their world is incredibly narrow.

VANESSA FONG:
Yes. And it’s basically the cost from this. Home– the road from home to classroom. And then classroom. And then the road back to the home. They have so little time to do anything else that they– and even watching TV, even watching movies, it just– especially that year, that third year, that senior year, it’s really, literally, every second counts. It’s likely for such top students. And–

AARON BROWN:
Right. That department store wasn’t built in that year.

VANESSA FONG:
There were–

AARON BROWN:
You know what I mean? I mean–

VANESSA FONG:
There were a lot of department stores being built that year.

AARON BROWN:
I mean, I know. But when you talk about from the third– from the moment that they–

VANESSA FONG:
Right. Right. Right.

AARON BROWN:
–they’re sort of identified, their lives are extremely narrow.

VANESSA FONG:
Right. It’s not just from the moment they’re identified. It’s really everyone. Even the students who don’t do very well academically are sort of forced, by their parents and teachers, to have extremely narrow lives. Now, a lot of them get forced into professional and career-like vocational school tracks that they don’t want to be in. But they don’t score high enough to get into the college prep high schools. So then, you know, they’re forced into those schools. And those schools give them more time to themselves. Not that much more time. But, still, their parents would prefer– they’re still very disciplined, and their lives are still very structured.

AARON BROWN:
At what age is that first cut made?

VANESSA FONG:
First cut– usually, and it varies by city and province– but usually it’s made between junior high school and high school. So in grade nine, they take an exam to get into high school. And that exam is more important than the exam in this documentary. Because that really determines whether you can have a chance at even going to any college. You either get into a college prep high school, which can be a regular or a key point. And this score was obviously the most key point of key points. Or you end up like the majority of students who get into vocational high schools, where you’ll train to enter the work force at age 18 as a low level accountant, shop clerk, hotel manager, factory worker. Actually, it’s kind of deceptive. Because maybe ten or 15 years ago you could actually enter the workforce at age 18 if you had, like, if you majored in finance in high school, you could be a low level bank teller. But now you can’t even be a low level bank teller. Because there are all these college graduates who are competing for that job. So even though they’re trained for some of these careers, often if it’s something like, you know, finance, they can’t even get a job at the lower levels. They can only get a job as a shop clerk.

AARON BROWN:
So, at 13 or 14 years old, a huge part of a child’s life is determined.

VANESSA FONG:
Is determined. Right.

AARON BROWN:
And so if you’re someone– I have a special affinity for the late bloomer in life, because I was one. The late bloomers–

VANESSA FONG:
Tough luck.

AARON BROWN:
Yeah. So–

VANESSA FONG:
Right. You missed your chance.

AARON BROWN:
Well, there you go. Yeah.

VANESSA FONG:
Right. And there are very few second chances. I mean, for this generation of only children, they’re increasingly dissatisfied with that. They’re saying they want second chances because every child is supposed to be a winner. Because every child is the only hope of the entire family. So it’s not like, “Okay, well, too bad. We’ll try with the other child.” Where in the past, they say, “Okay, well, we’re not going to get—“

AARON BROWN:
Is it the child who’s upset or the parents who are upset?

VANESSA FONG:
The child and the parents. I mean, the parents are maybe more upset, because they understand the implications. Sometimes the child is too young to understand the full implications of living an entire life as a working class factory worker. And how unpleasant that will be when it’s time to try to get medical treatment. And when it’s time to try to cure their parents’ cancer. When it’s time to get married, to buy housing. To try to buy housing so you can get a wife, because no one’s going to marry you without housing. I mean, you know, as a 13 year old, you can sort of understand that that’s bad in theory. But you don’t realize how miserable it will be. But the parents have gone through this themselves. And in most cases, the parents are working class. I mean, it’s really rapid upper mobility is going on right now in that most of the kids get better jobs than most of the parents.

AARON BROWN:
And, so, in ways that– I mean all of us who are parents, to some degree, project our hopes and our dreams on our kids. But I have a feeling that it is minor league compared to what a Chinese couple is doing with their one–

VANESSA FONG:
With their one child. And that’s also not just because they only have one child. It’s the combination of that, and a culture that historically has really valued the family– where that’s the focus of everyone’s attention. Including fathers as well as mothers. I have pictures of the college entrance exam where the mothers and fathers are waiting outside the exam hall for their kids to come out. And when I show those pictures at audiences in Asian studies, I often get surprise from even people who work in Japan, who say they see the same thing in Japan, but it’s all mothers. It’s very few or no fathers waiting for the kids. Because, you know, it’s like the father has his career. He’s a salary man. The mother is in the home in Japan, and in many other countries where they have this model. But in China, there is the sense that, for both fathers and mothers, it is incredibly important– the family is where it’s at. Your identity. Your hopes. Your dreams. The family, in particular, what constitutes the family, the center of the family, is the only child. And also, the economy has made it so that there aren’t that many opportunities for the parents’ generation. Their skills are considered obsolete. Most of them grew up under Mao Zedong, you know, they grew up in the Cultural Revolution. They didn’t learn foreign languages, because that was politically incorrect. They didn’t learn computers. There were no computers then. They didn’t learn international finance. What they learned of economics was Marxist economics, not the kind of economics that we need now to do business in the global economy. So it’s sort of all their knowledge that they learned is kind of obsolete. And now, to succeed, there’s this whole other set of knowledge that only the younger generation can acquire. So really, the only person, in most families, that has a chance at upward mobility, is the child. And it’s really seen as sort of the family’s ticket to upward mobility.

AARON BROWN:
If this is a lot of pressure, it would be on parents– all of their hopes and aspirations being laid on this child, imagine what it is on the child.

VANESSA FONG:
On the child. Yeah.

AARON BROWN:
Because they are children. Do they have fun? Is there childhood fun in the way that Westerners would think of fun?

VANESSA FONG:
No, it isn’t. But, I mean, when they look back on it, they think they had fun. No, their lives are what Westerners would think of as torture. It’s really, you know, so much studying. Boring studying. Because they’re doing memorizations. Like SAT prep. It’s like all it is really doing is practice questions over and over again. Just, you know, it’s not even like creative.

AARON BROWN:
Teaching the test.

VANESSA FONG:
It’s really, literally, teaching to the test. You know, and doing that for 16 hours a day. Of course, Westerners don’t. I mean, that’s of course, they’re not going around doing extracurricular activities. Or, you know, dating. You know, hanging out with their friends at the mall. But, you know, they look back and they think they had fun. They had friendships consisting of helping each other with math problems, for instance. Very warm friendships. You know, they gossip about each other. And in fact, many of them look back to this time which, to an outsider, seems to stressful and horrible, as a time of innocence and sort of happiness. Especially when they get into the real world, into society, they see all these things like friendships become more complicated. That’s a complaint that they often have. Because, you know, when they get into society, maybe people don’t really like them, but are trying to be friends with them because they might be able to help them out, or have power or money or something. Whereas in the school, it’s really much more innocent. As you saw, you know, the children of very poor farmers and the children of high officials are mixed in together. And sometimes they have friendships with each other. And it’s very innocent, because they’re all equal when they’re all just studying and doing test prep questions. And they’re all sitting there 16 hours a day. There’s not that much inequality. And, you know, people will have friends across class. People will just be friends because they kind of like each other. And they look back on it as sort of a good time. You know, they don’t have a lot of the problems that American teenagers have, like teenage pregnancy, gangs, drugs, crime. Drunk driving. I mean, there are so many things that American teenagers worry about, and also the pain of all kinds of dating relationships gone wrong. I mean, they don’t have that.

AARON BROWN:
What happens when they’ve gone through this very regimented, disciplined life– what happens when they first, for example, go abroad? And all of a sudden they have to manage independence, having grown up with virtually none.

VANESSA FONG:
Well, that’s a big concern to the parents. For one thing, the ones who go abroad are usually the ones who actually did exhibit some independence. You know, there is some variation. As you saw in the film. I mean, the one who really wanted to go abroad seemed kind of independent. I mean, you know, even though they have this very disciplined life. The parents are really– I mean, that’s a concern. I’ve seen cases where they had opportunities to go abroad, but they didn’t because they and/or their parents got cold feet at the last minute. And said you know, “This kid is so not independent. I mean, what’s going to happen?” So there’s some self-selection. But, still, the ones who go abroad, at first it is a big culture shock. You know, they really miss their parents when they’re abroad. And they’re really, I mean, they often have really intense relationships. And especially, like, the kids in this documentary who study pretty well. And, you know, often, it’s the parents had a big part in that. And are, you know, really just intensely bonded. So when the kid goes to a foreign country, often not knowing a single person, they’re torn from everyone that they loved. And especially their parents. And, meanwhile, you know, it’s so hard for them when their parents get sick. And it’s so expensive to go back. And often they might lose their visa if they go back without enough warning. They have to go through a long process to make sure they can get a visa back.

AARON BROWN:
But when they come to America– let’s just use the United States as the example, in a very different kind of educational structure– are they able to maintain that sense of incredible focus and discipline? Or are they like a lot of American kids, honestly, who may have grown up in a fairly disciplined household, who experience freedom, independence, choice for the first time, and, frankly, I mean, you probably see this even at Harvard, go crazy. You know, all of a sudden every glass of beer is irresistible.

VANESSA FONG:
The ones who come to America, from China, are the best of the best. Really, it’s really hard to get into the United States, because the U.S. embassy is really strict. And it’s only, like, the people who get full scholarships from good universities in the United States. So it’s, you know, the top students in top high school like this. And eventually, after going to a top university and being a top student in a top university in China. So those kids, and I see a lot of them at Harvard. I mean, especially in the sciences, there are lots of them. When I did my doctorate, I was hanging out with them all the time. And now they’re my students. They take that discipline that they learned in high school and throughout their lives, and they apply it, and they do really well. And they do really well against really difficult odds. Because they are trying to compete with people who speak English as their native language. And who have learned, especially in the humanities and social sciences, an entirely different set of theories and topics. And often they do better. And it’s not, you know, they do better, they do the same, or they do worse. But there are some who do better. And imagine, you know, an American foreign language major doing better in the country of that language than the natives. Than the best natives of that country. I mean, it’s really very, there is in academia, in the United States in the college– there is a lot of unstructured time. And that’s where the skill that these kids learn in structuring their own time, forcing themselves to study, even when it’s boring, and avoiding leisure activities, that’s when it really comes in handy. Because, you know, they’re competing against people who are used to all their lives having time for themselves, for social lives, for having fun, for watching T.V. And then these kids from China, who have their whole lives, put that on hold when they’re in the United States. And especially with the idea that this is their one shot. It’s sort of like, do well in your program or go back to China in shame. It’s not like for their American classmates who are like “Do well in this doctoral program. Or quit and get a good job and probably make more money than you would as a professor.” I mean, you know for these Chinese students, it’s not like that. They can’t just quit their doctoral program and get a random job. Their visa won’t allow that. Their visa is a student visa. And the only way they can convert that into a work visa and eventually if they want a green card, is to finish. Do really well. Get a good job in their own field. Or they could go back to China and get a good job in their own field with a doctorate from an American program. But to lose this opportunity, after all you and your family have worked to gain it, is a really high price. So they are incredibly motivated. And they have the ability to do that because they’ve been trained their whole lives to use time very wisely. So they often do very well against very difficult odds.

AARON BROWN:
I assume that people who watch the film will, one of the things they’ll say is, “Man, that is almost inhumane how hard they drive these kids, how much pressure is on these kids, how much discipline is expected of them,” all of that. And I understand that. How do they see American or western education?

VANESSA FONG:
Well, when they’re kids, they really envy it. When they’re teenagers, and, you know, and when I as doing my research they often ask me, you know, “What do American teenagers do?” And I say, “Well, you know, they spend– yeah, half their day at school, but the other half they’re, you know, playing sports, or in school plays, or hanging out with their friends, or go out and party.” And they’re like, “Ah, that’s great; that would be so nice.” And they’re so envious. But once they’re adults they actually really value the education they have. And they even say that they want to choose for their own children the kind of K-12 education that they had in China. To the point where they would even say, you know, “I’d like to send my kid abroad.” You know, when these kids– now the ones I worked with originally, when they were teenagers, are now young adults with many with babies of their own. And they’re saying, you know, “I want my baby to have the Chinese K-12 education.” And then have the incredible discipline and protection. And then they can go to college abroad or work abroad. Or go to grad school abroad. But you know, they even say, within China, they want a really strict school for their kids.

AARON BROWN:
In fairness to that, they are the absolute beneficiaries of a system. They are the exception, not the rule.

VANESSA FONG:
Yes. You mean, well, the kids in this documentary are the exception, not the rule.

AARON BROWN:
In every sense, they’re the exception. There’s nothing typical–

VANESSA FONG:
Right. They’re the best of the best. However, I mean, even the ones, you know, I worked with kids who are in college prep schools and in vocational schools, and in junior high school. And you know, the kids I worked with were not like the kids in this documentary, the best of the best. But they also value it. And they sort of, you know, even the ones who graduated from vocational high school want their own children to go to a really good college prep high school. And it’s not just for the advantages. Although the ability to get into a university and then get a white collar job, that’s the most important. But it’s also, I mean, there is an appreciation for the protection from all kinds of problems– the kinds of problems that our teenagers in the U.S. get into.

AARON BROWN:
All of it.

VANESSA FONG:
You know, teenage pregnancy, gangs, drugs, crime. I mean, that’s a totally foreign to these kids in the college prep schools. But, to some extent, in all of the schools. You know, even in the junior high schools, in the vocational schools, there’s a lot of discipline. So I mean, they really value the protection of that kind of system. And they value the kind of education that they get. They also, I mean, they’re very critical of the competition. They think it’s cruel. They also– I mean, they like to think–

AARON BROWN:
So they have a kind of realistic sense that this is a lot to put on kids.

VANESSA FONG:
Yeah. Oh yeah. I mean, everyone, actually, hates the exam system.

AARON BROWN:
But they don’t hate it enough to break with it.

VANESSA FONG:
Well, the thing is, the exam–

AARON BROWN:
There’s an educational model here that they believe in.

VANESSA FONG:
The exam system is the one level playing field most of them will ever see in their lives. And that’s why they really 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 even knowing their name, on a multiple choice, mostly multiple choice objectively graded national test. Anonymously. So that’s the one chance. Where it doesn’t matter who you are, what your name is, what your parents’ names are. It just matters how you do on that test.

AARON BROWN:
And is that theoretically true? Or actually true?

VANESSA FONG:
It actually is true. I mean, it is.

AARON BROWN:
So there’s nobody paying off someone.

VANESSA FONG:
No, I mean, it might happen, but it would be extremely rare and difficult. Because it is so sacred, the fairness of this exam is so sacred, that any kind of corruption is likely to be crushed. And that’s not true for most things in China. I mean, it’s really hard to crush corruption. I’m sure there is probably, you know, there are attempts to bribe of– and especially the people who make the exams. You know, they go through extraordinary measures. They take the people who make the exams and put them in seclusion from the time they’re taken to the time when the exam is over, they’re put in seclusion. You know, there’s real effort. Because there’s so much riding on this for everyone that there will be real anger and sort of uncontrollable anger. And some of which will come from people with high positions of power. Because their kids are also in the system. So, you know, one case of corruption could cause a major upheaval. Including among people with power. So it’s too risky. And that’s why, you know, it’s such a horrible way to learn. Like, you know, learning to pass an exam that is so based on rote memorization and practice questions. Teaching to the test. And they all complain. The teachers, the students, the administrators and the parents all say, “This is not the right way to do it. We should have, you know, we should evaluate students not just on these exam questions that have no relationship to what they’ll probably be doing in real life, and are only valuable as exam questions for assessment.” They always want to reform it. And they’re trying to reform it every year. But the basic thing is, any way you try to reform it could introduce unfairness and corruption and even more inequality than there already is. Like, for instance, math. You saw that math genius. You can be a poor rural kid with just a math book, even if your teacher isn’t that great, you can learn, you can teach yourself from a math book. And you can become one of the top math students in China. But if they introduce things like music, English conversation, computers. I mean, a lot of these things which they’ll say, “These things are going to be more important.” But if these things are evaluated, the urban kids are going to do so much better. Because they’re going to invite, you know, foreigners to tutor them. Computer experts. I mean, the rural kids are going to be completely left behind. Also if they try to do something like, you know, we have teachers give grades to students. I mean, you saw the teachers. Their salary is riding on the students’ grades. I mean, you can’t have the teacher give the grades to the students. The teachers all want their own students to succeed. I mean, you saw the principle was saying, “Our goal is to get 30 students into the top two universities.” If you had teachers evaluate the students, the teachers would just, you know, all give them the top score so they could succeed.

AARON BROWN:
So do you believe, more so than not, assuming perfect is not part of the deal, but more so than not, a child from the smallest, poorest village has the same shot as the party leader’s child in Beijing?

VANESSA FONG:
Well, not the same. But as close to it as they’re going to get in this lifetime. I mean, not exactly the same. Of course, I mean, there’s cultural capital.

AARON BROWN:
Okay.

VANESSA FONG:
There is, you know, the parents can’t teach the kid if the parent doesn’t know anything, I mean, the kid is on his or her own. I mean, it’s really– they have to be, maybe, you know, ten times as bright. So they don’t have the same shot. But if they are ten times as bright, they can do it. And you see that. And you see kids like that in the top universities in China. I have taught kids like that from really poor rural areas who did really well in the top universities in China, and then came to Harvard. They–

AARON BROWN:
Really?

VANESSA FONG:
And that’s their one shot. That is the most likely, in their whole life, that they’re going to get a relatively level playing field. It’s not completely level. But it’s as close to level as they’re going to get.

AARON BROWN:
God bless them. I mean, in that sense, there are a lot of things about, obviously, about this rote memorization that runs counter to western educational theory.

VANESSA FONG:
Yes.

AARON BROWN:
Okay. But the point you make, that number one, it becomes an objective measurement, as opposed to any sense–

VANESSA FONG:
Yes. Yes.

AARON BROWN:
When I’m not doing this, I teach. And one of the things I’m very aware of is that when you read a paper, that’s a very– I do ask kids not to, although I can always figure out who it is, not to put their name on it. Because it’s a subjective enough process not to include everything you already think about that kid, you know. He’s smart, he’s not, he’s a jerk, whatever. So, in some sense, I get the value of this sort of totally objective–

VANESSA FONG:
Right. It’s also, you know, the sense that the harder you work, the better you’ll do. The more rote memorization you do, the better you’ll do. If it’s, you know, poetry, creative writing, you get five judges, you get five different scores. I mean, it’s almost like a lottery. And, I mean, there’s the sense that it’s a meritocracy is really vital. Especially in China now, where there’s a sense that there are very few things that are meritocracies. And this as close to a real meritocracy as they’re going to get their whole life. So they value that part of it too much. Even though they hate the rote memorization. Everyone agrees that’s not the best way to learn.

AARON BROWN:
Is this going to produce a society of eventually adults who are really good, but never great? Because great requires some willingness to risk and fail. And one of the things they’re taught is that failure is almost, literally, the worst thing.

VANESSA FONG:
Yeah. Well, you could say that. But even though the system is like this, there are always going to be some people, even within the system, who find ways– I mean, the system doesn’t entirely determine their personality. And you can say, you know, in a society that–

AARON BROWN:
No, but the system produces– determines their destiny.

VANESSA FONG:
It does.

AARON BROWN:
Not their personality.

VANESSA FONG:
Well, you know, this is a debate that a lot of people in China are currently having. They say the exact same thing that you said. They are worried that they’re not going to produce people who are creative enough to beat out the other country’s creative people. I mean, this is almost like a mantra that educators– teachers, administrators, parents, students, everyone who has something to do with education say, “We need to teach more creativity. We need to learn more creativity so we can compete with other countries.” You know, they’re worried about this. In fact, they’re very concerned. I would say, though, I mean for one thing, the society, there’s not that many spots for very creative people. I mean, it’s a big country, a big economy. Most of the positions they’re trying to get are not the wild and crazy innovator kinds of positions. And, in fact, those positions– if you’re too wild and crazy in certain ways, that might get you in trouble. I mean, it’s sort of this educational system fits their political economy, their system. As for are you going get some creative people out of 1.3 billion? Some of them are going to do it. I mean, they have artists, they have very good artists.

AARON BROWN:
Of course they do.

VANESSA FONG:
They have innovators. They have entrepreneurs. Some of whom did not go through the system. But learned, they figured out a better way to sell the saunas.

AARON BROWN:
American economic history is replete with examples like Bill Gates. Harvard dropout. Smart, had an idea, and was a great, creative, ultimately entrepreneur. Will the Chinese economic or education model allow that kid to emerge?

VANESSA FONG:
Well, Bill Gates worked hard enough to get into Harvard, only to drop out. So, these kids, I mean, they can work hard enough to get into university. And then you know, they can finish university at 22, and you might get someone who is very innovative. You can also get one of the many kids, the majority of kids, who don’t go through this track. There are many other kids who go through less intense kinds of preparation. And you know, there are other routes to success, other than the academic one. They’re just not reliable. There are many entrepreneurs in China who didn’t have any junior high school education, even. There are some of them out there illiterate. And they’re actually, their employees are doctorates, but they themselves, they’re very illiterate, but they have good ideas. They’re good at working with people. And they are people who worked their way up through the entrepreneurial system. The problem with that system is it’s really dependent a lot on luck as well as inspiration and–

AARON BROWN:
Well, but that is the entrepreneurial system.

VANESSA FONG:
Right, right, that is. And there are a lot of entrepreneurs in China. I mean, there are probably even more entrepreneurs than in the United States, because the majority of people don’t get these opportunities to go to top universities. So the only way for them is through the entrepreneurial system. Many of them fail or don’t do that great. But there are some who have done, have made–

AARON BROWN:
But that is, in fact–

VANESSA FONG:
–big businesses.

AARON BROWN:
That’s almost the definition of entrepreneurial–

VANESSA FONG:
Right, right.

AARON BROWN:
–most will not be great and successful but–

VANESSA FONG:
Right, right, right. And then some will.

AARON BROWN:
A few.

VANESSA FONG:
A few. A very few will.

AARON BROWN:
Will be wildly successful.

VANESSA FONG:
Right. Right, exactly. And that’s happening in China too. So this system, this educational system isn’t stopping that, because you don’t need everyone trying to do that. In fact, you don’t want everyone trying to do that and then failing miserably. I mean, you want the ones who couldn’t do that well academically anyway, or did well academically but still have other ideas. I mean, you want a few people. All you need is a few good entrepreneurs to have really successful businesses, and have a country really successful based on those businesses. So you know, that’s, I mean the reason the parents don’t tell their kids “You know, you’re gonna go through an entrepreneurial road,” is it’s such a lottery. It’s like, yeah, that’s great, that happens. But you want a backup, a backup like a prestigious college degree is something you can always have as a backup. Sure, you get your Beida degree, and then you go and invent new widgets. And if you fail, you get a good job in a company and live out your life in relative prosperity. If you succeed, you can be a billionaire, but you don’t have to. But you know, it’s like trying to encourage your kid to be the top actor or singer or basketball player. It’s not a realistic route for most people. So that’s why, I mean, they want the security of being on the academic track. And you know, if they eventually do entrepreneurial stuff, which many of these kids, even in the academic track, want to do, then great. But they always have a safety net. That’s why they’re so desperate, because they want that safety net, because there is not safety in China right now.

AARON BROWN:
How would you like your child educated? If you had a kid, would you– I mean, you’ve lived, oddly, in both worlds. You understand both worlds better than certainly most people ever possibly could. Would you choose one? Or the other? Or some combination of both?

VANESSA FONG:
Well, that’s an interesting question. I don’t have kids. But I mean, I see a lot of people who are either now– that I’ve known from China who actually, you know, have been in the U.S. and they’re trying to decide, or some kids also study Chinese, usually go abroad. And you know, some have kids now or are going to have kids still. And they’re really trying to decide, which system are they going to have their children go to school in? And it’s a hard decision because part of it depends on the child. If the child is actually sort of prone to getting in trouble, you definitely want the kid in the Chinese system because that–

AARON BROWN:
I know where I end up, okay, I got that.

VANESSA FONG:
To prevent people like you from getting in trouble. So that if the kid has any kind of predisposition to getting off the track, the academic track, if you left on their own, you want them in China where they’ll be forced to stay on the track. But if the kid is self-disciplined and you know, will stay on the track anyway, you know, then you can worry about, is the kid going to be happy? And of course, the kid is going to have more fun in the U.S. educational system. And you know, not experience so much stress. So–

AARON BROWN:
Let me ask it slightly differently. Do you think American education, which has a whole set of problems actually, that a complicated society can create, would benefit some by adapting some of the theories if not every last one of them of the, of contemporary Chinese education?

VANESSA FONG:
Well, I think it would in some ways, but they open up a whole other can of worms. So, I mean, I think there are many things that they could learn from the Chinese educational system. But also the system is tied into a lot of other aspects of society. And you know, for one thing, you would get a lot of lawsuits, if you tried to treat kids in America the way they treat kids in China. You know, there is all kinds of, you know, parents get alarmed if you assign the wrong textbook in America. I mean parents, you know, people fight over do we teach evolution in the textbook. I mean, in China, everyone in the whole country is learning from the same textbook. It doesn’t matter, you know, anything, local communities don’t have a say really.

AARON BROWN:
But American education, actually, in the world is sort of unusual in the sense that there’s no national curriculum.

VANESSA FONG:
And lots of freedom.

AARON BROWN:
I mean, the French have national curriculum. Lots of countries–

VANESSA FONG:
Right. The United States has extreme freedom for states, for school districts, for teachers, for students. It’s really based on freedom, and a lot of people in the United States value that. I mean, if you try to make his stay in school from 7:30 am to 10:00 pm, you would get complaints, you know?

AARON BROWN:
Yes, you would.

VANESSA FONG:
It’s sort of, and you know, Chinese parents are willing to put up with a lot of things that American parents just aren’t willing to put up with, not with the American students. Also American students– everyone goes to the same school. You don’t have a tracking system. So you know, with the Chinese system, you have a tracking, you have people going to different schools depending on their test scores, when they finish junior high school. And then you can really, you know, these kids have to sort of go along with the system. If you tried it with an American school, with everyone, from the top achievers to the very, very low achievers, and try to make them all do this, you’re going to get some pushback from the low achievers.

AARON BROWN:
What do you think– I mean, education in China doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It exists in a culture that is undergone, in 15-20 years, extraordinary change. What do you think this all means to Communism?

VANESSA FONG:
Well, you know, I actually don’t think the educational system is the directing that is affecting or not affecting Communism itself–

AARON BROWN:
No, but might the outgrowth of that, if you create a society where you theoretically had a society of egalitarianism, everyone kind of on the same playing field. But if you look at Chinese society now, you literally have people living as 18th century peasants in one end of society, and you have literal billionaires with multiple, you know, fast, luxury cars and the finest clothes and all the rest on the other. And you couldn’t be farther from conceptual Communism than you are.

VANESSA FONG:
Well, that’s a problem in the society itself. The educational system is as close as you can get to conceptual Communism as you can in this very unequal society, because it’s a meritocracy. It’s also, I mean, there is a lot of equality in, I mean, just you know, the kids of poor families and rich families are sitting side by side with the same conditions and wearing the same school uniforms. They can’t even show off their wealthy clothes. They spend the same 16 hours pretty much the same way because they have to. So I mean, the educational system– you know, the inequalities in the educational system, yeah, that’s inequality but it’s meritocratic inequality, which the people in China are very fond of. And the thing is, there is a critique now saying that China is going away from the dream of Communist to egalitarianism. But that’s not aimed at the educational system. It’s aimed at the other parts of society, where people who get rich are not necessarily the ones who have the best ability or work hardest, but maybe the ones who use illegal methods, or are doing stuff off the books. Those entrepreneurs, you know, they– or are corrupt, or they’re doing things that they shouldn’t be. But the educational system, it’s fair. It’s meritocratic. I mean, it’s not completely, there is–

AARON BROWN:
It’s not perfect.

VANESSA FONG:
– it’s not perfect, and there is corruption. But there’s less corruption than in other sectors of society. So, I mean, they often say, you know, that’s the most innocent part of society. And in some ways, the ones, it’s considered the ones that are sort of closest to the old Marxist ideals. And it’s, well, it’s a place where the Marxist ideals are still being taught. It’s sort of seen as a last refuge for people who are still old Marxist. You can be a politics teacher. That’s kind of a joke. It’s like, you know, it’s such a Marxist, you can be a politics teacher.

AARON BROWN:
So other forces may ultimately determine what the politics of China is–

VANESSA FONG:
Yeah, it’s a Marxist society–

AARON BROWN:
– but education is actually true, to some degree, true to form. Do kids get an appreciation for, let’s say, Shakespeare?

VANESSA FONG:
They read Shakespeare.

AARON BROWN:
They get an appreciation for Shakespeare?

VANESSA FONG:
How do you define appreciation?

AARON BROWN:
Oh, don’t play that. Don’t be a Harvard professor. You know what I mean. I mean, did they–

VANESSA FONG:
They appreciate literature.

AARON BROWN:
They do.

VANESSA FONG:
Yes, and they do study literature. They read the classic works of Chinese literature and some Western literature, including Shakespeare. Yeah, they, you know, they analyze the literature. There actually are literature analysis questions on the exam, you know, so it’s like the literature section of the GRE or SAT.

AARON BROWN:
So maybe they’re more well-rounded than we want to believe they are.

VANESSA FONG:
Yeah, they are. They’re very well-rounded in the academic subjects. It’s just that the way they get there is very painful and they’re not so rewarded for creativity. They don’t do, like a lot of creative writing or poetry or, you know. But they learn a lot of academic stuff, and they learn to analyze it. And then, their multiple choice exams test their ability to analyze. It’s just, you know, the exams, and the exams have been reformed every year, trying to get the exam questions to test more creatively. They want to do as much, move as much towards testing creativity as they can, without losing fairness and predictability. So they’re kind of pushing it. They’re trying to integrate, like they’re trying to ask– you know, “How would you construct a factory with such-and-such level of pollution?” So you have to draw on sort of knowledge of chemistry, biology, economics, politics. You have to–

AARON BROWN:
And merge them.

VANESSA FONG:
–merge them, right. So there are very sophisticated analytical questions like, I mean, you know, it’s like the LSAT. It’s like, you know, we have standardized exams–

AARON BROWN:
Of course you do.

VANESSA FONG:
–trying to test these things. And, you know, they have that level of sophistication, where– and that’s why they do so well in the GREs.

AARON BROWN:
Oh, and we have, as you know, this incredibly vigorous debate in the country about the degree to which–

VANESSA FONG:
Should we move towards testing as the main–

AARON BROWN:
Right, the tests should be taught.

VANESSA FONG:
Right, right, right. Should we do that? Right, I mean, China’s sort of at the very extreme of, it’s funny, because in China, they’re saying, “We should do less teaching to the test,” and in the United States, they think we should do more.

AARON BROWN:
It seems to me ultimately the Chinese are not interested in being the best manufacturing center in the world or the best agrarian culture in the world. What–

VANESSA FONG:
They’re interested in being the best in the world.

AARON BROWN:
The best in finance, the best in everything.

VANESSA FONG:
The best in everything, right. Well, doesn’t every country want to be the best in everything, if they can?

AARON BROWN:
Not to sound like a Harvard professor, but that’s an interesting question and I’m not sure. I’m honestly not sure about that, but what–

VANESSA FONG:
I think most countries want to be the best.

AARON BROWN:
I think most countries believe that they are the best place to live, whether that–

VANESSA FONG:
Well, see, that’s the difference. In China, a lot of people don’t believe they’re the best place to live. They want to make it the best place to live.

AARON BROWN:
The best place to live.

VANESSA FONG:
But they don’t think they’re there now. They think maybe, by 2050, maybe they’ll, if they work really hard, they can get there, but–

AARON BROWN:
I’m not sure it’s important to the French, for example, just to pick a country. I’m not picking on the French, to say, “We are the economic driver of the world.”

VANESSA FONG:
At one point they were.

AARON BROWN:
So were the British.

VANESSA FONG:
But right, I mean, there’s real reality. There’s, you know, realism. But I think in China, you see the same thing in the United States. I mean, yeah. The United States wants to be the best. The United States currently believes that we’re the best–

AARON BROWN:
Absolutely, and–

VANESSA FONG:
–and probably is the best.

AARON BROWN:
And that is a driving American idea.

VANESSA FONG:
And it’s a driving Chinese idea. And I think it’s a driving idea for many countries.

AARON BROWN:
And who wins in the end?

VANESSA FONG:
The one that actually is the best, according to whatever the criteria the world is currently using to measure who’s the best.

AARON BROWN:
Are the Chinese educating kids, ultimately, who will be the best financiers, the best scientists, the best whatever? Is the model producing that kind of–

VANESSA FONG:
The model can, they have the opportunity. And the model– I think the limiting factor is the opportunity, and that depends more on geopolitics, on global economy, on issues not in the educational system. I mean, if those opportunities came, the educational system would probably change along with them, in the sense that right now, the educational system is one of desperation, is one of limited opportunities, is one of– there are very few opportunities for anyone in China. And for China to succeed in the world, we can’t have frills. We can’t have, you know, sports. We can’t have, you know, people going to parties. If there were more opportunities, as there would be if China became, indeed, the best, there would be less pressure on the educational system. And they would have sports. And they would have extracurricular activities and parties because you know, then even if you were not the absolute best and just incredibly driven and disciplined, you could still get a good white collar job. Right now, that’s not the case.

AARON BROWN:
So should we look at the film, for example, just coming back to the film, should we look at the film, in a sense, not as a movie, but as a snapshot of a moment in time?

VANESSA FONG:
Yes, yes, it is. Do the film again in ten years and it’ll probably be different.

AARON BROWN:
I’m curious. American parents watching the film will see a lot of things, I think, that on the one hand are a little disquieting, okay. The pressure the kids are under, the discipline that is demanded of them, the stakes that are in play at a very young age. On the other hand, they will see kids who are performing, who don’t seem particularly unhappy, honestly. So should American parents be afraid?

VANESSA FONG:
Afraid of what?

AARON BROWN:
Of this model and its ability to produce better, smarter, more talented adults than the American model produces?

VANESSA FONG:
Well, depends on how paranoid they are, but I mean, in one sense yeah, but they could– I would hope that they might be happy that maybe their kids would someday be able to interact with such disciplined and hardworking people, and work side by side in a corporation, in a transnational corporation together. You know, I mean, there is a sense in which American kids are going to be competing against Chinese kids. But it’s not just a zero sum game. It’s also a sort of win-win situation. I mean, China is stable and strong and—

AARON BROWN:
It’s interesting, because we do tend to in some respects see it as a zero sum game.

VANESSA FONG:
Not really. I mean, there–

AARON BROWN:
Well, I’m not saying it is. I’m saying we tend to see it, if the Chinese do great–

VANESSA FONG:
And in China, they tend to see it that way too. But on the other hand, it would not benefit the United States if China had major problems that prevented them from buying our bonds so we could have low interest mortgages. The economies are so intertwined that it’s sort of innovation and, I mean, sort of good environments and stable and economically successful environments anywhere in the world today is good for the entire global economy.

AARON BROWN:
Okay. How much of what we see in Chinese education, specifically, but more broadly in Chinese culture generally these days is driven by a notion to be bigger, better, stronger than the United States?

VANESSA FONG:
It’s not just the United States. It’s all the countries in the world. The United States is, right now, sort of the superpower, so yeah, it is, there’s the United States. Japan is actually a much more relevant comparison and there’s sort of a more sensitive comparison, because of historical issues. But yeah, it’s sort of, it’s driven by sort of China being the best compared to all the other countries. And Chinese people doing better than people in other countries. I mean, it’s sort of trying to be the best. I mean, it’s, you know, you want your child to be better than all his or her classmates. And you want your school to be better than all the other schools. And you want your province to be better than the other provinces. You want your sports team to be better. You want your country to be better, sort of, I think it’s the same thing that Americans are always talking about.

AARON BROWN:
Yeah, but there’s– I also want my kid to be happy, okay?

VANESSA FONG:
Right, right. And that’s, I mean, they want their kids to be happy. But right now the idea is that they’re not going to get a chance to be happy unless they sacrifice– you saw the letter to the kids. “And you will be repaid 100 times for your hard work now. If you sacrifice now, you’ll get the reward in the future.” And they wouldn’t choose this kind of system if they didn’t have to. And part of why they want to be the best is they want to be able to sit back, relax, and enjoy the fruits of previous generation’s labor and rest on their laurels.

AARON BROWN:
Because fundamentally, there’s a fundamental sameness to what we all want.

VANESSA FONG:
Right, right. And they want long-term happiness.

AARON BROWN:
Okay, but is it different in this sense– I can’t imagine saying to my child, “Look. There’s a 19-year old in China who is studying 16 hours, and frankly wants to kick your butt, okay?” But I actually wonder if there isn’t, in China, I don’t know that they literally are saying that–

VANESSA FONG:
No, no.

AARON BROWN:
–but a sense that–

VANESSA FONG:
They are not saying there’s a 19-year old in the United States, because they–

AARON BROWN:
But are they saying, “If you want to be the best in the world–”

VANESSA FONG:
Be better than the 19-year old in your province, because that’s the realistic– I mean, what you heard from the principal, I mean, it’s more of a political, you know, principled people, with, sort of political positions and you know, people who are spouting this sort of rhetoric and yeah. So it’s part of the national ideology. “We want our country to be the best.” But individually, they’re more concerned about the 19-year old in their own province, who are really, literally competing for that one spot, that one quota, for someone from their province in a particular major. I mean, that’s the competition. That’s their real competition, it’s each other. They want China to be better than all the other countries, of course. But you know, it’s more of an abstract sense of if China’s better than all the other countries, maybe we won’t have to work so hard.

AARON BROWN:
Yeah. So, I mean, in that sense, maybe we’re all more alike than we tend to think. I’m going to make you answer this. Let’s say you had a child. Normal, you know. She’s an American-raised ten-year-old. Which system?

VANESSA FONG:
Well, if she’s–

AARON BROWN:
I won’t tell.

VANESSA FONG:
Okay, you know, it depends on whether she’s likely to get in trouble. If her personality is such that she’s going to be fine. Or if she’s like me, you know, when I was a kid, then she can do fine in the U.S. system. If she looks like she’s going to start getting into drugs, gangs and teenage pregnancy, I want her in the Chinese system, where that’s really unlikely. You’ll, if she looks like she’s not going to get into that, then the American system is great. I mean, if she’s a U.S. citizen, she has all these opportunities, even if she doesn’t get into one of the top ten or the top 50 universities, she’s going to do fine. The top 100 universities. And anyone can sort of get in, if you work hard enough, and you can get a white collar job.

AARON BROWN:
That is, I mean, the problem with the question is the societies themselves, at this stage of their development, are so different. I mean, Chinese society at this moment is, for this great historical society, is in a kind of infancy moment of being a global player. I mean, it’s still very young in playing by the kind of global rules , so it’s a little hard–

VANESSA FONG:
Trying to catch up.

AARON BROWN:
Right. So in some ways, it’s really understandable. You know, we need to produce, we need to identify our smartest, most disciplined–

VANESSA FONG:
It’s triage.

AARON BROWN:
Right. It is a kind–

VANESSA FONG:
It’s what’s happening in their medical system as well.

AARON BROWN:
It is exactly right. It’s a kind of economic societal–

VANESSA FONG:
You save the healthiest patients, because you don’t have enough medical care for everyone, so you save the healthiest people. It’s really a harsh cruel method, but that’s the global economic system.

AARON BROWN:
But don’t you worry about the kid who’s pretty smart, but maybe not the smartest?

VANESSA FONG:
Of course, and people in China are really worried about that, because most of their kids are not the smartest. And they really want the system to be such that everyone, and really, now that there’s only one child, everyone has to get the good white collar job. That’s what they’re working for. That’s why they want to be a superpower, because they see that once you’re a superpower, you can have that many opportunities. The problem, right now, isn’t really that there aren’t enough high schools or colleges in China. It’s that there aren’t enough white collar jobs in China. There aren’t enough opportunities. You know, the reason it’s so extreme and only a few people who do such extreme discipline can get into these top universities and then to white collar jobs, is because there just aren’t enough white collar jobs to go around. And that’s the main reason they want China to become the best, because if China’s the best, that would imply that there would be a huge number of white collar jobs, maybe even enough for everyone who wants one, like in these developed countries, where most people who really want white collar jobs and are willing to work, even a fraction of how much the Chinese students work, will get white collar jobs.

AARON BROWN:
So 75 years from now, the Chinese are going to go, “What the heck ever happened to our manufacturing jobs? You know, we used to make stuff, and now we don’t make stuff anymore.” Is that the future of China?

VANESSA FONG:
Well, they would like that to be the future. They would like the whole country to be white collar–

AARON BROWN:
I know, but you think about, I mean, if you listen to the American economic conversation, one of things in the American economic conversation is that we don’t make anything anymore.

VANESSA FONG:
Right. Well, now maybe there are too many white collar jobs. Right, I mean, China is really trying to get to the point where labor is more expensive. And they are like the developed countries, and most people are working in finance, and you know, not making things. And some poorer country’s making stuff. And they’re just sitting in all air-conditioned offices, and sort of telling other people what to do. And that’s what they want.

AARON BROWN:
Someone told me a couple weeks ago, and I checked this out, but he was a smart guy and he seemed honest, so I believe him, that the reason it takes so long to build a nuclear power plant in America, is not because there’s so many regulations. It’s that there’s so few welders.

VANESSA FONG:
Right, right, right. I mean, that’s–

AARON BROWN:
We don’t produce–

VANESSA FONG:
People in China would love that. They would love that. They would love that. So–

AARON BROWN:
Be careful what you wish for.

VANESSA FONG:
Well, they want that. I mean, now the problem with the United States is that there are some people who, despite having so many opportunities, compared to China, there are still some people who still can’t make it. You know in America, it’s like everyone gets into a college prep high school. You don’t have to test into it. You don’t have to pay a cent to get, go to a public high school. Everyone can go to college if you really want to. You can, you know, you can go and work a few years, and then you can get a community college degree. You can transfer to a better college. There, you can get a pretty good job, you know, from just about any college. You can– there are so many opportunities.

AARON BROWN:
But I think what this person was arguing was that in our– and the Chinese are doing this exactly, okay– in our zeal to produce white collar jobs, office jobs, you know, one more guy or woman selling advertising or something, that what we’re not producing, and what there’s always a need for, and frankly, what some kids are happiest doing, in fact, is working with their hands. It’s the welder, the carpenter, the builder, and that if those jobs pay well and are rewarded, the education– that’s a societal goal, make sure those people are well-paid. And that there needs to be an education system that creates space for them also. And that one of the things that probably American education has failed on, and maybe Chinese education is working the same way here, is that in our zeal to create comfortable jobs, we identify one kind of kid. And we forget all those kids who really are happier–

VANESSA FONG:
Well, in China, actually, the majority of schools prepare kids to work with their hands.

AARON BROWN:
But are those kids honored? Are they well-paid?

VANESSA FONG:
No, because those jobs are not well-paid.

AARON BROWN:
Right, but that’s my– the point I’m making here is that the truly egalitarian society rewards the person who builds the house, not just the person who designs the house.

VANESSA FONG:
Right, right. Well, the capitalist system, I mean, the way the capitalist system is working, the market economy, the jobs where there are very few people who can do them, who can get in and they can do them, get paid the most. The jobs that most people could do get paid the least. And that’s the capitalist system.

AARON BROWN:
Right, and–

VANESSA FONG:
Now Marx said that capitalism is the state before socialism, so maybe, you know, the European countries do a lot more in getting closer to socialism, which Marx said would come after capitalism. The United States is still sort of very much in capitalism. I think in the European countries, there is a lot more equality, between people who work with their hands and people who work with their mind.

AARON BROWN:
I find it a kind of interesting if it’s true that what we don’t have are enough welders to weld the things we needed welded, or however you frame that, that there’s something wrong.

VANESSA FONG:
Well, right now, I mean, China’s not having that problem, because they–

AARON BROWN:
No, because China has so many people–

VANESSA FONG:
So many welders, right, so many–

AARON BROWN:
–and it’s so young in this–

VANESSA FONG:
Right, right. Right now, China is walking the path of the market economy. And the market economy, if there were someday not enough welders, the job of welder would become a much more high-paying one.

AARON BROWN:
Because, I mean–

VANESSA FONG:
And more people would go into it.

AARON BROWN:
I mean, China right now is hyper-capitalism. It’s capitalism gone, it’s like capitalism on LSD. It’s just gone mad.

VANESSA FONG:
Yes. It’s called socialism with Chinese characteristics. It looks like capitalism.

AARON BROWN:
Yeah, well, you call it what you want, but it is the most hyper-capitalist. You know, Hong Kong, I mean you know this, Hong Kong, one of the great things about Hong Kong, anytime you went there, you always believed that the people in Hong Kong believed in capitalism in its most pure form. That if you just work really hard you will succeed. And there were enough examples in Hong Kong life to support the idea that if you worked really hard, you’d get there. And what, I mean, the amazing thing about China is that this has happened, not that it’s happening, honestly, because I always thought it would happen. It’s happened in the blink of an eye.

VANESSA FONG:
So quickly. Yes.

AARON BROWN:
I mean, in 15 years, 20 years, China’s been reinvented.

VANESSA FONG:
Yes. Yes.

AARON BROWN:
And I have no idea what that means to a culture. I have no idea.

VANESSA FONG:
It is why everyone’s willing to sacrifice so much, because every year, their economy’s growing. Every year, they’ve been able to afford more luxuries. Their lives have, at least materially, gotten better, although maybe psychologically, they don’t feel that much better, but you know, that’s what keeps them going. And that’s why they’re willing to do all this and make the sacrifices, because they see that their economy is expanding. They sort of buy into the people and the government, buy into the–

AARON BROWN:
It’s an amazing thing. I mean, it’s, to me–

VANESSA FONG:
Because it works for them.

AARON BROWN:
Can I ask a very impolitic question?

VANESSA FONG:
Sure.

AARON BROWN:
How old are you?

VANESSA FONG:
34.

AARON BROWN:
You’re way too smart. Do you work 16 hours a day?

VANESSA FONG:
Probably.

AARON BROWN:
Cut back. Are you tenured?

VANESSA FONG:
No.

AARON BROWN:
Alright. When you’re tenured will you cut back a little bit?

VANESSA FONG:
No.

AARON BROWN:
No? So for your whole life you’re going to work 16 hours a day forever?

VANESSA FONG:
Yeah, well it’s more fun than memorizing test prep.

AARON BROWN:
I’m sure that’s true.

VANESSA FONG:
I mean, any time I feel like complaining, I think about those Chinese kids and it doesn’t seem so bad. And that’s why they succeed too. Any time they feel like complaining as graduate students at Harvard, they think back to what it was like in high school, and they are like “I’m on cloud 9.” And 16 hours reading interesting books, you know, rather than 16 hours than doing practice tests. Wow!

AARON BROWN:
Well, thank you for joining us on WIDE ANGLE.

VANESSA FONG:
Thank you for having me.

  • Lynn Robbins

    I am only getting one page when I attempt to print this Aaron Brown interview. How can I print the entire interview? This applies to other Wide Angle interviews also.

  • Pi-hsia Hung

    I married to a very handy Irish who happened to screw up his future by not getting a college degree. Even though he proved he can do the white-collar job, the company would not promote him because he does not have a college degree. He is not rewarded by his talents here in the U.S either, not just in China.

  • Margo Trolley

    The Fong/Brown interview was very imformative on how seriously education is taking by the students & parents of China.

  • G Clayton Taylor

    I found Professor Fong to be disingenuous when talking about China outdoing America.
    She implied, no, she actually said that China was NOT targeting the USA, but my question to her is why is English the only mandatory language in the curriculum?
    After all, French is also an international language of business. Why not give the kids an option?
    Now that Bush has given away such an edge in the import-export of Chinese products, along with the country-wide affinity for manufacturing “knock-offs” that’s done with the Communist Party’s blessings, by the way. There’s no doubt in my mind that China is trying to out do the US by hook and crook!
    Don’t forget about their infiltrating our Defense Department’s computers on more than one occasion!
    I submit that China is and has been focusing on the State’s for decades and will not stop until they bury us, either in debt or by taking our manufacturing jobs.
    Oh yeah! Let’s not forget about all the tainted toys they repeatedly send over her also. Who does that effect except our children who will be competing with their children in 20 years, incidentally…..

  • J Chen

    Hi,Taylor, I don’t think English is not the only second language in the curriculum. As far as I knew, some middle and high schools in China offer Japenese and Russian language courses.
    Not only do the people in the USA speak English, but people in other countries also speak English.

  • Yoel Cohen

    Is professor Fong teaching in Harvard?
    If yes, I make sure that my grand children do not apply to Harvard. If I would go by what she said that the academics future of a student determined by age 13 or 14 than my son never would have become a Medical Doctor. My son was a late bloomer and in China he would have become a coolie.
    Professor Fong,United States in its 250 years has more inventions and new technologies than China in its 5000 years history and that is because Americans are allowed to think for themselves not memorizing text books like in China. China success is based only on its cheap labor and poor quality and this success will not last long.

  • Bullwinkle Moose

    Just a thought about Yoel Cohen’s comment: For Prof. Fong teaching at Harvard gets us thinking, “What went wrong with American Education platforms? In 1970s, Americans were calling Japanese products “junks” Now, which car maker is dominating American and global markets? The Bible says, “Pride comes before the fall.” We have to understand that a country’s overall success is not on the length of its history or its amount of inventions, but on its people’s displines and determination in reaching the goals. Granted, China has its own prollems, but every country has its own flaws in different ways. We should not nose up on other cultures just because English is the international language for now. Who knows, Maybe twenty years down the road, American national language will be Spanish.

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