Synopsis: A wrong direction people easily enter when discussing higher education is relating the problem of the whole personality of a 24-year-old person to the latest few years of education he or she receives. It is the family education before adult age that shapes most of one’s personality. And the ruling factor in family education is cultural. Guanxi (关系) is the core of Chinese culture. In a typical Chinese society it is always more important who you knew than what you knew. So why bother to be educated? The Chinese answer is very different …
Recently a statistical comparison of the quality of high school education between countries and regions was announced, where Shanghai got the first places within all categories in last year’s test, almost suddenly — compared with earlier test results. Again, delusive “good news” about how fast and outstanding China has developed annoys me. Fortunately I read soon about further and balanced debate on China’s higher education on New York Times.
Higher education is not the whole story
The debate was introduced by the fact that Chinese graduates have a hard time finding a reasonably paid job nowadays. Reasons were proposed by four debaters in details, but what they said has been repeatedly discussed within China and is not new. Simply put,
What I believe really tells the westerners the valuable truth is the final section of this debate titled What the graduates go through, where additional observations from several employers and teachers in China were listed. These seemingly superficial phenomena cannot be explained simply by the two-point theory summarized above, but in fact point to deeper Chinese cultural origin.
A wrong direction one would easily enter whenever discussing the higher education is, relating the result of the whole personality of a 24-year-old or older person to the latest 4-year education he/she received. My view is that a large part of one’s personality comes from his or her family, and further the culture of the country he or she belongs to. From the debate we can see that people are in fact worrying the personality of Chinese youth, which cannot simply solved by addressing the problems limited within the higher education system or the labor market. To address this problem, not only the higher education but the whole philosophy of education from cradle to career should be rethought, the reason on the cultural level.
How does Chinese old culture define happiness?
Starting from the answer which will least possibly differs between cultures: why bother to be educated? — To gain happiness.
The answer to the next question, how to define happiness, immediately deviated from culture to culture. The Chinese version of definition is extremely childish: more food and face. That’s all.
So why does Chinese people (I mean culturally, not without exceptions) not look further beyond people around and seek the secret of the Nature (i.e. science)? Because the secret of the Nature never bothers the Chinese people more than the secret of people’s heart. It is the knowledge of human relationship (ethnics), not that of the nature (science), that lead to the ultimate happiness of Chinese people. Chinese people solve all problems by maintaining existed and creating new human relation, or guanxi, not by using exist or learning new technologies. In other words, it was more important who you knew (or who your parents knew) than what you knew. (So answered is the question: why bother to be educated in science!) This was once possible in the agriculture based society where nothing more convenient and efficient was ever needed — until the westerners broke in in the 1840s. It was the continuous suffer from war set by science-based cultures that made China develop science. The history after 1840s told the Chinese people that science is good simply because it prevent the country from being beat. This notion prevails even today. China would have develop anything by which it had been efficiently beaten only to prevent being beaten again. They don’t really love science! They copy whenever possible. The only thing they develop by themselves — atomic bombs — was for prevention from being beat.
They don’t really love themselves, either. Chinese people does not care about themselves individually very much, because within a complex human relation network, caring oneself too much does not lead to happiness. Instead, the Chinese wisdom of happiness lies in making other people around you happy. And you should recognize carefully what really pleases others because they are also acting just to please you. During this match Chinese people have evolved into world’s most sensitive, easiest to displeased, but best at disguise, ethnic group. This is vitally important because it is equal to say that Chinese people judge thing by their mood, by how they are pleased at the moment, not by stable facts, laws or reasoning. You don’t win by stronger reasons but stronger gifts. If you are doing good, you can just buy anything you want, not to mention a collage degree or academic performance. By “buy” it doesn’t just mean money. Above a certain extent people cannot be more pleased only by money — that’s the real skill. Chinese people can always find a way to bride no matter how perfect the infrastructure is designed. Chinese people can bride easily in the US modern infrastructure, I swear. In fact Chinese people design a dual infrastructure for all things: one side beautiful but never works, the other hidden and all about bribery.
Chinese people please only useful people. So they act least considerately in public although they know how to please others best.
Therefore although China seems rising fast it is still largely affected by the culture once worked in the agricultural based society but severely unfits the need of modern world. Other Asian countries like Japan, Korea adapted to the western way more easily in the first half of twentieth century because their old culture was not as strong as Chinese one and did not root as deep as the Chinese did. In contrast, China have struggled longer and more painfully than Japan and Korea in social revolution but remains strange and uncomfortable even till today.
What a graduate go through?
The title of the higher education discussion on NYT asked what a graduate go through. But this question should be answered from the graduate’s baby years, from their parents, their grandparents, and ultimately, the Chinese culture, which I have described in brief above. Certainly culture never affects all people or affects a person completely. So now I want to discuss the exceptions. I am one of the exceptions of course. What I have gone through is an education of critical thinking, from my mother, and early before entering university. What my mother went through was a pursuit of dignity and integrity, which also transfers to me. The general problems of the Chinese graduates is simply the lack of dignity, integrity and critical thinking although there are many exceptions. A large part of the Chinese society outside the academia has not evolved enough to reward these good spirits. In contrast, bribery and plagiarism is widely rewarded and encouraged. These are what the Chinese graduate really go through.