• Posted on: July 10, 2014

[Think China 2014] Day 2 | Education – Is it the Forbidden Fruit?

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July 8, 2014

Authors: Shakir Carminer and Kyle Ferguson

[View Day 2 Photo Album]

We attended two lectures today, one about Chinese education and the other about the Mandarin language. We learned about Chinese schools and compared them to schools in the United States. In , children start high school at 6:30 am and do not end until about 5:30 pm. That is about 4 hours longer than the American school day. College students in China spend more time in school as well. Another interesting thing is the Gaokao, it is a national college entrance exam in China, and it is very similar to the SAT’s we have in the US. The Gaokao is supposed to be very rigorous, but in fact it is the parents that make the test tough because of all the pressure they put on their children’s back to do well on the test. A problem China is facing in education may be schools in rural areas compared to the cities. Rural schools have no infrastructure or resources, making it harder for the children to learn and ultimately succeed. We learned about a campaign which involved the “the big eyed girl.” She was the focus of an experiment as to whether a child from a rural background could be well educated and transition to a white collar career, rather than the farming and blue-collar work option that is most aligned to rural population. Apparently, the wide eyed girl promised to return to her village to share her experiences and promised to go into the field of education. Unfortunately, she did neither. She made her transition into the white collar world and turned her back on her promises and her people. This was very disappointing to hear but we have heard this rags to riches story many times in America.

The Mandarin lecture we attended was very exciting. We all practiced different vowels and tones. We also learned different expressions in Mandarin for example we learned to say, “I drink cola,” “I love you 我爱你,” “Mama,” “Father,” and etc. After our lectures we ate lunch in the Beijing Foreign Studies University cafeteria again. This time the food was more diverse in offerings compared to the breakfast plan. There was orange chicken, beef with bell peppers, chicken drumsticks, and watermelon.

As a part of the mentoring component of our program, we played a game focused on community building and capitalism. We were divided into different communities and were all given a common task. Three sheets of binder paper were provided to each team in order to assist all five of the people in each defined community to achieve their goal. The intended goal is to the get everyone in the community to the other side of the street. The twist was that you could only step on the paper to get to the other side and there could only be one person on a paper at a time. If anyone steps off of the paper everyone in the community must begin again. Without even thinking, each group quickly alienated the other groups and tried to come up with a solution to get their community to the other side first. We all eventually figured out that by ripping the papers and sliding them under our feet on the ground that perhaps this strategy would make it possible. We all completed the task, but at what cost? We did not all think to put all our papers from all the communities together and make a bridge for all to cross. It would have been relatively easy to do if we all had been a little selfless and thought about people as a whole instead as teams and small communities, our task would have been so much easier and more impactful. Isn’t that the goal of being my brother’s keeper? We quickly found out that had we challenged the rules in order to be inclusive, our entire community– not just the smaller silos, could have been successful together.  It really makes you think about your values as a person and as a part of a larger community of people. Next we traveled back in time. We were headed to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. Both were both historic structures and known around the world.

I had always wanted to visit Tiananmen Square and today that dream came true. Tiananmen Square is the biggest city square in the world.It was first constructed during the reign of the Ming Dynasty. It is 99 acres – the same as 90 American football fields. It is actually so large that it can be seen from space. Our tour guide, Sean, dropped some serious knowledge on the way there. Tiananmen Square holds more than 4 million people and serves as the front yard to the Forbidden City.  The Forbidden City contains 850 buildings and has 8,700 rooms. It has a moat that is 52 meters wide, which is about 160 feet wide around the Forbidden City. At my current age, if I were to stay in a different room every day since I was born, I still wouldn’t be old enough to have slept in all the rooms.

In 1989, there was a student protest in the square for democracy that ruptured into violence. The Chinese government sent troops and tanks to brutally handle the protesters, and there is actually video of the incident of a man trying to stop a tank. The Forbidden City was built in 1420 and the emperor moved in in 1421. What is really interesting is after the emperor moved in, about a month later the Forbidden City burned down. The city caught fire multiple times, but the most recent was in 1888. It was rebuilt a year later in 1889. Back in ancient times, common people could not enter Forbidden City and women in the royal palace could not exit. It was common for the Emperor to have over 100 wives.  Sean had extensive knowledge about Beijing and was a statistical master of the population. Beijing is the second largest city in China with a whopping population of 22 million. Shanghai is the largest city in China with a population of 24 million.

I will never forget what I learned today. From the community game to Tiananmen Square and Forbidden City, I will never forget the values I learned today. They have made me reflect on the work we must do to become better people. I look forward to the values of tomorrow.

Today we learned that education is empowering and can be misused and abused. History also builds a sense of self and belonging. While we don’t have thousands of years of history, we must see the value in our personal and collective journeys and use it to propel ourselves forward.

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