This week on Sinica, Kaiser Kuo and David Moser are joined by Jiang Xueqin, deputy principal of Tsinghua Fuzhong Affiliated High School and author of Creative China, for a discussion of the education system in China. Specifically, we’re curious to find out how China’s education system ranks internationally, how the politics of education play out here, and all the unscrupulous top-down planning that goes into modernizing Confucian education while maintaining political orthodoxy.

Have ideas? Once you're done listening, please feel welcome to share your thoughts in the comments section, or by writing us at Also remember, you can subscribe to the Sinica show through RSS by opening up iTunes, clicking on the "Advanced" menu and selecting the option "Subscribe to Podcast". Copy the URL into the box when prompted. Or download this show as a standalone mp3 file.
 said on
July 12, 2014

1. PISA (The Program for International Student Assessment)

2. Sitzfleisch (“sit-flesh”)

3. The Gaokao 高考 (National Higher Education Entrance Examination)

4. Keju 科举 (Imperial examination system)

5. STEM fields

6. Cai Yuanpei 蔡元培

7. Albert Camus

8. The Myth of Sisyphus at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

9. Term: 实验小学 shiyan xiaoxue experimental school(s)

10. Montessori education

11. To Open Minds, by Howard Gardner



Asia's Orthographic Dilemma (Asian Interactions and Comparisons), by William C. Hannas


Baidu Predict


1. Proust and the Squid, by Maryanne Wolf

2. The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do, Revised and Updated, by Judith rich harris

3. The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement, by David Brooks

4. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, by Daniel Pink

5. Outliers: The Story of Success, by Malcolm Gladwell

6. The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science, by Norman Doidge
 said on
July 14, 2014
This entire episode is too much over-simplification. I believe it would be incomparably more interesting if Mr. Jiang had talked about the latest pedagogical theories (from the books he recommends) and how they apply to education in China, rather than enumerating every single cliche of the Chinese educational system - in gross generalization as well as in his own case.

In this kind of discussion, I always cite myself as a counterexample to those cliches: As a native Chinese, I went to elementary and middle school in China before migrating to western Europe with my parents. I was a very good student (regarding my grade and achievements in academic competitions) in China, and I had practically no problem settling into the Western school system (or Western society in general).

My Chinese and my European teachers had the same love-hate relationship with me: They loved me for my smarts, my curiosity and my independence, and they hated me for my utter lack of discipline that was constantly causing damage both to myself and to the group. However, even though they all tried, with various intensity, to tame me, none of them ever tried to dull or silence me. In fact, my Chinese teacher were more eager than my European ones to promote my curiosity and my independent thinking, in explicit and implicit ways, and quite a remarkable number of them were willing to look the other way regarding the many disciplinary infractions of mine - at least the minor ones.

My own interpretation is that, contrary to common believe, my Chinese teachers were entirely willing and able to recognize the value of my independent thinking. If more students were like me, they would love to see it, and they would find a way to deal with it (in positive terms).

So, that leaves the questions: Why aren't more Chinese children like me? I believe the main culprit isn't the educational system (AKA schools), but the educational culture (AKA home). Yes, I'm a big believer in the thesis that education mostly happens at home, even if the child spends much more time in school. School teaches knowledge and methodology (if you have good teachers), but it's the parents (and the extended family) that teaches awareness, views and values.

I had the luck to be born in a family where I was taught just that, in an extraordinary fashion. It's not that my parents were perfect - no, there was plenty of flaws in their parenthood, and I have suffered my own fair share of trauma as a result of that. But one thing they never did is to say to me: "Because I say so, and that's that!" Instead, they always argued with me on the merits of the subject, even though it was often a nerve wrecking exercise with me (and it still is, evidently).

That's one of the two things I'm most grateful for (and proud) of my family (the other being the way they instilled proper moral compass in me through leading by example). Of course I know how rarely this happens, but the thing is, it shouldn't be. Being intellectually patient with your child is not easy to do, but is it really that much harder than everything else you do for your child? Especially the things Chinese parents do for their children?

To come back to the original topic of this episode: No, I don't think the Chinese education (AKA school) system is destined to produce subservient automatons. It's the societal norm in general and the parents in particular that does that. BTW, the vast majority of the upper-middle class parents that manage to send their kids abroad or migrate entirely are no less conformist that the rest of the Chinese society, which explains why their kids won't miraculous do better in Western schools. But every parent has the power, in their own hands, to resist that societal norm (at least in regard to their children) and provide their children with a good developmental environment. And when they do so, the Chinese schools won't be as much an impediment as people are tragically resigned to believe.

Sadly, you guys talked about schools the entire time and barely mentioned home...
 said on
August 1, 2014
Isn't the Hannas book widely viewed as a racist diatribe?

Mark Lesson Studied