CHINESE UNIVERSITIES: PROFESSORS, STUDENT LIFE AND PROBLEMS

CHINESE UNIVERSITIES

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Nanjing University
As of 2000, there were 1,841 institutions of higher learning. These include universities and four-year non-vocational colleges. Between 1997 and 2000, 68 new private universities and colleges opened. Most Chinese universities were set up in accordance with the Soviet model to produce individuals that serve the state. Tuition was paid for by the state. The state also assigned majors and decided the jobs the students would receive after they graduated. Students mostly took classes only in their field and in Communist ideology. The system produced lots of engineers.

According to the 2010 census, the proportion of college-educated Chinese went up from 3.61 percent in 2000 to 8.93 percent. In 1998, when Jiang Zemin, then the president, announced plans to bolster higher education, Chinese universities and colleges produced 830,000 graduates a year. In May 2010, that number was more than six million and rising. Still, for the average Chinese family a university education is impossibly expensive.

More and more Chinese universities are switching towards the Western model of a liberal arts education. In the early 2000s, Beijing University began requiring students to take basic courses from five varied fields in their first year and select a major and begin specializing in their second year.

In a 2010 ranking of universities by the Times Higher Education Magazine, China had six universities in the top 200, more than Japan which had five, and the highest ranking in Asia. Peking University was the highest ranked Chinese university, placing 37th overall.

University graduation is usually in June. One student told the Los Angeles Times. “You really don’t learn anything in Chinese universities, It is very difficult to get into college, but more relaxed once you get there.”

Good Websites and Sources: China.org on Higher Education China.org ; China Today Info on Chinese Universities and Colleges chinatoday.com ; Wikipedia article on Higher Education in China Wikipedia China Education Blog chinaeducationblog.com

Links in this Website: CHINESE EDUCATION Factsanddetails.com/China ; CHINESE SCHOOLS Factsanddetails.com/China ; SCHOOL LIFE IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; CHINESE UNIVERSITIES Factsanddetails.com/China ; Good Websites and Sources on Education in China : History of Education System in China math.ksu.edu ; Center on Chinese Education at Columbia University’s Teacher’s College tc.columbia.edu ; China Today on Chinese Schools chinatoday.com ; China Education Blog chinaeducationblog.com ; Wikipedia article on Chinese Education Wikipedia ; China Education and Research Network (Chinese Government Site) edu.cn/english ; China Education and Research Network Statistics edu.cn/HomePage/english/statistics ; Busy Kids chinadaily.com.cn ; Modern Chinese Literature and Culture (MCLC) Education Bibliography mclc.osu.edu ; Chinatown Connection chinatownconnection.com ; Education in the 1980s cis.yale.edu ; China Research Paper Search china-research-papers.com

Higher Education in China

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students in the 1940s
Higher education reflects the changes in political policies that have occurred in contemporary China. Since 1949 emphasis has continually been placed on political re-education, and in periods of political upheaval, such as the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, ideology has been stressed over professional or technical competence. During the early stages of the Cultural Revolution, tens of thousands of college students joined Red Guard organizations, effectively closing down the higher education system. In general, when universities reopened in the early 1970s, enrollments were reduced from pre-Cultural Revolution levels, and admission was restricted to individuals who had been recommended by their work unit (danwei) possessed good political credentials, and had distinguished themselves in manual labor. [Source: Library of Congress]

“In the absence of stringent and reasonably objective entrance examinations, political connections became increasingly important in securing the recommendations and political dossiers necessary to qualify for university admission. As a result, the decline in educational quality was profound. Deng Xiaoping reportedly wrote Mao Zedong in 1975 that university graduates were "not even capable of reading a book" in their own fields when they left the university. University faculty and administrators, moreover, were demoralized by what they faced. [Ibid]

“Efforts made in 1975 to improve educational quality were unsuccessful. By 1980 it appeared doubtful that the politically oriented admission criteria had accomplished even the purpose of increasing enrollment of worker and peasant children. Successful candidates for university entrance were usually children of cadres and officials who used personal connections that allowed them to "enter through the back door." Students from officials' families would accept the requisite minimum two year work assignment in the countryside, often in a suburban location that allowed them to remain close to their families. Village cadres, anxious to please the parent-official, gladly recommended these youths for university placement after the labor requirement had been met. The child of an official family was then on his or her way to a university without having academic ability, a record of political activism, or a distinguished work record. [Ibid]

“After 1976 steps were taken to improve educational quality by establishing order and stability, and calling for an end to political contention on university campuses, and expanding university enrollments. This pressure to maintain quality and minimize expenditures led to efforts both to run existing institutions more efficiently and to develop other college and university programs. As a result, labor colleges for training agro-technicians and factory-run colleges for providing technical education for workers were established. In addition, eighty-eight institutions and key universities were provided with special funding, top students and faculty members, and other support, and they recruited the most academically qualified students without regard to family background or political activism. [Ibid]

“In the 1980s funding was a major problem because science and technology study and research and study abroad were expensive. Because education was competing with other modernization programs, capital was critically short. Another concern was whether or not the Chinese economy was sufficiently advanced to make efficient use of the highly trained technical personnel it planned to educate. For example, some observers believed that it would be more realistic to train a literate work force of low-level technicians instead of than research scientists. Moreover, it was feared that using an examination to recruit the most able students might advance people who were merely good at taking examinations. Educational reforms also made some people uncomfortable by criticizing the traditional practice of rote memorization and promoting innovative teaching and study methods. [Ibid]

“The prestige associated with higher education caused a demand for it. But many qualified youths were unable to attend colleges and universities because China could not finance enough university places for them. To help meet the demand and to educate a highly trained, specialized work force, China established alternate forms of higher education--such as spare-time, part-time, and radio and television universities. [Ibid]

Modernization Goals for Education in the 1980s

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Students at Cheeloo University
in 1941
Under the Four Modernizations goals, firsts et forth by Zhou Enlai in 1963, higher education was to be the cornerstone for training and research. Because modernization depended on a vastly increased and improved capability to train scientists and engineers for needed breakthroughs, the renewed concern for higher education and academic quality--and the central role that the sciences were expected to play in the Four Modernizations--highlighted the need for scientific research and training. In response to the need for scientific training, the Sixth Plenum of the Twelfth National Party Congress Central Committee, held in September 1986, adopted a resolution on the guiding principles for building a socialist society that strongly emphasized the importance of education and science. [Source: Library of Congress]

“The Provisional Regulations Concerning the Management of Institutions of Higher Learning, promulgated by the State Council in 1986, initiated vast changes in administration and adjusted educational opportunity, direction, and content. With the increased independence accorded under the education reform, universities and colleges were able to choose their own teaching plans and curricula; to accept projects from or cooperate with other socialist establishments for scientific research and technical development in setting up "combines" involving teaching, scientific research, and production; to suggest appointments and removals of vice presidents and other staff members; to take charge of the distribution of capital construction investment and funds allocated by the state; and to be responsible for the development of international exchanges by using their own funds. [Ibid]

“The changes also allowed the universities to accept financial aid from work units and decide how this money was to be used without asking for more money from departments in charge of education. Further, higher education institutions and work units could sign contracts for the training of students. There also was a renewed interest in television, radio, and correspondence classes. Some of the courses, particularly in the college-run factories, were serious, full-time enterprises, with a two-to three-year curriculum. [Ibid]

“By 1985 the number of institutions of higher learning had again increased--to slightly more than 1,000. State quotas for university places were set, allowing both for students sponsored by institutions and for those paying their own expenses. This policy was a change from the previous system in which all students were enrolled according to guidelines established in Beijing. All students except those at teachers' colleges, those who had financial difficulties, and those who were to work under adverse conditions after graduation had to pay for their own tuition, accommodations, and miscellaneous expenses. [Ibid]

Higher Education System in China

Reforms, adopted nationwide in 1986, established a faculty appointment system, which ended the "iron rice bowl" employment system and gave colleges and universities freedom to decide what departments, majors, and numbers of teachers they needed. Teachers in institutions of higher learning were hired on a renewable contract basis, usually for two to four years at a time. The teaching positions available on basis were teaching assistant, lecturer, associate professor, and professor. The system was tested in eight major universities in Beijing and Shanghai before it was instituted nationwide at the end of 1985. [Source: Library of Congress]

“Under the 1985 reforms, all graduates were assigned jobs by the state; a central government placement agency told the schools where to send graduates. By 1985 Qinghua University and a few other universities were experimenting with a system that allowed graduates to accept job offers or to look for their own positions. For example, of 1,900 Qinghua University graduates in 1985, 1,200 went on to graduate school, 48 looked for their own jobs, and the remainder were assigned jobs by the school after consultation with the students. The college students and postgraduates scheduled to graduate in 1986 were assigned primarily to work in forestry, education, textiles, and the armaments industry. Graduates still were needed in civil engineering, computer science, finance, and English. [Ibid]

Growth of Chinese Universities

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In the 1990s, the Chinese government began pouring a lot of money into Chinese universities in an effort to bring them up to world class status and create enough openings for a boom in university age students. Schools were merged, new facilities and dormitories were built. And in process some of the money disappeared into the vacuum of development and construction corruption.These days land is still being cleared to make way for new school facilities.

China now has more than 1,900 institutions of higher learning, nearly double the number in 2000. Close to 19 million students are enrolled, a sixfold jump in one decade. The number of faculty has more than quadrupled.

The number of students enrolled in Chinese universities increased twentyfold in the last 30 years: between roughly 30,000 in 1978, when universities opened again after the learning-free zone of the Cultural Revolution, and 600,000 in 2009. Between 2000 and 2009 higher-education enrollment more than tripled. Today, China awards more college degrees than the United States and India combined. Annual awards of doctoral degrees rose sevenfold between 1996 and 2006.

Since China began opening up in the 1980s a number of private, profit-making universities have opened up. Most of the students are young people who failed to get into established universities. The universities often charge high fees and deliver a education of dubious quality.

In a speech on education former premier Zhu, Rongji said in 2011: "I don't advocate for building up so many universities. To do what? When I entered Tsinghua in 1947, there were only 2,000 students. Now the number is in the tens of thousands. It is OK for Tsinghua to have tens of thousands of students. But now even Jilin University has 75,000 students. There are now a lot of academic frauds, even professors fabricate, plagiarize from papers by others. What would happen it this continues? ... You'd better concentrate efforts to do a good job in promoting compulsory education."

Top Chinese Universities

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China is establishing world class universities and research centers. Top universities in China tend to cater to the elite and favor student in their homes cities, often requiring rural students to outperform urban counterparts on entrance exams to get in. A degree at a top university is regarded as a ticket to a better life.

Top universities include Beijing University and Qinghua University in Beijing and Fudan University and Jiao Ting University in Shanghai and the University of Hong Kong. Qinghua is China's leading technical university. It is regarded as China’s MIT. Beijing Normal University is another top Beijing university. In the U.S. News and World Report ranking of universities in Asia the University of Hong Kong ranked third, Peking University was 8th and Tsinghua University was 10th. In the Quacquarelli Symonds ranking of universities in Asia the University of Hong Kong was first, the Chinese University of Hong Kong was second.

Beijing University is known in China as Beijing Daxue, or Beida for short. It was established and run by Americans in 1889 and was located near the Forbidden City in Jingshan Park until it was moved to its present location in the far northwest part of the city in 1953. Its students were at the forefront of the Cultural Revolution and the Tiananmen Square demonstrations. Beida is underfunded and short on supplies. Sometimes students have to take exams standing up because there are not enough chairs. Many students share a four-square-meter dormitory room with five others.

There appears to be a large and growing urban bias at top Chinese universities. Pan Wei, a “New Left” thinker with a Ph.D. from Berkeley, said that at Beida there is a declining number of students from the countryside. According to him, 70 percent of PKU’s students were from rural areas in the 1950s; 60-70 percent in the 60s. Today, the number is less than 1 percent. Alec Ash, who wrote a blog about the intellectual life of young Chinese elites, said, “As I can’t check that figure---Chinese universities are secretive about figures which would be public in Britain---but the trend itself is certainly incontestable.” [Source: Evan Osnos, The New Yorker website July 29, 2010]

Peking University has a similar standing to Oxford or Cambridge but, unlike those institutions, has a reformist reputation: its students played a crucial role in the 4 May movement of 1919 and the 1989 pro-democracy Tiananmen Square demonstrations. Tsinghua and Peking Universities now top the world in PhDs obtained from U.S. universities.

Third tier universities are mostly private ones that are expensive but easy to get into.

Chinese University Students in the Communist System

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Harbin Engineering University
University education traditionally has been free with students being given a stipend, which was sometimes increased with good grades. Training is highly specialized from the start. Students often spend five or six years studying their subjects and take only courses in their fields. Future doctors take only medical classes and future lawyers take only law classes. Until recently there was no such thing as a liberal arts curriculum.

The Communist system traditionally dictated what classes university students would take and decided what jobs they would take after they graduated. The system encouraged students to go into pure and applied sciences, engineering, medicine and agriculture. About 50 percent of all students majored in engineering with hopes of getting a prestigious, well-rewarded job in a large state institution. The best and the brightest were often picked for scientific jobs with military applications.

The number of slots open in universities was determined by five-year plans which took into consideration the needs of certain regions and the number of doctors, engineers and scientists the government decided country needed. The children of tradesmen and landowners from generations back were sometimes punished for their pedigree and had a harder time getting into good universities that those from peasant stock.

After the Cultural Revolution ended a students began flowing back to the universities many of the best and brightest majored in literature and philosophy. These days they are more likely to be pursuing MBAs.

Chinese University Students

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University students in the 1920s
There are over 24 million university and advanced vocational students in China, or roughly about 20 percent of the college-age population (2006). The number of students entering university and college increased by more than 500 percent from 4.8 million in 1998. The majority are concentrating in science and engineering. Chinese universities produced 23,500 PhDs in 2005, 70 percent of them in science and engineering.

Twice as many 18- to- 24-year-olds are enrolled in colleges in the late 2000s were enrolled a decade earlier.

Only 11 percent of university-freshmen-aged young people enter university compared to 64 percent in the United States.

These days about a quarter of all Chinese in their 20s have attended some university. The increase in the number of university students is the result of a government policy in the late 1990s to reduce unemployment by doubling the number of college and university students.

Only 15 percent of college-age youth get an education beyond high school. Most are urban. Only a third of China's university students are female. Rules have changed in recent years that allow older people to attend college.

In 2006, the government decided there were too many university students, saying the high numbers had resulted in overcrowded campuses, overworked professors and graduates who were unable to get decent jobs. To reduce the number of university students the government decided to raise the value of vocational training and high school diplomas, making a university education seem like less of a necessity. An effort was made to police universities to make sure they didn’t admit low quality students to make money. Attempts in the past to reduce the number of students have largely been ineffective.

Student Activism Versus Getting Ahead in China

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student protest in Guangzhou in 2010
Beida has a long tradition of activism. It was founded by Cai Yuanpei, an educator and revolutionary. Its students were among the first Red Guards in the Cultural Revolution and were leaders of the 1970 Democracy Wall. The Tiananmen Square demonstrations were started by Beida students fed up with conditions in their dormitories and their country.

Things are much different today. Few waste their time on politics. Most are obsessed with getting good TOEIC scores, gaining entrance to American universities, landing good jobs or getting a hold of the latest computer software. One professor told Time "Students these days are typically aloof from politics. They're mainly interested in going abroad or making money.”

One student said, "You can't get things done without money. The government won’t allow us to speak out, so we'll engage in business, we'll publish, we'll go overseas." Another student said, "Student's are studying like mad. After school, they study a law, business, foreign language---even driving. They know it’s a tough world out there, and it's not enough to get a Beida bachelor's degree."

University students that show too keen an interest in reformist politics risk being discriminated against. Professors that criticize the government are either fired or kept on the faculty but are barred from teaching.

Engineers, See Labor

Thought Control at Chinese Universities

Stephen Chen wrote in the South China Morning Post: Vice-President Xi Jinping has ordered universities to step up ideological control of students and young lecturers ahead of the keynote 18th party congress this autumn, CCTV reported yesterday. Xi is expected to succeed President Hu Jintao in a new Politburo line-up at the Communist Party's 18th national congress - with the party seeking a smooth transition and attempting to remove threats to its political control. [Source: Stephen Chen, South China Morning Post, January 5, 2012]

"University party organs must adopt firmer and stronger measures to maintain harmony and stability in universities. Daily management of the institutions should be stepped up to create a good atmosphere for the success of the party's 18th congress," Xi said yesterday in Beijing at a gathering of Communist Party representatives from universities.

The party, unnerved by a series of riots, demonstrations and strikes caused by land seizures, pollution and labour disputes, is stepping up control on different fronts - such as in propaganda, media and social controls - to minimise political risks ahead of the congress. The revolutions in the Middle East last year, along with online postings calling for similar ones in China, have also put the party on high alert.

Universities have long been regarded as the most important stronghold for the party's grip on ideology. Liu Yandong , the highest-ranking woman in the party and in charge of education, said a series of plans had been made - including holding university presidents responsible for political missions, enhancing the capability of leaders in managing universities, and having active and strong party influence at the grass-roots level - to ensure the smooth opening of the congress.

Xi also emphasised the importance of keeping an eye on lecturers, especially young ones. "Young teachers have many interactions with students and cast significant influence on them," Xi said, adding that their political opinions and moral standards "have a very strong influence on students. They also play a very important role in the spread of ideas". Xi said universities must make it a paramount task to "instruct" the thoughts of young lecturers and recruit more of them to join the party.

Students Screened for 'Radical Thoughts' at Peking University

Tania Branigan wrote The Guardian: “One of China's most prestigious universities has announced plans to screen all students and identify those with "radical thoughts" or "independent lifestyles", provoking angry reactions from undergraduates and comparisons to the Cultural Revolution. Administrators at Peking University say their focus is on helping those with academic problems. But the institution's announcement identifies nine other categories of "target students"  including people with internet addiction, psychological fragility, illness and poverty, plus those prone to radical thinking and independent or "eccentric" lifestyles. It adds: "The objective of the consultation programme is to help individual students achieve an all-around and healthy development." It says officials should respect students' individual differences but they must "address ideological problems and practical issues" and help to guide them. [Source: Tania Branigan, The Guardian, March 28, 2011]

Zha Jing, deputy director of the office of student affairs, told The Guardian the university was not trying to punish or control students but to "create an environment for healthy growth". Zha said: "We've noticed ... some students having radical thoughts and bigoted character and encountering difficulties in interpersonal communication, social adaptiveness and their studies. They cannot analyse and handle their problems in daily life in a rational and manifold way. "For example, they cannot get on well with roommates, cannot handle love setbacks in a calm way and cannot adapt to career life after graduation.” Earlier, when asked about students with "radical thoughts", he told the Beijing Evening News: "For instance, some students criticised the university just because the food price in the canteen was raised by 2 jiao [2p]." [Ibid]

While some students have voiced support for the university, others are furious. One student told the Beijing Evening News that the college where the scheme had been piloted was known for liberal thinking, but that the new rules would make people think it wanted to cage its students' minds. Zhang Ming, a politics professor at Renmin University, also in Beijing, said: "For a university to see a student having radical thoughts or independent thinking as a bad thing that has to be punished, is terrible.” [Ibid]

"College students are all young and energetic  it is normal for them to have differentiated, active thoughts. It is their right to be radical. If a university punishes this, the university is morally degenerating."Xiong Bingqi, deputy director of the 21st Century education research institute in Beijing, told China Daily: "The university is somewhere to cultivate people's independent personalities and thinking, so it's totally wrong for Peking University to intervene in students' freedom to express their different opinions." [Ibid]

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Lujiang Xiamen University

Structure and Atmosphere of Chinese Universities

Steven Kuo wrote in The Guardian, “Chinese universities are modeled after civil services where most of those who are in charge are party members, not scholars. The chancellor of a top national university enjoys the equivalent ranking of a national government minister, and provincial universities' chancellors, provincial government ministers. Instead of being isolated ivory towers of academic research where quality research is the ultimate criterion for recognition, Chinese universities are places of hierarchy, patrimony, control and power struggles where personal networks outweigh academic ability.” [Source: Steven Kuo, The Guardian, August 21, 2010]

“In my experience, interviewing established professors is sometimes akin to having an audience with a ranking mandarin. They respond anecdotally from a position of superiority, confident with their privileged access to information, their influence on policy and their status in society. Attempts at engaging in academic debate are often dismissed with sighs of “you just don't understand China” and if pressed a little harder, accusations of western imperialism are almost inevitable.” [Ibid]

“Some of the younger generation of scholars complain privately of having to produce research on demand, of having to censor themselves on “sensitive topics” and having to deal with an unfair system that recognizes seniority rather than originality and quality. But those who are unhappy with the system are in the minority; the majority of them are satisfied with their lot and are biding time until they too take up more senior positions.” [Ibid]

“The roots of the dismal state of higher learning in China today can be found in the Cultural Revolution. The current generation of professors began their careers just after a generation of intelligentsia, many of whom learned in both Chinese and western scholarship, were purged as counter-revolutionaries. The current generation have navigated their academic careers with the utmost care and diffidence, with little mentoring from previous generations and isolated from critical scholarly communities beyond China.” [Ibid]

“A recent comment by Premier Wen Jiabao that Chinese universities need to transform and be converted from a government civil service to centers of research was met with strong resistance from entrenched interests. Speaking as representatives of the National People's congress and as committee members of the Chinese people's political consultative committee, university chancellors argued that dissociating universities from government structures will lessen the value and effectiveness of Chinese education.”

Paying for University in China

When a student passes a university exam, his or her family is excited. On average, families spend $1,200 on parties, entertainment and supplies and nice clothes. One young woman told Reuters, "My parents were so happy my mother couldn't sleep for days." Her father hosted a party for 20 relatives at an expensive restaurant.

University education was free in the Mao era. Free education on the university level was abolished in 1997 and fees increase at a rate of about 20 percent a year.

Strapped for cash, universities now require students and their families to foot much of the bill for their education. Many families have difficulty coming up with the $1,000 or so needed to cover a year in a Chinese university. Rural families, with an annual income of less than $400, borrow money from relatives and save costs by doing thing like postponing medical care they need and eating less food. Students save money by not going home and borrowing rather than buying books.

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student protest Guangzhou in 2010

Chinese University Curriculum

China produces a higher ratio of science to humanities majors than almost any other nation. Non-science classes are concentered in politics and foreign languages. The curriculum largely ignores China’s centuries-old tradition of teaching morality and philosophical thought. The result are graduates that are well trained but often dismiss the human and moral side of issues. A typical graduate becomes a technocrat who supports grandiose engineering projects because they represent progress but don’t think deeply about the point of what they are doing.

Students usually listen to lectures. Discussions and seminars are rare, and in many cases discouraged. On subjects that deal with Communist ideology students are taught to memorize and authenticate what they learn not question, analyze, contemplate or investigate it. Exams that regurgitate learned material are often all that matters. Critical thinking and course work often count for little.

University students are required to take classes on Marxist theory. In recent years students have complained how out of step the Marxism courses are with the reality of modern China. Some universities use the time to teach Confucian values instead.

Software engineering schools have been established in 35 universities in China.

Chinese University Professors

Some Chinese professors spend a lot of time with students outside class time. They are more informal then and often have close relations with their students. Other Chinese professors don't even show up for their lectures because of off-campus business interests. Foreigners who gets jobs at Chinese universities complain they are often forced to teach twice as many hours as their Chinese counterparts.

One Japanese student who took a course at Beijing University that compared political systems told the Yomiuri Shimbun that the lecturer criticized the democratic system over and over and often ended the lecture by criticizing the United States and concluding that the Communist Party knows what is best for China. The student said a typical assignment was summarizing a 600 page book in about disarmament in two weeks.

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Professors in Shanghai the 1920s

University Class Life in China

Classrooms are not heated or air conditioned. In the winter students show up in their winter coats, scarves and gloves. Sometimes their ears and noses turn red and you can see their breath.

Describing his English literature class at Fuling Teachers College, Peter Hessler wrote in the New Yorker, "There were forty-five students to a class, all of them close together behind old wooden desks. Maintaining the room was their responsibility. They washed the blackboards between classes, and twice a week they cleaned the floor and windows. If the cleaning wasn't adequate, the class was fined."

"Students were fined for missing morning exercises, for skipping classes, for failing examinations, for returning late to their dormitories at night. Very few of them had money to spend in this way, so the class rooms were thoroughly cleaned."

"My students were never wary of impossible tasks. They would work at anything without complaint, probably because they knew that even the most difficult assignment was preferable to wading knee-deep in muck behind a water buffalo."

University Life in China

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University dormitory room
Most students live at home and commute to classes or live in crowded dormitories. A typical dormitory room has four or six students. Students find it difficult to study there and often go to the library at 5:00am to 6:00pm to secure seats. Many university blast the national anthem at 7:00am on public address sytems and require students to be out of their dormitories by 8:00am. The doors are locked and not reopened until 11:00am. Lights are turned off at 11:00pm.

Students used to perform military service and help with harvests. In recent years mandatory military training and manual farm labor requirements have been eased. These days they go to peasant villages for 10 days and watch.

Chinese students tend to study harder and party less than their American and British counterparts. Some engage in heavy drinking but not nearly to the degree and frequency found in American universities.

In their free time students read newspapers and magazines, surf the Internet in the campus computer lab, play ping pong and tennis. They usually don’t have the money to do much than that. On their vacations they return home and watch pirated DVDs of Hollywood films.

Students tend to live off of cup of noodles they buy at convenience stores and cheap meals they buy at university canteens or small restaurants near campus. Many have been spoiled by their families growing and have no idea how to cook or do housework.

At some university universities so many parents accompany their children to their first day of school as freshman that mats are set up on the gym floor for them to sleep on.

Problems with Chinese Universities

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returning from military training
Chinese universities have poor facilities: dormitory rooms that sleep eight, teaching materials bound by hand on reproduced on mimeograph machines, libraries with out-of-date books, overcrowded classrooms, professors earning less than cab drivers and textbooks that tow the party line. Many of China's universities were damaged and weakened during the Cultural Revolution.

Critics say the quality of teaching has suffered, in recent years, as universities have become more politicized and Communist Party officials have begub to view a senior academic position as a ticket to career success.

Higher education is tightly bound by ideological and political restraints. Professor Zhang Weiying of Peking University (known as “Beida”) told China Beat, “Beida can’t diversify the curriculum without autonomy or academic freedom. But the problem runs deeper than that. Many of the faculty don’t encourage creativity in their students  the aim is rather to get the right answer (the only one). New ideas are not encouraged. If you go through this system, professor Zhang continued, you will become narrowminded.” [Source: Alec Ash, China Beat, July 13, 2010]

Fake Diplomas

Many Chinese students have gotten into U.S. universities with fake diplomas and exams and essay written by persons other than themselves. In some cases the fake diplomas are used get study visas so the person holding them can work.

In Shenzhen or Beijing you can buy a bogus bachelor's degree, a fake student ID or phony transcripts for a Chinese or foreign university for less than $100.

In June 2006, university students in Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan Province, smashed offices and set fires in a riot triggered by administrative changes that meant they would graduate with less prestigious degrees. The students, who attended Shengda Economics, Trade and Management College, had been promised degree from Zhenghous University, which Shengda is affiliated, and then told they would not get that degree. .

The Institute of Business Administration in the town of Toulon France was investigated for giving out hundreds of diplomas to Chinese students in return for bribes.

Cheating in Chinese Universities

Academic cheating is a problem in China. In Beijing, you can pay people to take GMAT, SAT or TOEFL exams, write essays and forge transcripts. The cost of having a ringer sit in on a law or accountant exam is $120-240, for an English-language United States university entrance exam, $240-480.

People who take test are called gunmen. One translator who charges $600 a test and called himself the "GMAT King" said he had more work than he could handle. He told U.S. News and World Report, "I saw so many requests for gunmen on school bulletin boards that I thought it made sense for me to use my TOEFL skills for some extra bucks."

Cheating has a long history. Scholars in the imperial era sometimes cheated on the civil service exams by writing down answers on a special shirt worn under their robes. There also many stories in Chinese literature of promising students wh failed on the test because they were corrupted by women and alcohol.

Cheating on the college entrance exam is also a big problem. Many students use pagers and cell phones that have formulas and answers programmed in them. Some shops sell pagers with answers for that year’s exam programmed in. A videotape of a school in Hunan showed students passing around answer sheets and discussing test questions. Teachers in the room did nothing to stop them. There have also been reports of students giving their exams to teachers who answered the questions on the test and then fed the answers into pagers used by other students.

In June 2004, at least seven high school teachers in Henan Province were arrested for selling exam answers to their students. The teachers used cell phone text message to send answers to students taking the university entrance exams. In the scam students and teacher used text messages and digital cameras to pass questions to other teachers outside the exam room. These teachers figured out the answers and text messaged the answers back to students who had paid them.

New Universities in China

A number of new universities have opened up. Among them is SIAS International University, founded by Southern California hotel entrepreneur Shawn Chen in Xinzheng in Henan Province. Since it was founded in 1998 with less than $2 million, it has grown from 250 students to 16,000 students, many of whom say the chose SIAS because of the American-style campus life, which includes clubs and cheerleaders.

As of 2007 SIAS had 50 buildings, including a a Roman amphitheater, French and Italian restaurants, an administrative building with domed facade and a swimming stadium on 400 acres---twice the size of the campus of the University pf Southern California. Among is 700 member faculty are 100 foreign instructors, who are paid about $500 a month and receive free housing and plane tickets from their home country, mostly the United States.

Image Sources: 1) Louis Perrochon http://www.perrochon.com/photo/china/ ; 2, 3) Ohio State University; 4) Nolls China website http://www.paulnoll.com/China/index.html ; 5) Bucklin archives http://www.bucklinchinaarchive.com/ ; 6) Poco Pico blog ; Wikicommons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated April 2012

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