Co-authors: Yi Luo & Liangyu Pang
The warm spring has come, and as I walk through the campus, I suddenly notice the colorful flowers blooming everywhere. A poem suddenly comes to mind, “Suddenly I came upon a peach blossom forest.” “Peach Blossom Garden” is a sacred place that has been passed down in Chinese literature for 1,600 years, a utopia that everyone wish to go to. The plants grow well, and people are happy. When the author Tao Yuanming wrote this article, everyone in his world longed for a happy and peaceful life. In times of war and chaos, people would escape to the peach blossom source to live in seclusion. Although life was peaceful, they were trapped in this isolated world and cut off from the outside world, to the extent that they “knew nothing of the Han, nor did they care about Wei and Jin”. The “Peach Blossom Source (Han, Wei, Jin are dynasties in Chinese history)” is just like the “Garden of Eden” in the Bible. When people are immersed in this brief and beautiful environment, their thoughts become constrained, to the point that they cannot leave this town. The history of the Qing Dynasty being oppressed by foreign powers constantly warns people of the dangers of being isolated. In the following centuries, the openness and popularization of education demonstrated the country’s determination not to fall behind the other countries, but significant progress is always accompanied by obstacles.
In the movie “The Big Short,” there is a Chinese character who is described as “Chinese Mathematical Olympiad champion” and “doesn’t speak English” to increase the authority of his mathematical results. It seems that being good at math has become a label for Chinese people. Being good at math is not a bad thing, and in addition, it makes learning science easier and more efficient. Before coming to the United States, I had already heard about this stereotype. I didn’t hate this stereotype, and in fact, in my first semester, I chose an FYS course and it was about math. But after reading some articles, I found that people’s stereotype is not only about being good at math, but in many ways, these evaluations may be offensive. In many movies, people who are good at math and other STEM disciplines are often described as “nerds,” “people who only study,” and “freaks.” In many people’s minds, Chinese people are like computers. They are mastering calculations, but they are not good at design and creation.
As an international student who has come across the sea to study, I am deeply conflicted. On the one hand, I always want to disabuse these stereotypes, but on the other hand, some facts prevent me from speaking out. Looking back at myself, I cannot say that I am good at math, but I am only familiar with math. I want to communicate, but I am also silent because of my poor English expression. It seems that I have become a sinner who deepens stereotypes rather than a hero who breaks them. Thinking back to my educational experience, I dealt with various subjects in school and struggled with homework late at night after class in middle school. In high school, I attended the international department of a high school, watching my fellows prepare for the college entrance exam six days a week. It didn’t seem strange that they were good at studying and not good at expressing themselves.
Then, I left China, went to university to study both ancient and modern subjects, and to explore both Chinese and foreign cultures. While feeling grateful for the progress of education in China, I gradually became aware of its shortcomings. The intensity of education competition can be seen from the brutal expansion of tutoring classes and the rush of people to settle down in big cities to access better education. In this fierce competition, everyone has been more or less instilled with the idea that academic achievements are everything, which has led to a high degree of similarity among Chinese students.
Resources are limited, and education is like a door between urban and rural areas in China. One side of people hopes to open the door while the other side tightly holds it. The difficulty of reform can be seen from the problem of “opening the door” in education. However, this door will not be closed forever and will gradually open with the progress of society.
The inequality in Chinese society is like a siege. Those people inside wanting to go out and those outside wanting to go in. In some places, family background can somehow lower the requirement of academic achievement, as seen in the household registration policy. Every year in China, many children from indigent areas go to the urban cities through exams, but this is not an easy task, and it takes a lot of effort to overcome resource inequalities. Taking Tsinghua University and Peking University as examples, these two universities have lower admission scores for Beijing students, while children from other regions must work much harder to catch up with them with higher scores. For children from remote poor areas, the only way to change their lives is through hard study and leaving the so-called “poor mountains and bad waters.” The discussions on the “small-town test takers” on the Chinese internet are a description of this social phenomenon. For these hard-working students, the increasing social attention also represents that their situation is known to more people.
Although opportunities for compulsory education are universal, and everyone, regardless of wealth, has the chance to go to school and change their lives, it does not mean that compulsory education is suitable for every student. Everyone is put into an arena, and regardless of whether they are skilled in fighting, everyone is required to compete on the subjects tested in the college entrance examination. Those from wealthy families and with a strong interest in learning go to prestigious schools to ensure they have more probability of admission to good universities. Students from poor backgrounds and with no interest in school courses go to ordinary schools and go with the flow, and their chances of entering higher education institutions are relatively lower due to their limited educational resources. After higher education, people are assigned different treatment based on social needs and their own knowledge, which further solidifies class divisions. As an outsider living in Beijing, I am naturally separated from the Beijing natives. I can only slowly change my own path, find a different direction, and find my own place. Under the pressure of educational inequality, we can only change slowly. In recent years, the crackdown on tutoring classes has also shown the country’s resistance to educational inequality.
I believe that in the future, with the development of thought and economy, Chinese students, regardless of wealth, will be able to break free from all stereotypes and live the ways they want, instead of fighting in this narrow path to higher education.