Last month people around the world were horrified at a video of a 2-year-old Chinese girl being hit by a truck and ignored as pedestrians walked by, only to be struck again and left in the street until an elderly woman finally went to help. The child died in a hospital; her parents were — like millions of workers in China — rural migrants who had come to the city (Foshan in southern China, in this case) seeking work. The child’s terrible death and the lack of any response sparked an impassioned discussion online on sites like Weibo (a Twitter-like social media site, Twitter being banned in China) about the demise of the national character.
Rising Numbers of Chinese Students at US Colleges and Universities
Contrast that indifference to the all-out doting and lavishing-on of resources devoted to the children of the newly wealthy in China. They are the “4-2-1″ children — with four grandparents and two parents to the one grandchild allowed by China’s one-child policy — and those six older relatives have spared no resources. The New York Times and the Chronicle of Higher Education have collaborated on an article about the new phenomenon of growing numbers of Chinese national students enrolling in US colleges. There are now 40,000 Chinese students in US colleges and universities, the largest group of international students. At the University of Delaware, 517 Chinese students enrolled this year, a sharp contrast to the 8 who did in 2007.
American schools, struggling with budget cuts and reduced federal and other funding, have been only too eager to admit these students who, as the scion of China’s still brand new middle class, pay full tuition. But the students’ levels of preparation has been mixed to say the least, with many having to take additional courses in English as a second language. While the Chinese students met admissions criteria for their English, professors encountering the students have found that many struggle to write in English and more than a few have been found plagiarizing. Scott Stevens, director of the English Language Institute at the University of Delaware’s Newark campus, recalls
…how one student memorized four Wikipedia entries so he could regurgitate whichever one seemed most appropriate on an in-class essay — an impressive, if misguided, feat. American concepts of intellectual property don’t translate readily to students from a country where individualism is anathema.
Many Chinese students rely on agencies that help them write college admission essays and present themselves as viable candidates to American universities.
Zinch China, a consulting company that advises American colleges and universities about China, last year published a report based on interviews with 250 Beijing high school students bound for the United States, their parents, and a dozen agents and admissions consultants. The company concluded that 90 percent of Chinese applicants submit false recommendations, 70 percent have other people write their personal essays, 50 percent have forged high school transcripts and 10 percent list academic awards and other achievements they did not receive. The “tide of application fraud,” the report predicted, will likely only worsen as more students go to America.
Tom Melcher, Zinch China’s chairman and the report’s author, says it’s simplistic to vilify agents who provide these services. They’re responding, he says, to the demands of students and parents.
One could say that these parents, more than dedicated to their child getting ahead, are the exact opposite of the parents of the 2-year-old toddler in Foshan. But there’s also something troubling about the Chinese middle class parents’ brash willingness to pay for fraudulent applications, to get their children into an American university where the students are not truly prepared to study.
The Newly Rich China
Both the lack of concern about a toddler dying in a Foshan street and the unhesitating push to get children into American schools are signs of China’s rapid modernization. James Alter writes that China’s industrial, technological and economic development has occurred so quickly that it’s as if the country has gone from the era of the Flintstones to the Jetsons in a very few years:
Deng Xiaoping, China’s former paramount leader, set the change in motion but never envisioned its speed; he thought it would take until the end of the 21st century. One of the Shanghai academics I spoke with this week said he thought China’s coming-out party as a great power at the 2008 Olympic Games was premature because the country’s cultural advancement hasn’t kept pace with its economic development. He compared China to a teenage boy — it had the body of a global power but the mind of a regional power.
The government’s testiness in international forums, military aggressiveness in the South China Sea, and continued thuggishness toward free expression at home all betray insecurity. Too often China still adopts a “none of our business” approach to assuming the burdens of global leadership on issues ranging from arms control to the balance of trade.
Europe is now courting China to have access to its $3.2 trillion foreign reserves to shore up the European Unions bailout fund. China has vast resources but also vast and growing gaps between the newly rich (who can in essence buy their children’s way into American universities) and the desperately poor (the migrant laborer parents of the 2-year-old). It is not only Europe that is eager for China’s resources: US colleges and universities are eager to have Chinese students whose parents can pay full tuition, to the extent that they are changing their teaching practices.
In our eagerness to have access to China’s resources, is Europe — are we — forgetting its long-standing record of human rights abuses and suppression of voices of dissent and calls for democratic reforms? Are we failing to recall that China is the country where a toddler could walk into a street and be struck by a car, all while people kept minding their own business?
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Screenshot of YouTube video of Foshan incident