1999, students were at the forefront of another mass protest. This
one being against the U.S. bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade.
They burned flags, threw stones and called for Clinton's head on
a platter. Most recently, after the plane fiasco off Hainan, students
again grumbled, but did not take to the streets – the government
persuaded them it was not in their or the nation's interest and
lot has changed in a decade.
of worrying about students burning down Chinese government buildings,
the Communist Party has to keep them from burning down foreign (read
US) government buildings.
campus conditions haven't changed much. Students still live eight
to a dorm that would house two in the US. Electricity is turned
off in many universities after 7 p.m. and it is not reliable to
begin with. Students study outside or in the library – the one light
bulb hanging from the ceiling just doesn't put out enough light.
They get up at 6 a.m. for morning exercises, stand in line for hot
water, then get ready for 8a.m. class. There is a curfew – even
for postgraduates – at 11pm (11:30 on Friday and Saturday) and if
you are not inside on time, tough luck, the door lady won't let
conditions depend on the income of the university and the region,
but curfews, electrical and water problems and overcrowded dorms
are common throughout China. Universities which receive money directly
from the State Education Commission enjoy a few perks, such as foreign
teachers, exchange programs, pretty buildings and parks and big
dance halls. But even these "key" schools serve low quality
food in their canteens and house eight to a dorm.
still is not democratic, save for scattered village level elections.
Corruption is still around – even after the execution of several
top officials for accepting bribes last year. Chinese media still
distorts reality and jobs are even more scarce than they were in
why aren't the students camped out underneath Mao's face in Beijing?
a student in China is a rough job. As soon as kids enter middle
school, around age 13, the fun ends and the servitude begins. Day
in and day out – Saturdays and Sundays included – students rise
at 5:30 (or earlier, depending on the school) and either prepare
for class or have dawn class. They attend classes from 8am to 5pm.
Almost all children have parent-organized extra-curricular activities
such as piano lessons, dancing, arhu lessons, English etc.
it starts all over again. Classes are geared toward one goal: passing
the high school entrance exam. A high score means entry into a better
high school, which in turn means a better chance at gaining a spot
in a university. Today, spaces in colleges, universities and other
post-secondary adult education programs total about 6 million. There
are almost 100 million young people of college age and less than
5 percent of them are enrolled in a university or college.
competition is extremely fierce – less than half of a class will
reach high school and less than a fourth of a high school class
will get into a university. If students thought middle school was
tough, they were taught the meaning of the word during high school.
Students often live in the high school and spend every waking hour
with noses in books. Studying involves rote memorization and recitation
of exam material.
became study machines," says Li Jing. "My world revolved
around the classroom, the dorm and the eating hall."
"Black July" rolls around (the term for College Entrance
Exam month) students are delirious and desperately waiting for word
of acceptance. They all have dreams of college life laced with girlfriends
and boyfriends, freedom, intellectual stimulation and relaxation.
this is not the case. Students are forbidden from having relationships
(although this doesn't hinder them in the least) and curfews are
strictly enforced. If a student misses enough morning exercises
(at 6 am), their grades are docked. The exam system is still firmly
in place and, as described above, dorm life is decidedly unappealing.
are also extremely competitive. Students face unemployment, low
wages (or sometimes none at all if they happen to be a teacher)
and no job security like in the good old days when they graduate.
competition here may kill me," said Ma Feng one day. "But
if I die then it is a good thing for China because then someone
better than me has survived."
still lack interest and innovation: "Deng XiaoPing Thought"
and "Marxism-Leninism" are sleepers as well as the basic
computer skills and applied economics courses which all students
are required to take. English is also required and the College English
Test is the bane of most students' existence. English curriculum
in high school and middle school is poor and it doesn't improve
much at the higher levels, but that's for another column.
cannot pick their major. Upon taking the College Entrance Exam,
students list three universities and three majors. Many students
pick one major and one university they want, and two they don't
really care for. Tuition is lower for majors the nation "needs"
such as soil science, accounting, teaching, chemistry and computer
science – so students invariably pick one of these.
the time students reach college, the last thing they want to do
is rush into the street to protest corruption, leaky dorms or bad
canteen food. They care little for politics and just want to relax
a bit, go to the net-bar and chat all night, eat and drink with
friends and laugh.
today are quite aware of the inequities of the Communist Party and
the media, they just don't care about these things as much as they
care about having as much fun as possible before they are thrown
out of college and into a job market that can't support them.