Literature exam questions inspire nationalist outburst

Source: China Digital Times (3/29/24)
“Toxic” Literature Exam Questions Inspire Nationalist, Anti-Japanese Outburst

A middle school literature exam in Chengdu  has triggered the latest outburst of anti-Japanese nationalism. Students were asked to analyze an excerpt from “Fallen Azaleas,” an amateurish piece of fiction by the virtually unknown author and educator Li Jiaqian. The selection that went viral follows a Japanese colonel in World War II pursuing a band of Chinese Communist guerillas he holds responsible for the disappearance of his son. Nationalists accused Li—and Chengdu’s bureau of education—of insulting the legendary Eighth Route Army and glorifying Japan’s invasion of China. The author of the piece was subsequently sacked from his position as principal of a school in Henan, and the head of the education department in the Chengdu district that offered the exam has been suspended from duty.

But to many, the outrage over the “toxic” exam material rang hollow. WeChat author “Very Serious Zhang Doe” (@特正经的张某某 @Tèzhèngjīng de Zhāng Mǒumǒu), reflecting on the “idiocy” of nationalism, intimated that the most truly toxic materials taught in school are the “profound and glorious” writings of Mao Zedong:

Returning to my original point: why don’t I usually write about this stuff?

Because I think that discussing this kind of thing inevitably leads back to the screenshots below.

And is it even my generation’s place to discuss such profound and glorious material?

That’s why I don’t write [about “toxic” materials]. [Chinese] Continue reading

Genetics journal retracts 19 papers from China

The new announcement described below, of the retraction of multiple articles involving scientist’s abuse of ethnic minority people in China, comes right after Nature published a damning review of how slow the retraction process has often been, despite some scientists’ and editors’ recent awakening to the abuse:

“Unethical studies on Chinese minority groups are being retracted — but not fast enough, critics say. Campaigners who want scrutiny of biometrics research on Uyghurs, Tibetans and other groups are frustrated by slow progress.” By Dyani Lewis. Nature 625, 650-654 (2024). [24 January 2024 ].

See below for the latest batch of retractments of such abusive studies, mostly by scientists targeting Tibetans and Uyghurs; the scientists themselves being mostly Chinese and sometimes joined by Western collaborators, all of whom are now waking up to the absence of ethics in Chinese science in the era of China’s genocidal policies against Tibetans and Uyghurs.

Magnus Fiskesjö <>

Source: The Guardian (2/14/24)
Genetics journal retracts 18 papers from China due to human rights concerns
Researchers used samples from populations deemed by experts and campaigners to be vulnerable to exploitation, including Uyghurs and Tibetans
By Amy Hawkins, Senior China correspondent

A genetics journal from a leading scientific publisher has retracted 18 papers from China, in what is thought to be the biggest mass retraction of academic research due to concerns about human rights.

The articles were published in Molecular Genetics & Genomic Medicine (MGGM), a genetics journal published by the US academic publishing company Wiley. The papers were retracted this week after an agreement between the journal’s editor in chief, Suzanne Hart, and the publishing company. In a review process that took over two years, investigators found “inconsistencies” between the research and the consent documentation provided by researchers. Continue reading

Rocky road for HK academics

Source: Hong Kong Free Press (1/20/24)
Opinion: Rocky road for those Hong Kong academics who are out of tune with the times
“It is difficult to feel optimistic about the future of Hong Kong universities generally if they are to be the playthings of political appointees who are unwilling or unable to respect the limits of their powers and rights,” writes Tim Hamlett.

An amusing coincidence last week. A kind friend sent me an interesting op ed piece from the China Daily about recent events at Harvard University, where the president recently resigned under pressure from major donors.

Students at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. File photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Students at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. File photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

The writer of this piece mentioned, in passing, how lucky we were that such a thing could not happen in Hong Kong, because our universities enjoyed autonomy and were immune to interference from the government.

I proceeded to breakfast and the morning paper, which announced that the Vice Chancellor of the Chinese University of Hong Kong had resigned a few days into what was supposed to be a three-year contract.

The resigning V.C., Rocky Tuan, made all the usual polite noises: honour to serve… time is ripe… grateful to all concerned for their support. The chairman of the university council also made the usual polite noises: university is grateful … outstanding leadership, etc, etc, etc.

And behind all this, as the local media reported with varying degrees of candour, was a four-year campaign by the pro-government camp to get rid of Prof Tuan, who had, in 2019, not found the safe course for university leaders in a time of crisis, which was to hide in the office and say nothing. Continue reading

US-China student exchanges

Source: NYT (11/28/23)
Can U.S.-China Student Exchanges Survive Geopolitics?
The flow of students between the countries has been a mainstay of their relationship, even when ties have soured. Now these exchanges, too, are under threat.
By Vivian Wang

A visitor at an American college fair, holding an orange tote bag, posing for a photo next to a mascot of a bald eagle with sunglasses.

At a college fair in Beijing organized by the American Embassy. Credit…Gilles Sabrié for The New York Times

On a cool Saturday morning, in a hotel basement in Beijing, throngs of young Chinese gathered to do what millions had done before them: dream of an American education.

At a college fair organized by the United States Embassy, the students and their parents hovered over rows of booths advertising American universities. As a mascot of a bald eagle worked the crowd, they posed eagerly for photos.

But beneath the festive atmosphere thrummed a note of anxiety. Did America still want Chinese students? And were Chinese students sure they wanted to go to America?

“We see the negative news, so it’s better to be careful,” said Zhuang Tao, the father of a college senior considering graduate school in the United States, Australia and Britain. He had read the frequent headlines about gun violence, anti-Asian discrimination and, of course, tensions between the United States and China, at one of their highest levels in decades. “After all, the entire situation is a bit complicated.”

Students have been traveling between China and the United States for generations, propelled by ambition, curiosity and a belief that their time abroad could help them better their and their countries’ futures. The first Chinese student to graduate from an American university, Yung Wing, arrived at Yale in 1850 and later helped send 120 more students to America. Continue reading

Viral mockery of official inspection tours

Source: China Digital Times (10/25/23)
Students to Receive ‘Proper Guidance’ after Viral Mockery of Official Inspection Tours

An undergraduate’s video mimicking official “inspection” tours has become a flashpoint of discussion over cadres’ imperious attitudes and the reflexive deference shown to them in society. Shot on the campus of Yunnan State Land Resources Vocational College, the short video features a student clad in what might be called “cadre chic” (厅局风, tīngjú fēng) strolling around the site with a retinue of retainers. The undergraduate recreates official mannerisms—peering, pointing, pontificating. The performance as a whole was realistic enough to convince the school’s staff. This video splices together scenes from the original:

After the film went viral, the school did not move to punish the students but did say it would provide them “proper guidance” on their actions. The phrase raised eyebrows online. The WeChat essayist @亮见 suggested that it was school officials, not the students, who need a reckoning with their actions:

It’s not the students who need “proper guidance” but rather the school. Upon hearing of the arrival of a seemingly unannounced official, everyone’s first reaction—from the students to the lunch ladies, all the way up to the school president—was either to be slavishly cooperative and deferential, or to begin nervously working the phones to figure out who, exactly, had arrived for an inspection. Continue reading

Tibet’s colonial boarding schools

Source: China Digital Times (10/6/23)
Interview with Lhadon Tethong on Tibet’s Colonial Boarding Schools: “They Are Stealing an Entire Generation”

In December 2021, Tibet Action Institute (TAI) issued a report “Separated from Their Families, Hidden From the World,” exposing a vast system of boarding schools for Tibetan children that aims to assimilate them into Han Chinese culture and society by cutting off their ties to their families, culture, language, and religion, and replacing Tibetan educational content with political indoctrination. The government has shut down local Tibetan schools, and now young students are sometimes forced to travel hundreds of miles away from home to get an education. According to official figures, 800,000 children, or 78% of Tibetan children aged 6-18, are in these schools. Dr. Gyal Lo, an educational sociologist, has also discovered that Tibetan children as young as four have been sent to preschool boarding schools, the existence of which the Chinese government has never acknowledged. Gyal Lo has visited 50 such schools, and estimates that more than 100,000 children between the ages of four and six are housed in these institutions. He estimates that approximately one million Tibetan children are housed in boarding schools. As TAI director Lhadon Tethong says, “They have essentially just removed all the Tibetan, and Sinicized and politicized every aspect of the education. It’s all Xi Jinping Thought.”

In the second part of our interview with Lhadon Tethong, she describes the circumstances under which so many Tibetan children ended up in these schools, and what the impact is on the children, their families, and Tibetan communities. Read the first part of our interview here.

China Digital Times: You mentioned earlier the boarding schools and the education system, and how that’s being used as a form of control. The Tibet Action Institute report found that at least 800,000 children, or 78% of all Tibetan children, are studying in boarding schools. And, like with the colonial boarding schools that previously existed for indigenous children in the U.S. and Canada and elsewhere, the schools are a way to force assimilation. Can you explain more how so many children ended up in these schools? And what is the process by which families send their children there?

Lhadon Tethong: We were quite stunned when a Tibetan who actually grew up in a boarding school in Tibet a long time ago, and who completed education under the Chinese system, was researching these issues, and roughly estimated 900,000 Tibetan kids in boarding schools. These are 6-18 year olds in Tibet, as Tibetans know Tibet, on the Tibetan Plateau. That number was shocking to some of us. Continue reading

“Good morning, class. I am not a spy”

Source: China Digital Times (9/21/23)
“Good Morning, Class! I Am Not a Spy”

In this screenshot, a bearded teacher (whose face is partially obscured) wearing a black t-shirt stands next to a projection screen. The slide presentation on screen reads: “2 most important facts: I am American. I am not a spy.”

“2 most important facts: I am American. I am not a spy.”

A photo of an American teacher introducing himself to a Chinese university class with a slide presentation proclaiming, “I am not a spy” has gone viral, eliciting much mirth online. It also highlights an increasingly tense atmosphere in which suspicions of spying abound, teachers face being reported by their students for minor ideological infractions, and the Chinese government is attempting to mobilize the whole of society to fight espionage.

On September 15, Xiaohongshu user ~十号草莓酱” (~Shí hào cǎoméijiàng” or ~Strawberry Jam No. 10″) shared this photo of an American instructor at Shanghai Normal University’s Tianhua College:

CDT Chinese editors have compiled some comments from Weibo and other social media platforms in response to instructor’s precautionary presentation: Continue reading

Media Gaffes

Source: China Digital Times (9/15/23)
Recent Media Gaffes Say Quiet Parts Out Loud on Sensitive History and Current Anxiety

By inadvertently “saying the quiet part out loud,” three recent media gaffes have touched off public debate on questions usually left unspoken. For some Chinese social media users, these blunders have provided an opportunity to discuss the problems of wage stagnation, official corruption or indifference, politically sensitive dates, and the paradoxes of online censorship and self-censorship.

One gaffe involved state media outlet People’s Daily censoring a video it had produced to promote the upcoming Asian Games, which will be held from September 23-October 8 in Hangzhou. The video, “A Literary Exploration of Hangzhou,” contained two classical poems with politically awkward subtexts that the producers had apparently overlooked. One of the poems, containing references to “June” and “four seasons” had been used by some activists to get around censorship of the June 4, 1989 Tiananmen crackdown. As Helen Davidson reported for the Guardian, the other poem that raised eyebrows was a thinly-veiled satire of corrupt and callous officialdom:

Written in the 12th century, it is interpreted as a criticism of the Song Dynasty rulers, accusing corrupt officials of fleeing troubled lands to Hangzhou, and ignoring the struggles and crises of regular people while they drunkenly enjoy their own lives.

The poem itself is widely known and not censored, but commenters noted its inclusion suggested the video producers hadn’t realised the descriptions of people partying in Hangzhou was political satire.

[…] The video containing both poems was quickly taken down, but not before it was viewed at least 130,000 times across the People’s Daily and another state media account, according to censorship monitoring site, Free Weibo. Several other accounts also shared the video. A hashtag promoted alongside it no longer returns any results. [Source] Continue reading

Boarding Schools in Tibet

Source: (9/4/23)
Learning to be Chinese: Boarding Schools in Tibet
By Bruce Humes

In a recently published research articleLearning to be Chinese: colonial-style boarding schools on the Tibetan plateau, James Leibold and Tenzin Dorjee examine this vast network where “Tibetan children are placed in around-the-clock state care with little access to their home communities.”

A few factoids they cite help to give an idea of what this really means:

  • During the 1990s, autonomous regions at various administrative levels enacted local regulations supporting Tibetan-medium education;
  • Over the last two decades, the medium of instruction in ‘bilingual’ schools has gradually shifted towards Chinese. Since 2019, Putonghua has become the official medium of instruction at the primary school level in the Tibetan Autonomous Region;
  • At least 800,000 Tibetan children, 78 percent of Tibetan students, live and study in state boarding schools, more than triple the nationwide average for boarding school students;
  • Some schools are over 400 kilometers from students’ homes, with the average distance being 60 kilometers, meaning parental visits are limited to special occasions.

The current emphasis on “what the CCP calls ‘patriotic education’ seeks to instill the ‘five identifications’ (五个认同) from childhood: identification with and loyalty to the motherland, Zhonghua race-nation, Zhonghua culture, the Chinese Communist Party, and socialism with Chinese characteristics.”

Under Xi Jinping, the Tibet model is apparently being implemented — with certain localized twists — in both Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia. One wonders: How successful will it be in shaping non-Han children into mainstream Chinese citizens? And given the disturbing results of forced colonial-style schooling of indigenous peoples that took place in the United States, Canada and Australia in the 19th century and even fairly late into the 20th century, what sort of post-schooling traumas can one expect to see emerge?

Diasporic Chinese Museums talk series

Diasporic Chinese Museums Network Initiative Public Talk Series

Talk One

Museum across borders: toward a dialogical approach to museum representations of Chinese diasporas around the world

Date: Tue 22 August 2023
Time: 12:00 pm to 13:30 pm (BST)
Venue: Online
Zoom ID: 839 0520 6326
Password: 12345
Or click on the link here:

Chair: Associate Professor Yow Cheun Hoe, Chinese Heritage Centre, Nanyang Technological University
Speaker: Dr. Cangbai Wang, University of Westminster

Museum has become a vital platform of making and preserving diasporic heritage, articulating identities and negotiating the relationship between diasporas and the homeland. This talk first outlines the emerging landscape of diasporic Chinese museums around the world. Next, it introduces a dialogical approach to museums that underpins the ‘Global Diasporic Chinese Museums Initiative’ project. It argues for the value and urgency of developing a global network as a platform for open and interdisciplinary dialogue between academics and museum professionals on this important but so far under-studied topic. By initiating and facilitating dialogues across geographic and national boundaries, the project seeks to generate new insight on the research and practice of diasporic museum and heritage in the diasporic Chinese context and beyond. Continue reading

New patriotic education law (1)

China’s new patriotic education law will try to enforce patriotic education in institutions, schools, religious communities, businesses, and homes, and to extend patriotic education to Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, overseas Chinese, and the internet. The history of the PRC has included many ideological indoctrination campaigns. They are symptoms of the Party-State’s preoccupation with the decay of socialist and/or nationalist values. They emerge when officialist values have faded away.

This is not a new phenomenon. Chapter 18 of the DAODEJING seems to suggest that official attempts to promote official values has been a constant in Chinese political philosophy. Daoist texts often parody or satirise official Confucian texts and mores. Chapter 18 seems to say that such attempts arrive when it’s already too late, preaching moral virtues after they’ve decayed away:

大道廢,有仁義;智慧出,有大偽;六親不和,有孝慈;國家昏亂,有忠臣—道德經, 十八

When the great dao (大道 dàdào) falls out of use, humanitarianism (仁 rén) and moral obligation (義 ) are preached. When knowledge (智慧 zhìhuì) spreads, (偽 wěi) artifice (falsity, hypocrisy) appears. When the harmony in family relationships (六親 liùqīn, the 6 relationships) falls asunder, the obligations between parents and children (孝慈 xiàocí) are preached. When the country falls into disorder (亂 luàn), ministers are told to be loyal (忠臣 zhōngchén).

Daodejing, 18

Closing the stable after the horse has bolted?

Sean Golden

Don’t be so picky about a job

Source: NYT (8/8/23)
Don’t Be So Picky About a Job, China’s College Graduates Are Told
Under pressure from Beijing, Chinese schools have been told to do more to secure jobs for students, who are facing bleak prospects.
By Claire Fu and 

A large crowd of students, some walking down steps, walk on a building’s plaza after taking a college-entrance exam.

Students in eastern China after the first day of the national college entrance exams in June. The country’s youth unemployment rate has doubled in the last four years. Credit…Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

At this year’s commencement ceremony for the Chongqing Metropolitan College of Science and Technology in southwestern China, the graduating class did not receive the usual lofty message to pursue their dreams. Instead, they were dealt a harsh dose of reality.

“You must not aim too high or be picky about work,” said Huang Zongming, the college’s president, to more than 9,000 graduates in June. “The opportunities are fleeting.”

A record number of Chinese college graduates are entering the job market, exacerbating an already bleak employment outlook for the country’s young people. The confluence is deepening one of the most intractable issues keeping the world’s second-largest economy from regaining its vibrancy.

China’s unemployment rate for 16- to 24-year-olds in urban areas hit a record 21.3 percent in June. The numbers for July are expected to be even higher as the next wave of graduates officially transitions from students to job seekers. Continue reading

New patriotic education law

Source: The China Project (8/1/23)
China’s new Patriotic Education Law reveals Xi’s deepest fears for the future
China is attempting to codify patriotic education practices into law, with extensive reach. When passed, the implications will extend beyond its borders.
By Kathy Huang and Kay Zou

Illustration for The China Project by Alex Santafé

Last month, a draft of the “People’s Republic of China Patriotic Education Law” was introduced to the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, China’s top legislative body. The expansive law contains 37 clauses that set forth the enforcement of patriotic education in a variety of institutions, including schools, religious communities, businesses, and families.

The new law codifies existing practices, but more importantly it expands its scope to include Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, overseas Chinese, and the internet. In short, it indicates what the party feels are its biggest vulnerabilities for the future control of China: the youth, cyberspace, and Chinese communities beyond the mainland.

A tried and true tactic

Since its founding, the People’s Republic of China has promoted several ideological indoctrination campaigns, the most extensive being the patriotic education campaign of the 1990s.

In the aftermath of the Tiananmen massacre, the Chinese state recognized that the demise of Communist ideology internationally and democratic tendencies domestically threatened the foundation of its legitimacy. The party turned to state-led nationalism to revive its popularity. The campaign, which gained full momentum in the fall of 1994, focused on re-educating the youths, who led the Tiananmen protests. It contained three broad goals: the institutionalization of patriotic education, the reforms in history education, and the construction of patriotic public monuments. Continue reading

Academic poaching

Source: The China Project (7/28/23)
Inside China’s annual academic poaching competition
Every summer, China’s top two universities, Beida and Tsinghua, go to war. The competition is intense, like Division I powerhouses in the U.S. recruiting the same five-star athletes, only Beida and Tsinghua are after the country’s best students.
By Justin Olsvik

Illustration for The China Project by Derek Zheng

Each year, within minutes of the posting of the national college examination (gāokǎo 高考) results, a fierce battle erupts in provinces across China. The fight is not between students, though, but between two of China’s most admired institutions: Tsinghua and Peking University.

Armies of phone operators barrage families with calls. Teams of recruiters that were dispatched in the preceding days have already established “bases” in hotel conference rooms, ready at a moment’s notice to pick up the candidates from their homes and bring them in to be wooed and pressured into signing on. Each school has the goal of recruiting the country’s top academic performers to boost their respective minimum entrance requirements — the higher the threshold, the more prestigious their reputation.

And indeed, the prestige these universities enjoy within the borders of the country is difficult to understate, coming as a surprise to many foreigners. Chinese society holds formal education in high regard, and Tsinghua and Peking (usually referred to colloquially as Beida) are in a league of their own, verging on legendary. There are just over 3,000 universities in mainland China, and “TsingBei” (à la “Oxbridge”) top the school rankings from both Chinese and Western assessments every year. Crowds of tourists can be seen year-round snapping selfies at the gates, and mentioning to someone that you come from the alma mater of Lǐ Kèqiáng 李克强 (Beida) or Xi Jinping (Tsinghua) is a ticket to instant approval. Entry to all that glory is largely based on a single number from each hopeful applicant — their gaokao score. Continue reading

Shanhe University

Source: The China Project (7/18/23)
Shanhe University is the perfect Chinese college. Except it doesn’t exist.
How a made-up university in China became a viral meme — and revealed education inequality in the country.
By Zhao Yuanyuan

Illustration for The China Project by Derek Zheng

Normally, it takes decades — sometimes centuries — for a college to gain fame and build a reputation. But Shanhe University is an exception. Launched in early June, the institution has already emerged as the ultimate dream school for many students in China, with some showing off their acceptance letters on social media and envisioning a fulfilling college experience at the institution, which boasts an ultra-modern campus, an accomplished faculty, and a roster of well-designed programs, according to its website.

It’s the perfect college in every way…except that it’s not real. And those who posted about it in the past few weeks aren’t delusional. “Everyone is in it for the joke,” said Xingheng, who asked to be referred to only by his first name. Having posted about the school as part of what he described as a “low-key social movement,” the 20-year-old college student from Shandong Province told The China Project, “Shanhe University is more than just a meme; it is a meme with a purpose.”

From a single comment to an online sensation

The origin of Shanhe University can be traced to a single comment that a Weibo user made in late June, after China’s 2023 national college entrance examination, commonly known as the gāokǎo 高考, concluded on June 9 and students began filling college applications based on their estimated scores. Continue reading