Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon? Why China Has the Best (and Worst) Education System in the World by Young Zhao

1. Fooling China, Fooling the World: Illusions of Excellence

  • Yong gives a brief summary of Chinese history from 1912 to today. In essence, China has been an authoritarian operation all along. Today they are still a monarchy of sorts with the monarch being the Communist party rather than a person. Their recent economic success has caused many in the West to wish we could be more like China where one party can impose the politically difficult but critically important policies needed to move the society forward. China’s success on international exams like PISA has caused many Western educators to want to out educate China, and do it the Chinese way. While it is risky to debate politics in China, education is discussed freely and virtually no one in China believes it has the best education system. Just about anyone who can sends their kid to study overseas, and education has been widely recognized as the primary culprit for China’s lack of creative and innovative talents. The West’s current infatuation with China’s educational system betrays a shallow understanding of a very old and complex culture. Short-term outcomes are confused with long-term sustainable progress. Yong believes that the only way China will win the global competition of the future is if the West begins educating the way China does.

2. The Emperors’ Game: A Perfect Machine for Homogenization

  • In AD 605, the Chinese began a testing system called keju that was used to select the scholar-officials who helped the emperor run the country. This system wasn’t abolished until 1905. The tests were open to all and were norm referenced so only the best test takers made it to the top of the bureaucracy. It allowed for social mobility and prevented children of high officials from automatically inheriting positions. This system joined gunpowder, the compass, paper, and movable type as China’s five great inventions.
  • The downside of the keju system was that it rewarded obedience, encouraged compliance, and fostered homogeneous thinking. Since the tests contained no math or science content, China’s brightest were diverted from experimentation and innovation. Memorization was valued over independent thinking. While China used its great inventions for frivolous reasons like fireworks, the West appropriated them for war and conquest. It turned out that the keju system was the root cause for China’s defeat.
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