Posts tagged China

My thoughts in the late 1980s on China’s pedagogy

The following is part of a paper I wrote for my education professor back in the winter of 1989. I had just returned from Harbin, China the summer of 1988 and wanted to finish my M.A. degree at the University of Minnesota.  I already knew what my thesis paper was going to be on.  I was looking at the learning styles of Chinese students in the academic setting in the U.S. and how they necessarily made their adjustments to our kind of pedagogy. I had three roommates who were Chinese, one from mainland and the other two from Taiwan. I was surrounded by a campus that had over 800 Chinese students studying at Minnesota.  That was the biggest delegation of Chinese students at an American university, it still may be 25 years later.

The reason I am writing this on my blog is to find out from people in Kazakhstan whether there are any similarities or differences in what I wrote yesterday and today.  I welcome your comments.

“My last point is how the Chinese students view grammar and vocabulary as all important. Since I taught in the Institute of Technology (Chinese version of M.I.T.), I had students in the sciences. Their knowledge of the technical language of English was very specific and specialized. They maybe knew 3,000 to 4,000 English words but did not know how to put words together to speak one sentence. Their want to amass a huge vocabulary in English probably goes back to their own having to learn so many Chinese characters from such an early age. There are about 50,000 characters in the Chinese dictionary, to be considered an intellectual you need to know about 15,000 of those characters. The common Chinese person to read the newspaper needs to know about 3,000 characters. Therefore, there is a heavy emphasis on knowing words and grammar.

The Chinese teachers who had to teach English to their classes clung desperately to the small part of text and made sure they knew all the grammar points possible.  This goes back to the teacher being the absolute authority and in total command of the classroom. If the students should even dare to ask that the teacher might not know how to answer, the teacher would most assuredly lose face. This was to be avoided at all costs so they presumed that we, as native speakers of English, knew all the answers to English grammar. (smile) We were asked a lot of grammar questions.

Our American approach to foreign language study is different in that we would still pay attention to grammar and vocabulary but more so to application of the language. Trial and error is permissible in the American setting and this goes back to the student-centered concept of learning.  (It also hearkens back to our land was created by many immigrant groups who arrived and struggled to learn English as their second language)

After many attempts at changing from Confucian thoughts, through surviving revolutions, the Confucian influence is still prevalent within the Chinese classroom. It continues to be teacher-centered, textbook-centered and grammar-centered. Perhaps the Chinese will try to adopt some of our teaching methodologies to aid in their attempt to quickly learn the English language. However, I believe that for the most part, education is culture bound. The Chinese culture can no more get rid of Confucian ways any more than we can relinquish Socratic influences in our own educational system. The two are very dissimilar and yet both methodologies have the same goal in mind, to teach those that want to learn.”

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Thoughts about China in the late 1980s

The following is a two part series, today and tomorrow. I had just come back from China and was enrolled in Dr. Robert Beck’s education class at the University of Minnesota on the Minneapolis campus.  I wrote this essay the winter of 1989. The Tiananmen Square incident was waiting to happen in the spring. I had two years of teaching in China and did not know what was going on under the surface for many of my university students as well as all throughout China.  See what you think might be similar or different from Kazakhstan and their teaching methodologies.

During my two years of teaching English in China, I learned a lot about my own teaching. Of course I had taken courses in college to learn “how” to teach as all good American teachers are taught to do.  However, when I went to China, it was not uncommon for American teachers to compare notes on “how” the Chinese teachers taught. So close yet to the years of the Cultural Revolution atrocities, these Chinese teachers had been programmed by the Communist party on “what” to teach. Many of the older teachers in my Foreign Language Department had taught Russian before. Now they had learned English as yet another foreign language and were expected to teach that. They were affectionately termed “Russian Retreads” by a fellow American teacher. I lived in Harbin, China which is close to Russia and had been pioneered and industrialized by the Russians less than 100 years ago. The White Russians who had fled from Russia after 1917 were very influential in Harbin.

My teaching experience in Harbin may be uncommon to most other parts of China in many ways, but the same Chinese method of teaching was used in all the classrooms. The following quote from one of my writing students last year will show that he noted a difference in methods of teaching. I do admit it is complimentary to me and that is why I copied it from his journal to mine. But I use his own words because the difference in teaching had not escaped him and I am sure he had not been taught that there was a difference in our methodologies.

“I feel happy and relaxed when we have foreign teacher’s class. I don’t know the reason; perhaps their method of teaching is success[ful]. I am used to the custom of Chinese; the total feeling is the serious, lack of humor. Maybe because of this, the young students lack an inventive ability. So I think we not only learn knowledge from foreign teachers but learn the bright and cheerful disposition.”

I will give a brief overview of the difference between the Chinese and American methodologies of teaching. First of all, instruction in the American classroom is student-centered. The teacher learns how to elicit thinking by asking the students questions and validating each response as a valuable contribution to the class. For the Chinese instructor, the me-centered responses and judgments made by the students are irrelevant. In China, education is teacher-centered and only the teacher has valid judgments. The teacher gives out pre-packaged information. According to John Dewey, supposedly the father of western education, he believed that teaching was a way of stimulating students to do their own thinking. The learners are encouraged to discover answers on their own after the teacher has facilitated in making the information available to them to process.

This was obvious to me after I would ask a series of questions about the material and have my Chinese students’ faces turned down, too afraid to respond. To try to get a discussion going was not easy, in fact, near impossible. They were so ready for me as the teacher to pour the information into their opened heads.

The second difference that I saw which goes along with my first point is that I would seek differing points of view only to get the prevailing party line. In China, the teacher has absolute authority, because in the States the teacher encourages a diversity of opinions. I would have my students give speeches on different subjects and soon I heard the same political statement over and over again. If I, as the American teacher, was not going to be the absolute authority, what came through in their speeches was pure, party doctrine. According to Clark Kerr and what he wrote in 1978, the Chinese government has taught them since they were in day care centers and kindergarten what to say and do.

The third view that I saw prevalent in the classroom which was different from what I was accustomed to was that any given body of knowledge is finite. The Chinese have had thousands of years’ experience holding to a very rigid and narrow scheme of scholasticism, according to Ho Yen Sun in a book printed in 1913.  The mark of the best educated man in China was the one who knew the classics inside and out. It was not theirs to question or analyze by practical application, but this finite body of knowledge was there to memorize. Memorize they did, the Chinese have memorized their culture.

My suspicion is that this memory of the classics dates back to 231-201 B.C. when Mencius and his philosophy had many schools of thought contending for power. It was when Emperor Shi Hwang Ti ordered that all the ancient books be burned, including those of Confucius, that the existing system of education was ended.  Supposedly this tyrannical ruler had also ordered 460 scholars be burned alive along with their books.

When Emperor Kao-Ti came into power during the Han dynasty, he realized the importance of education. As a reversal to the earlier order, he called for a search of the lost writings. Old scholars were prevailed upon to remember, old walls were razed to find old books concealed in them, according to Ho Yen Sun. Perhaps this can explain the source of how the textbook became so revered by the Chinese. It continues to be the central focus in the classroom setting.

In my teaching experience, I was assigned a textbook to teach from in my writing class. There were chapters that I chose and printed up in a syllabus. Knowing that skipping around in the textbook was going against the sensibilities of my Chinese students, I kept reminding them that we did not have time to cover all the points in the book, we were just going to hit the high points. I did not hear any objections directed to me about this but I did feel guilty because I knew of the importance of the WHOLE textbook.

The passion to learn the entire book according to the Chinese system results in some problems where the students amass a great deal of book knowledge but then they are not able to analyze and tackle problems. Practical application is what I kept driving home to my writing students; no amount of memorizing was going to help them to be better writers. I wanted them to keep writing in their journals so I could find out where they were. Learning everything by rote also inhibits the students from being creative. That is a necessary attribute when applying researching skills in the new areas of science and technology, according to Gu Mingyuan.”

(to be continued)

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Kazakh “Marry” Christmas!

Who knew that 20 years ago I would meet the love of my life in Almaty, Kazakhstan!?  I had become at that point in my life decidedly single. I had trained to run the annual Twin Cities marathon, the fall of 1992 in Minneapolis to St. Paul as a kind of goodbye to my beloved Twin Cities.  I was in top physical shape and felt good.  Then I arrived to hot Almaty May 1st of 1993 and the next day I met my future husband. I didn’t know it at the time but HE did. He knew he was going to marry me and I put up quite a wall of resistance for about 8-9 months.  He kept asking me to marry him.  I’m glad Ken prevailed, he is stubborn in things like that.

We had a Christmas Eve wedding at my home church in Minneapolis and I brought over as guests a woman from Almaty, Tatyana Kazanina and a 16 year old Kyrgyz girl named Jyldyz.  Tanya was one of my bridesmaids and Jyldyz played piano and violin at our wedding ceremony and reception at Jax Café in north Minneapolis. It was a lovely day, I believe up in the 40s which is unusual for Minnesota in December.

I just wrote something on my Facebook about celebrating our 19th wedding anniversary and it was fun to get all the well wishes from friends from all over the world.  I especially liked what Nura wrote which I thought was so original, “Have a Marry Christmas!”  No one has ever used that play on words before with us.  I think it is brilliant and I told her so.  Leave it to a smart Kazakh to see that over native speakers of English!

Anyway, we are having guests over for Christmas day meal.  A Chinese guy with the Confucius Institute and his friend along with another family friend of ours.  I meant to have some of my former Korean students over along with my Japanese student.  She is already with her family in Japan and I didn’t get my act together to invite the Korean students. I suppose there is still time, I have five hours before the company arrives along with my folks.  I feel so blessed to have parents still they are very active in the community, my dad is 83 and my mom is 79.

Ken and I intended to watch our wedding video but I guess we deem it so valuable that we had forgotten that we had put it in our safety deposit box.  We will watch it on New Year’s Eve then.  Right now I have to keep working on my second book to satisfy the publishers by Jan. 2nd. So I can’t do too much holiday festivities.  I have the same word counts (350, 140 and 70 word captions) that are beastly, worse than deadlines.  When you combine the two, it means that I don’t have much of a vacation.  It also means I can’t go out x-country skiing in this beautiful snow.  Fortunately, it has been too cold so I haven’t missed out too much on that count.

In any case, I feel very blessed in our cozy home that my grandpa and great uncle built almost 100 years ago. I keep looking up all the facts about my hometown’s history that goes back about 130 years.  The turkey is baking in the oven, I need to make a pumpkin pie after I clean the floors and vacuum.  Yes, life is good on the Minnesota farm with cherished memories of Kazakhstan.  Right now that country, that is the 9th largest in the world, seems so far away.

Marry Christmas everyone!!!

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Twenty-seven Questions and First Impressions of Kyrgyzstan (Part III)

My last part of a letter I wrote to Tanya, dated May 8, 1994. She was a teaching colleague and friend at the Twin Cities campus of the University of Minnesota where we taught ITAs (International Teaching Assistants) together.
20) How are you surviving in terms of food, heat, housing and friends?
The food has little fiber or what there is might be peeled off because of uncertainty in the pesticides used. I am back to eating the apple skins if they are good apples. Many people eat sunflower seeds everywhere. There is LOTS of meat here so for all vegetarians who plan to come to this part of the world, think again. Many of the Peace Corps volunteers that I trained last summer had to succumb to the lifestyle here or they were forever in a heat about all the meat that was served. It is simply part of this culture, the nomadic tribesmen herding their sheep around.
In fact, yesterday I was at the market wanting to buy some sheep for the manti [steamed meat dumpling] party I was to have with my Kyrgyz students that evening but there was only beef. On my way home I was walking on the sidewalk of the main drag when I saw a sheep running at full tilt down the main street in the oncoming traffic lane. He was being chased by three-four men. I thought to myself, “that was the sheep I need for my party.” The sheep kept getting away from the men and probably was hit by a car. It is unusual to see a live sheep in the middle of an urban setting, they are EVERYWHERE out in the country. Food is plentiful and the vegetables are seasonal. The winter months there were no cucumbers or tomatoes but now that is ALL that you will see for salads at restaurants for the next six months.
As far as heat, I had a cold apartment but that is because the windows are not insulated well. This is because of poor workmanship. However, the winter months here are mild compared to Minnesota winters. I didn’t suffer too badly from my cold apartment since I had an electric heater and blanket. I love the place where I live, seven stories up with a view of the mountains from the east AND west sides. I pay $130 a month for a four room “flat.”
You asked about friends…I have my teacher friends and I have friends that I made through Peace Corps, the sauna, and also the church that I attend. There are plenty of people here I can go to plus I have e-mail so that I can keep up with old friends back in the States!
21) Have you had to deal with any shortages?
No, not like when I lived in China (1986-88) where they didn’t have sugar for a time or butter at other times. But yes, because they don’t have peanut butter or brown sugar or Stateside items like that, I just bring it with me when I have a chance to go home. We do not have massive shortages that I am aware of like I experienced in China or that they have in Mongolia, for instance. Also, I have money that can buy me more things whereas the local people on their subsistence living could probably tell you about shortages.
22) Have you had many opportunities to get to know any of the faculty there?
Yes, my dean, of course we are becoming friends in a professional sense. Others that I teach pronunciation to, I have had them over for a manti party. I don’t feel particularly close to any of my Kyrgyz teaching colleagues since they often have more than one job to supplement their income. They are busy with family too.
23) Have you been able to make many friends with the locals? As I mentioned before, I have my sauna friends and my landlady is my friend, as is my Russian teacher. I have not invested a lot of time in getting to know their culture by going to their homes and participating in their traditions. It would be a Russified form and not a true picture of the real Kyrgyz.
24) How would you typify the culture? It is a sort of hybrid of Russian and Kyrgyz, more heavily influenced by the Russian communist way of thinking. Perhaps there is some Asian way of thinking but compared to the Chinese I know and living in China, the Kyrgyz are more westernized. By the way, they have a strong dislike for anything Chinese! Carryover of Russia’s prejudice against their formidable border foe.
25) Would you say that it is heavily influenced by Russian culture, Turkish culture, Mongolian or what?
As mentioned already, the Russians have heavily influenced the capital city and the Turkish language has had a heavy influence in the Kyrgyz language. Perhaps if you went out to the countryside, the Mongolian presence would be strong, but I don’t know.
26) Do you feel it is easy to get to know people or do you find the people to be somewhat reserved?
They are fairly easy to get to know and rather “too” straightforward about their opinion sometimes. (Russian influence) They are not reserved like the Chinese I know. In fact, most of the Kyrgyz students I have are quite extroverted and outgoing. Their speaking skills are very good for never having had a native speaker talk to them before this year.
27) How are you looked upon being a single woman?
It is much easier to be single here in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan than it was in China. There they thought something was wrong with you if you weren’t married by age 25. Here, for foreigners, they made allowances up to 30. But here in Bishkek they seem to have a more westernized view of life and again this is my views from the people in the capital of Kyrgyzstan. Perhaps in the countryside they would think that I should be married with seven kids by now.
Tanya, that is all for now. Hopefully I have shed some light on the little bit that I know about this Kyrgyz culture. I remember a year ago I had these same questions. So answering them now to the best of my abilities made me think that I have actually learned something about this culture and am happy to share it with you.
By the way, Tanya, your name is very popular here. One of my best friend’s name is Tatyana, she is living in Almaty, Kazakhstan and her friends call her Tanya for short. I hope this has helped you and that you apply for a Fulbright here because they would love to have your expertise…

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Gun Control Gone Hay Wire Around the World

Make sure you REALLY look at the photo below.  Based on the interviews I have done about the Soviet Union with older Ukrainians and the stories I have received from my students in Kazakhstan, the following rings true.  If there is “gun control” put in place in the U.S., the crazies and evil people will still find guns to use against innocent people. With no guns, they will not be able to defend themselves.  Interesting facts to consider:

In 1929, the Soviet Union established gun control. >From 1929 to 1953, about 20 million dissidents, unable to defend themselves, were rounded up and exterminated

In 1911, Turkey established gun control. From 1915 to 1917, 1.5 million Armenians, unable to defend themselves, were rounded up and exterminated.

Germany established gun control in 1938 and from 1939 to 1945, a total of 13 million Jews and others who were unable to defend themselves were rounded up and exterminated.
China established gun control in 1935. From 1948 to 1952, 20 million political dissidents, unable to defend themselves were rounded up and exterminated.
Guatemala established gun control in 1964. From 1964 to 1981, 100,000 Mayan Indians, unable to defend themselves, were rounded up and exterminated.
Uganda established gun control in 1970. From 1971 to 1979, 300,000 Christians, unable to defend themselves, were rounded up and exterminated.
Cambodia established gun control in 1956. From 1975 to 1977, one million educated people, unable to defend themselves, were rounded up and exterminated.
Defenseless people rounded up and exterminated in the 20th Century because of gun control: 56 million.
You won’t see this data on the US evening news, or hear politicians disseminating this information.
Guns in the hands of honest citizens save lives and property and, yes, gun-control laws adversely affect only the law-abiding citizens.
Take note my fellow Americans, before it’s too late!
The next time someone talks in favor of gun control, please remind them of this history lesson.
With guns, we are ‘citizens’. Without them, we are ‘subjects’.
During WWII the Japanese decided not to invade America because they knew most Americans were ARMED!
If you value your freedom, please spread this antigun-control message to all of your friends.
SWITZERLAND ISSUES EVERY HOUSEHOLD A GUN!
SWITZERLAND’S GOVERNMENT TRAINS EVERY ADULT THEY ISSUE A RIFLE.
SWITZERLAND HAS THE LOWEST GUN RELATED CRIME RATE OF ANY CIVILIZED COUNTRY IN THE WORLD!!!
IT’S A NO BRAINER!
DON’T LET OUR GOVERNMENT WASTE MILLIONS OF OUR TAX DOLLARS IN AN EFFORT TO MAKE ALL LAW ABIDING CITIZENS AN EASY TARGET.
Spread the word everywhere you can that you are a firm believer in the 2nd Amendment!It’s time to speak loud before they try to silence and disarm us.
You’re not imagining it, history shows that governments always manipulate tragedies to attempt to disarm the people~
Photo: A LITTLE GUN HISTORY<br /><br /> In 1929, the Soviet Union established gun control. >From 1929 to 1953, about 20 million dissidents, unable to defend themselves, were rounded up and exterminated<br /><br /> In 1911, Turkey established gun control. From 1915 to 1917, 1.5 million Armenians, unable to defend themselves, were rounded up and exterminated.<br /><br /> Germany established gun control in 1938 and from 1939 to 1945, a total of 13 million Jews and others who were unable to defend themselves were rounded up and exterminated.<br /><br /> China established gun control in 1935. From 1948 to 1952, 20 million political dissidents, unable to defend themselves were rounded up and exterminated<br /><br /> Guatemala established gun control in 1964. From 1964 to 1981, 100,000 Mayan Indians, unable to defend themselves, were rounded up and exterminated.<br /><br /> Uganda established gun control in 1970. From 1971 to 1979, 300,000 Christians, unable to defend themselves, were rounded up and exterminated.<br /><br /> Cambodia established gun control in 1956. From 1975 to 1977, one million educated people, unable to defend themselves, were rounded up and exterminated.<br /><br /> Defenseless people rounded up and exterminated in the 20th Century because of gun control: 56 million.<br /><br /> You won't see this data on the US evening news, or hear politicians disseminating this information.<br /><br /> Guns in the hands of honest citizens save lives and property and, yes, gun-control laws adversely affect only the law-abiding citizens.<br /><br /> Take note my fellow Americans, before it's too late!<br /><br /> The next time someone talks in favor of gun control, please remind them of this history lesson.<br /><br /> With guns, we are 'citizens'. Without them, we are 'subjects'.<br /><br /> During WWII the Japanese decided not to invade America because they knew most Americans were ARMED!<br /><br /> If you value your freedom, please spread this antigun-control message to all of your friends.<br /><br /> SWITZERLAND ISSUES EVERY HOUSEHOLD A GUN!<br /><br /> SWITZERLAND'S GOVERNMENT TRAINS EVERY ADULT THEY ISSUE A RIFLE.<br /><br /> SWITZERLAND HAS THE LOWEST GUN RELATED CRIME RATE OF ANY CIVILIZED COUNTRY IN THE WORLD!!!<br /><br /> IT'S A NO BRAINER!<br /><br /> DON'T LET OUR GOVERNMENT WASTE MILLIONS OF OUR TAX DOLLARS IN AN EFFORT TO MAKE ALL LAW ABIDING CITIZENS AN EASY TARGET.<br /><br /> Spread the word everywhere you can that you are a firm believer in the 2nd Amendment!</p><br /> <p>It's time to speak loud before they try to silence and disarm us.<br /><br /> You're not imagining it, history shows that governments always manipulate tragedies to attempt to disarm the people~

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Effects of Chinese Collectivism and American Individualism

A young Chinese girl who is currently studying at a Minnesota university this fall wrote the following essay. She has many talents and she was especially good at doing origami (Japanese paper folding).  I was amazed at the giftings of many of my former Chinese students from this past summer.  This particular student wrote this insightful piece about what she had already observed about collectivism and individualism after just several weeks of living in the U.S.

“We all know that there are many countries in the world. China is a country of large population. And it also has a long history. But the history of Chinese individualism is not very long. Ordinary, most Chinese are tend toward collectivism. To some extent, this is decided by the traditional culture of China.

As a Chinese, when I was born, I started to live in a collective life. This is very common in China. If someone goes to China, he or she will see that there are many boarding schools in China. And parents seem to be willing to send their children to boarding schools. They think that boarding schools will help their children to learn to look after themselves well. Also, Chinese parents like to send their children to top schools although there are many students in schools. “I will send my son to the foreign language high school,” a father may boast to his friends and family. To some extent, this action is a kind of collectivism.

In Chinese schools, the questions that students do for the homework always have standard answers. Open-ended questions seldom appear on the homework. Even when students have different answers to the open-ended questions, the teacher will tell these students to write in the standard way instead of his or her own answers. We (students) cannot say that what teachers do for us is wrong, because this educational system in China has been lasting for a long time. If we write our own answers to the questions, maybe the reviewers will think we have not achieved or reached to the requirements. So teachers often hope students have the same thought, or the answers to the questions. I know it is hard to express the thing like this, but it is happening in Chinese schools actually.

I know that in America, teachers are glad if students have different thoughts. “They are trained from very early in their lives to consider themselves as separate individuals who are responsible for their own situations in life and their own destinies”(American Ways p5). So this may be the difference between Chinese culture and American culture.

Furthermore, in China, people like to eat together by getting food in one plate by chopsticks and eating it. “In a Chinese meal, most dishes are shared in the center of the table.……If there is a large group a rotating glass disk (or a Lazy Susan) is placed in the center of the table. It is turned constantly so that all the dishes are easily accessible to people sitting around the table.” (CultureShock! China P131) But in America, people prefer to eat in one’s own plates, even while eating with family members. I do not know how Americans think of this. But in China, people believe that eating together is a good way to promote harmonious feelings. So sometimes people may take food by chopsticks for each other.

Every culture has its own effects to people. So I think the effect of traditional Chinese culture is collectivism. It can be also said that collectivism has a great influence on the Chinese for many years. Otherwise, Americans maybe pay more attention to individualism. Every coin has two sides, so I cannot say which culture is better than the other.

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Power Distance in China between Males and Females

My husband and I just watched “Hope Springs” at the movie theater last night, it was rated as PG-13. I thought it should have been rated a bit more critically. I certainly wouldn’t want my former Chinese students to see it. They probably wouldn’t have understood the subtle humor in it.  However, it had great actors with Tommy Lee Jones and Meryl Streep but the content was rather graphic.  The “power distance” created in this 31 year marriage was something to witness.

This next essay written by a young Chinese man shows his passion for all things Japanese.  He amazed me with his acumen, his attention to detail and he is only 15 years old!!!  I think he is fascinated with Japan because that is a topic left out of the Chinese history books.  So close to the war crimes of WWII and even earlier, China does not want to know much about Japan.  Yet, this student points out over and over again how much Japan has borrowed and used things from China.  Strange “power distance” going on between these two countries.

“In some TV programs, movies and dramas, Chinese females are always regarded as weak and obedient people who hardly have power to even disobey males or decide own fate. Chinese women have little power when they are communicating with males. This opinion is easy to be accepted since it’s believed that ‘Males have more power than females’ according to “Experiencing Intercultural Communication: A Introduction,” Fourth Edition by Martin, Nakayama in 2011(P.53). However, this is actually wrong thinking not only regarding recent China but also to ancient China. In fact, it’s very common for Chinese females to get many kinds of power as males. Females’ rights are always protected by laws or moral habit. For these reasons, when females communicate with males, there is little power distance between them in China. Because culture in East Asia is similar to each other such as China and Korea and Japan, I will also put forward some examples in Korea or Japan to prove my thesis.

It’s common for females to get as much power as males. In recent China, according to “Culture Shock! : A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette China” by Angie Eagan & Rebecca Weiner in 2011(P.69), ‘There is a lovely Chinese expression that says that women hold up half the sky’. This metaphor is quite good for it describes the truth correctly. Among people who I know, females usually are not only important money contributers to families but also money managers in families because many husbands must hand over their money to their wives. It’s not a social habit just appearing in recent years. In ancient China, wives had a nickname as ‘General Manager’(In Chinese it’s written as ‘掌柜’) which means wives are the economic manager of the whole family and the deep reason is that in ancient China silk or cotton textile made by females was always an important part of family income.

For these reasons, in traditional Chinese stories, we can often see a wife saying, ‘Think of how you will live without me!’ to her husband and even now we can also see such a communication situation. In such cases, most husbands will choose to be silent. The little economic power distance between males and females also leads to little power distance between males and females in communication situations.

Females’ rights are always protected by laws or habits. In recent years, it’s undoubted that there will be well-done law in East Asia countries which protects females’ rights. However, it’s hard to imagine that females’ rights are also protected well in ancient East Asia. As a matter of fact, in Ming Dynasty(1368-1644), according to the law, if a husband married two wives, he would be “exiled to places where is over 500 kilometers to his hometown” (In Chinese it’written as “流一千里”).

Females’ rights is also be of importance in Japan. According to Wuxuezuyuan (In Japanese it’s written as “無学祖元”)’s Buddhism education to females and views about females’ rebirths by Saku Wanatabe in 2011, “On the contrary of denying females’ rebirth in old times, Wuxuezuyuan admitted posibilities of females’ rebirth.” It means in Japanese monks’ points of view, females are equal to males. And according to one Japanese laws in Kamakura, (In Japanese it’s written as “鎌倉”) period (1189-1333) which named Joei Shikimoku (In Japanese it’s written as “貞永式目”), “When a wife divorces with her husband, if she make crimes, she shall not get her husband’s property. However, if she has no mistakes, her husband shall not regret to give her some of his property.” This law admits that husband’s property is not equal with wife’s property.  In addition, another law in this code was that “The right of inheritance of females is equal with males. Moreover, if one daughter doesn’t make serious crimes, parent cannot disinherit her. This law admits that rights of inheritance of daughters is equal with sons. These are both laws protecting females’ rights in property.

Females’ rights are also protected by moral habits. For example, widows and young girls are always regarded as people who need protection most especially widows, and people violating their rights usually will be punished promptly. It’s the same in Japan. For example, in an ancient Japanese historical book named Heika>(In Japanese it’s written as “平家物語”),there is a female samurai named Tomoe(In Japanese it’s written as “巴”). According to The Tales of Heika, “Tomoe was especially beautiful, with white skin, long hair, and charming features. She was also a remarkably strong archer, and as a swordswoman she was a warrior worth a thousand men.”(In Japanese it’s written as “巴は色白く髪長く、容顔まことに優れたり。強弓精兵、一人当千の兵者なり”). It’s not something imaginary. As a matter of fact, in ancient Japan, females usually received martial arts training because they were supposed to protect family with their husbands or brothers.

When females communicate with males, there is little power distance between them in China. For example, my father has told me some stories about his grandmother. When she talked with her husband, brothers, children or grandchildren, she was very serious and no on dared disobey her. It’s because she was the actual manager of a large family and she had her own property so she could influence the economics in the large family . In recent China, however, there are few large families now. However, females are still important managers in Chinese families. When my mother communicates with my father, she is at an equal situation to my father. And when my mother talks with other less powerful male family numbers such as her brother, he can only do nodding and saying yes. It’s the same situation among my classmates in China, a girl usually can control her boyfriend in communication well rather than always obey her boyfriend.

In conclusion, it’s very common for Chinese females to get many kinds of power as males and females’ rights are always protected by laws or moral habits. More importantly, it’s sure that there is little power distance between males and females in China. China is a lawful country not only in past but also in recent times. However, it doesn’t mean that China is a highly-hierachical society. Females communicate with males without any power distance is very common in China and East Asia.”

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Chinese Foundational Saying: “Clothes, Eating, House, Traveling”

One of my better Chinese students in the communications course she took this summer wrote about the above saying. I need to find out more about the “Clothes, Eating, House, Traveling,” maybe those are safe topics to talk on. The 38 Chinese students I taught are already into their second week of classes at the liberal arts university they are enrolled in. Some are giving mixed reviews about what they are learning.  One girl student asked on Facebook what she should give a speech on concerning fingernails which would be of interest to her audience.  What a topic! I mentioned she could talk about torture. Turns out this 19 year old Chinese didn’t know what I meant by that.  Just as well.  Some other American friend mentioned that she should talk about the art of fingernail painting, that might get the girls enthused.  Despite the squeamish topic of torture, I think the guys might prefer hearing about that.  The following is more about the differences in communication between cultures:

There are huge differences between the American and Chinese cultures, which directly affects the way people say things and what they talk about. In China, people are taught to be inconspicuous, to not draw too much attention on themselves. So, they will always “give faces” to other people who cannot handle their own situation perfectly; they won’t give a very extreme or straight answer to anyone for fear that they may stand out among the crowd. While Americans are taught to behave in a more direct way, they pretend to be more outstanding than others. They do things to make them better than common people, performing more actively in the group, thinking alone to be a success. The following are examples which shows the situation according to culture.

One example is that if Chinese want to refuse someone who wants to date them, they may not really say “no”, but they will talk with them for a long time, use different kinds of excuses; saying they are quite busy, feel sorry about not dating with them. All in all, they will always “give face” to anyone else (except they are angry about the people who they are talking with). Meanwhile, for Americans, they may feel reluctant to refuse someone directly for fear of making the person feel unwelcome or discriminated again. They will often try to convey their willingness indirectly by saying “it’s not convenient now” or by repeatedly postponing an agreed-upon time for doing something together. (“American Ways” p.26)

Another example is that Chinese people will not say what they really think about, they will never show their heart to a stranger. So, even if Chinese people are desperate for something, they will use words or other ways that make the owner give the thing to them instead of asking for it directly. However, Americans will ask directly if they want it very much, they will not hold back their opinions. Because Americans prefer to get straight to the point rather than do things in a round about way.

When Chinese people meet each other, they may say “Have you eaten?”  They do not actually want to take you to a restaurant if you say “no”, it’s just a beginning to start a conversation. For two Chinese people who know each other they will start the conversation with “Where is good food?” or “When should we eat together?” The reason why Chinese people will start with such topic is that Chinese people consider “eating” is very important thing in their daily life. Here is the saying that conclude the foundational things that Chinese people agree on,” Clothes”, “Eating”,” House”, ” Travelling”.

However, when Americans first meet someone, they will engage in a kind of conversation they call small talk. The most common topic of small talk is the weather. Because it’s the least personal topics they will talk about. (“Americans Ways” p.28). So Americans don’t want to talk too much about their person life. Therefore, it’s important to know the culture of people who you are talking with especially if you want to make friends with that person. Americans do not care about how others look at them, so they are trying to show their own character to others. In conclusion, the way Chinese people talk is really different from Americans.

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China’s “Kaoshan” Could Mean “Your Ship Has Come In”

The following excerpt is the last I’ll write about guanxi. I’m not sure if Kazakhstan has something similar to this concept.  Another word I recall when I lived in China was “homer” which essentially means getting things done through the back door. That might be familiar with Kazakhs who need to accomplish some arduous paperwork like getting a title for their car or trying to leave the country or get things out of customs.  A new vocabulary word I learned from my Chinese student was kaoshan.”   Here’s what a male student wrote about something like “your ship has come in:”

“People from other cultures will act differently when they meet up in various situations. This is because they have received different education or cultural training. They are in different thinking mode when they are in different situations, they will act adversely.

The ‘first come, first served’ is related to the ‘line up’ rule. The general notion is that the person who arrives first gets attention first. Alternative notions such as giving priority to the elderly or the wealthy do not normally occur to equality-minded Americans. Unlike Chinese, they will, however, give priority to people with an obvious physical disability—people in wheelchairs, for example, or on crutches.’ “People who do not go to the end of the line to wait their turn but instead go to the head of the line and try to push their way in front of others will usually evoke a hostile reaction”(p204 American ways)

American people have always been taught they must to obey  the “line up “and they do not to cut in line. Americans are sick of people who cut in line. But people in China always ignore this rule in public and they don’t mind people who cut in line. Even though people from America and China both have been taught to not cut in line,but from different culture they reflect their reactions in different ways.

On a much grander scale of getting ahead is the following quote from “China, Culture Shock.” “The second way to get ahead is to know someone who can help provide a better opportunity for yourself was to know someone in a position of power willing to help you. This is called guanxi and is a very important concept.” (p63)

It is a very Chinese way to be successful. People in China would like to find “the person”  to help them to provide a better chance. “Kaoshan” it is very Chinese word. This is a common word in China, it means “thee person”  or also means “a ship of benefit.” Though, in China, a student always has been taught they need to fight on their own and try their best to make their life go better, still the adults tell their kids the theory of “guanxi”.  However, American children have been taught the same idea about success as the children in China but differently. Their parents and families also teach their American children that if they want to be a success, they must work hard on their own in order to improve for future success. That is different from the Chinese culture.

 “International visitors are often surprised to see how many American teenagers have jobs. The teenagers earn their own money for entertainment, clothes or a car by working in a fast food restaurant, clerking in a shop…from [American] parents’ viewpoint, having a job allows their children to gain valuable training in acting independently.”

This would never appear in China because the Chinese think parents should pay for the fees of their child, it is a natural phenomenon. It is difficult to explain, it has a long reason of history. The ancient Chinese would do this. The modern Chinese just follows the last generation’s way according to their different culture and religion. However, Americans do it their way.”

 

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More examples of “Guanxi” in China

 

Guanxi is an important word in China. It includes a lot of information for history, culture and relationships among people. The Chinese think guanxi is so powerful that it can help them to get a lot of unfinished things accomplished. First of all, a definition of “guanxi” according to Eagan and Weiner (2007) is the following: “…a way to get ahead is to know someone who can help provide a better opportunity…to know someone in a position of power willing to help you.” (p. 63) Perhaps Americans hold to a similar concept of “networking” where we try to meet as many people as possible to maybe help land a job. Maybe for the more outgoing and gregarious, Americans like to have many acquaintances and “friends.”

Over twenty-five years ago, as an unsuspecting American, I had never experienced the power of the word “guanxi.” After living in China in the late 1980s, it was interesting for me to learn more about it.  I believe most westerners may have an idea about what it is like, perhaps akin to “I’ll scratch your back, if you scratch mine.”  However, as I learned from my living and teaching in China for two years that it was much more powerful a concept than a random scratch to an occasional itch.  I will provide several examples of when guanxi was used in my experience and how maybe we as Americans might have something similar in principle or practice while being totally unaware of it.

At the time, I did not know why Carolyn (her English name) who was one of my Chinese students, knitted a beautiful green, cabled wool sweater for me. I bought the sufficient amount of skeins of yarn at the store and she did the rest.  Harbin, in the northeastern part of China is known to be very cold and she knew I needed to wear something warm for the oncoming winter.  I do not know that I did anything for her except have her over to practice English.  Later I found out that perhaps I was supposed to help her gain entrance to a university in the U.S.  I wonder about Carolyn these many years later. Every time I had put on that sweater I thought good thoughts about her.

Another instance of how guanxi was used in my case was when Stephen (English name) wanted to practice doing an oil painting portrait of me.  I still have the painting today but I don’t recall doing anything for Stephen except sitting and posing for him for several hours. He told me through his friend that he wanted to practice painting western noses (Dai Baize = BIG nose)  Stephen, as an artist, had been sent out to the countryside during the Cultural Revolution and so he had not learned how to speak English. He had been penalized for his talent. Fortunately we were able to communicate through his Chinese friend who was one of my engineering students.  So maybe Stephen wanted to be close to the power structure of my university at Ha Gong Da.  I also still wonder why Stephen went to Dalian with me and my sister and another student to help transport my 3 meter by 4 meter carpet for me that was put in a crate that was about the size of a coffin.  I was never able to repay Stephen for his service mentality of helping me. I never got him a job or found him other people he could paint for profit.

My young Chinese friends, Carolyn and Stephen’s expectations were that I help improve their lives in some way.  According to what Eagan and Weiner (2011), they claim with the beginning of communism, people of authority may not have been paid much in high salaries, but they had prestige and authority given them.  With these privileges of helping others, the senior ranking government officials could amass more power by gaining respect and trust of others under them.

I believe that Americans may be confused by this concept of “guanxi” because we have a different value orientation in place where westerners may do acts of kindness for others without any expectation of it being reciprocated. The following anecdote is what one of my Chinese students wrote about his experiences in China concerning this:

“I have seen many examples of how Chinese depend totally on “GUAN XI”. I have a friend who hadn’t high enough scores to study in high school. And his father found an officer who is a manager in education. Now my friend studies in a famous high school. Also I met a businessman who was ready to apply for a project but he had many opponents. He had a friend who is in the management for this project. Obviously, he got this project at the end.”

 

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