Recommended Readings for the Week
By Alvin Cheng-Hin Lim

Recommended Readings for the Week

Mar. 23, 2016  |   Blog   |  0 comments

An article in the Wall Street Journal discusses the difficulties experienced by some US colleges in helping their Chinese students assimilate with the local culture and student body. While some of the difficulty arises from linguistic differences, others arise from mismatches in learning methodologies and expectations, with the result that their instructors often experience resentment at having to adjust their teaching methods to accommodate these students. As an NYU professor testified:

“She says Chinese students can pose a ‘burden’ on her lectures, which she needs to modify for their benefit. Many Chinese students ‘are woefully underprepared,’ she says. ‘They have very little idea what it means to be analytical about a text. They find it very difficult to fulfill basic requirements of analytical thinking or writing.’”

However, given that many of these colleges are actively recruiting these students precisely because they are full-fee paying and hence constitute a key source of revenue, the effort to ensure that these students receive the full benefits of expensive education that they are paying for should not be seen by their salaried instructors as a burden. The WSJ article also highlights the conspicuous consumption of some of these students, which has raised “resentment” among the local population:

“Ashley Yao, a student at Stony Brook University in New York, speeds to classes in a tricked-out BMW X5 M sport-utility vehicle. The 25-year-old wears haute couture and hangs out with other wealthy Chinese-born university students who drive candy-colored Lamborghinis, Ferraris and McLarens.”

An article in Bloomberg last year profiled some of the offspring of China’s wealthy elite, whose lavish behavior has similarly raised resentment in Chinese society. It appears that as China’s nouveau riche migrate across the oceans, their behavior spreads class resentment from their home to their host societies. Such resentment in the US could have contributed to the rise of Sinophobia as has been manifested in the popular China-bashing of the populist US presidential candidate Donald Trump.

A different article from The Economist’s 1843 magazine profiles the efforts Chinese students have to go through in order to be selected for enrolment in the US’ elite Ivy League colleges. For the scions of China’s new economic elite, no expense is too great to ensure the perfect application package:

“American admissions officers say they are now inundated with videos, photo albums and even hardback books from Chinese applicants trying to impress them with their exploits and expeditions. A Beijing school official told me about a boy from north-eastern China whose father flew him in a private plane to Tibet – for just a day – to make a video of him aiding poor minorities.”

This level of investment in education is not just for the intellectual benefit of the child. As the article points out, the enrolment of children in American universities is often just a step in their families’ long-term wealth preservation plans:

“And for wealthy families seeking a safe haven for their assets – by one estimate more than $1 trillion in capital left China in 2015 – a foreign education for a child can serve as a first step towards capital flight, foreign investment, even eventual emigration.”

Back to China and the Eurasian landmass, Aeon Magazine looks at the history of Silk Road, and the prospects for its current revival under Chinese President Xi Jinping’s “One Belt One Road” (OBOR) international development strategy. As the author Peter Frankopan observes, the ancient routes of the Silk Road were key transmitters of culture, wealth, and political change across the Eurasian landmass:

“Running across the spine of Asia, they form a web of connections fanning out in every direction, routes along which pilgrims and warriors, nomads and merchants have travelled, goods and produce have been bought and sold, and ideas exchanged, adapted and refined. They have carried not only prosperity, but also death and violence, disease and disaster.”

Indeed, the OBOR represents a revival of these ancient pathways’ role as agents of economic, social and political change in this vast transcontinental region:

“Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Iran, as well as Russia, India, Pakistan, and Iraq, are rich in fossil fuels and minerals, while China dominates the world markets in rare earths – elements such as beryllium and dysprosium, which are essential for the manufacture of everything from laptops and smartphones to solar cells and batteries for hybrid cars ... These states are today making ever closer ties – which include massive infrastructure projects, such as new deep-water ports, high-speed rail links, and new super-fast 3G networks, as well as oil and gas pipelines. But cooperation extends beyond this to educational projects and cultural initiatives that celebrate common histories and exchanges of the past.”

Intriguingly, Scientific American reports that archeologists have recently rediscovered a hitherto long-forgotten route of the Silk Road that crossed the vast mountainous highlands of Tibet. As a Harvard archeologist observed:

“This suggests that mountains are not barriers. They can be effective conduits for the exchange of cultures, ideas and technologies.”

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