Archive for May, 2009

Sunday, May 31st, 2009

In a recent interview with an official from the municipal government I was told that Chinese policy dictated that the amount spent on public education should be 2 to 3 percentage points beyond the annual growth rate. So, for example if a district grows by 10%, its education budget should be 13%. Shanghai’s hyper growth thus results in an education ministry with very deep pockets.

This was very much in evidence when touring our school’s beautiful new building used to house zhong ban and da ban (5 and 6 year olds), which Max will attend next year.

Amongst the many luxuries on display was a dedicated chess room equipped with kid sized tables, specially designed with inlaid game-boards and small drawers for all the pieces.


More on Haibao worship

Sunday, May 31st, 2009


Gina Anne Russo on Shanghai’s latest personality cult.

Breeding geniuses

Saturday, May 30th, 2009

China Daily has published two interestingly related – but somewhat contradictory – articles in recent days. The first details a new, probably futile, attempt by the ministry of education to ease the intense pressure on kids.

The second, more unusual report tells of  a Children’s Palace*  in Chongqing, which is using genetic testing to select candidates for its gifted program. Aiming  to “foster extraordinary  talent” in the arts, the program is sending swabs taken from the inside of children’s cheeks to  “Shanghai Biochip Co” , which can apparently test for 13 traits, “including intelligence, emotional quotient (EQ) and athletic ability.”

Despite my excitement over the sci-fi potential of biotech in Shanghai, I find the article highly dubious (and half suspect it to be a hoax).

As Steven Pinker points out in his piece on personal genetics if you want to find kids that are particularly fast you don’t need to test their genes. A better strategy is to see how they do in a race. Likewise, if you are looking for kids that have particular talent in art or piano it’s probably best to look at their drawings or hear them play.

* Children’s Palaces are institutions, found throughout China, that run extracurricular classes for kids.

Website Update

Saturday, May 30th, 2009


I’ve just posted some recent pics from a weekend trip to Moganshan, Shanghai’s traditional mountain retreat. It’s about 3 hours — and a milion miles — from the city.

More from Fallows

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

James Fallows now has a separate page for his ongoing discussion on Chinese education.

Haibao worship

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009
The Haibao shrine in Zoe's classroom

The Haibao shrine in Zoe's classroom

In addition to the photo op and the shrine, today a number of kids were wearing Haibao badges. I have no idea from whom or where they came.

I have to admit I find the veneration of Haibao a little troubling. Though, I suppose that, given the alternatives, indoctrination in the cult of Expo 2010, with its dogma of cosmopolitanism, modernism and high-tech urbanism isn’t so bad.

Food for thought

Monday, May 18th, 2009

I’ve recently learnt the Chinese term for cramming. 填鸭式教育 “tian ya shi jiao yu ,” translates literally as “force feeding duck style education”.

Ducks, it seems, are particularly prone to being stuffed full of food that they cannot digest.

My problem with the term is that, while it is clearly meant to provoke a negative reaction, I can not help but think of the dish with which it is associated.

Like many of the great delicacies of Chinese cuisine, the preparation for 北京烤鸭 Beijing kao ya (Peking duck) begins long before the meat reaches the kitchen. The specially chosen ducks are raised free range for about 45 days after which they are force fed 4 times a day for the last two to three weeks of their lives. This well known procedure has led to an alternate name for the dish 北京填鸭 “Beijing tian ya” or Beijing stuffed duck.

I am forced, then, to the somewhat disturbing conclusion that my feelings about Chinese style education are being driven, however unconsciously, by my passionate love for the country’s – no the world’s – most delicious dish.

For family

Monday, May 18th, 2009


A quote from Zoe’s first report card:

Zoe has a big stomach. She can eat two bowls of rice. Wow!

Belated Mothers Day

Thursday, May 14th, 2009

In honor of mothers day Hao Mama posts on my favorite kid song. Scroll down for translation.


Monday, May 11th, 2009


Today was the first – but undoubtedly not the last – special activity dedicated to the 2010 world fair. The big event was a photo op with expo mascot Haibao.

Haibao is now ubiquitous in Shanghai. There are topiary Haibaos, stuffed Haibaos, Haibao statues that are placed center stage at even the most glamorous venues in town. A picture of Haibao is posted outside every construction site in the city — as if it were somehow responsible for the coming transformation. All this and we are still over 350 days away.

He/she? is supposedly based on the character 人 ren (meaning people) but is more commonly associated with toothpaste or with the American character Gumby (with whom it bears an uncanny resemblance).

I am vaguely hoping that – as happened with the Fuwa – Haibao starts to accrete a gothic, cosmic underpinning, which lends some gravitas to its apparent, absurd appearance.

Perhaps this is already happening. After the photo session Zoe’s classmate pointed to Haibao and whispered to us with certainty: ‘that’s a monster.”