Every year, there are so many students coming to study in China. It is really different feelings compared with study at their home countries. Here is a student’s experience for your reference.
After three years of excitement, fun and mind blowing experiences I finally decided that I cannot stay and study in China anymore. It was nice and all. But when it comes to building your future, staying in China to do a Doctoral Study is not a good option. I have finished my masters degree in China, and before moving to China my main objective was to become an expert on East Asian politics with a focus on China. I still have the same objective. But ironically, I don’t think China is the best place to learn about China unless you want to take everything given to you as absolute truth.
I think here I will criticise the policies regarding education and, partially, the culture that has been growing among the Chinese scholars and students. My intention is not to blame anyone but put forward a number of points that will lead to a more solid and analytical method regarding higher education in China. Yet, of course it is just my opinion.
I have faced a number of difficulties in China. When I first came to China and tried to understand the education system – by the way I have done my masters degree at one of the “so-called” most prestigious universities in the country. I have failed to comprehend how the classes were assigned, how the grading system worked, what were the mandatory courses, which classes can be chosen, how many classes etc. No! There is a package program and you need to take it. There are some elective courses and you’ll be assigned to them if your supervisor sees fit. I didn’t have a say here, because apparently I didn’t understand Chinese culture and China as I was told every time I tried to intervene. This is the first point. Higher education is much like kindergarten. They will tell you what to do and it is very certain you are the student; hence you have to obey, you don’t qualify to have a say in what you want to be educated about.
My second point is about my major. After all, politics is a very complicated and very sensitive issue. I have never seen politics as a subject that can be studied like science, but analysis is at the very heart of a political science major. In that regard, when you study Chinese foreign policy and Chinese politics you cannot just accept the texts written in newspapers. You need to ask: “why did they write about this? Is that what really happened or is it a subjective understanding?” and much more complicated questions but I suppose you get the main idea. So, whenever you try to make a criticism you are faced with a comment like “Let’s focus on positive sides”. Well… I am saying institutions of higher education in China, regarding social sciences, do not necessarily function as factories of knowledge, but more like the consolidator of mainstream understanding. I believe that is not only because there is institutional censorship but also because some professors do not know how to react to your questions and comments. Likewise, they might be refraining from finding themselves in trouble. But that I don’t know.
Another point is the education method. When you look at the course descriptions and functionality, you’ll see it is just fine. Different texts, discussion sessions, assignments. But in the classroom it is just that the lecturer lectures and students listen. It cannot really be called listening as most of students are on their phones or sleep to be honest. Also, you cannot find a single student who has read the texts for the lecture or who has an opinion on what is being taught. I would like to criticize Chinese students here especially. They attend every single class, every single lecture, discussion session, but they only sleep, watch a movie or just look at their phones like a zombie. To be fair, they really comfort the professors by constantly filling their water bottles, lighting their cigarettes –yes in the classroom – or agreeing with every single word that comes out of their mouth. I don’t remember a single Chinese classmate who has asked a question during the lecture or joined the discussions among foreign students.
Finally, I would like to point out the understanding of “academically” qualified education and work. While I was writing my thesis – it is worth noting that my original thesis topic was ruled out by my professor and another research question was later assigned by him – I have used dozens of resources. It took me a year to do research and six months to write. But my brilliant classmates did all this work in Spring Festival, I think in two week to be exact. They were very surprised when I told them I wrote my thesis myself because what they did was to find two or three main sources and combine them which as a result created an “original” work in their understanding. They have also imported the bibliography from those “resources” too. But this is their business, not mine. What happened in dissertation is what really bugs me. I have mentioned earlier that my thesis topic was changed by my supervisor. So during the defense another professor mentioned a few drawbacks of studying on this topic. What followed was my supervisor’s approval of him and he got even further by telling me that before choosing a topic I should have research more broadly. Okay… whatever, I have passed the defense. But, I and another foreigner classmate got the lowest scores, whereas my Chinese classmates that even used high school textbooks as a “resource” got grades from 95 to 100 out of 100.
Yeah, you may say “if you don’t like it go back to your country”, “you don’t understand China”, “you foreigners…” But no, I really love China. What I am saying is, if you guys continue like that you’ll never have the soft power you have been yearning for so long. From the ordinary eyes, even the lowest ranked university in the United States is more prestigious than the highest ranked Chinese University. If you want to develop, you need to work on human development. Human development is not about buying nice clothes, going on a vacation to Europe or driving expensive cars but it is about developing yourself – having an understanding of the world and yourself. To do that, you need to ask questions. But with a generation that is raised by a military man who is ready for orders, there is a limit to your growth. Knowledge is power. And till you produce it you will always be subject to someone else’s rule.
As a result, I see staying in China to do a doctorate program, actually doing a doctorate program in a Chinese university – a step towards bombing your own ideas. From the first day of the PhD, you would know how you will finish your PhD dissertation.
Opinions of the writer in this blog don’t represent those of WentChina.