Worry about Yifan’s Education – Part II

This is a series of articles on education in Shanghai (I tried to avoid big topics like Education in China:

Worry about Yifan’s Education and

Worry about Yifan’s Education – Part II
Is China Changeable?

Chinese or International Eduction?

University Education = Hukou in China

Schools Conducted by Gaokao

Hijacked Education by Scientists

In the previous article about Yifan, I talked about the choices I am trying to make for Yifan’s education. As some of my readers pointed out, this is a pretty private decision. I post it here, just to help my readers to understand the challenges, and the environment I am living in – not just from the point of view of a tourist, but also from the local residents.

Education Resources are Limited

As I mentioned many times in this blog, although the GDP of this country grows very fast, the public resources like education, and health care is still far behind the demand.

To put things into perspective about why and how I am worried about education of my son, let me first describe the environment. The bottom line is, you should not use the standard of education resources of most developed countries as a basis to make decision for China.

My Story in Henan

Let’s talk about the university education and my story first. Back to the year of 1995, when I entered the Gaokao (The entrance exam for colleges), there are more than half million people as myself stepped into the exam rooms with me in Henan province. Think about half million people as smart as you are, and as anxious about the future as you are, and as hard working (or more hard working) than you are.

The result? There are very limited opportunity to win in that game. There are not many good university for the students. Shanghai Jiao Tong University, for example, offers 55 positions, and Tsinghua, at that time, offers less than 50, I remember. Considering the good universities you will be happy to enter, that is 500 slots there at most.

That means, if you are not the top 500 students out of the 500K students, you are over.

There are many other colleges that you can go, but everything considered, the majority of the students entering the exam rooms will be disappointed and get back to their home with no university to go to, and they have to throw themselves to the low end labor market – construction workers, or low end sales people, or farmer, maybe…

Today, I checked the web. Congratulations. The total number of students competing for a permit to enter university in Henan province raised from 500K to 950K, and universities get more students. SJTU, as an example, raised their quota from 55 to 84. In short, competition gets tougher, than before.

The Best or the Fittest

“The fittest survives”. It is from the Darwin’s law. The very sad reality is, in a tough selection process like the one I described, the best may not survive, only the fittest one survive – the fittest one to exams. That is a reality that no one can easily change.

It is just like to get a train ticket in the Spring Festival. If the rate is 6 out of 10 people can get the ticket you want, you can safely assume that the one who made reasonable effort can get a ticket, and those who don’t want to wake up early to line up for a ticket will fail. However, in a competition where only 1 or 2 ticket out of 1000 people is issued, what qualification the one or two luck guys need? Smart, or hardworking is not the complete answer. Luck plays so important a role.

Back to Primary Schools

The weird thing that I just discovered after Yifan was born (I didn’t pay attention to it before) is, the pressure from university went down all the way to middle school, to primary school, and even to kindergarten. If you miss step once in the chain, chances are, you are over.

I think I already tend to give up for kindergarten entrance, since it is so competitive in Shanghai. You need to prepare the kid so well ahead so they can pass the entrance exam – at the age as young as 3. I heard the story from my friend, that his son was rejected, just because his son chose cake, instead of bamboo for a panda.


That is the reason many of my friends already chose to immigrate to other countries to get out of this. Think about the pressure and the heavy school bag, the deep degrees of glasses in very early years, I almost tend to quit this competition. I may survived in this crucial race myself 15 years ago, but what for, for the next generation?

To be continued in part III

28 thoughts on “Worry about Yifan’s Education – Part II

  1. In my opinion, I suggest you sent him to a common public school and let him enjoy his life as a child. Don’t put to much pressure on him. Save the money for later when he enter college or university. I think the later is more important. We don’t want him to lost his childhood life as a kid. Too much studies makes Yifan a dull kid.

    Success is not measured by his paper qualification. Quality of life is also important. Remember, Kids will alway be kids. Don’t expect him to be a profesional kid so soon. Is the international school equivalent to Oxford University ????

  2. 我对你这篇文章很感兴趣,我接触社会不多,所能看到的社会有限,看了你这篇文章才对社会存在的深层问题有更多的了解。也许你在把你所知道的和你所要讲出来的东西作个平衡。这篇文章比上海那篇文章好很多,我个人认为。可惜的是谁也改变不了中国的这一现实。我觉得你将中国的国情以一种供需关系来看待很启发我。这更接近中国的实质。有时候在想为什么有些人总喜欢过问国家大事,跟它们又没有什么关系。现在看来,一个国家始终决定了个人的命运。当然是种大环境上的。

  3. I think the competition for kindergarten is ridiculous and I would never put my child in a situation like that. The same goes for primary school, let the child be a child. Who says he wants to go to university when he gets older, who know if it’s his path? Let him have a happy childhood.

  4. > 谁也改变不了中国的这一现实

    This is the reason why China will not change. Wang Jianshuo, you have this attitude too.

  5. @Anna

    That is easy said than done. I doubt that there are any parents who do not want there children to be happy. But in the end, most parents chose to follow the crowd and participant in the competition. As Jian Shuo said, one misstep in the chain starting from kindergarten, you risk falling out of the line. And it is very tough to get back in again. Imagining if like most parents in China, you can not afford a good education overseas. The only option they have is stay in the line.

    It is not an easy decision for parents.

  6. Jianshuo,

    not sure if you have read this piece of essay (萧功秦:为什么我们缺少特立独行的人生态度 http://www.tecn.cn/data/16904.html), but i highly recommend it to you and other Chinese parents

    “good school=good career” is an illusion that many Chinese parents have. a good degree doesn’t guarantee a good career, in recents years (and i think in the coming years), the chances of starting a “good career” are not even higher for those graduated from prestigious schools

    “good career=happy life” is the other illusion. in ten or twenty years, even a mediocre shanghai child will live a not-too-bad life in terms of living standards, the quality of life will not necessarily related with his or her career, although that’s an important part of it

    i think it’s important for Chinese parents (including myself) to realize that future will be totally different from what we used to know, and carefully don’t project our egos, fears and certain outdated values onto our kids and their lifes

  7. I understand why Chinese parents put pressure on their children to succeed. I’m not sure that expecting very young children to study until 9pm is such a good idea. Maybe it will raise test scores, but does it lead to a generation of happy, confident and creative people who have the strength of character to come up with new approaches to enable China to thrive in the future?

    Everyone makes a private decision based on what is best for their children given the information and opportunities that are currently available. My wife is just about to give birth to our first child and we are planning to send him to the international school where I teach. He’ll grow up speaking fluent English and Mandarin. His written Chinese may not be as advanced as children in local schools, but I think he will grow up with a much better education than his counterparts in the UK.

  8. why chinese education system is so hard… and at the same time so many fresh graduate are quite bad at work, can not solve problem, give crappy reports ??

    something wrong to work so hard to achieve so poor level…

    every manager say that in china… hard to find good local staff…

  9. why chinese education system is so hard… and at the same time so many fresh graduate are quite bad at work, can not solve problem, give crappy reports ??

    something wrong to work so hard to achieve so poor level…

    every manager say that in china… hard to find good local staff…

  10. @smith

    the recent studies conducted by some MNCs indicated that Chinese graduates lack some critical skills required in managerial roles … the problem with that is, those studies failed to understand that Chinese education system is not “designed” or supposed to provide “qualified local staff” for those MNCs operating in China.

    like Jianshuo said, the education resources are limited, and the first objective of the system is to provide a workable and relatively fair screening mechanisms, which was heavily influenced by traditional Chinese education system. the second objective is to help China’s economic develpment by providing a large amount of human resources that are quick learners, disciplined and can work well in manufacturing industries.

    China’s education system did OK for those two purposes in the past, but with a lot of prices – knowledge-based education, lack of critical thinkings and creativities, etc.

    now things are changing, with more educational resources and a higher demand for people of originality and initiativeness, education system is under the pressure of reforming itself

  11. ha ha ha

    Your story:

    1. Cake for Panda

    2. Bamboo for Panda

    It’s so funny. Poor little 3 year old kid. I guess he likes cake very much.

  12. Jianshuo,

    You want to seriously consider sending your child to the USA for education. Like our children, they don’t have pressure at all. They excel in participating in all kinds of projects that encourage creativities, and as parents, we encourage them to think that everything is possible, future McDonald, Google, or Starbucks are possible for them to create. We do have SAT and etc, but we don’t place strong emphasis on passing colleage entrance examinations, we place strong emphasis on getting them to think big. That’s the environment here in many places in the USA. Of course, if you can find a school in China that has such an environment, that would be perfect. Anyway, best luck for your searches.

  13. US is notorious for poor quality of education from elementary to high school. I wouldn’t say that moving to US is the solution. I think the best thing to do is to learn how to deal with the pressure (easier said than done), and raise your child to be a happy, content person doing the best he can and enjoy the simplicity of life, and not try to make things overtly complicated like many Chinese tend to do. I think Jian Shuo and Wendy named their son Yifan with these ideas in mind anyway.

  14. It’s easy to say “let the child be a child and play more”, but if all of your friends are pushing their children and you don’t, the odds are not in that child’s favor. It’s like saying “Bill Gates didn’t graduate college and he did well, therefore college is not important.” Sure, it’s possible, but it’s not likely.

    And sometimes I wonder, do the same people who say “don’t spend too much time studying” also then complain when companies do work in China? Of course studying is not everything, one needs to be creative and interact with others to be successful. But there’s a certain base of knowledge needed to be successful in technical fields too.

  15. What I meant to say is that Chinese education system tends to create super exam takers. If you guys think this is a so called “so education”, sure, many places in the US won’t qualify. My child scored very high on SAT even in middle school, but I don’t want to push him more on getting a higher score. Instead, I push him hard to think creatively, have him read stories of successful people, have them play games and think about how the video games can be improved if he would be the game designer. I encourage him to challenge his teacher on various subjects. USA is the kind of place that encourages such freedom. Look at China, millions and millions of intelligent children are being turned into an exam taking machines. When children are turned into exam competitors like in competitive sports, do they still have time left to think about getting themselves successful in business, in art, in technological innovations?

    That explains why Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Michael Dell won’t come out of China.

    So, what is a good education? It all depends on perspectives!

  16. Not everyone can just simply escape to another country, such as U.S. and get rid of their problems. The best thing to do is to offer a plausible solution within the context in which we are speaking of here–in this case, China.

  17. Thanks for this series of posts Jianshuo. I find them fascinating. James Fallows has been sharing readers emails about the gaokao and had a very interesting post from a “red-diaper” perspective:


    James Fallows: Gaokao from a red diaper perspective

    Excerpt here:

    To be honest, had I remained in the Chinese school system, I would never even have taken the Gaokao. My parents would have expended maximal resources in giving me preparation in a foreign language (and if they were well-connected they would know that German rather than English is an easier ticket for school admission), and ideally secured me a place in one of the nationally sanctioned foreign language schools.. and avoided the exam altogether, thus isolating me from hundreds of millions of potential competitors for opportunity. One should note that German instruction is provided at far less rigorous and exhausting level than English instruction in China, and the level of preparedness would have varied much more greatly depending on personal resources (i.e., ability to find, and afford tutors). As I said, in China, fair equals brutal.

    In fact, I would have likely gone to the No. 2 Foreign Language Institute in Beijing, and found a way, through bribery or some other mechanism (life-opportunities are harsh in China), to the Foreign Ministry, where I would have gotten a foreign assignment. And I would make no apologies for this either, as prospects for average university graduates in China, even elite ones, are extraordinarily bleak. I was born into a red-diaper family, and given the abundance of chances of failure in the Chinese system, and its inhuman brutality, no precaution, or ethical lapse, would frankly lack warrant for any loving parent.

    Please read the rest of the post. Its very interesting.

  18. I think the curriculum in primary school, or even in middle school, is not difficult. A student can catch up 3 years before GaoKao if he realizes he should work hard to enter a good university. The attitude is important to perform well in Gaokao.

    I want to repeat gain, a student can catch up 3 years before GaoKao. This may be not the case in HeNan, but it’s true in Shanghai. Yifan has a Shanghai HuKou, right?

    Do you know any private school, but not International school, in Shanghai which is as good as the Best Public School, the option 2 in your previous blog? Maybe you can buy an expensive apartment in a good school district and sell it out in the future.

  19. Poor Yifan,

    i think your father think too much!

    Your father is a person who has accepted the foreign culture, however, i think your father is the same as other fathers. Your life is your own, maybe you should choose it by your own. But you are only three, if i were your father, i will love you and let you to be the happiest child in the world. Go fucky bamboo for panda!

  20. This is the first time I read your articles. I was surprised by the fluent English and the ability to express complicated things to simple clearly. I read a few your articles on education in one breath and the content inside firmed my choices for my son. My son was living in western country in his childhood for several and came back China a few years ago. We chose him to enter a public primary school in Beijing and he was able to enter a key middle school this year. Thanks god. I think I made a correct decision when he came back-enter a good public primary school instead of international school.

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