The educational system in China today is more
Socialist-oriented. Chinese classrooms are typically packed with up to 50
students, and learning is often done in groups to emphasize teamwork and
cooperation, basic tenets of Socialism. But Chinese schooling is also
increasingly competitive, and students sit for entrance exams even at the grade
school level. This meritocracy is mingled with economics, and parents work hard
to ensure they can afford to send their kids to the best schools once they get
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The Chinese value education as a stepping stone to success, and children -
especially only children - are under a lot of pressure to excel in school. There
is also an unspoken code of conformity, and there is a lot of pressure to fit
in, for to be singled out is the penultimate in humiliation, causing students to
"lose face" in front of their peers. In addition to academics, parents also try
and enroll their children in a wide variety of after-school activities to
enhance their overall development.
What is strikingly different in China is the motivation for excellence. In the
West, it is easy to assume most kids work hard because they want to succeed and
maybe become the next Bill Gates someday. In China, the goal is to create
productive citizens who can serve society. Thus, a child excels to benefit
China, not for his or her personal wealth.
While Confucius has become a rather comical figure in the West, associated with
quips like "Confucius says…," this Chinese sage has had a profound impact on the
values of Chinese around the world for over 2,000 years. Born Kong Zi (551 B.C.
- 479 B.C.), Confucius has been credited with stressing the importance of virtue
and natural order in a civil society. This has translated into an emphasis on
values like filial piety and respect for authority, which help establish order
and subordination in the classroom.
Today, a noticeable departure from Confucianism is the greater equality Chinese
parents share. Under a more Confucian system, the mother was expected to be
amiable and quiet, and the father was the strict head of the household. Instead,
the reality today is both parents usually work, and they want to cultivate a
more friendly, supportive relationship with their child. This reflects most
parents' attitudes towards discipline as well: rather than a traditional beating
or scolding, children are asked to reflect on and internalize the impact of
their bad behavior on others.