Thursday, 6 October 2011

Is It A Cultural Ignorance Of NUS Or Chinese Patriotism Or Both?



This must be a shock to the National University of Singapore (NUS) over a test of general knowledge in China. A test of general knowledge, in return, is a test of our general knowledge and cultural understanding of China.

This cultural ignorance about China is much serious than the recent shortage of examination papers in NUS as cultural understanding can not be solved overnight. It seems the university or Singapore at large has a long way to go even though there are many Chinese experts and Chinese exchanged scholars in our campuses.  

Chinese, American and Singapore students

To NUS professors, asking Chinese students to write a short answer to “what have you learned from the Wenzhou train accident?" may be is similar to asking American students on “what have you learned from 911?”

Unfortunately, one cannot expect Chinese students to have the same reaction as the American students. Or, perhaps Chinese students are more patriot than the American students.  Or, NUS testers are treating Chinese students like Singapore students that they never voice out even they are unhappy, especially NUS is a recruiting agency and the Chinese students are applying for the scholarship.

Not to forget, these Chinese students are not ordinary people.  They are from one of the top Chinese universities, Fudan University. Once recruited, they are foreign talents to us.  Some may take up citizenship, stand for election and hold appointments one day.  

Not to surprise, Wenzhou high speed train incident can also be a high school examination topic next year in China. You may wonder why the Chinese can ask themselves the same question and being an outsider, we can’t. Why within China, this is a lesson and the same question from outsiders, it is an insult?   

Further surprise is if selected, the complained student will still come to Singapore.  Why? Perhaps, for his personal reason, he can do a Masters in NUS and continue to do a PhD in the USA. Or perhaps, it is for his friends, his family or even a business opportunity.  Chinese are more flexible in thinking and in action than us.

Chinese patriotism can begin from a small incident like a test paper because it touches on the recent setback in China’s high speed train project.  It can also arises from historical events, like Second World War (Nanjing Massacre), 918 (Japan invasion of Northeast China), 77 (incident of 卢沟Lugou bridge that led to Japan and China war), May 4 (against unfair treaty with Japan) etc.

Twitter is no match to weibo in China

An issue sometimes can become a big issue or a crisis if the matter is not handled properly.  Their weibo is more powerful than our twitter. Wenzhou train crash was first reported over weibo minutes after the accident. The Wenzhou accident quick becomes a national issue with suspected cover-ups and corrupt practices because the Chinese transport authority did not explain it properly (or openly).

Is the complained Fudan student representing all university students in China?  No. In the history of China, there are some groups of people who are willing to die for the country for whatever reasons but not all of them.  The Fudan student may belong to the former groups of people or in that particular moment, he is one of them.

A test of wisdom and Singapore

To outsiders, it is a test of wisdom on how to distinguish different groups of Chinese and their behaviours. Unfortunately, Singapore students are still struggling with the learning and teaching of Chinese.  In an interview with Zaobao, Minister Heng Swee Keat admitted MOE faced a challenge to teach Chinese to English speaking families.  
教育部长王瑞杰接受本报专访时说,教育部现在面临的挑战是如何在家庭用语倾向英语的趋势下,继续加强华文教学的研究,以协助教师有效和生动地教导华文. http://www.zaobao.com.sg/sp/sp111005_001.shtml

If our professors misread the Chinese, can our students, who have poor command of Chinese, have a better understanding of Chinese than our university professors?

At the end of the day, may be we should ask ourselves “what have we learned from the NUS incident in Shanghai?” And have we and the NUS learned some lessons about Chinese patriotism and cultures after this incident?  

Because of the importance of China, I am 100% sure NUS had no intention to belittle or disrespect the Wenzhou train tragedy. However, NUS did apology to those affected students (original omy Chinese report). 

Does the apology really mean anything to the Chinese?  Will they appreciate your efforts of educating their brightest students?

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