Opinion | Is China rejecting English and turning inward?
By Augustus K. Yeung
On September 11, the New York Times dropped a bombshell on me, one of the twin brothers: It reported that in Shanghai there is a communist campaign for ideological control, and that China is rejecting English and turning inward. ("Rejecting English, China turns inward," By Li Yuan, New York Times, Saturday, September 11.)
I read the front-page article with a heavy heart, in much the same panic way that the Americans were running away from the Twin Towers for an emergency exit…
China is not, Will not and Cannot "Reject English"
What I discovered: China is not rejecting English, and China is not turning inward, which is an oversensitive statement; it is Shanghai municipality that is instructing the school system to stop administering English tests and examinations; and it is a responsible effort to take the heavy workload off the back of the poor elementary pupils.
These students should not be sandwiched by that traditional exam-oriented education system into taking after-school tutoring-courses; and that their parents should not be feeding money into the mouths of the tutorial kings and queens, especially when the central government is encouraging parents to have three children per household; and that China is not turning inward--as the colleges and universities are continuing with the English learning and testing activities.
The way to master English is not having to go through tests and examinations in elementary schools. This way would only introduce an element of exam phobia, a fear, a nightmare that many English teachers, and even award-winning university English lecturers still woke up in the middle of the night, reliving the traumatic experience of being tested, and failing the grades.
Learning "How to Learn" Should be the Issue
Learning "how to learn" should be the issue, not stop learning English, which is a short-sighted way. Doing away with the exam-led part of the learning process is the right way, because learning a foreign should be a joy for primary school pupils rather than a psychological burden. And, ultimately getting pupils to read by themselves is the best way of mastering the English language.
It is the wrong method of language acquisition that the Shanghai education authorities are trying to arrest, not the beautiful English language that the Chinese are trying hard to promote.
Remember former Chinese president Jiang Zemin? He recited President Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Speech when he was interviewed by an established American media outlet while visiting the US. As far as the English language is concerned, China sees the wisdom of sending their sons and daughters to America, which is up to now the center of the universe, and the pinnacle of power and possibly wisdom.
Is China Rejecting Outside Influence?
China is not rejecting outside influence. However, China is rejecting unhealthy outside influence such as celebrity worship, Hollywood-style. Celebrity worship has become a social phenomenon in China; it is manufactured by conglomerates which draw out young men and women with pretty faces by forming "fan clubs" and staging competitions sponsored by social media platforms to promote their commercial products that require a celebrity as their "spokesperson", who often turn out to be empty vessels.
The result of this new cultural assault is that it is working against the healthy growth of the younger generation, and the principles of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which is tasked with the responsibility of warding off the well-documented corrupt elements, and instead "planting green roots and shoots, and watching closely as the trees grow," so that the next generation of young Chinese can continue to lead a drug-free life, and enjoy social gatherings in a socialist society with Chinese characteristics.
As it is, a Western way of celebrity worship also presents challenges for Chinese parents, who very often must fight with their children's peers for attention. Worst of all, these parents are often forced to help their sons and daughter to fight off the delinquent subculture characterized by damaging drugs which would strike out once they have joined fan clubs, leading to decadence and even death.
In American society, in the name of freedom, the cyst is often allowed to grow into a malignant tumor, which ultimately comes to harm the person who is charmed by the delinquent subculture, and eventually lost his/her health and even dear life.
The English Language is a World Language
That English is a world language is an established fact. English is widely used in most essential international activities: communication in international aviation is one; worldwide tourism is another; and then there is instruction that goes with medicine and the use of a gadget such as computer, etc.,
Even the Chinese authorities that go to America to investigate former government officials who brushed with the law and must be brought back home. Bringing these corrupt officials who have absconded public funds from a host country back to China, these regulatory officials working in a host country must use the English language in a variety of ways.
Read David Crystal whose heroic work, "The English Language," the Cambridge encyclopedia (Cambridge University Press, 1995) the reader will fully understand what wonder that the English language has to offer. In which he said the English vocabulary is "the Mount Everest of a language." How inspiring?
There is Also a Link between a Foreign Language and Intelligence
Studies after studies have shown that people who speak a foreign language in addition to the mother tongue are more intelligent than people who speak only one language. For one thing, bilingual people are more tolerant than their monolingual counterparts.
The Chinese students studying in America should know this better: The average American seldom goes abroad, and so you can imagine how tolerant of cultural diversity they would be. If this average American cannot tolerate cultural diversity, will they tolerate the behavior of Chinese students from a different culture?
English Enables One to Promote Understanding of Other Cultures
People who do not understand a culture will say bad things about the individual who carries this culture. Recently, I have found two American journalists who published articles in the prestigious New York Times, making outrageously false statements about Hong Kong, the Chinese president, and his Beijing government.
As a long-time Hong Kong resident, I certainly know the society better than these "reporters", who for whatever reasons were caught making sudden vicious swipes at the local government and the central government.
I have an idea: What if Hong Kong or Beijing coached 100,000 young men and women until they are versed in the English language, and then send them abroad to strike up relationships, would that save China from being culturally smeared?
This is a lot better than having the so-called "wolf warriors" howling at our American friends.
Besides, what would happen to me if I do not know English? Amid the lockdowns, I am still able to read the New York Times (International Edition), which informs me about what is going on in other parts of the world, especially New York City. If I do not understand English, I would not be able to read foreign newspapers. Instead, I would be forced to read Chinese translation, which is often a source of regret, giving me a sense of personal inadequacy.
By the way, what happened to the New York Times? I thought foreign journalists are all trained "to be accurate, be brief …" Reading the hundred-year-old New York Times that I love and respect, I didn't expect to be shanghaied!
The author is a freelance writer; formerly Adjunct Lecturer, taught MBA Philosophy of Management, and International Strategy, and online columnist of 3-D Corner (HKU SPACE), University of Hong Kong.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of DotDotNews.