A hard day’s night

Marie studies for over 10 hours each day. From an 8 o’clock start to late at night. That’s perfectly run-of-the-mill in China: and not just at Beida – one of China’s top universities, an equivalent to Oxford or Cambridge – but all across China’s educational landscape, be it university or middle school.

Marie has several friends who have dropped out of Beida after their first year because the stress was simply too much, or took a year off to rest. I’ll try to get some numbers on Chinese students dropping out of college in a future post, as it’s all a bit anecdotal now (though while we’re being anecdotal, compare ‘several’ to only one person in my peer group at Oxford who dropped out).

I asked Marie today how she coped:

There is a question I always ask myself: what kind of person I want to be, and what work I want to have. If I have a goal, I will ignore the tiredness*.

We then touched on why there is such a culture of driving yourself to death at university in China. In haste, here are a four reasons (all fairly obvious) that we came up with:

1. There is more competition in the job market in China. 1.4 billion people and all…

2. Parents have more say in their kid’s choice of university major than they do in the West. And they tend to favour the most demanding subjects as they believe it will improve their kids prospects for employment.

2. A culture of excelling in exams as a measure of your worth can be traced back to the the Imperial exam system (keju) which determined pretty much everything from your job to your haircut for 1,300 years.

3. Back to the parents. If you only have one child, and suffered the cultural revolution in your youth (and couldn’t study at university), there is a tendency to put pressure on your kid to make the most of the opportunities you were deprived.

This is a topic which interests me a lot: I’m likely to return to it. Good night!


* As with William and Ben, when I quote Marie it will either be my translation from her Mandarin, or my cleaning-up (grammatically, not content-wise of course) of her English.