A personal letter to China students and friends of China
by John Richard Schrock
Northwest Agricultural and Forestry University, Yangling (TEACHING)
Beijing Normal University, Beijing
Northeast Normal University, Changchun
Dalian Medical University, Dalian
Liaoning Normal University, Dalian
Heading in to "Building 8" to teach entomology. Buildings cannot be named after persons in China. February in Yangling is cold.
Lois conducted English discussion practice with a small group of Chinese students. The better their English, the better their opportunity for a better job after graduation.
My "boss" Dr. Zhang Yalin, Head of the Entomology Institute and Vice President at the time, with his wife to far left.
Thanks to an E.S.U. sabbatical award for spring 2012, Lois and I were able to spend the spring semester at Northwest Agricultural and Forestry University in Yangling, China about one hour west of Xi’an in West Central China. At the end of April, I had the opportunity to speak to ~80 graduate students in biology teaching at Beijing Normal University and visit the National Zoological Museum. And at the beginning of June, I traveled to Changchun to speak two days at Northeast Normal University, then to Dalian for four days to speak at Dalian Medical University and meet with biology student teachers at Liaoning Normal University. As with previous travels, I had the opportunity to gain considerable understanding of the changing state of both K-12 education and university life across China.
NORTHWEST AGRICULTURAL AND FORESTRY UNIVERSITY
Oddly, in spite of my mainly serving China’s normal universities, it is at an agricultural university that I spent the semester, primarily due to my training in entomology and editing. NWA&FU is a state key university directly administered by the Ministry of Education. While its various schools date back to 1934, NWA&FU was formed in 1999 by merging seven institutions (water, agriculture, botany, soil, etc.) into a university “new town” on the site of Yangling village. During this spring, it saw its first Kentucky Fried Chicken and a cinema is being built. It can be compared with a U.S. land-grant university such as Purdue or Kansas State. It is a university town where the university, its research fields, and related new industries in plant genetics, pesticides, etc. dominate. In the dry-farming province of Shaanxi, Yangling is near the origin of farming in China and is the state-level agricultural high-tech industries demonstration zone for the country.
NWA&FU is a Rank 1 university supported under the national “Project 985” and “Project 211.” Of these approximately 100 elite universities that receive added funding, only two (NWA&FU and the Chinese Agricultural University) serve the extension and research needs of the half of the population that lives in rural areas. In the late 1990s, China seized the opportunity of a leadership gap (caused by the Cultural Revolution) to reorganize the universities, closing ineffective schools and reassigning many to provincial jurisdiction. However, while Rank 1 national schools such as NWA&FU take the students with highest scores on the gao kao, they also must take a quota of students from each province nationwide. As an agricultural school with many poor rural students, about 40% of students receive some financial support/scholarships. While most other universities in China, and worldwide, draw from urban areas and are seeing female students exceed 70% to 80% of their student body, NWA&FU has a near balance of boys and girls due to the agricultural focus.
We flew from Kansas City to San Francisco to Beijing to Xi’an, arriving in Yangling on February 1. In late April, we took a train to Beijing where Richard lectured at Beijing Normal University and we flew back to Xi’an. In early June, we flew to Changchun (NENU), on to Dalian (DMU and LNU), and then back to Xi’an.
NWA&FU NENU BNU LNU & DMU
NWA&FU is one hour west of Xi’an. I also lectured at Beijing Normal University in Beijing, Northeast Normal University in Changchun, and Dalian Medical and Liaoning Normal Universities in Dalian.
At one normal university, a well-dressed, enthusiastic-about-biology, graduating student teacher posed the first question: “I have been hired to teach at the Number One high school this fall. I want to use the inquiry method my professor taught us and the questioning techniques you described yesterday. But how can I keep my job if I do?”
In China, the “Number One” high school in a city is the top high school for getting students into college because they turn out the highest number of students with high gao kao scores. Chinese students take a zhong kao (middle test) between junior and senior high school and those with high scores get to go to the Number One high school—in part, it turns out the best because they only take the best. Therefore, students’ jockey for the best sequence of schools as they move through the system. This young man has been hired by the best school to continue that tradition of drill-for-the-test. He and his classmates clearly understand that diverting class time to questioning and leading classes in creatively working through science problems will take time away from the drill work. And his students’ scores will drop.
My answer: “You can’t do any good if you are not in the classroom. That means you have to continue some level of memory work to keep your students gao kao scores from plummeting. But five years ago, no Chinese student teachers were asking this question. You know what you need to do to get students to think and apply their knowledge. Fit in as much real labwork and questioning as you can without letting your students’ scores drop too far. China is changing. The next generation of children can experience biology that is exciting, that they can apply to everyday life, that leads to Nobel Prize breakthroughs...but only if you integrate as much real lab and fieldwork and questioning as you can. But first you have to keep your job.”
“WILL THIS BE ON THE TEST?”
These young teachers have a difficult task because their own students will push back against any coursework that they perceive will not help them on the gao kao, or college course final test. I experienced this push-back firsthand while teaching two insect identification class sections this spring. The first day, I point out the numbers in their textbook: one million species of insects have been described with probably 8-10 million yet to go. Those are easy numbers to memorize for a test. But then I continue: how can we estimate what we don’t know...why not just 2 million left, or perhaps 30 million? I can read their eyes: “Not fair. It is not in the book. You didn’t tell us.”
“Well, let’s think about this. A professor at NWA&FU is an expert on scorpionflies. Let’s say that there are 40 known species. He collects 10 different species this year and half are known and half are different and yet-to-be described. Now how many total are likely unknown?” Now some faces light up. They realize it is a math problem. If 40 known species represents half the species collected, then maybe there are a total of 80 species. That assumes all are equally abundant, none are rare, and collection efforts are continuous and uniform; so I can lead them through other methods of estimating that take this into account.
Mid-year, we are into identifying the various families of beetles, and I begin class by showing pictures of the previous week’s beetles and asking for the family. I throw up a photo of a beetle with big jaws and big eyes, key features of the tiger beetle family. Sure enough several identify it right. I ask them to explain aloud how they know the family and they give the right features (for those who did not yet know or did not yet understand the English well).
Then I ask: “Why are the eyes so big?”
Again, I can read their eyes: “It’s not in the book. You didn’t tell us. Not fair!”
“Well, let’s think about this. Why the big jaws?”
Some correctly surmise that they eat other insects.
“But most ground beetles eat other insects; they have big jaws and small eyes,” I note. Several students realize ground beetles run around on the ground and eat what they encounter in front of them—no need for big eyes.
But we know that tiger beetles fly fast and are hard to net.
“So why do tiger beetles have big eyes?” I repeat.
“Oh, so they can see their prey from far away!”—several make the connection.
“Yes! We should always be interested in why these insects have the structures they have, not just memorize their features,” I stress. Indeed, the good American science teacher leads students in understanding how we know what we know. But most Chinese students, and some observing professors at the back of the room, appear confounded by why I would spend any time at all on this diversion from the task at hand: memorizing the identification features of the insect families. How could any such questioning help them answer standardized questions? Chinese education, as well as much teaching in India and Europe, has centered around tests for centuries.
I am greatly indebted to my Chinese colleagues and my Chinese students for the opportunity to experience Chinese students in Chinese classrooms.
“YOU ARE A GOOD TEACHER” asserted a young colleague who sensed my dissatisfaction with my insect identification classes and my teaching.
“Let’s wait until next week,” I replied. One more class and one more quiz were left. When I had the semester’s scores—I had given a quiz every day—we sat down to discuss “good teacher.”
For about 115 students in two classes, I had a grid of daily quiz scores that revealed four general groups of students. The top group (about one-fourth) of students had pretty good English and understood nearly all of what I said. They came to class with their classification/identification worksheets heavily marked up and most (but not all) sat in the first two rows. If I threw in an equivalent term in Chinese, they understood it was Chinese, not English. Their scores were mainly 8-9-10 out of 10.
A second group had less English comprehension. They listened intently in a constant struggle of translation. They would try to translate my Chinese into English as well—a fact that forced me to drop using Chinese terms. Some demonstrated homework; some did not. Their daily scores averaged 6 or 7 out of 10.
A third group had rudimentary English. I kept speaking speed slow and clear for them, and used far more illustrations. I called on students from the upper groups to re-explain. I conducted beginning of class reviews with recitation, something I never do in the U.S. Yet when you do not immediately recognize a majority of the words, it is nearly impossible to follow the teacher. On quizzes, this group had much difficulty figuring out what the question asked (and most questions were identification of graphics of insect features). Their daily quiz scores ran 3-6 out of 10.
The bottom group, smallest but for which I felt the most empathy, understood nearly no common usage English, not to mention the entomology terms. Many (but not all) were students from Inner Mongolia, the Western Xinxiang region, or Tibet, and English would have been a third language, their local dialect being first and Chinese being second. NWA&FU, as a national university takes quotas from each province. Their quiz scores were 0 or 1 and many simply gave up even trying—so would I if I sat through a class given in, say, Greek.. In spite of making four major changes in teaching early in the semester, I could never reach this group. Despite my heavy mark-up of quizzes handed back daily, and exhortation to visit me in my office, Chinese students never come to a professor’s office for help.
“Am I a good teacher for these students?” I asked my young colleague, pointing to the last two groups... “I do not think so.” This was a brave experiment. For the bottom half, it was a failure. For the top half, if separated out, we could have moved faster, deeper, and pursued even more interesting coursework. Now we know.
The generalization that some teacher is a “good teacher” for everyone is problematic. Every one of us can look back on a “good teacher” who inspired us...but did not inspire or help others; indeed, others may have had a different “good teacher.”
China has mandated English be taught from Kindergarten through college but there is a problem when a student gets into the specialized terminology of a university discipline: China does not have many English-speaking “content teachers.” Nearly all of my Western colleagues in China were general reading/writing English teachers.
Before the Cultural Revolution (~1965-75), China’s professors and students spoke Russian as a second language. Afterwards, this policy was changed. English is required to be taught in Chinese schools from kindergarten through college. That certainly does not mean that every student is fluent. But well over 300 million (the population of the U.S.) study English. English is a major section of the gao kao and is therefore a factor to enter the Rank 1 universities. The higher the university rank, the more fluent most students are in English—I barely slow down when I lecture to graduate students at Beijing Normal University. As you move to lower ranked schools and away from the major cities into the countryside, English proficiency drops. But the attempt is always made to push English, and any student who is more proficient has an advantage both in school and for jobs in the developing society.
The reason for requiring English is not adulation of the U.S. or Western culture. English is becoming the international lingua franca. It has always been the language for international airline pilots. Now it is the currency for business and science. Discover and publish in any other language and you will be ignored. Another person discovers the same thing 10 years later and publishes in English—they will get the credit.
English as the language-of-publication places an added burden on China’s scientists. First, they have their own difficult language to learn to write and read during elementary school, although it has a richness in meaning that matches if not exceeds English. But then they have to master a second technical language in their field of research. Consider how much of a burden it would be on U.S. scientists if they all had to publish in German, and therefore had to learn German in their field and write with accuracy and elegance! That is the dilemma faced by today’s researcher in China. And English is a terrible second language to learn; it nearly always violates the rules. I am fortunate to have grown up speaking English so the correct usage “sounds right.”
PUBLICATION IN CHINA
In the late 1990s, China’s Ministry of Education (MoE) decided to not only adopt the U.S. university system of assistant, associate and full professors (versus lecturers, readers, etc.) but also adopted the U.S. research university reward system focused on research, research, and research. Therefore, Chinese faculty must pursue publication in high impact factor (IF) journals in order to establish a high personal science citation index (SCI). This pseudoscientific set of measures now drives university professors and graduate students, and shortchanges classroom teaching. It has been made even worse by the recent adoption of the requirement that a master’s thesis or doctoral dissertation is not accepted and the degree not awarded until it is published! The first of many serious consequences is that this research-only emphasis shortchanges teaching. Chinese college teachers come into class, say it once, and leave. A Chinese student will never say “I don’t know” when asked because they believe it is always their own fault if they have not done their homework and do not understand. Another result of loading faculty evaluation on research is a decrease of any student evaluation besides a final test. In response, students can slack off during the course and then cram the last weeks before the final.
Hiring offers, retention, promotion, and bonuses for professors are now tied to publication in high impact journals. This perpetuates a closed door policy where faculty only focus on research. However, perfectly good research may be rejected because the grammar is not standard. “Chinglish” is the common term they use (not derogatory) and they may send their paper out to editing businesses in Australia, New Zealand, the U.S. or England to “clean up” the English. These grammar check re-writers may know their English but do not necessarily know the accurate or precise technical terms, and can make substitutions that make the paper “read better” but which are wrong in a subtle manner that the Chinese researcher may not recognize but the English editor will.
There are also language “services” that go further, providing expertise in the technical field and rewriting the paper with precision for much more money. But this becomes a slippery slope that can extend further to ghosting a whole research paper—for a high price!
While I edit two journals (Kansas School Naturalist and Kansas Biology Teacher), I also serve on the editorial staff of the Journal of the Kansas Entomological Society and am an English editor of Entomotaxonomia. The later journal based at NWA&FU just converted to a major new format with all articles in English (some with Chinese abstracts as well). As English editor in the production process, I edit articles for both content and style in the review process. It is primarily an insect systematics journal for publishing descriptions of new species. China’s most famous entomologist, Prof. Chou Io (founder of the journal and who had died several years ago) had a centennial remembrance of his 100th birthday in July and a flood of articles poured in, many describing new species in his name. By the end of the semester, I had proofed over 110 submissions to Entomotaxonomia, enough to carry the publication for three more issues, each double in size. I also proofed over 70 insect articles for NWA&FU professors and graduate students for publication in other journals worldwide, in all cases with the goal of making the article undistinguishable from articles from the U.S., Europe, Australia, etc. in grammar and word usage. My technique editing has grown over the many years since I first witnessed the expert editing of the Journal of the Kansas Entomological Society by Dr. George Byers, and where my own papers in his course came back carefully marked up. I was fortunate to have scholarly teachers like Dr. Byers.
This was the sixth time I had come to NWA&FU, but the other times I only came for a few days to a week during which I proofed articles for professors and students day and night. I plan to be there again for at least a week next May-June. Meanwhile, I edit the English in Entomotaxonomia from Kansas throughout the year via internet.
One benefit of a sabbatical 8,000 miles away is that it allowed me to shed many of the routine time-consuming duties that surround me at ESU, particularly the continuous burden of defending good science education from the anti-intellectual educationist political forces in Kansas. One task I carried to China was the materials for a full rewrite of the Sigma XI “Honor in Science” publication. This spring 2012 issue of the Kansas School Naturalist titled “Integrity in Scientific Research and Writing” was compiled and written in China in February and sent through reviewers and galley proofs to press via the internet, with the fine composition work of Kat Dorcas at ESU. It was waiting to be mailed when I returned to ESU in June.
This was also the main topic of interest at Chinese universities. My first lecture on this was with 80 of Prof. Liu Enshan’s graduate biology education students at Beijing Normal University, an audience that also included some professors and students from physics and other departments. (Prof. Liu’s students are always a key group insofar as many of them will become the future biology teacher trainers in normal universities across China.) This issue of the KSN is also considered so critical to China’s current concerns that Prof. Liu had it translated into Chinese and it was re-published in the next issues of the BNU journal Shengwuxue Tongbao.
I always learn much from the discussion and questions following my lectures, and the BNU graduate students had many hard-hitting happening-right-now questions. One example of how different societies come to the same problem from different histories was revealed in one question, and the students already knew the answer. Because of the rampant problems with plagiarism worldwide, China’s MoE has required all universities to run all masters theses and doctoral dissertations through a plagiarism check program. (As of last year, all theses and dissertations had to be submitted in Chinese, so this is a Chinese character-matching version of our computer checking systems.) In response, Chinese universities inform their students that before they submit their theses and dissertations, they have to go to their library and run their drafts through this program, thus passing the responsibility down the line and helping the university avoid any uncomfortable confrontation. As a result, many Chinese students have come to a definition of plagiarism based on the number of identical words in a row that the computer program catches: if the computer does not catch it, it is not plagiarism. And this is reinforced by the fact that when an identical sequence is discovered, they know how to substitute enough words to avoid it being tagged.
My response? (This is awkward because I do not want the student who asked this open and honest question to lose face.) So I rephrase the question for the whole group. If the definition of plagiarism is “to represent other’s ideas or words as your own,” then is this plagiarism even if enough characters have been changed to avoid the computer detection? And all 80 in the room responded in characteristic Chinese recitation “it is plagiarism.”
And while I pointed out the quote in my booklet “If you are asking how many words do I need to change to avoid plagiarism, you are already thinking wrong,” I have to realize that they are coming from a different educational system, similar to the rest of Asia and India, where repeating back the exact words of the master teacher or the textbook is rewarded as excellent learning. The American teaching style asking-critical-thinking-questions is not just for good science questioning, it is also part-and-parcel of understanding the role of giving credit to intellectual debt and building a reliable basis for science. In a test-driven educational system, patch-writing without author credit is no sin. (It is similar to the Napster affair where our young generation saw no problem with duplicating and distributing music.)
At another university, the question session revealed another facet of the Chinese dilemma with plagiarism. Throughout their schoolwork, Chinese students receive assignments to conduct library research and write papers where the teacher really does want them to assimilate and synthesize ideas. One technique in writing the paper for submission to their teacher in Chinese is to translate it directly from an English article. The translation will require student effort and skill, and since their choice of words in translating will differ from any other English translation that may exist somewhere, it will not be caught by a plagiarism-check computer. So, is this plagiarism? And of course, if no credit is given to the English author, sure it is.
My most serious concern centers with a new MoE policy: no masters or PhD will be awarded until the paper has been accepted for publication in a journal. While this may have been intended to prevent cheap degrees being awarded for shoddy research, it turns these research degrees into a high stakes game. Consider that in the U.S., a student, upon guidance of his/her advisor, pursues experiments that test if A causes B. But the results of two years of work end up being no mathematically significant difference between treatment and control. Journals do not generally publish negative results such as A does not cause B. In the West, that would result in an acceptable thesis that would sit on library shelves and the student would get their degree, or have another year or two to try another experiment. In China, just as undergraduates have four years and no more, a graduate student’s academic life would come to an end with such negative results...no “do over.” When I query students across China about this outcome, I am disturbed by their recognition that perhaps some of the data could be dropped (outliers “trimmed”) and the results would then become mathematically significant and publishable. “The lack of a degree is a personal disaster, but what is the big deal if one bit of published research is a little off?” goes the reasoning. There is the very real possibility that this publish-before-the-degree-is-awarded regulation could lead to publication of erroneous research and at the international level eventually generate an overall questioning of Chinese research in general.
THE RESEARCH DEFENSE PROCESS
The rapid growth of Chinese universities and the flood of able students has resulted in a shortage of veteran professors. At many universities, I see professors with six to a dozen Ph.D. students and up to two dozen master’s students!
When graduate students successfully complete their initial coursework and comprehensive exams, they present their research proposals in front of a panel of professors who approve their moving to masters or doctoral candidacy. Often their research is laid out in cookbook fashion, a subsection of their major professor’s research area. In some cases (usually boys), I note that the citations in the proposal do not all appear in the references. When I point this out to a professor, he notes that these students often spend much time playing videogames and have probably cut-and-pasted together their proposals hastily. The cross-check of citations with references is much more consistent with girls.
The MoE has issued many policies lately concerning masters and doctoral defenses. In contrast to Western defenses that usually are presented individually, numbers require that they be sequenced back-to-back on a few days. One examination committee is used for a morning or afternoon block of 4-5 presentations. And the MoE now does not allow the major professor to sit on the committee (similar to European examination defenses). In addition, the examination committee occupies the front row(s) and the other faculty and students sit further back. At least one committee member is to come from another institution; this “outsider” is to ensure rigor and this puts a lot of veteran professors on airplanes every May-June. Only the examination committee asks questions; the students would never think to cause another student trouble by asking a question for this is seen as just another extension of the testing system that the students have prepared for in elementary, lower high school, upper high school, and now. But those Chinese faculty who have experienced Western university oral defenses know that this is another opportunity, indeed a vital learning experience, for younger students to ask questions and pose alternative interpretations in seeking the truth of a natural phenomenon. But the Chinese professors who have witnessed this and return to China get pulled back into the only-the-exam-professors-ask-questions habit. It is obvious that just ordering grad students to ask questions would not force a change in this perspective that the defense exams are a final gao kao or big final “test.”
Professor’s questions can be, to some extent, routine about the form of the experiment or the math significance. Students have in some cases merely followed a cookbook experiment and as long as the questions are about the cookbook, they have the answers. But if I step beyond the narrow cookbook to ask for different applications or the rationale for the cookbook procedure, the student may be lost. For instance, one masters research centered on using “18S rDNA...” to determine similarity of some insects. So I asked, “and what does the ‘S’ in 18S stand for or mean,” and I would gladly have accepted Svedberg, or sedimentation rate, or just a general allusion to the density determining the rate at which this particle centrifuges out. But that concept central to her research was not part of the cookbook she learned, and I could not lead her to it by mentioning that in prokaryotes we use 16S, etc.
The Chinese professors who have been to the West and seen the role of questioning and argument in science research know that questions from the students during defenses is a critical part of their education in questioning. Yet we cannot just mandate that all graduate students will attend and each one will ask a question. That would not work here. The pursuit of science questioning must be integrated into their daily science coursework at college and must have begun in high school. High school science teachers are full partners with the university faculty in moving to questioning that will generate new discoveries rather than “mine out” routine science with known technology. Those who use PCR expand routine science; those who invented PCR get the Nobel Prizes.
SUICIDE [Aired on KANU August 21, 2012)
"A student killed herself yesterday by jumping off Building 8," a student told me.
"Who?" I asked.
"Which school?" I pressed. There were 11 schools in my university. My entomology students were in the School of Plant Protection.
"Don’t know that either."
This suicide was on Saturday. I heard about it Sunday. Was it one of my students, I wondered? I took particularly careful attendance on Monday.
I had no girl student absent, thank heavens! But some professor did.
My wife and I walked up to the top of Building 8 a few weeks later. Looking down from the top windows, it is hard to imagine the mental anguish that would drive a young student to jump from such a terrifying height.
During the spring semester I taught at Northwest Agricultural and Forestry University, there were three suicides. But student suicides are even more common at the more elite Chinese universities.
To understand the tragedy of Chinese university student suicide, you must understand a millennia-old Confucian tradition: It is the duty of a child to care for parents and grandparents. You must also understand that China is undergoing a modernization from 1930s Grapes-of-Wrath era poverty to development that in some ways is exceeding the West.
It took the United States nearly a century to move from Depression-era hard times to the high-tech modern world we live in today. The Chinese have been going through this dramatic change in just the past 20 years.
China has yet to develop a broad social security system. So, grandparents and parents invest all of their resources—all of their hope for the future—in one child.
That’s a lot of pressure on a student!
This also means that in the rural countryside, if a student fails, the whole extended family fails. This burden of responsibility can be heavy. And not all students who excel in academics may have the strength of personality to accept failure when they reach their limit.
When I mentioned the suicide to a teaching colleague, he was completely unaware of it. Chinese universities do not advertise these social casualties. Suicide is the student’s problem. With large class sizes, it is difficult for a teacher to truly know their students. While psychiatry has more legitimacy in China today, any student sent to the university medical center for help is likely to be treated with medication and sent back to class.
And Chinese students have just four years to complete their bachelor’s degree and must graduate with their entering class.
Our common Western reaction is that student suicides are terrible; that there should be no severe pressure on university students to succeed. But that reaction can generate problems in reverse.
Consider the Western parent or grandparent who proudly says: "Don’t worry about caring for me when I get old; I have my pension." It sends another unspoken message: "Whether you succeed or fail in college doesn’t matter to me, kid." If Chinese students suffer from too much pressure, many Western students get a message that hard study doesn’t really matter.
With 400 million Chinese having entered the middle class in the last two decades, more families are able to tell their students the Western message: if you fail, it will no longer be a disaster for your parents. Still... longstanding family responsibilities are hard to leave behind.
China’s growing affluence is gradually decreasing this pressure to succeed and bringing down the student suicide rate.
Meanwhile, when I ask Chinese university students: "When you become parents, what is the most important lesson you want to teach your child?"
High on everyone’s list: "learning to love yourself." They fully understand their classmate’s tragedy. If they can only achieve middle class status, they will try to help their children live a happy life, whether their child graduates with their classmates or not.
NWA&FU is in Shaanxi Province, part of the Loess Plateau. Pronounced “luss,” this is a windblown clay-silt that coats everything. Wipe your kitchen cabinet top today and you can still clear a line in new dust on it tomorrow with your finger, even with the windows closed. Some days lack a blue sky; no clouds but an extended slightly brown haze. A clean car needs a carwash in three days and looks downright muddy in a week. Shoes remain polished for a few hours, tops. Yet the constant sweeping of street sweepers (human and truck) keep their streets cleaner than in the U.S.
This loess is critical to building soil, and you really do not see the standard O-A-B-C soil horizons. This continuous microscopic rain of soil particles builds the agricultural soil and then erodes to line streams with sediment. It packs tight to allow cave houses in the rural areas. (We are just 3 hours south of Yan’an, the historic base of Mao’s Army at the end of the Long March; that was a cave-house camp.) The soil can be slurried and baked into bricks; brickyards line our highways.
China has announced that it intends to increase energy generated by state-of-the-art nuclear powerplants to 200 gigawatts by 2030 and 400 gigawatts by 2050. While China also is the world’s leading producer of solar panels, primarily for purchase by Germany, the comparative higher cost of electricity from this source has limited use in China to remote areas and terrain where cheaper power is not available.
In summer 2011, the peak demand of electricity in China exceeded generating supply by 18 percent. Rather than suffer rolling brownouts, China implemented a higher rate for all electricity except to households and worked to improve grid efficiency. In spite of building power plants as fast as they can, this year China again had demand that exceeded supply. This time, they raised the kilowatt cost for electricity for everyone but starting above the usual household usage. In both cases, the focus was on distributing power in an equitable manner with the poorer citizens considered first.
Unlike their counterparts in the West that are privatized, China maintains control of banking, communications and energy. Roads and railroads are also state managed, but then they mostly are in the West as well.
CCTV has an English channel and their news coverage was, similar to when we lived in Hong Kong, far more international. At a time when Western media appear to be shutting down overseas news bureaus and using free-lance reporters, CCTV appears to have an expanding network of their own correspondents. Daily series such as “Culture Express” examine world fashions and regional customs and music. Regular weekly segments focus on Africa, the U.S., the Americas including Cuba, and Europe and Russia. India is commonly covered as the other major rising country.
While CCTV does have its equivalent of Bill O’Reilly in a Yang Rei who pushes the party line, much of their coverage is no more biased than U.S. network TV and a lot better than the corporate mouthpiece Fox and related cable stations. Indeed, Tian Wei, one host of “Dialogue,” always does her homework and treats guests with a combination of respect and questioning that cuts to the core more than I have ever seen on NPR or PBS. On the other hand, we kept up on stateside news via online streaming and were (and remain) universally dissatisfied with U.S. coverage of China that is nearly universally wrong.
One example of the news we do not get is the fact that both China and Russia felt “scammed” when they were talked into the United Nations resolution approving no-fly-zone air cover for Libya; this was taken as carte blanche permission for NATO jets to strike ground forces at will. Thus, based on the not-fooling-me-twice principle, there is no way they will approve any proposals to the UN for no-fly or other intervention in Syria. The rest of the world knows this. Due to our press, we do not. If you want more reasonable coverage of China, stream CCTV online or check out http://www.channelnewsasia.com, http://usa.chinadaily.com.cn, and the International Herald Times which is the international branch of the New York Times at http://rendezvous.blogs.nytimes.com because the U.S. edition of the New York. Times is very provincial.