Thinking about Public Education – China and East Asia versus the United States and Western culture

November 26, 2014

To understand the Chinese mind, we should start with Confucius (552 – 479 BC), who is arguably the most influential person in Chinese history and by extension the rest of East Asia: Korea, Japan, the Philippines, and Southeast Asia—thanks to China being a regional super power for more than two thousand years, while its merchants helped spread Chinese cultural influence and thought to the other East Asian countries they traded with.

An important Confucian influence on Chinese society and the rest of East Asia was his focus on education and scholarship, and it’s no secret that Chinese (and other Asian) students put in more hours in classroom study today than their Western counterparts—even in the United States.

In fact, we can measure the influence of Confucius on Asian-American students in the United States. For instance, in 2012, The Washington Post reported, “Researchers found that (high school) graduation rates vary by race, with 91.8 percent of Asian students, 82 percent of whites, 65.9 percent of Hispanics and 63.5 percent of blacks graduating on time.”

In China, the hallmark of Confucius’ thought was his emphasis on education and study. He disparaged those who had faith in natural understanding or intuition and argued that the only real understanding of a subject comes from long and careful study.

Confucius goal was to create gentlemen who carried themselves with grace, spoke correctly, and demonstrated integrity in all things. He had a strong dislike of the sycophantic “petty men,” whose clever talk and pretentious manner easily won them an audience of easy to fool people.

Confucius political/educational philosophy was also rooted in his belief that a ruler should learn self-discipline, should govern his subjects by his own example, and should treat them with love and concern.

To understand the importance of education in Western culture, we first look at what Plato (about 423 – 346 BC), Socrates (about 469 – 399 BC) and Aristotle (384 – 322 BC) thought.

When Plato talked about the education of the body, he said we had to take Spartan military gymnastics as a model, because it was based on physical exercises and prescribed severe control over all pleasures. Plato also argued for the public character of education and that it had to be given in buildings especially built for that purpose. In these schools, boys and girls should receive the same teaching and that the educational process should start as soon as possible, as young as three-to-six-years old.

Socrates believed that there were different kinds of knowledge, important and trivial. He acknowledges that most of us know many “trivial” things, and he said that the craftsman possesses important knowledge, the practice of his craft, but that this is important only to the craftsman. But Socrates thought that the most important of all knowledge was “how best to live.” He concluded that this was not easily answered, and most people lived in shameful ignorance regarding matters of ethics and morals. Socrates devoted much thought to the concept of belief, through the use of logic.

Aristotle, however, said that the purpose of the state was to educate the people—to make them virtuous. He said, virtue was the life principle of the state. The goal of the state was to educate with a view toward its own institutions (to preserve them)—through the political education of all citizens.

It is also arguable that the Bible probably has a large impact on what many Westerners think about the value of an education, but the focus of the Bible is mostly on fear of the Lord when it comes to learning—a mixed message at best when compared to what Confucius, Plato, Socrates and Aristotle thought.

Proverbs 9:9-10 says, “Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.

Proverbs 1:7 – The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.

2 Timothy 3:16 – All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,

2 John 1:9 – Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.


Watch the video to discover that the agenda of the Common Core State Standards in the United States is similar to the agenda of the Prussian Model of Obedience.

In conclusion, the value of an education is clearly defined by Confucius providing a solid foundation for East Asia, while in the West, the message is murky and confusing at best, because the Bible focuses on fear of the Lord, and that Scripture is profitable for teaching and training the righteous compared to Plato’s focus on harsh Spartan physical training in addition to severe self-control over all pleasures starting at an early age, and Aristotle focused on preserving government through political education of the people—in other words, brainwashing them.

Socrates may have been closer to the way Confucius thought about the value of an education, but not as clearly defined as Confucius.

Out of this muddle of Western thought eventually emerged the 18th century, Prussian Industrial Model of education more aligned with what Aristotle thought, and this system was adopted by most of Western Culture during the industrial revolution, including the United States.

The Prussian system instituted compulsory attendance, specific training for teachers, national testing for all students (used to classify children for potential job training), national curriculum set for each grade and mandatory kindergarten.

The Prussian public education model attempted to instill social obedience in the citizens through indoctrination. Every individual had to become convinced, in the core of his being, that the King was just, his decisions always right, and the need for obedience paramount. There was no room for individual thought or questioning authority that would develop in the United States and other Western countries after World War II.

Maybe the blind obedience that gave power to dictators like Hitler had something to do with that change in Western thought about public education, but today, with the emphasis on the Common Core State Standards and harsh punishment of children and teachers who don’t measure up, the United States may be returning to the harsher Aristotelian, Prussian Model of education to brainwash children so they grow up and give blind obedience to their leaders.

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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Are there hidden flaws to Piety?

September 10, 2014

I’ve heard that it was Confucianism that caused China to fall victim to Western Imperialism in the 19th century, and the reason Mao started the Cultural Revolution his last decade was to correct this imperfection.

However, I believe that the collective culture created in China by Emperor Han Wudi (156-87 BCE)— considered one of the most influential emperors in Chinese history—is the reason that China’s civilization survived for thousands of years without suffering the fate of Europe after the collapse of the Roman Empire.

The problem is not from Confucianism but a flaw in the way an element of Confucianism has been interpreted over the centuries.  In fact, this flaw is buried so deep in the Chinese psyche that Mao’s disastrous Great Leap Forward and the tragic Cultural Revolution were not stopped because of it.

There were powerful individuals in the Communist Party who did not agree with what Mao was doing but did not speak out when they could have. Some of those individuals even suffered during the Cultural Revolution but still kept silent due to the power of piety.

It wasn’t until after Mao’s death that those same people acted and Deng Xiaoping came to power stopping the madness of the Cultural Revolution.

To criticize an elder in China—even when that individual is power hungry, senile or maybe a bit crazy—is considered similar to Christian heresy during the Spanish Inquisition. Piety means elders must be treated with respect as if they can do no wrong. Is there a way to find a balance and fulfil the duty of filial piety?

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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Tomb Sweeping Day in China to honor the ancestors

July 23, 2014

Ancestor worship may well be the oldest, unorganized religion in China. For instance, take Tomb Sweeping Day. The practice that honors family ancestors started during the Zhou Dynasty (1046-256 BC) and has been around for more than 2,500 years.

Tomb Sweeping Day is a one-day Chinese holiday where respect is shown to the ancestors. This holiday is celebrated in early April, and families have a reunion and visit their ancestors’ grave sites.

Before this tradition, the first emperor Qin Shi Huangdi had not unified China yet, and the country was divided into several nation states governed by hereditary rulers and worshiping ancestors was important in maintaining a link with the past.

Today, many Chinese homes and businesses have a shrine set up to honor the ancestors. This shrine may have the name of the ancestor carved into wood or rock or there is a photo. Food is often left on the table for the ancestors.

Respect for ancestors is also an important part of Confucianism and there is still an ancestor hall for Confucius (551-479 BC) in Chufu that is maintained by a direct descendant. Next time you are in a Chinese or Southeast Asian restaurant, look around and see if you can spot a shrine to the ancestors.

Confucianism and ancestor worship is not exclusive to China. After all, China was a regional super power in Asia for more than two thousand years and had a big influence over other cultures in the region.

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

His third book is Crazy is Normal, a classroom exposé, a memoir. “Lofthouse presents us with grungy classrooms, kids who don’t want to be in school, and the consequences of growing up in a hardscrabble world. While some parents support his efforts, many sabotage them—and isolated administrators make the work of Lofthouse and his peers even more difficult.” – Bruce Reeves.

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The Return of Confucius

June 4, 2014

The bronze sculpture of Confucius stands tall at 31 feet (9.5 meters) and is described as having a serious expression. Four months after appearing in Tienanmen Square staring at Mao portrait hanging from the walls of the Forbidden City, the statue—without fanfare—was quietly moved to the courtyard of a museum in Beijing.

Chang writes, “Confucius is enjoying a revival, in books and films, on TV and in classrooms…” In fact, a $500-million dollar museum-and-park complex is under construction in his hometown of Qufu in Shandong Province that includes a statue of Confucius almost as tall as the Statue of Liberty.

For those who don’t know, Mao declared war on Confucianism and education during the Cultural Revolution.

My wife, who grew up in China during Mao’s era, still believes Confucian values for harmony and peace are what made China weak and a victim to Western Imperialism during the 19th century and to the Japanese during World War II. She may be right. At the time, China believed it was too civilized to worry and wasn’t prepared to defend itself as it is today.

However, she also says to pay attention to the small things the government does. Don’t expect Chinese to be as direct as Westerners.

There’s a strong message in Confucius standing opposite Mao across the vastness of Tiananmen Square as if he were scolding Mao for what he did and few mainland Chinese will miss the meaning. Mao, the student, has been chastised and Tiger Mothers such as Amy Chua are being sent a message to stay tough with their children when it comes to having the kids eat bitterness and sacrifice having fun while working hard earning an education.

Confucius wouldn’t want it any other way.

Now that China is a capitalist/socialist nation with an open market economy, the need for Confucian values is making a comeback with government support. Confucius taught duty to family, respect for learning, virtuous behavior (three traits rare in the West) and obedience of individuals to the state.

What Chang doesn’t say is that Confucius also had expectations for the state to lead by example and to act the part of a gentleman. China’s leaders are aware that they are responsible to provide security for the nation and economic progress for the people in ways that most Western rulers would never consider.

Although China’s central government hasn’t launched a Western style public relations campaign to resurrect Confucian values, which are still a strong foundation for most Chinese families, Chang indicates that we will see some top leaders promoting Confucianism.

In fact, in 2010, a movie of Confucius with Chow Yun Fat was filmed and released in China.

There’s another message that most American weapons’ manufactures and conservative hawks won’t want the world to understand. If China is really moving back to Confucian values, that means China will not be the aggressor in war but will keep a modern military for defense only.

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Lloyd Lofthouseis the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

His latest novel is the multiple-award winning Running with the Enemy.

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Discover the History of Guanxi

March 11, 2014

I first heard of Guanxi from the China Law Blog, which referred to the Silicon Hutong Blog.

After reading the China Law Blog’s post, I did more research and also watched a few videos on the subject.

I learned that Guanxi is an aspect of Chinese culture that does not translate easily.

There are several elements and layers to Guanxi. First, Guanxi is based on a Confucian hierarchy of familial relationships, long-term friendships, classmates, and schoolmates and to those no stranger—Chinese or foreign—will ever have access to. (Silicon Hutong)

Guanxi evolved over the millennia because China didn’t have a stable and effective legal system. In fact, the legal system in China today is relatively new and made its appearance after the 1982 Chinese Constitution was established.

Since 1982, there have been several amendments to the Constitution as China adapts its evolving legal system.

In time, this legal system may replace Guanxi since business law modeled on Western law with Chinese characteristic is developing faster than civil law.

Through the centuries, merchants in China needed a way to avoid disputes and problems in the absence of a well-developed legal system. To survive, this complex system called Guanxi developed with many components such as partnerships, trust, credibility, etc.

Guanxi developed organically in civil society due to the absence of a uniform, government mandated legal system, and maintaining Guanxi is different than how relationships are maintained in other cultures. The embedded video with this post offers a more detailed explanation.

The China Law Blog’s had more than twenty comments, and it was a lively discussion worth reading if you are interested in discovering more on this topic.

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

His latest novel is the multiple-award winning Running with the Enemy.

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Understanding the importance of harmony in China

January 7, 2014

Most Chinese do not like anarchy—but who does except the libertarian anarchist.

The Chinese have had their fill of anarchy. Every time a dynasty collapsed, decades or centuries of anarchy would be ushered in and chaos ruled. For instance, when Mao died in 1976, Deng Xiaoping put a stop to the madness of the Cultural Revolution and ushered in an era of harmony and prosperity that continues to this day.

In fact, Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism all place a heavy emphasis on harmony and because of this, harmony is probably the most cherished ideal in Chinese culture from the leader to the poorest peasant.

While some claim that Confucianism is promoted by the Chinese Communist Party as a way to maintain order, these same critics often miss the Taoist message of living in harmony with the Tao. The term Tao means “way”, “path” or “principle” and may also be found in Chinese philosophies and religions other than Taoism. 

Taoism in general tends to emphasize wu-wie—action through non-action—and the Three Treasures: compassion, moderation, and humility. In addition, Buddhism, for instance, has six rules of harmony taught by the Buddha to his followers in order to bring about unity and harmony.

And that explains why most Chinese—even today—do not like talking about the “white elephant” in the family or country to strangers.

With that in mind, it should not be surprising that when Google was complaining about being hacked by China’s government and refused to censor their search engine in China (eventually they did so they could keep doing business there), many Chinese turned to Baidu, which operates China’s most popular Internet search engine.

Because of Google’s behavior in 2010, Baidu now controls 65.74% [up more than 20% from 2010] of China’s search engine market compared to Google’s 3% share. Source: Search Engine Watch.com

It would seem that Google became the “white elephant” in the room by complaining publicly. It is also a mistake to think that because China cracks down on the few democracy advocates who speak out publicly criticizing the CCP, that most Chinese citizens support these advocates who often end up living in the United States after China kicks them out. The truth is that most Chinese probably think these outspoken few are fools.

In China, instead of shouting “give me liberty or death”, most Chinese would say, “Give me harmony and life,” because of several thousand years of Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism that are all much older and maybe much wiser than Christianity or Islam.

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

His latest novel is the multiple-award winning Running with the Enemy.

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Is it possible to gain more freedom in China through Confucianism?

December 31, 2013

It is obvious that the Chinese Communist Party [CCP] had been moving cautiously and slowly toward implementing a participatory form of government but slower than they have done to build the highly successful market economy that is driving China’s prosperity today.

I read Moving China Toward Democracy: A Confucian Framework written by Kyle Baxter.  It is a thoughtful piece. It is still to be determined if Baxter’s ideas will work, but evidence suggests that the CCP is moving in that direction.

What has been historically the cornerstone of most Chinese governments has been a legal system known as Legalism that comes with harsh punishments. Recent signs of movement away from Legalism toward more freedoms and transparency might be seen in the open and televised trial of Bo Xilai, a popular and powerful figure in the CCP.

If Confucianism were to be the bedrock of a representative government in China, China’s critics in the West would have less to complain about.

China has never really adopted Confucian principles for political rule. Since Confucianism values individual rights along with family values, this transition would pave the way for China to retain its cultural identity and join the world as a country with more freedoms for its people—but not necessarily a democracy by definition.

Some evidence that this is happening may be seen in the next video about China easing the one-child policy and ending labor camps.

Under Confucianism, Baxter says, “Government, then, becomes an institution to protect the people, and not to control them; to encourage them toward a proper way of life, and not a totalitarian state. … Confucianism is a viable framework for a constitutional democracy, and uniquely positions China for success as a modern nation.”

Deng Xiaoping said it best, “It doesn’t matter if a cat is black or white, so long as it catches mice.”

Discover the Influence of Confucius

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

His latest novel is the multiple-award winning Running with the Enemy.

Subscribe to “iLook China”!
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China’s Holistic Historical Timeline


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