Not One Less: a movie review and cultural comparison

July 16, 2014

In the film Not One Less (1999), a thirteen-year-old girl is asked to be the long-term substitute teacher in a small Chinese village.  The teacher tells her that when he returns, if he finds all the students still there, he will pay her ten yuan—less than two American dollars.

When one student, Zhang Huike, stops coming to school, Wei Minzhim, the thirteen-year-old substitute teacher, follows him to the city.

There are several themes in this movie. The most powerful to me was the value of an education and not losing face. If Wei loses Zhang, she will fail the responsibility the teacher gave her. To succeed, she must keep all the students and teach them.

This film reveals one of the greatest cultural differences between the United States and China. More than 2,000 years ago, Confucius taught that an education was the great equalizer and the key to leaving poverty behind.

Today, many Chinese and other Asians still believe this with a passion, and this belief may explain why the on-time high school graduation for Asian-Americans in the United States is the highest when compared to all other racial groups. Culturally, the value of an education may be seen in that high school graduation rate.

On-time high school graduation rate in the U.S. by race for the 2009-10 school year

 Asian/Pacific Islander = 93%
White = 83%
Hispanic = 71%
Black – 66%

In the United States, teachers are often blamed for the lower graduation rates of Hispanics and Blacks, while in China parents take the blame. This is another significant difference between China and the United States. In China it would be unthinkable to wage war against the nation’s teachers for children who don’t learn. Instead, parents, who cared, and teachers would work together to do what they could as partners.

Zhang Yimou was the director. He says, “Chinese culture is still rooted in the countryside. If you don’t know the peasant, you don’t know China.” Because of this, there is a strong message in this movie about the urban–rural divide, which is being addressed as China sews the nation together with high-speed rail and electricity.

This a powerful movie about children, education, and poverty that shows the challenges China faces in lifting the lifestyles of almost eight hundred million Chinese, who don’t live in the cities. The challenge is to do this without losing the cultural values that flow through Chinese history like a powerful river.

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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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China’s Holistic Historical Timeline


The facts (and the truth) behind China’s #1 International PISA Test Scores

January 28, 2014

On December 4, 2013, a New York Times headline shouted: “Shanghai Students Again Top Global Test”, and once again, America’s vocal critics of the U.S. Public Schools called for more reform.

Not so fast. In fact, maybe not at all.

In China, the first nine years of education is compulsory starting before age 7. Primary school takes the first six of those nine years; then there’s middle school for grades 7, 8, and 9.

Fifteen is the age of students who take the international PISA test—and in China [so-called] compulsory education ends at the age of fifteen and students who decide to stay in school have a choice between a vocational or academic senior high school track. That’s where the choice ends because in China the senior high schools pick students based on merit.

To explain how this works, the CCP has acknowledged a “9-6-3 rule”. This means that nine of ten children began primary school between the ages of 6 and 7; six complete the first five years and three graduate from sixth grade with good performance.

By the time a student reaches senior high school—grades 10, 11, and 12—most enrollment is in the cities and not in rural China. Most rural Chinese don’t value education as much as urban Chinese do. And many of the migrant urban workers from rural China still have some family back in the village where they often leave their younger children. And many migrant workers, when they retire from factory work, return to the village and the family home.

The United States, by comparison, keeps most kids in school until the end of high school at age 17/18. About 75% graduate on time and another 15% earn their high school diploma or equivalent GED by age 24—all on an academic track because there is no vocational public schools k to 12 in the U.S.

In addition, in China there is the Zhongkao, the Senior High School Entrance Examination, held annually to distinguish the top students who then are admitted to the highest performing senior high schools. This means that if the highest rated high school in Shanghai has 1,000 openings for 10th graders, the students who earn the top 1,000 scores on the Zhongkao get in and then the second highest rated high school takes the next batch of kids until the lowest rated senior high school in Shanghai gets the kids with the bottom scores on the Zhongkao.

Maybe actual numbers will help clarify what this means:

In 2010, 121 million children attended China’s primary schools with 78.4 million in junior and senior secondary schools. The total is 199.4 million kids.

According to World Education News & Reviews: “In 2010, senior high schools [in China] accommodated 46.8 million students (23.4% of the  199.5 million). But about 52 percent or only 40.8 million were enrolled in general senior high school, and 48 percent of those students were attending vocational senior high schools.”

That leaves 21.2 million enrolled in the senior high school academic track designed to prep kids for college—that’s 10.6% of the total. Then consider that Shanghai’s public schools are considered the best in China. This means that the fifteen-year-old students who take the international PISA in China are the elite of the elite attending China’s best public schools.

For a fair comparison—not what we’ll hear from the critics of public education in the United States—the Economic Policy Institute reports: “The U.S. administration of the most recent international (PISA) test resulted in students from the most disadvantaged schools being over-represented in the overall U.S. test-taker sample. This error further depressed the reported average U.S. test score. … But U.S. students from advantaged social class backgrounds perform better relative to their social class peers in the top-scoring countries [Canada, Finland, South Korea, France, Germany and the U.K.]” and “U.S. students from disadvantaged social class backgrounds perform better relative to their social class peers in the three similar post-industrial countries.”

In fact, “U.S. students from advantaged social class backgrounds perform better relative to their social class peers in the top-scoring countries of Finland and Canada. … and—on average—for almost every social class group, U.S. students do relatively better in reading than in math, compared to students in both the top-scoring and the similar post-industrial countries.”

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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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Investing in Education: China vs. the United States

September 19, 2013

China is making HUGE investments in education. In 1998, then-President Jiang Zemin called for a massive increase in enrollment in higher education. Since then, high school and college enrollments in China grew. Source: FP-Foreign Policy, April 14, 2010

For example: China’s enlarged enrollment to higher education started in 1999, which boasted China’s shift in higher education from elite higher education to mass higher education. The enrollment to colleges/universities increased by 42 percent, compared to the year of 1998. Source: All Academic.com

Then in March 2013, Premier Wen Jiabao announced that China’s expenditures on education had reached 4% of GDP in 2012, a goal set almost twenty years earlier. “Government spending on education totaled 7.79 trillion yuan over the past five years, increasing at an average annual rate of 21.58 percent to reach 4 percent of the GDP in 2012,” Wen said in his annual work report delivered to deputies to the top legislature. (7.79 trillion yuan is equal to $1.25 trillion). Source: China Daily

For example, during the 1967-1985 period, total government expenditure on education averaged 2% of GNP, and 7.7% of the total national budget. Source: Columbia.edu

One result: The overall literacy rate has gone from 20% in 1950 to 92.2% of the total population today.

Compared to China, in the United States, education spending peaked in 1976 at 5.9% of GDP before dropping to flat line at about 5.5% annually.

In China, more than thirty percent graduate with degrees in engineering or technology. But in the United States, only five percent of university students graduate in these fields, while U.S. universities produce more psychologists.

That is why President Obama has encouraged American students to study science. Source: White House

What’s going to happen if America’s students do not start working hard to become engineers and scientists?

In 2040, the Chinese economy will reach $123 trillion, or nearly three times the economic output of the entire globe in 2000.  It’s a fact that people with an education in engineering and science earn more and are more productive.  China and India combined are turning out more than 600,000 engineers a year—ten times that of the United States. Source: Rocketry Planet

Discover China’s Holistic Historical Timeline

_______________

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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China’s Holistic Historical Timeline


China gains face through 2009 PISA

April 1, 2013

The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) is an international assessment that measures 15-year-old students’ reading, mathematics, and science literacy. PISA also includes measures of general or cross-curricular competencies, such as problem solving. PISA emphasizes functional skills that students have acquired as they near the end of compulsory schooling. Source: National Center for Education Statistics

When I first visited China in 1999, my wife warned me that the Chinese men I might witness peeing or defecating in public parks (there weren’t many public toilets then—China started building public toilets to get ready for the 2008 Olympics) in Shanghai were peasants from rural China.

In fact, where my wife grew up in Shanghai (in the picturesque French sector), there was one toilet in a three-story house where several families lived and the stove was next to the toilet.

Since then, I learned that China is one country with many cultures and languages. Even rural and urban China is different as the US is to rural Mexico.

However, after the 1980s, hundreds of millions of rural Chinese migrated to the cities to find jobs that paid better than being a peasant still stuck in the Middle Ages.

Unfortunately, these people sometimes called Stick People brought their (uncivilized by Western standards) rural habits with them.

In 1999, I witnessed rural Chinese near Xian living in huts made of straw with dirt floors, no plumbing and no toilets.

This is what the CCP inherited when it came to power in 1949. The Party did not create this situation. After Mao died, the Communist Party had to rebuild an educational system that had been devastated by a Civil War, World War II and then the Cultural Revolution and before then there was little or no educational system in rural China.

Most of the schools in China up until 1950s were in the cities and focused on educating the elite.

It wasn’t until the 1980s, that the CCP started to rebuild and revise China’s public education system. Over time, the education system spread from urban to rural China where it is still being developed.

Imagine what the effort must have been for the CCP to educate a population that was about 80 percent illiterate in 1976 to 2009 when randomly selected 15-year old Chinese students in Shanghai earned the highest scores in the world on the PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) test beating 65 other nations including the United States.

Shanghai’s fifteen-year-old students scored 556 in Reading (PISA average 493), 600 in Math (PISA avr. 496) and 575 in Science (PISA avr. 501).

Second place went to South Korea with 539 in Reading; Singapore with 562 Math, and Finland with 554 in Science. Source: Our Times.com

The results of the 2012 PISA will be released December 3, 2013. Will the United States improve its scores? Will China be number one again?

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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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Family Roots run Deep in Israel and China

March 25, 2013

In 1967, I was stationed at Camp Pendleton, California. Between June 5 – 10, six months after I returned from Vietnam, Israel fought the Six-Day War defeating several Islamic nations that had twice the troops Israel had, more combat aircraft and many more tanks.

It was Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Kuwait, Tunisia, Sudan and the PLO against Israel.

Israel’s had a total of 264,000 troops with only 100,000 deployed. The Islamic nations had a total of 547,000 troops with 240,000 deployed. Israel had 800 tanks to 2,504, and 300 combat aircraft to 957.

After Israel’s victory, I remember saying, “We should let Israel fight the Vietnam War for us.  At least Israel’s leaders know how to fight.”

The Jews and the Chinese have four things in common—loyalty to family, a high respect for education, a willingness to work long hours for low pay, and a canny acumen for business. Because of these similarities, the Chinese have even been called the Jews of Asia.

The Jews have a long history with China. In China: A New Promised Land, by R. E. Prindle, an interview with David Grossman, Israel’s leading novelist talks about the Jews moving to China.

When a father goes to work in China, he works for his family—not himself. After the children grow up, they must care for their parents—not the other way around like in America.  In America, many parents tell their children to do whatever they want and be anything they want. Most children follow that advice even if it means getting a degree to become an artist or skipping college to chase dreams of acting, singing or sports fame while attending parties or visiting theme parks like Disneyland because mom and dad said, “We want you to be happy—to have fun.”

It’s different for many Jews and Chinese. Working hard and earning an education are important to both cultures.  A close friend of mine and his wife, both Jewish, took out a loan on their home so their son could become a doctor and their daughter a lawyer. They bought a condominium near the university their children attended as a place to live. Both the mother and father were teachers, who did not earn much, which shows that Jewish parents, like the Chinese, are willing to sacrifice for their children in ways many American parents would find unacceptable in the age of credit cards and instant gratification.

This willingness to sacrifice for the family and nation may have been the reason the Jews won the Six-Day War against overwhelming odds. Although the Chinese have the same values and are willing to make the same sacrifices for family, they did not know how to fight like the Jews—something the surviving Jews must have learned due to Nazi atrocities.


Will the changing China also change family values?

After Mao won China, he caused much suffering with the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution where the goal may have been to root out the weaknesses that caused China to become a victim to Western Imperialism in the 19th century and then Japan during World War II.

I wonder if the Chinese learned the lessons Mao taught them through suffering similar to what the Jews experienced from Hitler.  I wonder if China will fight like Israel if threatened again. Before Mao, China was a country of poets and artists who painted watercolors on rice paper.  Even Mao and his generals wrote poems. I do not believe the Chinese are a military threat to anyone who does not threaten them.

Like Israel, China may only respond if they feel they are going to be attacked, and if Mao left them ready to defend themselves against aggressors, then the horrors that caused so much suffering and death during the 27 years he ruled China might have been worth the sacrifice for the survival of this family focused culture.

Most America families were like that once before the industrial revolution and the self-esteem movement made the individual more important than the family. Back then, 95% of the population lived on small family farms near towns and hamlets instead of bulging cities dominated by corporate cultures and sexy advertisements. Today, most family roots in the United States do not run deep—not like the Chinese and Jews.

See The First of all Virtues

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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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