PERSONAL NOTE: I decided to share my book with many friends and students in mainland China because the book is not available in mainland China. It costs too much to order one from USA. Enjoy it and share it with your friends. Steve, usa, December 23 HAPPY MERRY CHRISTMAS, firstname.lastname@example.org https://getting2knowyou-china.com
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So Benny announced he wanted to sit for the civil service examination, despite the recent decline of potential candidates.
“Great. But I suggest for you to continue your work with the airlines. You must because if you fail the test, you could at least still have a job.” I advised him.
“How?” He looked at me. “I need at least 2 to 3 months to prepare for this test. Not easy. Thousands would apply for a few jobs available. Everyone in China knows that. Many take the annual civil service exam but few, very few, are chosen.”
“No problem Benny. Try this.”
We talked at length about how to cheat his boss at the airline office. Tell them, I said, you have to go home to take care of your sick mother. That she needed care and you are the only son. The truth was his mother was a very sick woman. Benny thought it was more psychological than physical illness. She had stopped teaching school for a while and just stayed home. And dad continued to teach.
Benny did tell the boss that and he was granted leave of absence from work for an indefinite period of time. What I could not believe was the boss did not ask him for a letter from a respected doctor to support Benny’s claim of his mother’s sickness. The boss just let him go, that easy. Benny went home and stayed with his parents and studied like he was about to be promoted to be a bank president soon. He was #2 in his written test. He took his written test in Xiamen. Then he told me he had to go to Fuzhou, the capital of the province, to prepare for his oral test. Not an easy time for anyone. It was a nervous experience. He told me he met about 20 or so young people in Fuzhou, all preparing for the oral test. He roomed with a young man, who had risen up with the government by working in a small town somewhere in China. Benny roomed with him. And one night this country boy told Benny he was looking for a female companion to spend the night and he had booked another room in the hotel for the purpose. I was talking to Benny when this country boy also called him on the phone to come and share the experience with him. In a very short time, the country boy told Benny he had lost about 500 yuan, because he had given the woman the money and she left to go to a store to get something. How naïve was the country boy? He lost the money and the experience he was hoping for. Benny told me the country boy was naïve and inexperienced and trusted the female companion or prostitute with the money. He should not have given her any money until the job is done. But he was
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a country boy.
Benny was ranked #1 in his oral test. He soon started working for the government in the office in Xiamen City, the city that he had requested. He studied and worked hard and passed the civil service exam. Benny and his parents do not know anyone in the government. They have no strings to pull. They have no connections with the rich and the powerful in government. In China, most people would tell you, you get nowhere if you have no connections with someone in the government, a highly complicated bureaucracy. Benny did it all by himself because of his intelligence, confidence in himself and trust in his own ability to get what he wanted without the help of others. In China, almost all children are taught at a very young age to be independent and self-reliant. Benny is one of them. He did all by himself, without any guanxi.
So what happened to guanxi? I have read many stories about guanxi. Too many students tried to convince me that in China, if you have no guanxi you will not get anywhere in life. Benny proved them wrong. He got the government job without knowing anyone in the government.
David did the same. After Xiamen University, he applied for a job with a state-owned enterprise. It is also known as a state-owned company, defined as a “legal entity that undertakes commercial activities on behalf of an owner government.” His parents are ordinary people, working hard to feed themselves. Their three sons are all adults now. David has two brothers, an elder brother did not have a promising career in Shanghai because he had no education and no substantial skills of any kind. He also failed in his first love. David’s younger brother did not want to enter a training school when I first met the family. I wanted to give him a chance for a better future. But little brother declined my financial support telling me the training schools in China were hopeless and useless and a waste of money. They would take your money and do nothing for you, he tried to convince me. I heard about this from many people. He is married and has a baby boy now being raised by the grandparents.
For a long time, training schools in China had a bad name and a bad reputation. But increasingly China is desperately looking for people with job skills from these training schools. Within the last few years, over 95% of graduates from training schools—called vocational schools in the West—got jobs after graduation compared to about 40 % of those who have college degrees. Look at Germany, more young people there attend vocational schools, not universities, and their jobs are well respected in that country. And there are good paying jobs. High paying jobs. Vocational schools are respected by the German people. Germany, like Japan, is very advanced in technology. And they continue to produce young men with high
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sophisticated technical skills to meet the needs of modern Germany. Technical schools in China are not respected by many people. But the picture is changing for the good. The Chinese government is paying more attention to training schools now because there are too many jobs requiring different kinds of technical skills but few takers. Because most of these jobs require some kind of technical skills and abilities learned from technical schools or training schools. Chinese parents need to change the way they think about the future of the job markets in China.
In the West, we do not believe everyone should go to a regular four-year college. Parents allow or encourage their sons to attend technical schools because some are better with their brains and hands, not with books and knowledge. We call this hands-on learning or experiences. China needs to change their thinking about this. There are many jobs in China, but few college graduates have the requisite skills to fit the available jobs, left vacant almost everywhere in China. The truth is this: there are more jobs everywhere in China, but few graduates have the necessary technical skills or knowledge or experiences for the jobs.
David, like Benny, got the job because he graduated from Xiamen University, a distinguished university in south China. Like Benny, he was also a smart young man, who did very well in his studies. Like Benny, he and his parents have no strings to pull, no connections with anyone high in the government bureaucracy. He did it because of who he is, someone who worked hard to achieve his dream of working for the government.
Carlos has a different story to tell, one about guanxi and how he got his job with a big banking-real estate corporation.
Here is the best definition from an online article about guanxi, the oil that keeps China running. It is not what you know, it is who you know. “Guanxi is the key to getting anything done in China—the single most important factor for success in the country. The Chinese widely believe that it trumps intelligence, knowledge, talent, ambition…and even wealth. But without the right guanxi, it’s hard to get ahead in China—competitors with better quanxi, for instance, can block you at every turn….It’s how things get done in China—everything from getting help moving to meeting a potential spouse to finding a new job or apartment. For better of worse, guanxi is the oil that keeps wheels of commerce, politics and society in general running in China.”
During the last two years of his college life, Carlos decided he wanted to volunteer as a translator for different international meetings not far from TKK College campus.
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His job would involve picking up the foreign guests at the airport and at their request he could show them around Xiamen like a tourist guide. He felt he could develop this into a career later. But his biggest goal after graduation was to study in a Hong Kong university and so he sought my help to work with him on his English: reading, writing, listening and speaking. Unfortunately the application failed. And now he was thinking seriously of finding a job. He got lucky because his father had a classmate who had a high ranking position in the government and this man knew the big boss, the general manager of an enormous real estate project. And he could give a “little push” for him and he requested for him to send his resume or CV so he could introduce Carlos to the general manager. At that time, there were a number of very outstanding candidates being interviewed, young men and women from some of the top universities in China. Carlos said, “I thought I would never get a job with the company. I graduated from a small unknown college but I got the job to work in the company.” Carlos continued telling me how lucky he was because of connections or the Chinese powerful guanxi.
“Yes, definitely because of guanxi that I am now working for this huge corporation,” Carlos smiled. “I am very lucky to be working side by side with some of the best university graduates. I am the best one with the ability to use and speak English, and the big boss would ask me for assistance. He had a PhD degree from one of China’s distinguished universities. And he had experiences working with many different departments in local, state and national government. After a year, he was looking for a secretary to work with him. In China, most secretaries are male, not female, especially in this kind of work,” Carlos said. “And my boss interviewed three people, but I got the job. I believe I got it because I worked very hard since the day I joined the company. Yes, people think I got the job because of some connections, guanxi, but I worked very hard after I got the job. And now I know I could go further up with the company if I am loyal to my boss.” Carlos tried to explain to me that in this company, loyalty to the boss was the most important factor if he wanted to go up with the company. “Honestly, I do not know why I work so hard now. The job is not easy. Yes, you are right, I am lucky. I am lucky I work very hard for my job. With guanxi I was able to enter this company. But now I want people to know I must work harder to prove I deserved my job, working for a very important boss. And I know my loyalty to him might get me somewhere up the company, a state-owned company. I believe my loyalty to him will get me somewhere.”
Benny, David and Carlos, all worked for enterprises related to the government. The story of Zhou Hao is completely different. The newspaper headline got me very interested in his story: “Student who dropped out of Peking University has ‘no regrets’.” The caption to the photo showing him working with a machine says it all. “A student is learning basic lathe and turning work at Beijing Polytechnic, the biggest
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vocational school in the Chinese capital.”
What is lathe? According to a Cambridge dictionary: “a machine for changing the shape of a piece of wood, metal, etc. which works by turning the material while a sharp tool is pressed against it”. The student is learning some technical skills. The story is about a student who decided he must drop out of Peking University to study in a vocational or technical school. He was one of the “top local scorers” of Gaokao in Qinghai Province and so he planned originally to attend Beijing Institute of Aeronautics. Zhou Hao had no choice but to follow his father’s wish for him to enter Peking University to study life sciences. Too much focus on theory study of life sciences troubled him and in his third year he left the university to study numerical control at Beijing Industrial Technical College, one of the technical schools in Beijing.
He said this about his decision to drop out of Peking University: “I was very fortunate to make the choice six years ago. What I’m learning now is also very helpful to people’s life. I believe everyone can become powerful if they find what best fits their interest and needs.” He knew Peking University was not for him. Against his father’s desire, he made an important decision to follow his own dream, to study at a technical school so he could learn a skill.
Having now lived and worked in China for the past 7 years, it is common knowledge very few young people would dare do anything against their parents’ mighty decision. Most would follow what their parents wanted like chickens following the trail of food on the ground. But Zhou Hao did. He had no regrets leaving the halls of Peking University. He was one of the best students at the technical college. And even before his graduation “many companies have already made him job offers.” One response from a reader gives us hope for the future: “Vocational schools are as essential as universities in terms of their role in the society and there is no shame in studies and careers.” The real challenge is how to convince the many college students and their parents of this truth, that at the moment China needs more graduates from vocational schools, not colleges and universities with dominant focus on acquisition of theories and knowledge. In June of 2014, China unveiled a long-term plan to support vocational education in China especially in “talent’s training system”.
In America, we have 2-year community colleges in almost every city in the country. They are inexpensive institutions of learning. And they are packed mostly with older adults in their 20s or 30s who desperately need new skills and retraining to meet the demands of the job markets, which continuously are looking for young people who have technical skills to fill the jobs out there in the real world. The young ones choose the community colleges the first two years of their college education because the
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campus is small and the tuition much cheaper than the regular 4-year colleges. After two years they are allowed to transfer to all in-state colleges or universities to finish their final two years to obtain a college degree. More importantly, graduates from these community colleges—especially those in vocational education—are usually guaranteed jobs the moment they leave the campus.
While we applaud young people like Benny, David, Carlos and Zhou Hao, we must not forget the story about the millions and millions of migrant workers coming from the rural areas who have helped to build the modern cities and sky scrappers across China. And the millions, though less and less now, who continue to help to keep the machines and engines of factories running the last 35 years or so. These millions and millions have radically changed the social, cultural, economic and political landscapes of China the past three decades or so.
This is China.