PERSONAL NOTE: I decided to share my book with friends and students in mainland China because it is not available in China. It costs a lot of money to order a copy from USA. Read it and enjoy it and share it with your friends. Steve, China, January 9, 2019 firstname.lastname@example.org https;//getting2knowyou-china.com
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I was surprised and shocked when I first saw the headlines in 2011 about what Peking University was attempting to do with some students who might need some assistance to better their chances of success as a student. If this were to happen in an ivy-league school in the United States, or in any American school, I doubt anyone would be irritated to accuse the institution of deceit and other ulterior motives other than to make available services to any student who might need some counseling or other assistance when confronted with personal, social or academic issues as students. But here in China, before the school could implement a “consultation” program to assist the students, two British newspapers started accusing Peking University of trying to take away the freedom of students to be themselves. Both newspapers are from the United Kingdom, trumpeting their concerns or suspicions: one was the Guardian, “Chinese students screened for ‘radical thoughts’ and ‘independent lifestyles’”; and the other was the Telegraph, “Peking University to screen students for ‘radical thoughts’”. I must be naïve or what, both newspapers jumping into conclusions before the university had fully implemented the “consultation” program and despite what the university had said was their reasons for wanting to adopt and implement it. According to the information from Peking University, the “consultation” program was initiated for a targeted group of students in November 2010 at the Health Science Center (PUHSC) and Yuanpei College by the Office of Student Affairs, the Office of Educational Administration, and the PUHSC Office of Education. Peking University planned to roll out the program to the entire campus in 2011.
In response to a reporter’s question: What’s the original intention of the consultation program? Zha Jing, deputy director of the office of student affairs had this to say: “It is the educators’ obligation to care for every student and create an environment for their healthy growth. It’s a pity that a few PKU students encounter such difficulties in their studies that they cannot complete their credits or even drop out. Long-accumulated, comprehensive, and complicated reasons result in poor academic performance which cannot be solved by students themselves. The university should extend a helping hand and mobilize all possible resources to give those students concern and guidance and carry them through. This is the original intention of the program.
“The consultation work means when students encounter difficulties hard to overcome by themselves and even teachers engaged in the students’ work, the schools and departments should invite teachers from teaching and educational administration,
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counseling and logistic service or even specialists off campus, to make a comprehensive analysis and scientific assessment of their academic performance and prepare support programs with a clear target.
“It should be pointed out that the consultation means neither control nor punishment on students. On the basis of the current working mechanism at PKU, the consultation aims to further integrate resources and increase spending to improve our service level for students and help them get through. The key is to combine educational management and care, addressing psychological and practical problems overcoming academic difficulties, and solving other problems to show our care and love for students. For the students to be consulted, it provides an important opportunity to communicate with their teachers and improve their own plan for studies.”
The reporter acknowledged, “We are aware that the original intention and key of the consultation program is for students. What kind of students will benefit from the program?” So who are the students who might truly benefit from the program?
Peking University listed 10 specific groups of students and that sparked the controversy. Zha Jing continued, “The focus is mainly on students encountering difficulties in their studies, and also on all the students in need of care and help. Based on experiences, we classify these students into 10 categories: students with radical thoughts, psychological fragility, poverty, registration changes, eccentricity, internet addiction, job difficulties, serious illnesses, and discipline violations.
“We’ve noticed that some students have radical thoughts or bigoted character, encountering difficulties in interpersonal communication, social adaptiveness, and their studies. They cannot analyze and handle their problems in daily life in a rational and manifold way. For example, they cannot get on well with roommates, cannot handle love setback in a calm way, and cannot adapt to career life after graduation. Extreme events happening on campus like Ma Jiajue’s case have taught us bitter lessons. All of the problems cannot be solved just by an instructor or a single unit. Instead, it needs multilateral consultations, the counselors of which could include parents and security departments on campus. Some extreme events may be avoided if we give the students psychological guidance and emotional care to solve practical problems as early as possible.”
The reporter continued with this question: “We heard that the trial program is near its ending. Judging from so far, what is the effect?” The answer: Obviously, “Some students overcame difficulties and returned to the orbit of studying….We find it necessary to build the consultation program after a series of successful examples
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because it’s satisfactory in efficiency and effectiveness in solving problems.” Zha Jing then shared the success stories of a student addicted to the internet who asked for consultation. Another student had to quit school because of a psychological problem, having difficulties with his studies and failing in his exams. Both students were able to resume their studies after the consultation. The interview ended with the school saying; “Therefore, next we we’ll listen to the opinions of teachers, students, and the society in a more active way to do better for the students’ growth and success. Please contact (+86-10) 62760278 if anyone has any suggestions.”
As an intelligent impartial person, I believe Peking University was doing the right thing, nothing hidden, everything was transparent to what they intended to do, including seeking the opinions of others to improve the program. A response by Xiong Bingqi, deputy director of the 21st Century Education Research Institution in Beijing was totally uncalled for when he said, “College students are all young and energetic—it is normal for them to have differentiated, active thoughts. It is their right to be radical. If a university punishes this, this university is morally degenerating. The university is somewhere to cultivate people’s independent personalities and thinking, so it’s totally wrong for Peking University to intervene in students’ freedom to express their different opinions.”
Reading his remarks caused my blood to boil because it seems to me he knows nothing about the types or kinds of students we have in our campuses today. We cannot be blind to the fact there are a number of students who should not be in colleges but they are there because their parents believe they should be, and not somewhere in training or vocational schools learning some useful skills. Not all students are meant to be college students, a fact that is denied by almost all Chinese parents. Not in America or in Germany where many young people attend vocational training schools, coming out with skills respected and admired by the German society. I have a simple question to ask Xiong Bingqi: Would a prestigious university like Peking University do something to destroy, belittle and tarnish its reputation, by doing something so unprofessional or so unethical and stupid? I doubt that.
On the other hand, I also believe any major institution of higher education has the right to do what they think are best for the well-being—be they psychological, social, personal, economic or academic—of their students. Who are we to question their integrity and mission or motives in what they do or plan to do for the good of the whole within their institution? Having lived and worked in China, the biggest tragedy to me is to know that many students on my campus are going through many struggles and problems but have no one to turn to for guidance or succor. That to me is a bigger tragedy, not a school like Peking University which is trying to do something to help
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their students to find solutions to their problems.
Most students just learn to accept or tolerate problems in their lives. So different from America and American students. They are not afraid to talk about their problems or try to find help wherever they can find it, first within their campus before going elsewhere outside the campus. American students are more at ease discussing personal problems with friends and their teachers. Not true in China. Partly because most Chinese teachers I know in China prefer to keep a distance between them and the students. They feel they are paid to teach, not to listen to their moans and groans. They have deliberately built a thick wall making it difficult for students to come to them for any kind of help, personal or academic. Partly because many students, in fact, do not trust their friends and roommates about their personal matters, because they do not want to lose “face” in their eyes. Partly because many young people are taught to be self-reliant and not depend on others for help of any kind. So here on the campus, they do just that: they do not seek help, just learn to tolerate their own problems. I read the news of one famous school in Guangzhou tried to place some old professors in the dormitories, for students who might need some help with their problems. In England, it is a common practice to have teachers living in dormitories with the students, making it easy for any student to talk to someone if they should encounter any difficulties in their studies or campus life.
That is why I believe the university campus is a stage and we have different roles to play. Not long ago, I read something in the news in China about one university requiring or demanding all incoming freshmen to sign a document to the effect that should they try or want to commit suicide—for whatever reasons—the school is not responsible for their actions. Maybe that is what Peking University should do also, free from any kind of obligations to the students, allowing them to do what they want.
Students are no different from the people in the real world. They have problems just like all the ordinary people you see walking down the streets everyday because they are human, young and many are not using their brains to think clearly and carefully, a new generation of kids who are not used to face and deal with their own problems. The severity and consequences of the one-child policy since 1980s are apparent in the indifferent and uncaring behavior of many of today’s young people, and in the increasing number of marriages and divorces in China today. Parents and grandparents will always take care of all their needs and wants, never having to face the real world, spoiling them along the way. We are raising a whole generation of parasites, incapable of taking care of themselves and they bring the same problems to the campuses in China. And they choose to suffer quietly. This is China.
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So who is this person by the name Ma Jiajue that Peking University alluded to?: “Extreme events happening on campus like Ma Jiajue’s case have taught us bitter lessons.” On March 17, 2004, China Daily carried this headline: “Student killer an introvert who finally cracks”. I read the report not just once but several times and I felt deep sadness in my heart how could the world be so heartless and cruel to this boy, ignoring and neglecting him when he was desperately in need of someone who would listen to his woes and sorrows, someone who had difficulty connecting with other human beings in his daily life. According to the newspaper report, at age 18 he ran away from school because he feared he might not pass the National College Entrance Examination. At age 23, the final year biochemistry major at Yunnan University committed a heinous crime and confessed to the police that he had killed four fellow students, bodies found in dormitory closets. He told police the boys had accused him of being a cheat in a card game. In the words of the report: “A loner at home; an introvert at school; a bookworm with a complex about his poverty; a kung fu fan who loved violent movies; and a brilliant student whose performances would suddenly dip.” A complex portrait emerged based on conversations with his parents, teachers and peers. Coming from an impoverished rural family in a remote village, his long-time depression and introverted character might have contributed to his murder of four students. He had no close ties with two sisters and an elder brother, growing up lonely because his parents were preoccupied with farming. Both he and his father were men of few words. They seldom communicated with each other.
In primary school he had few friends to play with. In junior high school, he became a top student and won second prize in a national physics competition, winning the admiration of his classmates, but someone who had no friends. When he arrived at the high school, he stayed aloof from his classmates and became addicted to kung fu novels. An inferiority complex because of the family’s poverty added to his loneliness and his academic performance suffered. Obsessed with possibility of failure to enter a university, he ran away but returned to the campus resolved to work harder and gained university admission. In his first year in college he tried to be sociable but failed always picking fault with others, quarrelling with classmates, becoming more testy. He avoided group activities for four years, and classmates distanced themselves from him.
Zhao Ying, a psychology counselor at Renmin University of China in Beijing, believes university teachers should look out for mental problems in students like Ma Jiajue and encourage them to participate in more collective activities to help them overcome social problems. That violence in movies and on the internet should partially be blamed—the same is true in America—for rising crimes among young people. Ma Jiajue loved action movies, like many other college students, and surfed
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the internet for information about murders and attacks against police. It is a known fact that college students suffer various degrees of psychological problems. In 2003, a report said that around 16.5 percent of 500,000 Beijing college students have a “tendency towards illness”. The China Daily article on Ma Jiajue concluded by saying, “To address the serious problem as many as 70 percent of Beijing-based colleges and universities have established psychological consultation centers to provide students with access to professionals to discuss their conflicts and issues.” This was in 2004, way before Peking University initiated the consultation program in 2011 for students who needed help.
When a crisis like Ma Jiajue happened, the community or the nation in America would suddenly become reflective and critical of themselves: How come nobody came to help this student? This is China.
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