Tuesday 18 December 2007

Chinese Literacy

Chairman Mao was a prolific reader. It's rumoured he would spend days in bed surrounded by piles of books absorbing a diverse selection ranging from philosophy to politics and religion. If his chosen reading was unavailable he'd plump for anything to hand. One of the observations experienced was that a security guard was reading easily the thickest book I've ever seen a security guard read, anywhere in the world. Over the last couple of weeks, I've noticed there are a number of statues around Beijing celebrating the power of books and reading. The one above is outside the Beijing Books Building and was taken as I walked from Xidan through Tiananmen square to Wanfujing over the weekend. Chinese literacy is one of the highest in Asia at around 90% if the CIA world fact book is to be believed. Speaking of facts, asessments of China were recently downgraded by 40% if you were paying attention to what the U.S. controlled World Bank announced yesterday. Makes me wonder what metrics China would use to measure the U.S.

The smog in Beijing at the moment is rather harsh.


  1. so you're not the asia planner for a global ad agency at all - you're a CIA agent! it all makes sense now!

  2. One thing I love about Asia [and I mean ALL of Asia] is that it genuinely values the education system.

    Infact, if truth be told, it potentially values it abit too much as children are put under outrageous levels of pressure to 'achieve' from as young as 7.

    When you marry that to the cultural value system of progression - you start to understand why the region is so driven and pragmatic as well as why a security guard would be reading a massive book because it is about fulfilling the responsibilities of his family - not just the present generation but ones that span thousands of years into the past and the future.

    Of course Asia isn't the only region that has this attitude towards education and filial responsibility - however it is the only one that is so fundamentally ruled by it - which is why it is faster than superman interms of advancement [I say Asia works in dog years] and will probably be the undisputed superpower within the next 20 years.

  3. Yeah not only Asia, communist regimes and learning used to depend a lot on the whole 'national pride' thing. While the party would spend outrageous amounts of money for megalomaniac buildings and edifices as a sign of power, the countries would go into substantial debt.

    Making everyone even, it meant that education was compulsory and they taught everyone to believe that without education, you're basically nothing 'nowadays', perpetuating this idea for so long people still believe in it. If European countries are worried about university drop-outs, Eastern European ones and Asian ones are worried about people not even attending higher education.

    This 'pressure to achieve' thing came from the idea that it was counter-productive not to and that if you want a growing economy, there's 'a job for everyone'. Higher education would assure you a well-paid job you could have for the rest of your life even!

    The 'pressure to achieve' came from the teachers mostly in former communist countries (or current ones). If students were failing, the regime would put pressure on teachers or even imprison them because failure (really) wasn't an option when the party was striving to achieve success and boast their literacy rates and achievements. Teachers wanted their pupils to succeed at the cost of treating them like ... anything but humans. If you couldn't cope with it you'd be tagged as a 'loser'.

    Anyway, I'm getting all nostalgic when you post about communist China! There are so many stories to tell :D I personally would never visit China, not even if they were going to bombard the Great Wall in one year. "Hey, it's like in the history books, except, TODAY!"

  4. The risk there is that people become completely brilliant at achieving, but lose the ability to think laterally and to interact well.

    You see a similar thing in the outsourcing in India, the people are clever and very capable; but (from the experiences I've heard) their focus on knowledge and doing exactly what they are told means they are less able to act on their own initiative.

  5. All great comments Rob, Andrea and Famous Rob.

    The drawback of Asia's reliance on process is the pressure that the young ones are put under for studies which is way too much. Playing is a skill that teaches us a lot, including the ability to think laterally & creatively.

    I think the fundamentals of Communism coupled with wealth creation which as I interpret Marx is not an evil per se make China one of the most interesting countries on the planet Andrea. That and the 1.3 Billion people who could theoretically all revert to a more benevolent and intelligent form of wealth distribution at a later stage Andrea. In theory at least. It is still a command economy.

  6. We NEVER talk about that Lauren (winky)