Unlearning edition

Why Chinese students may parrot nationalistic talking points

Chinese Students and Western Values

In Hong Kong, high-school and college students have been the backbone of pro-democracy protests. At universities around the globe, however, mainland Chinese students have taken the side of the government, sometimes aggressively, participating in counter-demonstrations and trying to shout down those who disagree with them. These posters appeared on a bulletin board at Auburn University:

There’s long been the expectation that exposure to western values like individual liberty and free speech would sway students who hail from more authoritarian countries. This new generation of Chinese students is challenging that assumption.

Some surveys, in fact, suggest that Chinese students’ perception of the United States worsens the longer they study here. Those negative impressions may be stoked by Chinese-language websites like College Daily, which is aimed at Chinese students in the U.S. and is the subject of a terrific New Yorker piece. The magazine dubs it a “post-truth” publication that feeds into the skewed impressions, fake news, and hardening nationalistic attitudes both here and in China.

This passage, quoting the site’s founder, Lin Guoyu, has stayed with me: 

Lin said that College Daily’s stories accurately reflect its readership’s disillusionment with America, particularly when they compare the U.S. with China. “Especially after the 2016 election, our readers see how divided a society America is,” he said. “They see the chaos that’s brought about by its freedom.” 

The re-escalation of tensions is hardly one-sided, though. Students surely take note when the president of the United States calls their country’s leader the “enemy.” How much do attitudes like that harden their mistrust?

And it’s unfair to conclude that those who shout the loudest speak for all students. Many Chinese students prefer to stay out of political debates, keep their heads down, and study. Some, given China’s monitoring of students’ abroad, may be afraid to speak up. As one student in Australia said, "We're here for knowledge. We're not here to protest."

One of the most insightful things I’ve read about Chinese students’ mindset comes from a former Chinese student. Yaqiu Wang is now a researcher for Human Rights Watch, but when she first came to study in America she couldn’t understand why Tibetan exiles were protesting Chinese rule:

For those us who grew up in a system where information control is all-encompassing, processing ideas contrary to what we were taught and believed all our lives is not easy. It takes an innate curiosity, constant reading of uncensored information, and self-reflective thinking – none of which are encouraged in China. Unlearning untrue information and the beliefs it engenders can take a lifetime. 

Wang’s “unlearning” took the form of engagement, from friends and classmates who took the time to patiently explain, to nonjudgementally disagree. 

It’s not the role of educators to tell students – Chinese or American – what the “right” views are. Still, no institution better embodies the ideals of free expression and critical inquiry than the university. Rather than tell Chinese students what to think, perhaps educators can model, support, and encourage how to think.

What’s your take? Share your opinions, story ideas, and tips with me at latitudesnews@gmail.com or on Twitter @karinfischer.

Estimates of International Students’ Global Impact

The global impact of student mobility is $300 billion, according to a new analysis by Studyportals. The estimate is based both on students’ direct economic impact, through tuition and living expenses, as well as their spin-off effect in the economy.

There have been individual country assessments of economic impact, but this is the first to compare major destinations around the world, said Rahul Choudaha, Studyportals’ executive vice president of global engagement and research and the report’s author.  In the United States, international students added $57 billion to the economy in 2016, with $18 billion coming from the presence of Chinese students and $8 billion from those from India. (This differs from NAFSA’s annual economic impact study for reasons of methodology.)

Choudaha told me he was motivated to put together the report by “pushback” against international students in places like the United States and Britain. “I wanted to show their value,” he said.

Researcher Indicted for Allegedly Hiding China Ties

The Justice Department has indicted a University of Kansas researcher on federal charges of hiding the fact he was working full time for a Chinese university while doing research at KU funded by the U.S. government. Feng (Franklin) Tao, who does research on sustainable technology to conserve natural resources and energy, is accused of defrauding the government by taking federal grant money while he was employed and paid by China’s Fuzhou University.

Tao’s case would seem to be yet another episode in the U.S. government’s ongoing crackdown against Chinese and Chinese-American scientists. But it has a twist. Bloomberg reports that a simple web search seems to show that Tao was “moonlighting in plain sight.” His dual Kansas and China ties were disclosed in at least two U.S.-funded research papers published last year; they were also listed on several Chinese-language websites that could be easily translated.

Tao, 47, faces as long as 20 years in federal prison on a count of wire fraud and up to 10 years apiece on two program fraud counts.

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Around the Globe

Faculty protests severed some partnerships. But nothing has been as effective in shutting down Confucius Institutes as tying Defense Department funding to their closure. Arizona State is the latest to shutter its Chinese language and culture center.

In a brief to the U.S. Supreme Court, Justice Department lawyers argue that President Trump acted lawfully in ending an Obama-era program that protects young undocumented immigrants from deportation.

The Middle East Studies Association is asking the Egyptian government to lift travel restrictions on a University of Washington graduate student who was arrested in May 2018 while conducting research for a dissertation on the Egyptian judiciary. 

A 10-year prison sentence of a British Council employee in Iran was upheld without a hearing while a Princeton doctoral student marked his third year in an Iranian jail.

Australian universities are over-reliant on Chinese students, according to a new paper. About 10 percent of Australian students are from China, which the author calls a “high-risk, high-reward” strategy.

Student leaders in Hong Kong are calling for a boycott of the first two weeks of classes as part of continued pro-democracy demonstrations.

Meanwhile, Singaporean universities are suspending student-exchange programs in Hong Kong amid the unrest. Readers, what do you think the protests will mean for Hong Kong’s status as an educational hub?

American Councils for International Education have named David Patton, a longtime international educator and alumnus of its programs, as the nonprofit’s next president.

Canada wants more – and more diverse – students to study and work abroad under a revamped international-education strategy.

A new African Education Fund will focus on improving postsecondary education and skills development across the continent.

And finally…

I’ll never miss a chance to slip a baseball story in here, and this week’s tenuously-related-to-international recommendation is this charming piece (by former Nats beat writer James Wagner!) about Vladmir Guerrero Jr.’s grandmother who feeds Latin  American players across the majors her Dominican comfort food. Guerrero heads to home games with homemade meals for his Blue Jays teammates and for opponents, too. Altagracia Alvino’s only rule – return the plastic containers! It’s pretty much impossible not to finish reading hungry.

’Til next week – Karin

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