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China: a Beautiful Labyrinth to Discover

Updated: Oct 1, 2021

An analysis of the school system

Chinese Learning © 17902 / Public Domain / Pixabay

You live one life for sixteen years and you leave that for ten months, then you live a different life for those ten months and after that you live out the rest of your life: which stage is hardest? I know the answer. Studying in China is the best way to know a culture very different from the European one, as you have the opportunity to open your mind and learn about different customs. China is like a labyrinth: you may never feel part of that culture, but at the same time, you may fall in love with it. Since going to China, I have always thought that you can either immediately fall in love with the country, or you can immediately hate it. Of course, I have totally fallen in love with China and all its deep differences, ranging from cultural differences to educational differences.

Focusing on the Chinese school system, it is possible to notice that it is different from our one. During high school, they spend all day doing classes focusing on different subjects than what we are used to doing. For instance, when I was in China five years ago with AFS (Intercultural Programs), I attended a high school in Harbin, in the north of China, and there I had the opportunity to know more about the Chinese school system and culture. Indeed, Chinese teenagers start school at around seven in the morning and, according to the year you are attending, you can finish school at around six in the afternoon or after dinner at around nine in the evening, essentially spending all day in the school. During the day school, you have forty minute classes and then ten minutes of break. There are a lot of rules in the school where, for instance, every morning you have to do physical exercises, and when the teacher comes into the classroom you have to stand up and say “ 老师好 Lǎoshī hǎo” which means “ Hello teacher”. You also can’t use your mobile phone during the classes, and every day you have to wear the uniform. You can skip class if you are ill, but you need to call your teacher and tell her/him, which is different because you don't have the absence booklet like in Italy.

Moreover, during the last year of high school, you have a very important exam called the 高考 (‘Gāokǎo’, referred to as the National College Entrance Examination (NCEE) in English). This is an intense test to enter the best Chinese universities and is divided into two days and takes around nine hours to complete. A lot of Chinese students are scared by this exam due to the difficulty and the stress that it gives to them.

To explore this sense of dread further, a film was released that talks about this examination: "Better Days", by the director Derek Tsang. The film allows the audience to better understand how the Chinese students feel during the period of this exam and what the burden of such pressure can sometimes cause: suicide. Indeed, a lot of Chinese student decide to commit suicide before the exam because of feelings of restriction from their family with an overwhelming pressure to enter a good Chinese university so that they may have the opportunity to have a good job in the future. Many families invest a lot of money into their children’s education, and in fact many times they decide to give a good education only to one son. In China, if you do not go to a renowned university, you may not have a great career, and it is for these reasons that this examination is considered vitally important.

Additionally, Chinese high schools are bigger than Italian ones. There is a small supermarket where you can buy food or drinks, a canteen where students and teachers used to have lunch and dinner, a very big gym, sports field, swimming pool, and a dormitory. Indeed, a lot of Chinese students used to sleep at the school during the week and then during the weekend or festivals they came back home, even if they live in the same city. Regardless, it is easy to notice that in school you have all you need. According to my experience in China, I had the opportunity to understand that they do not ask “why” about things. For instance, I remember that during a Chinese history class, the teacher was explaining a historical war, and I asked him why it happened and what had caused this war, and he simply said to me, “It just happened; there aren’t reasons.” At that moment I was a little bit surprised by this answer because in Italy I was used to a different approach, where the teacher explains the motivation of events. Then, over time, I came to understand that this is also correlated to Chinese culture, because the family that was hosting me never used to explain “why”.

Moreover, the examinations during the year are different from Italy. In China, you have more written exams like quizzes. Indeed, with the program that I was attending, I had not done any oral exams. One of my friends is doing a degree in China, and she has told me that they used to do exams every three weeks, indicating a significant difference with the Italian university system.

In conclusion, we can see that the school system is structurally different in Italy from the Chinese one, as school in China is considered by many to be like work. You need to give all your time in doing it because if you do not study hard, you may not have a lot of possibilities and you may not have a great job. Irrespective of these differences, going to China was the best experience of my life, and I have come to understand how interesting it is to try to know people from a different place. I tried to speak a language that is considered one of the most difficult; eat foods that I have never thought I could eat. I think that studying in a different place is the best way to have personal growth and be more open minded.

Fabiola Tiberio is a graduate student at Ca' Foscari University of Venice in Language, Culture, and Societies of Asia and Mediterranean Africa, curriculum China. She studied Chinese for four years and spent a year in Harbin, China in the context of a Afs intercultural program in high school. You can find her on Instagram and Facebook.

The opinions expressed here are those of the writers and do not represent the views of European Guanxi.

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