Education, Top Stories

Baizuo Lessons

It has become increasingly common in recent years for universities to contract out their international recruitment efforts to private companies. These companies also often provide a pre-college set of courses designed to get them ready for undergraduate or graduate studies. These “pathway” or “accelerator” programs have come under scrutiny from Inside Higher Ed, the Associated Press, and others over tuition-sharing arrangements.

The University of Kansas’s partnership with Shorelight was one of that company’s first two ever. It began its “accelerator” program in the fall of 2014, and curriculum was decided upon jointly between the company and the university. I taught two of these courses as a masters student. These teaching roles come with considerably more responsibility than a graduate assistant generally has: we teach every class, we assign grades, and so on.

There is nothing inherently wrong with this, and at first I found it very exciting. I think college students at all levels would benefit from being given more responsibility. Most people thrive when given responsibility, and even the failures are usually instructive. Here was a program that was really doing it. I may not have ever taught before, but I had been an editor for five years before coming to grad school, I thought, of course I could help these students with their writing.

I have since come to believe that the reasons for this system have less to do with injecting a little disruptive energy into a moribund academy and more to do with deflecting accountability for the program’s shortcomings. An accelerator program offers to help the university acquire (part of) another year’s worth of pre-college tuition from lucrative international students. Participating academic departments receive a handful of graduate appointments to hand out. Searchlight takes a 50 percent cut as long as students are in the program, which drops to 10 percent when they enter normal classes. Thus there is an incentive, from the university’s perspective, to run students through it, regardless of their level of preparedness. The CEO of Shorelight says 90 percent of their students at KU proceed from their first to their second year, but that is sort of begging the question.

My first course was An Introduction to American Studies, which used films to introduce students to key concepts in the field. It was my first semester teaching and, by a stroke of luck, only five students had signed up for my class. All of them were Chinese. To get a sense of the average student that comprises the boom of Chinese matriculation at American universities, you have to understand a few things. For the most part these are not the entitled children of some high-level party functionary. Those kids are at Oxford or Yale. These are the children of the new Chinese middle class. They come from families that, ten or fifteen years ago, would not have been able to send their children to a university at all. But today, like any family would, they are spending their newfound disposable income on their children.

*     *     *

While I had some flexibility to add or skip certain movies, the curriculum, down to the lecture slides, had been written for me. In the course of the semester, we would take the enormous, world-shaping corpus of American film and feed it through the leftist salami slicer: race, class, sexuality, gender, ability (notably not religion). One film would be assigned to each identity category: Salt of the Earth for Latinos, Karate Kid for Asians, Some Like it Hot for alternative sexualities, and so on.

It occurred to me very early on that this is not the best way to introduce students to film, but that of course is not the point. The course fulfills a core requirement to teach students how to “respect human diversity and expand cultural understanding and global awareness.” We aren’t here to study anything so jejeune as movies. Movies are merely the tortilla chip meant to bear the warm gooey dollop of cultural leftist queso. They’re the delivery vehicle.

Our textbook was by Harry Benshoff and Sean Griffin, it’s called America on Film: Representing Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality at the Movies. I saved it because it’s good for a laugh. Here are some selections:

The United States was founded on and still adheres to the dominant ideology of white patriarchal capitalism.”

“Over the years, Americans have come to understand that the Constitution is a living document, one that can be changed to encompass a wider meaning of equality.”

“capitalism as an ideology can be defined as the belief that success and worth are measured by one’s material wealth.”

“Socialism, an economic and ideological system mediating capitalism and communism, seeks to structure a society’s economic system around governmental regulation of industries and the equitable sharing of wealth for certain basic necessities, while still maintaining democratic values and a free market for most consumer goods. Since the United States was founded under capitalism, American culture has largely demonized socialism as evil and unnatural, even though many US government programs can be considered socialist in both intent and practice.”

The latter is social democracy, not socialism. But so as not to get bogged down in definitions, the important thing is to notice that in one case (socialism), the authors are trying to explain the concept in a sympathetic and maximal way, and in the other (capitalism), they are not.

Here is another selection:

Ideological struggle is therefore an ongoing political process that surrounds us constantly, bombarding individuals at every moment with messages about how the world could and should function. …

While institutionalized discrimination and other oppressive measures overtly attempt to impose certain ideologies upon a society there are still more subtle means of doing so that often do not even feel or look like social control. Winning over the “hearts and minds” of a society with what are called ideological state apparatuses (ISAs). … ISAs include various non-violent social formations such as schools, the family, the church, and the media institutions—including film and television—that shape and represent our culture in certain ways. … Even the structure of the family itself is an ISA, in which sons and daughters are taught ideological concepts by their parents. In the United States, families have traditionally been idealized as patriarchal, with the father as the leader.

What is being taught here is a particular way of looking at the world. It isn’t one that I share, but I do not object to it being taught to undergraduate students, even as something they will necessarily need to understand to function in a twenty-first century university. I concede that it probably is necessary for that reason. I do not object to having been taught it myself, in fact I’m glad I was. But it was taught to me in a forthright way that did not obscure its own ideological origins. You might even say that today they teach—I taught—Marcuse but pretend it’s Rand McNally, and that this might even be evidence of a certain worldview’s own hegemony, at least in the liberal arts world. You might even say we are part of an ISA.

White patriarchal capitalism is the organizing concept of the book, which proceeds through a history of various identities in film and how they have been oppressed by it. There has always been something a little dogmatic about intersectionality, and there is something downright Athanasian about this particular triune formulation (“and yet they are not three oppressions; but one oppression”).

The cheap joke to make about all this is that Chinese kids don’t really need to come all the way here for communist instruction. But the irony is that if what they were learning here was consonant with the prevailing ideology in China, the term baizuo would never have been coined. According to Wikipedia, baizuo entered wide use in 2016. It translates to “white Left,” referring to liberals in the West who are seen as weak and feckless because of, basically, cultural leftism. It is also sometimes applied to Chinese people who, educated in the West, return home with a lot of ideas about human rights and diversity.

For the most part, especially for students in STEM whose exposure to it is limited, it doesn’t really matter that the university’s dominant ideology is dissonant with the one being officially propounded in China. Many will only take a handful of liberal arts courses. It doesn’t really matter, except to the person tasked with teaching them what amounts to cultural competency in a 21st-century university, which in this case was me.

The term may have gained currency through the Internet, but it reflects what China analyst Bruno Maçães has called the underlying social conservatism of Chinese society. There is still a strong cultural memory of the last time an attempt was made to upend the ISAs. While it may be hard to access any real history about the Red Guards and the Cultural Revolution in China today, everybody understands that it isn’t something they would like to go back to. By contrast, the American university is typified by woke neoliberalism; it has doubled down on cultural politics while saddling students with more and more debt. You hear a lot of rhubarb about the “neoliberal university.” Well, here it is: a corporate-approved curriculum in wokeness studies.

While I dutifully went over the readings every week to make sure they were picking up on concepts like “hegemonic negotiation,” I admit that I found myself in the position of the atheist preacher. Some of them were probably astute enough to notice what feels very much like a lack of faith. For their part, if any of my students had contempt for the baizuo ideology I was serving as the mouthpiece of, they were kind enough not show it. Nevertheless, it was clear that they had not been subjected to the enwokening one might receive at, say, an American public school. For example, when we began the unit on race, I asked them to define the concept. They thought about it for a minute, then said, “it’s in your genes.” Everyone agreed that it was something hereditary. This, I gathered, was the sort of thing I was supposed to correct. I explained why that isn’t how we understand the term anymore.

This whole time the word baizuo stuck in my mind as so totally apt for what I was doing. I did not believe that they saw me in this way, but I did wonder what they thought about the strange man before them who seemed to be gritting his teeth as he explained why gender-bending in film is so transgressive. “These are your baizuo lessons,” I could say, and we would have an understanding. They would know why they have to know this stuff for the next four years. When in school, do as the baizuo do. One day the desire to bridge the gap between the disbelieving and the uncomprehending prevailed over my fear that this bit of knowing context we might be able to share would shatter the veneer of seriousness I had tried to maintain up to that point. After class I asked if they had ever heard the term before. None of them had. I didn’t try to explain it myself, but I told them to look it up.

On the last day of class, I bade my five students farewell. All of them did fairly well. On the way out, the one female student in the class stopped and told me that she had looked up baizuo, and that she understood it. I did not ask her to elaborate. I suppose the eternal torment of a teacher is to wonder how deep a student’s understanding really goes.

*     *     *

The next semester was a welcome change in subject matter, from woke media studies to local history. Kansas history, to be exact, and I’ve never been happier to look at a map of crop geography or crack open a 19th century diary in my life. I didn’t have to pretend the material wasn’t “stuffed with lies,” to borrow a phrase from Solzhenitsyn. And the only assigned book was a novel.

Unlike the previous semester, I had nearly 20 students in two separate classes, and they hailed from a much wider variety of countries. A rough estimate of the national breakdown would be maybe 40-50 percent Chinese, 30 percent other Asian nationalities, and 10-20 percent everyone else. I had no point of comparison the previous semester, but it quickly became obvious to me that the Chinese students lagged significantly behind the others in writing, reading and verbal skills.

My intuition was confirmed when the first grades came in. It was not a small difference, one that I’m exaggerating now to be contrarian, or to make a point. The difference between the Chinese students and all the others on quizzes and tests was substantial, 20-30 points; the difference between passing and failing. It would probably shock the reader to see some of these “essays.” Here is one from a final exam, in its entirety:

“Novel portrays a meritocratic world. Because novel need to show hope and goal of topic to people. When people see the novel they make imagine about topic.”

People who write like this are being admitted to college.

We will get into the problem of dishonesty on the part of the students later. If we matched the student’s essay above to his application essays, I would bet a new car that they would read as if they were written by different people. I would bet, further, that the university could find enough discrepancies like this to sue for breach of contract.

Even if there has been no dishonesty at any level of the admissions process, that’s almost worse—what benefit is a student who writes at this level going to get out of a college course? At the end of the day, whether or not students are cheating in the admissions process, Shorelight is responsible, because they are the ones who recruit them and shepherd them through it. It is the job of the “accelerator” program to get students who are close to preparedness over the final hurdle, but I think it’s fair to say this student has several more hurdles to go before they get to the final one.

It is hard to look at this student and say Shorelight’s, and for that matter KU’s, impact on their life has been positive. They may spend $50,000 before realizing that their language skills really aren’t up to snuff.

*     *     *

I am old enough to remember when the stereotype about Chinese people was that they were too capable, and too efficient; that they would crowd us all out. That’s been the stereotype since the transcontinental railroad. To see performance that cut so starkly against not just stereotypes but even my previous semester of teaching shocked me, and it made me wonder what the other variable must be. East Asians are not, on the whole, stupid. In fact they score higher than any other race on IQ tests, as racists are fond of reminding us. So what accounts for their low performance compared to everyone else?

For the first class assignment students had to write a few lines about a food indigenous to the state. One Chinese student’s response contained these two lines:

According to the latest research, corn contains glutathione, a hang-cancer factor. The domestic and foreign bitter nutritionists give high evaluation to maize, believing that: the glutathione contained in maize has the function of anti-cancer, it can combine with various carcinogenic substances in human body, can make these substances lose their carcinogenicity.

Five seconds of Googling revealed that the text was taken from some Chinese wholesaler website. I handed back the papers next class and asked this student if they could define “carcinogenicity” for me. They could not. I suppose I had a vague awareness that cheating might be a bigger problem among Chinese students than other ones, but I was not prepared for how prevalent it was.

Half of one of the sections failed their midterm exam. By the end of the semester I was finding any excuse I possibly could to give people points. I allowed them to take one 8.5×12 cheat sheet into the final with them. Two students repaid this by copying down Amazon reviews of the novel they were supposed to have read. I’m not kidding.

The culture of normalized cheating in Chinese academic life has rotted it to the very core. It is done on a huge scale, and in ingenious ways. In one story from 2013, hundreds of students rioted when proctors tried to stop them from cheating on an exam. According to a study cited in the New York Times in 2011, 90 percent of Chinese applicants to American universities submit false letters of recommendation, and 50 percent fake their transcripts. Jiang Xueqin, who helps lead Peking University High School, wrote in an astute op-ed from November 2011 that, “American college recruiters in China feel overwhelmed by the proliferation of cheating, lying, and fraud,” and that was one of the reasons why they had to shift from subjective admissions criteria like essays and letters of recommendation, to test scores.

But these test scores are not necessarily any more reliable. In 2015, 15 Chinese students were indicted for crimes related to a scheme to use fake test-takers on the SAT and TOEFL, the latter being the English competency exam. The 2011 New York Times article mentions several instances at Kansas State in which the Chinese students who showed up for classes on the first day of the semester were not the same people who took their TOEFL.

This culture of normalized dishonesty has an impact on people who would otherwise not cheat and drives them to do so. As one Business Insider article from 2015 noted, it has a “negative impact on Chinese students who don’t want to cheat, but may feel that there’s no other way to get into an American college.” It does not end with matriculation either. In 2015, a study was conducted that showed 8,000 Chinese students expelled from U.S. university, mostly for low marks and cheating.

I have seen reasons given in print for why cheating is so endemic among Chinese students, even patriotic ones: by pumping up one’s grades, the averages look higher and the whole country looks more competitive. It seems to me that this is extremely short-sighted thinking, and that a country that normalizes dishonesty in this way is setting up big problems for itself in the long run. I wonder now if the economic slowdown in China lots of smart people insist is coming will involve stories about people whose degrees aren’t working as advertised. But because nobody wants to disadvantage themselves in the short-run by not cheating, there is an enormous incentive to take part. This is why norms about honesty arose in the first place, and why they must be enforced.

I made it clear at the beginning of the semester that they should not cheat, and that if they did, I would catch them. I told them that I had worked as an editor in the past and I would catch them if they tried. I told them my job back then was to improve people’s writing, and in this class my job is to help you improve yours, which I can’t do if the writing is not your own.

Having given them the warning, it felt sort of like an insult when they went on to cheat anyway. It was nothing personal, and this was essentially normal in Chinese academic life today. But this culture is an individualistic one that comes with norms about authorship and attribution. And at least to some extent I saw it as my job to drag them, by hook or by crook, into Western academic norms, which—one would hope—they could not go four years without adopting.

If it is true and cheating on applications and TOEFL is widespread, then it’s not really that surprising that some students are matriculating with language skills way below what they ought to have. It’s easy to cheat on a standardized test, but it’s hard to cheat in conversation. What worries me about “accelerator” programs is that they put people like myself—not a PhD, not even a doctoral candidate—in the position of weeding out people who probably shouldn’t have been admitted in the first place.

If this is, indeed, what is happening, and I believe it is, then it’s really hard to blame a student who may have cheated in the past but now finds him or herself in over their head in a strange country with a significant amount of sunk cost in money and time. Which is why, in the more than a dozen instances of plagiarism I caught that semester, I didn’t report any of them for academic misconduct.

We spent the second half of the semester reading a novel. Several weeks before the final, I received an email that contained the following lines. He said he had started reading the book two weeks before, but:

the words and sentences are too difficult to remember and even understand. It is hard to know that some two connected sentences are unrelated in meaning. I am sorry that I already tried hard to read it, but I still don’t understand the author’s mean. I hope the exam on Thursday won’t have much effect on the total grades.

What would you tell this student? This one never cheated, and they ended up getting a decent grade. I feel bad for him, and I feel like I have ill-served him somehow. Far from being insulting, a sense of genuine concern for them must prompt one to ask, what is he doing here? Every one of these students would be better served spending another year learning English for much less cost in their home countries. At the end of the day, I came up with excuses to pass everyone except those who cheated on the final exam or the final paper, most of whom already had failing or near-failing grades before that point. I don’t know if that was the correct way to handle the situation, but it feels defensible given the circumstances. On the one hand, I don’t see the students as entirely at fault. On the other, passing someone who does not have a minimum level of English competence and cheats all the time feels like passing the buck in a way that makes me more complicit than I would like to be.

It’s ironic, given the current debates about Chinese trade, that one of the few sectors where the balance is in our favor is higher education, an enterprise that could not be more antithetical to our protectionist president.

There are probably strategic motives behind a certain amount of Chinese enrollment in American universities; the genuine espionage issues at American universities are evidence enough of that. But the vast majority of Chinese students are here for the same reasons the rest of us dopes are: that we decided, against all evidence, that higher education was a product that was worth buying at the absurdly inflated price at which it is now sold. We value it not because of skills we may learn, but because a degree will give us access to a certain tier of jobs. We buy the product, despite its defects, and the expectation that if you want to work in the ruling class, you have to talk like them. And what could be more baizuo than that?

 

J. Arthur Bloom is a founding editor of Jacobite. He writes from Arlington, Virginia. You can follow him on Twitter @j_arthur_bloom

29 Comments

  1. Constantin says

    What a mesmerizing article! The author begins by finding satisfaction in being entrusted higher responsibility in “baizuo” indoctrination. His five or so Chineze students in the “baizuo” class did not cheat and were competent enough to attract a sheepish intellectual bomb (asked to familiarize themselves with the term “baizuo”) at the end of the equivalent of highway robbery. Arrived here, I thought this was a “come to Jesus” moment of self-reflection, but the subject abruptly and absurdly turned to a culture of cheating the system among the Chinese rising middle-class and the author’s “compassion” for all levels of cheating bar one – in the final exam. So far – so good! “Baizuo” brain washing mercenaries are also compassionate and know and are somewhat troubled of their own snake oil business. Most illuminating is the sentence “makes me more complicit than I would like to be”. It is nice and helpful to draw the line in the sand for your own level of depravity. It may well be that most of us eat s..t by the spoon full on a daily basis and find mental comfort in the vague idea that there is somewhere a line we would never cross. It is rare however to proudly display it in public. To that extent, this article is indeed surprising.
    And then we come to the unrelated but not less interesting conclusion:
    the product of higher education is not knowledge, but a set of habits and a language that grants admission into the ranks of the new ruling class. It boggles the mind the fact that the author believes that education is overpriced. It is not. It is available for free on the Internet. The lectures of the most able minds of our age are all available on line – either free or at a nominal cost. By contrast an admission pass into the modern ruling class may still be considered cheap. There is nothing “baizuo” about a ruling class seeking conformity and protection from dissenting views and behavior. It is called “self-preservation”. The author makes a mistake perpetuated by the Wikipedia page suggesting that the derogatory term “baizuo” refers to an “elite” in society. Nothing could be further from the truth. “Baizuo” refers” to the hopeless “Occupy Wall Street” loser who continues to cling to a false sense of moral superiority based on the ridiculous extreme left indoctrination ingested in University and continues predictably to be a soldier pawn in the hands of those getting rich behind their backs. A critical aspect of the concept is the inability to distinguish practical necessity from ideological orthodoxy. Ruling classes seldom find themselves in such awkward and self-defeating positions. LOL

  2. I suspect that grad students are getting the job of dealing with cheaters precisely because they don’t want to be the bad guy, and will effectively pump up the numbers by admitting more cheaters. There was recently a rash of mid-east cheaters at my university, and my department head was absolutely resolute in failing these people, reporting them to the administration, and sending a message. I was a bit shocked at first, but the wisdom of his approach quickly became apparent. There is no cheating problem in our department, now.

  3. Chris says

    China, everyone in higher ed knows, is the new pot of gold at the end of the higher ed rainbow: a massive population that suddenly has money, wants an education, and still believes that American universities are the best place to find that product. As a college administrator myself, I can tell you they are absolutely wrong about that, and they’re being taken advantage of en masse.

    Higher ed in the USA is in decline. It’s too expensive, there are too few students to go around, and the quality of the product is being watered down due to grade inflation. College is not much more than a delivery system for knowledge, and in 2019, there are plenty of other ways to get that knowledge for far cheaper, and more and more people, at least in the west, are catching on to that fact. Unfortunately for Asia, they haven’t got that memo yet.

    China is the plug for the leaking dike of American higher ed. It’s a stop gap of funding to push off the bursting of the next major economic bubble, the education bubble. It’s still coming, it’s just going to take a little longer while we soak the east for every dollar of tuition money they’ve got.

    • Have you ever tried to explain the reality of American universities to an Asian mother? I’m telling you, it’s a hard sell. The facts don’t really matter — it’s an emotional issue connected to culture and status among their social network, and little else. Things will change on the exact day that the status attached to attending college goes negative (i.e. what kind of an idiot would waste four years on that Baizuo shit?).

      • Chris says

        You’re absolutely correct in that it’s a status thing more than anything else. Same reason my grandmother displayed her fine china dishes and crystal glasses in the dining room cabinet – it was a status symbol for her generation. It’s not even necessary to use it, Lord knows I never got to eat off of the good china, it was there only for appearances. Just like that college degree hanging on the wall – not there to be used, just there to boost yourself up to the next rung in the social hierarchy.

    • Peter from Oz says

      It is also true that the Chinese value an Australian university education. In fact our univerties are dumbing down to ensure that the income from foreign students keeps rolling in.

    • Being a former university administrator, and with a fair grasp of Chinese culture (from studying and working in China), I can tell you this much: As a young Chinese, you have three options in life.

      Option A) You study really effing hard and get accepted into an elite Chinese university in the C9 league. This is pretty much impossible if you come from anything but a tier 1 city.

      Option B) You study hard, and enroll in an unknown provincial university. After graduation, you can expect to never find a good job because those jobs require a diploma from a famous university. Instead, you will find yourself delivering food on an electric scooter, or act as a rental apartment – agent also on an electric scooter.

      Option C) You are born into a rich family that can send you abroad, letting you avoid the Gaokao and the soul-crushing torture of attempting to be admitted to a good Chinese university.

      Chinese employers will on average sift through 700 applications for every position. Foreign universities in general, and American in particular, will look more interesting than an unknown provincial university in Gansu province. The degree and the grades are secondary, heck, they might not even care if you actually graduated at all.

      Since employers won’t bother doing their due diligence, there’s no incentive for Chinese students in the West to bother studying. They’ve already won, and they know it.

  4. Foor Ohklok says

    I appreciate the observations on ideological inculcation in higher ed, as well as on the Chinese propensity for cheating. But this article might’ve been thought through a bit more before committing it to publication.

    This is odd. “In fact they score higher than any other race on IQ tests, as racists are fond of reminding us.” The author reminded us. Is the author racist? Or is he okay because he reminded us but wasn’t fond of doing so?

    This is also puzzling. “it’s really hard to blame a student who may have cheated in the past but now finds him or herself in over their head…. Which is why, in the more than a dozen instances of plagiarism I caught that semester, I didn’t report any of them for academic misconduct.” If you find it hard to blame people who cheat and get in over their heads, when would you blame anyone for anything? There seems to be a direct correlation between dishonesty and in-over-your-head-getting.

    This is incoherent. “This one never cheated, and they ended up getting a decent grade.” “This one” is referred to in the previous paragraph as “he.” Now he’s been transformed by an obscurantist gender-neutrality into a “they.”

    This came out of left field. “…higher education, an enterprise that could not be more antithetical to our protectionist president.” This statement doesn’t jibe with Trump’s background. He attended Fordham and Wharton. Why did he attend college if higher education couldn’t be more antithetical to him?

    • Foor Ohklok – I totally agree with your comments. In fact, I would go further. The author is complicit in grade inflation, cheating and indoctrination. And yet he has the audacity to insert little virtue signals here and there. He’s far from a man of integrity, but I’m sure he believes he is a virtuous as they come.

    • While I’m not disagreeing with anything you wrote. But in the case of the IQ test scores, it’s safe to assume that those scores are wildly exaggerated due to – in this particular case – state-sponsored cheating.

  5. One decent article that could have been two, separate good articles.
    I’d have cut the Chinese cheating thing (not news, I’m afraid), and focus more on your experience as a first-time teacher having to recite drivel.

    That being said, it was still an enjoyable read.

  6. Ikonoklaster says

    Having visited China some years ago, one thing that caused me endless amusement was the atrociously bad English translations you see on signage everywhere, on trains, in the supermarket, at tourist attractions.

    It was also a matter of some bemusement in that I was lucky enough to hang out with a lot of lovely Chinese people, and with me speaking no Chinese language, this through necessity meant these were Chinese people who spoke pretty good English, and also found poor translations on signage pretty amusing.

    Now this made me wonder why when it was pretty obvious that many Chinese people were aware that Western tourists were having a good giggle at the country’s, the authorities in particular, expense, that no one did anything to rectify this state of affairs.

    Now reading this I’m thinking, were these terrible translations just a symptom of corruption? Had the translations been provided by people who didn’t really know English and couldn’t or wouldn’t admit it, employed by people who couldn’t or wouldn’t admit they employed people unable to do their jobs?

    Now a couple of other noticeable thing about China was among many other good things I should add, was a sense of there being a lot of incompetence and lots of denial. For example, very poor building and construction everywhere, and people, probably party people spying on foreigners, who would approach you in bars and insist that air pollution in Beijing was a lie made up by the BBC to slur China.

    So if there is a lesson to draw from this article, it would seen to me, is don’t let people cheat, as dishonesty leads to corrupt societies that aren’t that great. If you’re letting corruption into your universities, and I know that this is happening here in the UK where universities and now businesses, your society is going to to be the next to fail.

  7. TheSnark says

    Nick…you actually know what you are talking about when it comes to China. I spent 10 years there, and you are spot on.

    Western education, to well-off Chinese, is a branding exercise. They don’t really care if they learn anything, all they want is that piece of paper.

    Cheating is widespread because cheating is prevalent in China on almost everything. The country is very crowded, very competitive, and very cut-throat. You can’t keep your head above water, much less get ahead, by being honest when everyone else is cheating. The scams they pull on us Westerners are nothing compared to what they do to each other.

    Westerns, such as college admissions officers, will never be able to pick out the the cheaters.

    My conclusion, which I mentioned in another post a similar topic, is that that Western colleges should triple or quadruple the tuition for mainland Chinese students. The Chinese can afford it.
    And the Western colleges only want them for their money anyway, so they might as well be upfront and honest about it.

    • I appreciate your feedback, and I from reading the rest of your comment, something the China Vlogger SerpentZA said comes to mind. He did a video about the one concept that rule China, and that is “perception” (somewhat similar to face). The perception of something in China is more important than what actually is.

      The perception of having a strong economy is more important than actually having a fundamentally healthy one.

      The perception of curbing smoking by imposing a strict non-smoking policy everywhere, complete with signs that warn potential smokers of heavy fines all while 70+ percent of Chinese men smoke anyway, anywhere.

      The perception of having an elite university education from abroad, although it was mostly just a costly four-year vacation.

      The perception of glittering modern skylines that tell tales of a society that is not only catching up, but has already surpassed its competitors, although at the ground level people live in filth with no chance of upward mobility anymore.

      The list goes on.

  8. Daniel says

    Bloom chronicles an interesting experience. He came abruptly up against a wholly foreign paradigm. Not all Asians subscribe to the educational paradigm he described. But it does seem like a lot of them do. A big part of the difference comes down to the cultural value the role of reading in an individual’s life.

    Our educational system in the West is complementary with the traditional notion of family, where parents have plenty of discretionary time to help their kids, and will discuss over the dinner table what happened at school. Before bed, parents read to them — a process that eventually changes to the kids reading for themselves. A key part of the bed-reading process is the discussions that happen, (why do you think the baby elephant said that? What does Little Henry want?) and the personal relationship that is built, making reading a warm and familiar pastime.

    I can’t speak to what Asian family dynamics are like with the exception of one point: they don’t read to their kids. The percentage of Asian parents that read to their kids is staggeringly small.

    Without this early-age framework for understanding reading, books are much harder to master. I remember trying to make heads or tails of a folk tale in a foreign language in a class with some other adult colleagues. Once we had clarified all the unfamiliar vocabulary, and wrestled the strange sentence structures into comprehension, we were still sytmied at the events of the story. It wasn’t a plot structure that resembled anything we’d seen before, and the whole story was just so weird, random and pointless as a result. Our instructor, to his credit, let us discuss and wrestle with it among ourselves until we understood it — about 30 minutes. But the only reason we could get it was because we all had college and post-grad degrees, were habitual readers, and could bring quite a bit of literary and text-interpretation experience to the discussion. Imagine someone facing the same language barrier, but with no academic skills to rely on; that’s the situation Bloom’s Chinese students seemed to be facing.

    Without this background in reading, foreign kids end up perceiving every book the way you or I would a phone book or a thesaurus — a list of dry information with stuff that you look up, but there’s no coherent point that needs to be understood.

    The cheating mindset is closely associated with this (whether it is causal or merely correlative, I don’t know.) With nothing to understand, who among us would’t be able to justify cheating on a phone-book test? When we couple that with the fact that the cultural value of not cheating is a Western one (trying to make observations about trends here, not to condemn every non-western student!), it makes it rare that Chinese students wouldn’t cheat.

  9. M Barclay says

    It is refreshing to read an article where the author admits to wrongdoing that I think any rational being can remind themselves of our own failings. I commend him on writing the article knowing full well that he was aiding a much larger system of cheating than himself and trying his best to walk the line. I’m sure he is too many caving to pressure and or scared, but start to walk in his shoes first before condemning the guy for not “taking it to the system”.

  10. TheSnark says

    Daniel: interesting theory, but the root of the cheating is not lack of reading. It is cultural.

    The concept of sin, as in “it is a sin to tell a lie”, does not exist in China. There is no hard and fast set of rules, no Judeo-Christian Ten Commandments, telling you want is right and wrong. There is, however, a Confucian imperative to obey your parents/superiors, take care of your children/subordinates, and be loyal to your brothers/sisters/classmates/friends. But outside of those relationships there are no obligations. As a result, the Chinese are incredibly generous and warm and embracing to those inside their circle, but brutally indifferent to those who are not.

    You would never cheat anyone inside your circle of family and friends. On the contrary, you will quickly share pretty much anything you have with them, and trust them completely (far more than you would trust your friends and family in the West). But you have no such obligation to those outside that circle. Lying, cheating, and stealing to outsiders is just fine: it gives you more to share with the insiders.

    Hence the cheating problem. China is crowded and resource-poor. Since cheating is OK as long as it is practiced on people you don’t know well, it is very common. Since it is very common, everyone has been cheated a lot, and expects everyone else to be trying to cheat them, and acts accordingly. And if everyone is treating everyone else like like a cheat, it is very hard for honest people to get ahead. So cheating becomes the norm. And since most people are cheating, and everyone is expecting to be cheated, the ingenuity and sophistication of the scams becomes truly impressive.

    Some people say China has always been like that. Some say it is a result of Maoism and the Cultural Revolution breaking down the old social norms. I don’t know, but I do know it is like that now.

    There are positives to this…the warmth and generosity you find when you are inside a circle of family and friends goes well beyond anything you get in the West. But it takes years to be accepted into someone’s inner circle.

    So until you are, be aware that you are an outsider, and therefore a fair target for being cheated. Don’t get me wrong, one can work with that, and many Westerns and all Chinese do. But don’t kid yourself as to what you are getting into.

    • anon666 says

      That culture and variations of it from other corrupt countries is what the West is importing now. I don’t see how the West is going to survive the corruption and resulting parasitism.

  11. TheSnark says

    Note: this article shows what happens when Westerners do kid themselves…the schools want the Chinese money but won’t face the reality of the how the Chinese students game the system to get into their schools. The author got caught in the middle of it.

  12. Jezza says

    School is to build brain head and respect from tomorrow until then. Quite small brain head is not any bigger. Tell student what to say teacher job. If student think own thing, teacher bad. Go home sad. Cost much. Try harder is cost more much.

  13. Methinks the author defends himself too much. The reason you didn’t report the cheaters is because you wanted to keep your job. It’s cowardly, it’s not the worst thing, own up to it, LOL.

    • Kencathedrus says

      As an instructor you get in trouble for reporting it. When I was much younger and idealistic enough to report report this kind of things at the college I worked for at the time, I was told that I had to be more explicit about cheating in my exam instructions. The consequences of cheating were already in the syllabus but now I had to make it even more apparent on the actual exam paper. I complied and gave the cheating student another chance with explicit instructions not to cheat. The onus is on the professor to cover every possible angle. It became clear to me that if cheating did take place that I was going to be held accountable for it. I felt like a cop being told that he’s to blame for someone else’s speeding.

      One day my manager came and asked me to grade a research paper from a Chinese student. It had obviously been Google translated from Chinese to English, because it was complete and utter gobbledygook. I gave it an F and handed it back. My manager was furious with me and told me that this wasn’t the correct grade. He told me to look at it again.
      I did and still awarded it with an F. There was an accreditation coming up and there was no way I wanted my good name attached to this paper at all. All of a sudden the faculty and administration drew ranks against me. I was told my performance would soon be up for review. Seeing the writing on the wall I realized my days were numbered so I resigned at the end of the semester.

      As soon as you expose a crack in the system you are a cancer that has to be excised. The great danger is not just in exposing the moral laxity of the higher-ups, but also that of your peers for which they will never forgive you. There is a way to be morally consistent in Higher Education but it often requires years of experience and an awareness of institutional corruption. Many young TA’s and professors come into the profession full of idealism and so are completely unprepared when confronted with questionable behavior and processes.

      You mention cowardice, and I have to agree with you. Colleges have become cowardly institutions. Fearful of losing revenue they cater to all kinds of student whimsies. If a student fails an assignment and complains about the professor, the professor is likely going to be asked to ‘review’ the student’s work again. Student evaluations, while they can be useful if implemented properly, can also be used by bad administrators as a tool to beat teachers into submission.

      It’s also not enough just to comply with the lowering of standards. Some colleges even demand you follow their political orthodoxy: https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2016/06/10/how-write-effective-diversity-statement-essay

      In a system like this, a young aspiring TA or professor doesn’t stand a chance.

  14. John Dutchman says

    Some of those ‘100-dollar bills’ appear to have the same serial number … I should probably make a donation.

  15. This Dumb FUCK was hurt by the word baizuo, wasn’t he!? And then he started accusing these kids for cheating, the thing is, the program he taught does not have a good enough entrance exam or any admission requirement because they want the money, by the hard-earned money by these Chinese parents. Instead of thinking about how to improve your program, how to teach the children, you insult CHINA with what? a cheating culture!? I’ve seen more American cheat than Chinese. Why don’t you take a good look of your own greeds and insecurity. baizuo, what a complete waste of space.

  16. ShipAhoy123 says

    I teach Chinese international students so this really resonates with me. I have found a way to block most plagiarism but it costs me a lot of time and also builds resentment in many cases. It is absolutely incredible the lack of proficiency many of these students present, especially in the face of an academic culture increasingly devoted to subjective truth.

    One note on the IQ observation: I taught for years the same content to more fluent western students (South Americans for example) in one class and predominantly Asian, not particularly fluent in the other, in such a way I knew the work was theirs. The observation was that the latter always produced better work. These students were generally very good at following directions and got higher grades.

  17. It’s indicative of the Quillette’s transitional state that J. Arthur Bloom felt obliged to do a little leftist bashing before embarking on this insightful tale of anomalous behavior among a recognizable minority. Establishing his creds, he is. But kudos are due. This is a genuine piece of old school journalism. Most of the commentators here seem to feel that there’s a disjunct between the intro and body of this article, but to my eyes the two sections dovetail nicely.

    A Liberal Arts education (it has been said) prepares university students for real world roles in corporate and civic environments. Sure it’s indoctrination: it’s the tempering fire one passes through in youth. It inculcates an exaggerated sense of idealism; its lasting value is in teaching us to recognize unethical practices for what they are. (Thereby we may learn to value our own conscientiousness.) But today’s ethics are passing through a baroque phase: identity politics have disrupted pathways for safe speculative criticism. And as revolutionary posturing is the the sandbox of a liberal education, the stakes are higher now. Barbarians are being shepherded to the college gates; grad students are manning the barricades.

    Confucious would have been delighted by the concept of baizuo.

  18. Chinese in Montreal says

    This is a very interesting topic and the author did a good job introducing the concept of “Baizo” and the seedy money grabbing scheme called “accelerator” prevalent in American higher-education. Allow me, as a Chinese who is currently studying in a supposedly world top 30 Canadian University to offer some perspectives from the other side of the equation.

    Firstly, I find the stereotype of Chinese being more hardworking or smart as largely just that, a stereotype. There are hardworking ones and there are lazy ones; just like every race and nationality. I suspect the reason that this stereotype was developed was because in the past, only the best students in China would be given the chance to study in a western university, paid for by the government. It was an extremely selective process and the students given the chances are the crème de la crème. So obviously, when every student from China you encountered were hardworking and smart, the stereotype would naturally seem true. But that was hardly a representative sample of Chinese students in general. Nowadays, because of the past 40 years of economic development, studying abroad is no longer the privilege of those who are the best and brightest but is, relatively speaking, an affordable endeavor for average middle-class families, the quality of Chinese student body abroad drops to resemble Chinese students at home. Nothing surprising about that. I think this is a salutary lesson to take all stereotypes with a large pinch of salts.

    Secondly, regards to cheating. Honestly I don’t know how do you cheat a TOFEL exam and a SAT exam. I have taken both of them and if my memory serves me right, both required to take a photo of the exam-takers. I got over 2050 in my SAT and 106 on my TOFEL. I could have done better but my main focus at the time was to go to Canada, not the US, so I didn’t exactly prepare for them and unlike most of my compatriots, only took them once. My main peeve at the time was the US college admission system doesn’t take my Gaokao score, which is arguably more reflective of one’s academic ability than SAT or ACT. Canada did, BTW. My recommendation letters are fake as well, as the author alluded to in his/her article. It is the only way to get a recommendation letter since, for obvious reason, my high school teachers can’t write in English. To be honest I do not feel even slightly guilty about that. The recommendation letter, as a criterion for admission, is a joke. What insights can you gain from an authentic recommendation letter? Even if they are genuine, they would be some generic praise largely copied form the internet. So yes, I write my own letters and ask my teachers to sign their names afterwards. They all oblige happily. With regards to transcript, I didn’t change mine because the province I came from has stored all transcript electronically in the cloud, so even if I want to, it would not be possible. But I do acknowledge this is a prevalent topic among students from other provinces. And just as recommendation letters, I can sympathies with that. Transcript, or GPA doesn’t reflect one’s ability. I am actually amazed such an unscientific system is still being used. I am perhaps the top 1 percent of my high-school class, but if you look at my transcript, there are some Bs, and even one C, that is because nobody thinks your transcript is important in the Chinese education system where where you go to University is determined entirely by your Gaokao score ( and where you were born, but that was a different topic), not your GPA. Different schools have different level of difficulty with regards to how hard their everyday exams should be and it is completely arbitrary. My high school, which is the best in the region, has a much tougher standard than some schools, and obviously that lower the GPA for every student. Some international school, because they know the obsession with GPA American system has, artificially inflated their student’s score, giving out As like candies in a party. So tell me, how is it fair to use GPA as a criterion for anything?

    With regards to these accelerator program, I don’t think the author should feel guilty. They are money-grabbing schemes tailored to those who aren’t good enough to go to a University but has a lot of money to waste. A money for diploma program. It is, in my opinion an unethical scheme on the part of the university. But the point is, the students and their parents know what they are getting into. So quite frankly, while I have a healthy distaste for these “accelerator” program, I can hardly take these students as some victims of scam. In fact, I think the real scam is to students like me with no use for accelerator program, because it dilute the value of my diploma. But then again, ultimately, this is a free market economy where we are all willing participant, so I can’t really say I am a victim either.

    Anyway, this is my honest opinion on some of the topics being covered by the article. Opinion I probably won’t share if not anonymously. I am not trying to be provocative, I welcome people to reply if you disagree with me, or agree with me.

  19. This was an extremely informative and well-written article. What impressed me most was the fairness and even-handedness the author showed in dealing with a controversial subject at American universities with significant Chinese and East Asian enrollments. Cheating among these populations is distressingly common — an artifact imported from the Chinese civil service, Chinese educational bureaucracy and the cultural baggage of the tumultuous history of the Chinese nation over the last 100 years where survival often depended upon lying, cheating, misrepresentation and various forms of “bending the truth.” We need more honest and informative coverage of this issues from writers such as this,

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