“River Town: Two years on the Yangtze” is a book written by Peter Hessler describing how his life was in China. This is a book he wrote during his years in rural China when he was an English teacher. During this period, he was working for the Peace Corps in Fuling, a remote town located along Yangtze River. This was even before westerners became common in mainland China. In fact during this time, Hessler was one among the only four westerners in the whole rural town full of hundreds of thousands of people. He provides an account on his everyday struggles with the culture and language of the Chinese people.
He tells how he teaches his English students on Shakespeare using the Chinese twist and the way communist party bureaucracy sometimes becomes a hurdle to some developments. Of much interest is the manner in which the education system in china is described as one of the most standardized. According to Hessler (34), students had the responsibility of cleaning the classroom. As explained, there are a lot of responsibilities for Chinese students in their system as they had to wash the blackboards between classes. Moreover, they had to clean the windows and the floor twice a week.
Students are required to obey and accomplish their obligations and if for example the cleaning of the classroom was not adequate, they would be fined (Hessler 34). Here, students are fined if they miss morning exercises, if they skipped classes, returned late to the dormitories during the night and if they failed in the examinations. This is an education system that looks very different from that of America since students here have very little extra cash to spend and it was thus possible for the classrooms to be thoroughly and diligently cleaned.
The education system has a place for exercises which is mandatory for all in the morning. Some of the exercises involved pressing two fingers on one’s eyes, cheeks or nose. Typically, children go to school as from 7:00am to 4:00pm. However, the elementary schools start as early as 7:30am. Common subjects here include propaganda, writing, reading and studying mathematics. It is during recess when children are expected to attend relaxation exercises and calisthenics. The schools seem to be overcrowded as there were around forty-five in every classroom pressed together seated on old wooden desks.
Children here are accustomed to rote learning and this according to Hessler meant that they had to always follow models even to the point of plagiarism (Hessler 100). Students in this system are inveterate copiers and thus it is possible to get an exactly the same paper from a group of students. In this case, copying is not wrong in the Chinese education system as in their whole school life they are taught to imitate models, accept what they have been told by their teacher without questioning, copy things and this is what they often do (Hessler 100).
In this education system, books used were mostly published in China and they had political intent overstated. For example, Hessler cites the example of “A Handbook of Writing” that he was using during his writing class that had model essay titled “The Three Gorges Project Is Beneficial” which was in the “Argumentation” chapter (Hessler 99). There is an explanation on the chapter on benefits and risks associated with the project that had made some to be against it. But in the end there was a transition that summed up everything that the worries of those against the project were justified “But we should not give up eating for fear of choking.
” Thus the writer of the handbook had to focus more on the benefits of the project and thus gave examples of improved transport, more electricity and better control of flood. The conclusion was that the Three Gorges Project had more advantages than disadvantages. This is what the students are supposed to be taught and to write. When they are given a composition, they end up writing the same phrase “But we should not give up eating for fear of choking. ” Thus, in short this means that the system stresses to give students literature that would make them to be more patriotic to the administration.
Students are supposed to appreciate the ancient poetry as this is taken to be the strongest part in Chinese literary tradition. In comparison to American schools, the environment in Chinese schools is harsh for any writer due to culture. It is actually very difficult for any Chinese to write on what is happening at the present and especially if that writer wants to use fiction. Most of the outstanding fiction writers in China are exiles and since they had that status for a long time, it is quite difficult for them to write about what happened in the recent past in accuracy.
It is actually difficult for writers in China especially due to censorship and political issues. Even the cultural elements make it really hard for them as those who are educated in this society usually look down on the working class and the farmers and they seem to have very little interest in that world. Educated Chinese are more preoccupied on ideas than on stories and individuals (Miller 1). In American schools, the structure involves set questions, worksheets and group activities. Children are required to perform most activities as a group and ample time is awarded for individual work.
Moreover, more flexibility is seen in the American education system. The Chinese education system however is more relentless on group mentality. In most cases writers are individuals but unfortunately this is an instinct that is commonly broken in a Chinese classroom. Teaching writing in China has no emphasis on character, narrative voice or perspective. The focus is on getting the kids copy poetic phrases day in day out. Children are taught that they must spout off any set opinions instead of generating something unexpected.
They also deal with so much handwriting. This is traditional Chinese education system that focuses purely on other values and skills. Communist system establishes funded film-schools which impart vital technical skills (Miller 1). American education system strives to teach the students on how they can think independently as opposed to the Chinese system that aims to teach the students on imitation. Educators in China teach their students to learn via rote. An American student is given room to ask questions.
On the contrary, a Chinese student is not supposed to ask any question but should expect to be taught without his/her contribution. Traditionally, children are taught via rote learning, memorizing all material with no space for asking questions. In addition, there are so many topics that are banned and great amount of time spent to learn numerous Chinese characters that are supposed to be memorized. A classroom in China carries between 40 and 50 students and in some cases this may go up to 60. This number encourages rote learning instead of using discussions and other student-driven activities.
American students however have more time to engage in self-driven activities and important discussions that encourage thinking (Hays 1). Works cited Hays, Jeffrey. School Life in China, 2008. Retrieved from http://factsanddetails. com/china. php? itemid=1094&catid=13&subcatid=82 Hessler, Peter. River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze, London: HarperCollins Publishers, 2006. Miller, JFK. Why I Write: Peter Hessler, 2010. Retrieved from http://www. urbanatomy. com/index. php/arts/why-i-write/2770-why-i-write-peter-hessler
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