Generations and Education

In China, like everywhere else on earth, education really is the key to success. For those well educated any job is a possibility, though in China a very select few professions are admired and respected. Only the best employees with the finest education become exactly what their parents have always wanted. Schools all around the world, with the best reputation are sought after to send children to and the high school I used to attend was one of the few with a large Chinese presence.

I went to a Private School in the Perthshire area, where the majority of our boarding pupils were in fact Chinese. Before the boarding house closed down, more than 80% of the boarders were Chinese with the rest being mostly German and French. My school, however, was not the only Scottish Boarding School with a significant number of Chinese boarders.

I used to wonder why so many of our boarders were Chinese, until one day I finally asked. As it turns out, almost every reply I received – even way back when I was at school and not thinking anything of it – was along the lines of “My parents only want the best.”

Now that I think about that statement, I wonder what the education must be like in China. That the parents would much rather send their children away, out of their own country to get a good education here in the UK rather than get the best they could back home.

 

Me-I was wondering if you’d mind talking to me about how the difference in age changes how generations see education.

Interviewee-I can give you my personal experience, but I was born and raised in Glasgow, so I don’t know how much use it would be.

Me-Yeah if you don’t mind? Anything is better than nothing.

Interviewee-Well my parents are the total stereotypes you see, and its the same for all my cousins and siblings. All the classic professions are the only ones that have any merit to them: doctors; other medical professions; engineers, etc.

Me-So how does having stereotypical parents change how you see school? Do you think you’d have done anything differently had they not been like that?

Interviewee-My brother and sister compared to me are a good example of that. My sister, who’s the oldest, was brought up really harsh and was pretty much told to become a doctor. She missed her conditional by 1 grade and she became a pharmacist instead but my parents were disappointed.

My brother, who is the black sheep of the family, isn’t that smart but he went to uni to do engineering even though he had no interest or talent in it, simply because my parents thought it was worthy

Me-I can imagine that’d be hard. Did seeing how they would react make you want to try harder?

Interviewee-I was meant to be in the medical profession as well, but I had no interest in it, even though I had the grades, but I loved computers so I chose an IT career.

It was more fear of rejection for my siblings that made me try. That being said, I don’t get along with my parents since I realized quite early that there views are so one-track and even though I’ve lost the respect of my parents, I’m in the industry of something I truly love doing and I’ve never looked back

Me-Are they pleased with what you have accomplished?

Interviewee-They’ve come to appreciate how hard I’ve worked to get here after a long while. I think if they had all the choices laid out in front of them, they wouldn’t be hard asses. They have my best interests at heart I have no doubt.

Me-So they understand the time and effort you’ve put into what you enjoy? That’s pretty good recognition.

Interviewee-Yeah they have, but not on their own. Like, when I got my bachelors degree, I told my dad and he said “You making money yet?” and I said “no, I still have 1 year left” and he said “well maybe you should stop playing games and study more” but this was in the presence of my siblings and they went mental at him, I didn’t expect anything less.

Me-It’s good that you and your siblings have the same kind of thoughts on the situation.

Interviewee-Yeah, they’re old though, 5 year difference between my brother and 7 for my sister.

Me-Still though, that you all stuck together is nice. How do you think your grandparents would have reacted if your parents had chosen a career outside of their ideal professions?

Interviewee-My grandparents had it rough so I honestly think they would be proud of my parents whatever they did as long as they were stable.

Me-Was education important to them then? It was good so long as they were educated?

Interviewee-I think so, I can’t say I’ve put much thought into it.

Me-It’s not something a lot of people think about, I know I’ve never thought about how my grandparents saw education.

 

When I spoke to an old friend of mine about his families take on education, he talked a lot about how he and his siblings think of things. He also mentioned things that I was honestly quite shocked about – how his parents were so easily disappointed and upset by the grades and chosen professions of his siblings.

Though he was willing to talk to me, he was only talking from personal experience and not about how China as a whole sees education. Being born and raised in Glasgow, he had little knowledge of what it would have been like being educated in China, surrounded by pupils whose parents all want the same thing for their children: to become a doctor, or engineer, or mathematician.

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The Products From China

It seems in the world today most electrical products are made (or assembled) in China. With the cost of labor in China at only $2.05, a huge number of companies are using Chinese workers to produce their wares.

Despite the ridiculously low cost in comparison to the minimum wage here in the UK (which is currently £6.08 if you are over 21) the average pay of employees across China has risen by 22% in the last year. The country as a whole, doesn’t have a set minimum wage for all of it’s employees across all of the provinces. This pay is decided by each province, and because of the rise in pay in each of these provinces, China now has the third highest average pay in developing asia.

Because of the rise in the pay for Chinese workers, many companies have been forced to find workers in South American countries. Brazilian employees are only a few cents more than the Chinese, and are payed just $2.11 an hour.

As an experiment, I had a look at each of the electrical products I have in my room, and out of the 16 electrical items I own (one of which being a kitchen appliance), 10 of these were made or assembled in China.

I also had a look at a few of my flatmates belongings, and found that 6 out of 10 of one were Chinese made and 4 of 8 from another were Chinese made. Out of my 10 Chinese made electrical products, 6 of these were big name brand. These big companies include Microsoft, Apple and Kenwood amongst them.

Through my travels around my flatmates electrical devices, I came across hair straighteners, hair dryers, hand held electrical whisks, irons, headphones, games consoles (both hand held and table top consoles), music devices, phones, cameras (a mixture of digital, film, poleroid, and video cameras) and speakers. These, along with the absurd number of Apple products around my house, the place felt like a home for techies and gamers, not really a place for a house full of Interaction Designers. That being said, out of the 8 Interaction Designers in our house all 43 Apple products are split. The only non Interaction Design student owns no Apple products, which must say something about our discipline as a consumer market.

As I had a look through my flatmates electrical products, I figured out that in my house of 9 people there are 43 Apple products. Many of which (as we know) are made at Foxconn factories in China. As of late, Apple has had it’s ‘Nike moment’ where the quality of working conditions and the low pay of the employees has been brought to light. Another set of incidents at Foxconn factories that has been brought to light by the world is a recent spate of suicides in 2011 that forced Foxconn to put up anti-jump netting around their towers to try and stop it. With 4 deaths in 2011, 14 out of 18 attempts being unfortunately successful in 2010 and 4 deaths between 2007 and the end of 2009.

As I’m sure will be the case with numerous other companies in the future, Apple have been dealing with the issue admirably. From a companies perspective, this ‘Nike Moment’ is a terrible thing to happen, but Apple are not the worst by far, it just so happens that attention has been brought to the treatment of employees by the media.

When I asked my flatmates whether they knew the working conditions in which the factory workers are forced to labour, (with Apple as the exception due to the recent leak of media from Foxconn factories) they had no idea. Most of them didn’t even know that some of their products were in fact made in China, until I asked them to look. I found myself often surprised by the products that told me of their origin, and also the sheer number of Chinese made products I own.

The most surprising for me would most likely be my headphones, which come from a little known Canadian company, despite the size of the company of it’s popularity, their products are in actual fact, made in Chine. On the other hand though, there were things that did not surprise me at all. The Apple products, obviously being some of them, but also my X-Box 360, and Nintendo Dsi.

There were a few products I own that surprised me with the fact that they were not made in China. One of my external hard drives – which comes from a very large, particularly well known computer technology company – that was actually made in Belgium was a real shocker, as generally computer components are known for being mass produced easily and cheaply in China. This hard drive and my mobile phone both surprised me. My phone, which is made by Nokia (a Finnish company who are known for the phones we all loved from growing up) was in fact made in Finland. The fact that the company is owned and run and produce their products all in the same relatively small country (in comparison to a place as large as China), is hugely respectable.

Almost all of the people I spoke to about their technological products wouldn’t have thought twice about where they are coming from and the conditions the workers are in on a daily basis. They wouldn’t make any effort to look for products that were specifically made or not made in china. And perhaps more influentially, many of them said that despite them receiving news and information about Foxconn’s conditions, they would still by Apple products.

Sometimes in the world, fashion and brand is worth more than the comfort of a human being.

China in Interaction and Web

China has had a great deal of influence in many disciplines around the world, from textiles to architecture and pottery to animation. Sadly though, China has had very little influence in the field of Interactive Design and is only just beginning to work into the world of influential web design. Because of the many political issues involving access to information on the world wide web in China, the country was very late to get in the game. As such, China’s influence in the web based and interactive media is severely limited.

Due to the fact that little to no digital interaction of note is being produced in China or has been in the past by Chinese designers, there are sadly no ways for China to have innovated under this discipline. And as such, Chinese culture and the Chinese style isn’t at all a part of digital interaction design or web based design around the world. The more the world (and so China) develops and grows, the more of an industry for Chinese made and influenced web based design grows. It’s a small but growing industry due to the legal issues surrounding the access to world wide information. Also, now that Hong Kong is officially a part of China once again, the country has gained a fairly sizeable foothold as many great web designers and design companies reside in the great city

That being said, there are several very influential web designers based around the rest of China. Since they have moved towards the web, more and more fantastic web designers have been springing up such as this one: doopaa.cn, (Upon Interaction and Design) who are part of the East Pai Interactive Technology Company Ltd. a high-end web design and interaction company based in Tianjin, the company also has a branch in Beijing.

The company have designed many web pages, ranging from traditional to modern, Cartoon-y to more serious. Upon Interactive and Design is a very diverse company when it comes to the style of page and the design, but typically tend to focus around traditional Chinese style and culture, using recognizable Chinese imagery such as the warriors on horse-back and the ferocious looking dragon, even taking inspiration from classic Chinese cobalt work pottery. This site, made by Upon, is the first part in a series of three animation based websites made for their own company to promote themselves. Each of the three in the East Pai Series have received high praise from Chinese design consultancies about the quality of their work. Not only do each of these sites entertain you from the aesthetic perspective, but Upon make sure to fully immerse the viewer in the sights and sounds of their pieces.

As a commonality between many Chinese made websites, a large number of designers use Flash in many aspects of the site. Flashps.com is another one of them, along with the three Doopaa.cn sites for the East Pai Series. Adobe flash may be common place amongst Chinese web developers, and often times, flash can be a hassle for anyone without the correct and updated version. Despite this, designers around the world, not only in China are using the tool to their advantage.

EightBridge.com are a world wide known web design company who have done work for hundreds of world wide big name companies while having their main office in Beijing, China. EightBridge are one of the few big Chinese design companies for work for English speaking countries and companies, and as such, bring in a lot of business. Another company working for English speaking companies is Pixology Studios, also based in Beijing. Pixology might be a small company, but with the growth of China’s stake in web based and interactive design, they are bound to take off into the world of web.

Even the Chinese versions of English speaking companies, like the Nokia.cn site uses flash animation to create a fully immersive and interactive section of the site.

China might be late getting into the game, but the level of determination and grit these companies, and freelance Chinese web designers are showing quite clearly show us that they will do their upmost to catch up with the rest of the world. Through the coming years I fully expect to see many more web based and interaction designers coming from China, and I look forward to seeing what they will produce and how.

The Fashion of China and How the World Sees It

The history of traditional Chinese fashion stretches farther back in time than the 7th century. The traditional style of dress for many centuries, through the Han Dynasty up until the Qing Dynasty was established was known as the Hanfu. This was the overall name for the silk robe worn by the people of China. These Hanfu ranged from different styles, to different colours with varying embroidered patterns. The silk garments were often made in vivid primary colours, though green was also a popular choice. Much of the embroidery on the more formal clothing was done in gold and red: regal colours.

As we have now, back during the Han Dynasty there were many different styles if Hanfu for each occasion, and obviously slight differences between the men and women’s styles. One style of an informal women’s Hanfu is known as a Shenyi Quju. This specific style of Hanfu is one of the simplest, as it consisted of a full body robe made of only one piece, rather than several separate pieces. The robe would have overly large sleeves and a diagonal hem which would be wrapped around the waist and tied in place with a sash. As is common in the western world today, the more extravagant the event, the more regal the Hanfu to be worn. Typically, as the company one would be with becomes more regal, the clothing choice tended to become very colourful and elaborately embroidered, often with gold silk thread on a red or dark background.

For centuries, the practice of foot binding was a discipline millions of women had to endure. This was the practice many women would put their daughters through, of breaking the child’s toes and the arch of the foot and strapping them back and together so that the foot would not grow. This was typically started between the ages of 2 and 5, and would often render the children unable to walk. It often took the girls years to learn to walk again, and many of them lost the ability to work because of the pain in their feet. The ideal length of what was know as a Lotus Bud foot was roughly 7 and a half centimetres, and generally amongst women of the time, the smaller their feet were, the more attractive they were. It was a way for women to display their wealth and beauty, a way to attract a husband. Now, despite the fact that feet binding isn’t happening any more, women are still putting themselves through the agony of wearing the highest heals they can. Even though a significant amount of chinese traditional dress is no longer seen except from in exhibits, many of Chinas most influential designers are taking into their designs, the beautiful embroidery, and the vivid colours.

China’s stake in the fashion world is small, but growing steadily, with designers like Qiu Hao, Jenni Ji of La Vie and Uma Wang making their mark. As China is a changing world, one can expect the fashion to follow suit and become much more westernised. The designer Ne-Tiger, however are deliberately trying to incorporate the intricacies of traditional chinese design into their fashions. Lead designer Zhang Zhifeng has been particularly outspoken about traditional fabrics, and patters, loving the combination of modern designs and traditionally cultural elements. Uma Wang, another of China’s most influential designers isn’t as traditional as Zhifeng, however, has become renowned for her ability to mix different fabrics and textures and coming up with incredible designs with subtle detail. In 2011, Wang was awarded the Audi Award for Best Progressive Designer.

The world sees Chinas growing place in fashion as a fast growing market, and an interesting place to launch next. It’s a place where designers are able to access the extensive fabric industry easily and cheaply. China is not only great for their own designers, but also world wide designers, such as Versace, Tiffany and co., Emporio Armani and Valentino who were amongst the first to launch in the country.

Not only is the world now focusing on the high-end fashions of China, but also on the street fashion of teenagers and young adults around the country. The everyday fashion around the larger cities ranges from barbie doll pink and puffy skirts to steampunk and dark gothic looks. As is current fashion in and around the larger cities, street fashion has taken to layering, playing with different fabrics, patterns, colours and accessories. It has become known that unlike many western countries, girls in and around the cities are less likely to show skin so layering has become very popular, wearing leggings or jeans with a skirt or dress on top with a waistcoat and jacket on top of that. The desire amongst Chinese youth to be quirky and odd is steadily increasing.

Catriona Suiter