A Fascination With Copying

For decades China has been renowned for it’s ability to copy and mass-produce foreign designs on a massive scale. It is this mass manufacturing that has been the driving force behind the country’s massive economic boom in recent years. However, as a new generation of young creatives begin to embrace today’s changing China and the new freedom that comes with it, will the phrase ‘made in China’ soon be evolving into ‘designed in China’?

China’s primary industry today is taking sample designs of gadgets, clothes, toys, etc. provided by western companies, reproducing them on a large scale in one of hundreds of thousands of factories, to then export back to the west to be sold. To be able to do this and do it well, meticulous attention to detail is key, and this is something the Chinese have certainly mastered. Team this with an abundance of workers willing to work long hours for little pay, and it’s no surprise so many companies, big and small, both high end and low end, choose to manufacture their products in China. No wonder it’s been labelled ‘the world’s factory’ seeing as only a tiny percentage of goods produced in China’s factories actually stay in China, the rest end up in shops all over the world.

However this Chinese fascination with copying foreign designs is no longer simply a means of successful mass production for foreign companies, it has become a part of everyday life in modern China. Whether it be American style homes and suburbs, British style villages or imitation and counterfeit goods, this obsession with copying has spread through all parts of Chinese consumer culture.

Counterfeit Capital of the World…

Chapter six of Karl Gerth’s As China Goes, So Goes the World, explains how consumers live in uncertainty due to the huge number of low quality counterfeit products on the Chinese market.

Brand owners in China estimate that 15 to 20 percent of all prominent branded goods in China are actually counterfeit…’

Sometimes there’s no way of telling what is real or what is fake until it’s too late, as victims of countless counterfeit scandals, such as the ‘big-head-baby’ formula scandal of 2004, have found out.

Shanzhai Culture…

Gerth also explains the concept of Shanzhai culture, when copies of popular western designs, most commonly mobile phones, are passed off not as fakes but as imitations, usually with similar sounding names, far lower prices and sometimes with more features to suit the Chinese market. These shanzhai products are not viewed as negatively as counterfeit products, they are sold openly and have ‘gained a level of social acceptance’. These ‘imitations’ are interesting, because although the appearance of the product has been copied, shanzhai manufacturers often add features, alter programs and change certain aspects of the design, therefore, in Gerth’s words, ‘blurring the line between imitating and originating.’

Thames Town…

30 km from central Shanghai, you will find Thames Town, a town made up of English style houses, streets, parks, shops and churches. Everyday soon to be married Chinese couples flock here to have their wedding photos taken against this bizarre backdrop of a perfect English market town.

Copy Artists…

I recently watched a documentary called Copy Artists, that explored the town of Dafen in Shenzen, a town famous for its oil painters. However the majority of the painters that live and work here are not creating works of their own, they are working in assembly lines, producing imitations of famous paintings to sell. Most of the people who work in these assembly lines are art students, working to pay their way through their studies, but others are struggling artists who have never been able to make a living selling their own work. Despite the high quality and amount of effort that goes in to each and every painting, workers earn very little, probably about as much as factory workers do in the city. People have argued that this process of copying classic pieces to sell is wrong, but the studio owners behind them argue that because they are not trying to sell their pieces as the original and are always open with the fact that it is merely an imitation, that it is perfectly ethical and not counterfeit.

A New Generation…

It is exciting to know that to counteract this copycat culture, an aspirational new generation of creative people with big ideas now have the freedom to express themselves and open the door to make way for a new way of design thinking in China. This generation are not content with copying foreign designs and are striving to push China in the direction of not only making, but also designing their own products. The documentary China Rises: City of Dreams, features Shanghai based fashion designer Jenny Ji. In an interview, Jenny sums up the attitude of this creative generation and their new found freedom…

‘I’m a designer from the new generation and I feel great. I don’t have the old restrictions and boring attitudes…

The old pessimism has gone, and I can embrace the new changes. I’m always dreaming of the choices available to me…’

Fuelled by a society that is bursting with confidence and originality, the future of China has the potential to be one of design and innovation rather than simple replicating and manufacturing, an exciting thought for any young designer like myself.

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Changing China throughout the 20th century

One of the best ways of understanding how modern China works is by looking to it’s past. China’s recent history is very interesting; it has experienced some of the fastest political, social, cultural and economic changes in modern history. This means that what part of the 20th century you were born in can have a big effect on the way you see the world. So what influenced these generations and what are some of the defining features and characteristics of them?

The oldest generation still living in China today (individuals born from about 1925 to the mid 1940s) will be able to remember China’s civil war and the 14 year long occupation of China by the ‘Empire of Japan’ which ended in 1945. They will also remember the formation of the new, communist, ‘People’s Republic of China’ in 1949 headed by chairman Mao. For people growing up in this period, it was time of conflict and uncertainty. Mao’s vision of a modern, industrialised, communist China resulted in private land, farms and more traditional ways of life being destroyed in favour of a large network of small-scale rural industries. This led to agricultural production plummeting and gave rise to mass food shortages across China. This meant that many of this generation got used to both gruelling manual labour and dire poverty being facts of life. Many of this generation held traditional Chinese Confucian values, which were instilled in them by their parents (who would still remember the fall of the Qing dynasty) but also learned that to get ahead, or sometimes even just to survive, you had to associate with the right people.

Mao at the ceremony of the founding of The People's Republic of China

The next generation (people born from the late 1940s to the early 1960s) were the generation of the Cultural Revolution in China. Living conditions were still very poor for most people and under Mao’s socialism any traditional or foreign influence on culture was supressed. Schools were eradicated, churches and temples were destroyed and many intellectuals were sent to labour camps or communes to be ‘re-educated’. Without education or any real prospects, the people of this generation (the teenagers) were one of the main forces behind ‘the cult of Mao’. Many grew up believing that unthinking loyalty toward the state would be rewarded, questioning this authority was completely unacceptable. They believed that education was unnecessary and that anything foreign or old fashioned was redundant. Following Mao’s death in 1976 ‘the cult of Mao’ began to disappear, leaving many of this generation confused, angry and uneducated. This generation is sometimes known as ‘the lost generation’ due to the fact they have little real education and therefore find it hard to cope in the modern China where jobs are won, not assigned.

Chairman Mao's death in 1976 marked a new era for China

The generation after the generation of the Cultural Revolution are often referred to as ‘generation X’ (roughly born between 1965 and the 1980). This generation grew up after Mao’s death when economic and social reforms were being implemented. China opened up to the world (to an extent); private ownership was legalised, education improved and literacy rates soared. By the early 80s living standards, life expectancies and overall food production were all on the rise. This generation also experienced greater personal freedoms and both an influx of foreign culture and a revival of traditional Chinese culture. Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism all experienced revivals. The government set up SEZs (special economic zones) where foreign investment was allowed and this began China’s unprecedented economic growth. With the abundance of cheap labour China started becoming one of the worlds manufacturing hubs. This also meant that many of this generation moved from rural areas into the large cities to get a job and save money. The majority would then return to their rural lives to settle down and have children. Although there were vast improvements poverty was still pretty widespread, especially in rural areas. And despite China’s social and economic progress, it was still a totalitarian regime without any real political freedom for it citizens and 1989 it was internationally condemned for it’s brutal crackdown of protestors in Tiananmen Square.

Famous image from the Tiananmem Square protests in 1989

The current generation (born between 1980 and the late 1990s) are sometimes known within China as ‘little emperors’. This generation are a result of China’s attempt to control population growth, a one-child policy was introduced in 1979 and as a result this generation are often brought up as the sole focus of two parents and four loving grandparents. They tend to have higher self-esteem and expect more from life but also understand that they will have to work hard to achieve this. This makes them ideally placed to continue China’s economic rise. China has also expanded it’s SEZs and throughout the 90s and 00s millions of young people moved from rural China to the major cities in search of work. Although now, according some surveys, as little as 4% migrate with the intention of returning home to settle down. Throughout this period China has also become much more open and less repressive – no longer a totalitarian state. Private property protection rights; legislation on working conditions and foreign investment on a much bigger scale have all been introduced. The government has even tried to even out some of the disadvantages of economic growth, such as the regional unemployment, pollution and distribution of wealth between urban and rural areas. These policies have now cemented China’s place as a world economic power. Due to this and the fact that China is now investing heavily in the sciences, technology and space exploration (not to mention the successful hosting of the 2008 Olympics), this generation is experiencing a swell of national pride – China is becoming a great power once again.

The iconic Bird's Nest stadium built for the 2008 Beijing Olympics

Although it is hard to define the ideas, beliefs and influences on any generation without making generalisations, especially in a country as large as China – I hope that this article highlights the extreme and rapid changes that have taken place in China over the past 60 years.

 

One Child Policy in China- Past, Present and Future

“Even if China’s population multiplies many times, she is fully capable of finding a solution; the solution is production. Of all things in the world, people are the most precious.”

Mao Zedong, Chairman of the Communist Party of China, made this statement in 1949 soon after the People’s Republic of China was formed. During this time, China experienced a massive increase in population, which at the time was considered a positive direction for China to go in. The mentality of people during this time was that population growth meant economic growth. After centuries of generations suffering from political unrest and epidemics, high population rates were not considered damaging to the Chinese people. This generation wanted to create new lives in a positive time in Chinese history.

It wasn’t until 1955 that the government introduced a birth control campaign that supported abortion in an effort to control the population growth. After a series of natural disasters and poor government planning a reported 20-30 million people in China starved to death between 1958 and 1961. The need to regulate the population started to become a serious issue.

It was in 1978 that Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping established the one child policy that limited the number of children people could have to only one. If a family did not comply with this law and produced a second child, there would be substantial fines. At a 2007 press conferences with Chinese officials, Zhang Weiqing was eager to exemplify the success of the one child policy, “Because China has worked hard over the last 30 years, we have 400 million fewer people.” This policy has created an enormous debate on whether it is hindering the basic human rights of Chinese citizens. Zhang Hui, mother of one little girl, believes that one child is enough and she would want one no matter the government regulations and fines. “I’m too busy at work to have any more,” stated Beijing native Zhao Hui. She also went on to say she is not alone in thinking this way. Many of her friends feel the same. A 2008 Pew Research poll three-in-four Chinese people (76%) approve of the policy. Professor Wang Feng, of the University of California, Irvine, confessed that because of the one child policy the Chinese citizen’s attitudes have evolved since the policy was instated in 1978.  “A lot of people simply don’t want that many children. People have accepted the policy,” said Wang. Over the years, the Chinese people have adapted to the childbearing regulations. For past generations, when it was typical to have many children in family, this policy would have seemed unrealistic.

For many in China there has been an acceptance of the one child policy but in some cases people are against it. Mother of two, Liu Shuling, escaped the traumas of a forced abortion when she decided to pay fines, amounting to four times her annual income, in order to have a second child. Liu Shuling and her husband were pleased to have a second son even if it was at the risk of loosing all financial stability. Liu Shuling’s husband admitted in an interview that a son was really what they wanted in order to help them when they reached an older age. Liu Shuling added, “To have a girl doesn’t work.”

Liu Shuling

Because of the one child policy, sex discrimination has become a huge repercussion. Most people prefer sons to daughters and will go to drastic lengths to have their one and only child be a boy. Abortion, neglect, abandonment, and even infanticide have become consequence of the one child policy. Everyday in China, 20,000 babies are born, but for every 100 girls there are 120 boys. The future generation of China will have to deal with the vast number of single men unable to find brides. There is also a fear that with such a high number of single men in China’s future society, there will a drastic increase in crime and violence. Jo Ming, a school principal with a belief that there needs to be a cultural balance between men and women, states in reference to the one child policy, “Once born, we are all equal, and we are all human beings. We need to respect each other. I think, even though some older people don’t agree, it should be eliminated.” The mentality that females are not as preferable as males is not a new attitude in China but only one that has worsened with the one child policy.

The one child policy was created to regulate the population and avoid poverty; however, there are still 600 million people living in China who earn less then $2 a day. Multiple generations will feel the effects of the policy. Because of the one child regulations, generational dynamics within a family have altered. In past generations, the parents were able to rely on their children in old age. For the present and future, a single child must take care of his or her parents and four grandparents. The one child policy has effected generations differently but all people in China are interconnected. A solution made during one generation seems to inevitably make way for an entirely new problem for the next generation. The one child policy was meant be a temporary solution and only last a generation. In 2010, after 30 years of the policy being enacted, the government shows no sign of stopping the regulations.

Increasing the Gap Between Generations

Aspirations, views and opinions on all aspects of life differ greatly between many individuals. This difference of opinion is further emphasised in many instances between the generations. This contrast is due to a myriad of different factors: changes in an individual’s upbringing; alterations within a society and varying moral values all play a major role in defining a person. In the past thirty years, China has undergone significant changes with regards to the ‘young generation’. Pop culture, fashion, music and the internet have lead to more individualism within this generation which is believed to be widening the gap between their predecessors. In turn, this has lead to a host of new aspirations, views and opinions which are driving modern day China forward.

This growth of individualism is impacting upon millions of modern day Chinese families. A recent Channel 4 documentary followed Gok Wan, a famous British fashion designer, on his first trip to China in order to discover his ancestral roots. This documentary raised some interesting points regarding the relationship between the generations in China. In a conversation with his father, who grew up in a rural village outside Hong Kong, we are shown a similarity which still exists between the generations. He believed that the typical Chinese work ethic was that more money equalled a better life. With the majority of Chinese families still earning very little pay this statement can be seen as true, after all Deng Xiaoping – the late leader of the Communist Party in China – said “To get rich is glorious”.

It can be seen that public opinion on the acquiring of wealth has not changed a great deal in China’s history. Nonetheless, there are many aspects of life that this ‘young generation’ are coming to their own conclusions on. Duncan Hewitt, author of Getting Rich First: Life in a Changing China, talks in detail about the opening of the first IKEA store in China and of its influence over young couples in the area. A young woman who worked there claimed that the older generations have been through tough times and have therefore never had the pleasure of being engaged in the style or design of home appliances and furniture. This is evidence of an increase of individualism within the young families of China. In addition, she goes on to say ‘…many people have simply thrown out their traditional Chinese furniture- sometimes including antique family heirlooms – in their desire to embrace a modern way of life.’ This, it could be argued, is a drastic change in opinions towards family ancestry in China. Family heirlooms which have been passed down from generation to generation are sometimes cast aside in order to encourage modernity into their lifestyles. This ‘young generation’ no longer want to be tied down to the past; they want to embrace their future.

Hewitt goes on to describe another such divide between the generations, this time concerning dating. He explains that a man named Mr Chen had a son (around 12 years of age) who was in his second year at senior high school and had a girlfriend. Hewitt describes the father’s distress by saying ‘For Mr Chen the idea of teen romance was completely unimaginable’. This is no doubt a very young age to be dating, even in the West. However this was completely unheard of in China only twenty years ago. This is further evidence that the young generation has much more freedom and the rules and regulations pressed onto them by their parents and society alike are not as strict as they have been previously. Moreover, this widens the gap between the generations in the country.

It is not only the easing of the rules and regulations placed on young children and teenagers in China which is causing this increase in individuality and freedom. Hewitt states that some parents in China believe that youngsters are being more disobedient. One parent he interviewed states, ‘young people these days have less respect for authority figures…now we’re the ones who have to learn from the kids…’ Parents’ authority in China was something to be feared by the children, however now better education coupled with more outlets to express ones individuality has lead this dynamic to shift. This can be tied to government reforms and protests within the country: individuals within China are becoming more independent and are more willing to take steps to positively affect their future. Although many aspects of life in China have remained the same with regards to views and opinions towards them, the ‘young generation’ have started to make some changes.

Political Interest through the Generations

“There’s nothing we can do about politics,” Silence Chen, an account executive in Beijing says, “So there’s no point in talking about it or getting involved.”

Stephen Elegant of Time Magazine portrayed the apathetic attitudes towards politics of the so called ‘ME Generation’ (covering the ages of 20 to 30 year olds). Describing the materialistic and almost greedy attitudes of the younger generations in modern day China, he explained that ‘one subject that doesn’t come up [in conversation with this generation] – and almost never does…-is politics.’ This lack of interest can be seen to create a wedge between the modern day ‘ME generation’ and previous generations before them whom the author describes as ‘Chinese elites, whose lives were defined by the epic events that shaped China’s past. The writer appears to feel as though the younger generations are ‘tuning out’ the past. However, I feel that this lack of political interest can be more put down to the naivety and contentment of the current generation and their lifestyle.

Born in 1906, Zhou Youguang, unlike some of the younger Chinese generation feels that democracy is ‘the natural form of a modern society’. He doesn’t understand how ‘free thinkers’ can gain respect until they challenge and question the Communist government. However, Zhou too has admitted that his passion for politics has hit him very late in his life. Only once he had retired at the age of 85, did he start to take an interest in the subject.  Let’s be honest, no matter where on the globe you find yourself, many people are just not interested in politics full stop. In particular, younger citizens may be too young to understand politics, never mind pay any attention to it. Perhaps without seeing or appreciating the effects a government and how it is run can have on themselves and on the people around them, causes them to be ignorant to politics as opposed to being apathetic to it.

It is said that there are 300 million under 30 year olds in China and that an investigation carried out by Credit Suisse showed that the incomes of 20-29 year olds increased by 34% roughly between 2004-2007 making this the largest wage increase of any age group. The have been described to possibly become ‘the salvation of the ruling Communist party’ as a result of their ‘self-interested, apolitical pragmatism’. However journalist Stephen Elegant explained that this ‘salvation’ will last only as long as the Communist Party ‘keeps delivering the economic goods.’ The idea is that this ‘ME generation’ is consumed by a world of by material products, self-gain and westernised tastes. They are described as citizens interested only in designer brands, sipping Starbucks coffees and using the latest mobile technology. They are seen to have no or little concern in regards to how the country is run and who should run it, almost as if they have become tools of the Communist government to ensure their continuing power.  Magazine publisher, Hong Huang claimed that ‘On their wish list…a Nintendo Wii comes way ahead of a democracy’. This being said, this generation’s Chinese youths have surpassed previous ones in areas of education and international affairs. Comparing the ‘ME Generation’ to the apparently named ‘Lost Generation’ of the Cultural Revolution, roughly 25% of Chinese citizens around the age of 20 have gone to college at some point in their lives, whereas, in regards to those of the ‘Lost generation’, many didn’t even finish high school. Chinese native and American Citizen, Author and expert of China’s middle class Helen H Wang explained that ‘Twenty years ago, China was a very different place. We had very little information about the outside world’, whereas it is said that in 2007 alone, around 37 million Chinese citizens travelled internationally and that in the coming decade Chinese tourists will outnumber that of Europe and the U.S combined.

Another apparent reason for the apathy of the young generation is that any previous attempts they will have heard from their elders, to stand up against the government have had negative outcomes with those such as The Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. This, and the fact these issues were so long ago, the ‘ME Generation’ have accepted that they are growing up in times better than their parents and their grandparents before them. They are probably reminded of this on a daily basis, so they have little motivation to care for politics. All they see is an ever growing strength in China and a flourishing economy and in the words 27 year old of Maria Zhang ‘We have so much bigger a desire for everything…and the more we eat, the more we taste and see, the more we want.’ This being said, there is one political event the younger generation has encountered and this is the incident of Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Zhou Youguang, 106 years old, explained in regards to the massacre of 1989, he feels that ‘one day justice will be done’. This shows that he disapproves of the Governments actions on that day. Nonetheless, to some younger citizens the student protests, if allowed to continue, would have upset the progress the country has made. Vicky Yang, who is 27 and an actuary at a consulting firm, explained her belief that ‘the students meant well’ but felt that the forced end to the demonstrations ‘was needed’. It may simply be that Vicky was only 11 when she witnessed the demonstrations, and perhaps didn’t fully understand the situation. It can also be the fact that perhaps, she is just content with the government as it is and feels change is not necessary. With they’re current economic success; can one really fault this belief? It is difficult to see however, who supports a Communist Government and who is just content with their lifestyle as it is now. Mr Zhou says we cannot say how favourable support for a Communist government really is, as ‘The people have no freedom to express themselves, so we cannot know’.

In spite of the previous comments of the so called ‘ME Generation’, there is still proof that change does lie on the tongues of some of Chinas youths today.  As society modernises in China, many citizens take to the internet to communicate with each other. Apparently a new blogging language is starting to emerge in which the bloggers are said to ‘ridicule the government, poke fun at Communist Party leaders, and circumvent the heavily censored internet in China’. They have also been named by China Digital Times as part of the ‘resistance discourse’. For example the government’s claims of trying to maintain ‘harmony’ within China, is mocked by internet users who use words and mild insults which are almost homonyms of the Chinese word for harmony, and these represent suppression. This is proof that many feel dominated by the Communist government and this could be the beginning of an age directed more towards free thinking. In the words of Marc Macdonald of IHT, ‘To be harmonised, these days, is to be censored’, however to disallow these mild insinuated criticisms online would inevitably contradict the ‘harmonious society’ that the government is claiming to sustain. So it is as if, in the belief of Chinese writer Yu Ha, that ‘harmony has been hijacked by the public’.

Zhou Jiaying, a young school girl describes her opinion of China as she sees it saying, ‘On the surface China looks luxurious, but underneath it is chaos…Everything is so corrupt’. This is proof younger citizens do show interest in politics, beginning even at a young age. Her teacher on the other hand feels that ‘Just because they’re [the younger generations are] curious to see something doesn’t mean they want it for themselves…Maybe they will try something—dye their hair, or pierce an ear—but in their bones, they are very traditional’. This creates the thought that on some level, it may be that a general misunderstanding between the young and their predecessors. The idea that China’s younger generation does not share an interest in who runs the government is not really true. No matter where you are in the world there are always those who are not interested in politics; however it is unreasonable to mark a whole generation with this label. Perhaps this misunderstanding between generations is a result of the rate of such drastic change, forcing a wider gap between them. For it can be seen, despite all the condemnation of the youth of China, this ‘we want more’ generation is communicating political views in new and innovative ways from very young ages. It has been reported that working class riots and protests in the more rural areas are already increasing as the government continues to cater mainly for the middle and upper classes and although these sorts of political statements may be lacking in the satisfied middle class it is certainly not true that this so called ‘ME generation’ lacks concern in political matters. Naturally as the country flourishes economically, a political revolution is not logical. As it is, China as a country is doing very well for itself, and the public see this. To call this social contentment politically apathetic is ridiculous. Political interest is within the youth of China and it’s always been there and grows with them. One just has to look for it.

Attitudes To Emigration

Emigration is the act of leaving one’s native country or region to settle in another.”

 In the past few decades, China has witnessed the largest human migration in history. Every year millions of workers leave their homes in rural villages in search of urban employment in the big cities. China’s “floating population” leave behind their friends and family with the hope of a better life, for both themselves and the family back home whom they can send money back to.

 The migrants often find that their new life in the city is not what they hoped for. The hours are long, the pay poor and the jobs boring. They persevere because they often have people back home relying on them and because there would be great shame in returning home a failure.

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 On the opposite end of the scale though there is a growing trend in emigration amongst the wealthiest of Chinese. The Huran Research Institute has published statistics in 2011 revealing that 14% of China’s wealthy have emigrated out of the country or are applying to do so, and a further 46% are considering it. These “wealthy” are defined by having more than 10 million Yuan (nearly £1 million). Many go to Hong Kong, where life is easier both politically and financially but the immigrants don’t have to sever all ties with China. Others generally leave for the USA, Canada, Singapore and Australia. These wealthy mainlanders feel their families and children would have better lives overseas, and cite reasons such as higher quality education, convenience, to avoid political issues, cleanliness and safety.

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 Many of these expatriates will return to China in their retirement, but it’s a different story for their children, who know much less about China and will often choose to remain in the west. This younger generation will have been raised in a different culture from their parents, and hence will have different values and outlooks on life.

 I talked to a friend of mine who is a student at Dundee University, he is of Chinese descent but was born here in Scotland. I asked him about the history of emigration in his family and got to understand the motivation behind the migrations of three different generations, which were all for very different reasons and essentially reflect the era that each generation came from.

 For his grandmother, moving from Hong Kong from China was a matter of safety. She fled there with her family to escape the invasion of the Japanese in China. This eight year conflict claimed the lives of 20 million Chinese according to official statistics. I used Google to try and source a statistic about how many Chinese fled China during this time and couldn’t find anything along those lines, which suggests that not very many did. Perhaps my friend’s family was among the very rare and fortunate.

 The prospect of a better quality education took his father to Scotland. Although he was born and raised in Malaysia, his family is Chinese. He came here to study engineering at Edinburgh University, but then never ended up returning to Malaysia upon graduating. This was mainly because he had started to make a life here, he had a job and had met his future wife, and would go on to do a PhD. I enquired about how his family felt about this permanent emigration, my friend wasn’t too sure, but he was under the impression that it was seen as a positive thing.

 As an afterthought I asked, “Would you ever go to live in China?”

 “No, never” he said firmly and confidently. This answer didn’t come as a surprise, but I asked for an explanation anyway. He considered the question briefly before replying.

 “Mainly because of the government I guess. It’s a closed system and they are closed minded. Ironically I realize it seems that I am closed minded for saying that, but it’s true, at least for the most part. There’s much less freedom there.”

 In this century in the United Kingdom, it’s almost impossible for my generation to imagine a life where we don’t have complete freedom of speech, where we don’t have the right to democracy, and where we can’t just type a few words into a search engine to find any information we could ever want to know. To suddenly have to live under a Chinese style regime would be a massive culture shock, and we’d feel it was for the worse.

 There are those currently living in China who fantasize of leaving but just don’t have the money of means to do so, the generation who feel they are still young enough to have their own American Dream. In Paul Midler’s book “Poorly Made in China” he meets a factory manager who tells Midler that he is from Los Angeles in the USA, after much confusion it is finally understood that he has never actually lived there but once visited the city on holiday and now wishes it was his home. Los Angeles was his aspiration, so he called it his home.

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 The reason I used the word emigration apposed to immigration for this post is because I wanted to focus on the attitudes and feelings the Chinese have about people leaving home, rather than the attitudes to the millions of immigrants who arrive into China’s cities. Emigration is the act of leaving ones home for another country or region. Immigration is the act of arriving in that country or region.

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.