China’s One-Child Policy in my preschool English classroom

Interesting little One-Child Policy anecdote this morning.

brothersandsisters Chinas One Child Policy in my preschool English classroom

I have to teach one preschool class this “Brothers and Sisters” song. So I took a poll: Who has a brother or a sister?

They were sort of confused by the question. Lots of hands went up. But their Chinese teacher and I both knew there was no way most of them had siblings. So we specified: No no no, brothers and sisters that are your parents’ kids, not your cousins.

Unlike the large families of generations past where everyone called their relatives by specific titles denoting maternal or paternal and older or younger (in relation to themselves and/or their parents), these OCP kids grow up calling all their cousins and random kids on the playground “brother” and “sister”. Not that I can really blame them, OCP or not:

After their Chinese teacher and I weeded out all the cousins (their full-time Chinese teacher knows anyway; I could have just asked her), it turned out only four of those thirty Mainland Chinese 5-&-6-year-olds actually have a biological brother or sister.

Related stuff:

Patriotic Chinese Kindergarten Kungfu — lyrics & video for 精忠报国 by 屠洪纲

kindergartenkungfu01crop.PNG Patriotic Chinese Kindergarten Kungfu    lyrics & video for 精忠报国 by 屠洪纲

Our 4-year-old goes to an all-Chinese preschool, where I also teach. We’re the only foreigners. The 5 and 6-year-olds do this as a regular exercise routine:

It’s a song about complete devotion and loyalty to China, which in English could be “Dedication and Loyalty to the Country” or “Serve the Country with Utmost Loyalty”. The title is a reference to famous historical-mythical General Yue Fei’s tattoo. He was traitorously executed and posthumously has come to epitomize loyalty to China. The Wikipedia article is worth a read, as this song has all kinds of historical/cultural associations.

Here’s the mp3 and Chinese lyrics (mouseover for pronunciation!) with English translation (mostly someone else’s). Music videos here (youtube) and here (youku).

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报国 by 洪纲

The fire beacon rises, look toward the rivers and mountains of the north

Dragons’ puffs and horses’ neighs are like blows of a frosted sword
Hearts as boundless as the water of the Yellow River
Who defies the length and breadth of the past twenty years?

Wild hatred where my sword points
Countless brothers, loyal souls, bones buried in unfamiliar lands

What regret is it to die a hundred times protecting family and country?
Enduring sighs of regret, speechless, tears of blood fill the eyes
Horses’ hooves go south, the people look toward the north
Toward the north the grass yellows, dust flying up
I’m willing to guard this territory and re-claim the land
Grand China will make all sides bring tribute

Some interesting notes on this song here:

Many people in the west believe that Chinese are in general motivated by an irrational nationalism cultivated by the communist party to secure its political hold on the country. This is why some of the protests by Chinese nationals overseas have been labeled as “rebirth of the red guards”. Personally, I think this misunderstanding reflects a lack of knowledge about Chinese history, which in the thousand years past have been filled with foreign invasions and civil wars. We Chinese are peace lovers, but our own history has taught us that unification as a country, especially in the face of foreign threats has always been the prerequisite for a peaceful life.

This music video is by the singer Tu HongGang, who was trained as a Beijing opera singer, but turned into a pop singer in the late 80′s and early 90′s. The song is entitled 精忠报国, which translates to ‘dedication and loyalty to the country,’ or ‘serve the country with the utmost loyalty.’ The phrase by itself originates from the story of Yue Fei, “a famous Chinese patriot and military general who fought for the Southern Song Dynasty against the Jurchen armies of the Jin Dynasty. Since his political execution by the traitor Qin Hui, Yue Fei has evolved into the standard model of loyalty in Chinese culture.” According to legends, his mother tattooed these four characters across his back before he left home to join the army in 1122. More on his story can be found here:

Note the first picture on the right, which shows the statue of Yue Fei, from the Yue Fei Mausoleum in Hangzhou. The four characters on his banner say, Huan Wo He Shan , or “Give back my rivers and mountains”.

I love the song (and the singer!) very much, I feel it echoes much of the patriotism which Chinese holds as part of our cultural identity.

kindergartenkungfu02crop Patriotic Chinese Kindergarten Kungfu    lyrics & video for 精忠报国 by 屠洪纲

More Chinese music (many with lyrics & guitar chords!):

Chinese New Year:



Fan mail

Told you I’m a Chinese preschool rock star:

IMG 1025 Fan mail

Even with the launch of my preschool rock star career, big-budget movie premier, and appearances on the sides of buses and shopping mall video billboards, I still have some catching up to do on my brother-in-law, but he better watch out.

We Wish You a Merry (Chinese Preschool) Christmas!

The Chinese teachers took these on my phone during class when we were practicing for the preschool’s New Year’s show (I’m a preschool rock star in China). Ages 4-5 and 5-6, each video is a different class. (China users will need a VPN to see them, except for this one that made it to Youku.)

To really get a feel for the actual experience, turn your speakers all the way up and watch these videos on repeat. For three hours straight. Every morning. For a month.

We Wish You a Merry Chinese Preschool Christmas

We Wish You a Merry Chinese Preschool Christmas AGAIN

We Wish You a Merry Chinese Preschool Christmas YET AGAIN

My five-year-old niece in Canada started preschool two days a week when she was four. What’s often translated as “preschool” (幼儿园) in China starts when kids are two or three years old, all day five days a week. And if there’s a part-time foreign monkey teacher native-English-speaking Caucasian, then it’s a “bilingual” preschool, and there better be an English part to the New Year’s show. Which is why crowds of Chinese three-year-olds yell We Wish You a Merry Christmas at me most mornings in December. :)

Merry Christmas from Qingdao! 圣诞快乐

Shengdankuaile2small We Wish You a Merry (Chinese Preschool) Christmas!

Shengdankuaile1small We Wish You a Merry (Chinese Preschool) Christmas!

Some related things:

Eaves-dropping on Beijingers in Vancouver

Last Friday I started teaching a month-long EFL “Winter Camp” program for nine Beijingers aged 8-13 who arrived the night before. We have English class in the mornings and field trips in the afternoons. They’re all staying with Canadian families and it’s a shocking cultural adventure for them. Almost everything is different. It’s rare to get a group this “fresh”, and I plan to have fun with it.

We’re using a classroom in a posh local private school that is pretty impressive even by Canadian standards, so the facilities and grounds are really nice; they were awed by the interactive white board, for example. But they were also excited just to walk down the hall to the bathroom, armed with their cameras, taking photos of everything from the vending machines to the high school classes in session with their doors open. I’ve taught this kind of EFL gig before, and sometimes the kids have already traveled so much that being in a developed Western country isn’t so special, but not these kids. They’re apparently doing this kind of thing for the first time. I felt like a celebrity in the classroom with all the cameras aimed at me.

I’ve decided to keep the fact that I can speak basic Mandarin a secret from them for as long as I can, so I can listen in on their conversations as much as I can. Between my limited Mandarin, my teaching responsibilities, and the fact that four excited 12-year-old girls babbling away at once is hard to decipher in any language, I don’t get to tune in to their conversations near enough to satisfy my curiosity, never mind pausing to scribble down notes of what I hear. But it’s still funny what I do catch.

Friday morning was their first morning in Canada after their first night and breakfast with a Canadian family. Before class started they were animatedly telling one another about how BIG everything in their homestays’ house is, even the bookshelves. Then they were talking about what they were fed for breakfast and what was packed in their lunches, how it was either gross or they didn’t know what it was. It was funny in its own right, but extra funny to hear the “foreigner” experience in reverse. We’ll see what the next month brings!

Other experiences of teaching Chinese students in Vancouver:

You can browse all of our ESL/EFL teaching post here.

Racism in Vancouver, Canada and my ESL student’s experience

It started with an unengaged substitute teacher, escalated with white kids throwing unprovoked juice boxes and insults at the Chinese kids, peaked with a fistfight between one of my Chinese tutoring students and two local black kids, and ended (hopefully) with a two-day suspension from school. My student ended up with a long, nasty scratch across his shoulder and chest.

I get that cafeteria scuffles will happen, and that race is only one factor among many and perhaps not even the main one. But the local students were swearing at the ESL kids in Chinese — they’ve been around Chinese classmates enough to pick up the swear words. It’s his first semester in Canada, but it’s not the first time he’s been randomly accosted for being Chinese. Getting cursed at in your own language by passing locals seems to me to be a little bit worse than having random Chinese people yell “老外!” at you.

Since we’re back in Vancouver, Canada for a few months I’ve picked up some ESL tutoring students. This one, like many, came to Vancouver to finish high school because his parents knew he wouldn’t do well on the 高考, the Chinese college entrance exam. He’s in a grade 11 ESL program at a local public school, with generally poor English, and it’s interesting to hear him relate his fight at school yesterday from a second-language, only partially-understood perspective (for example, he knows he was being taunted and challenged but doesn’t know exactly what they said to him, aside from the Chinese swear words). But it also makes me rethink about the experiences of Chinese students in Canadian schools. I don’t want to imagine what kind of impression he and his mom are getting.

I assume that my white majority perspective, growing up and being educated in a multicultural environment, maybe gives me a rosier-than-reality view of the current Asian Canadian racial experience in Vancouver. I’m not accusing Vancouverites of being exceptionally racist; although I think we’re generally much less civilized than we think we are, it was just one schoolyard scuffle, and I didn’t notice any racism when I was a white student among a large minority of Indians and Asians. But incidents like that of my student yesterday start me wondering if perhaps some of the sunshine and rainbows of our multicultural utopia shine a little less brightly for the immigrants and international students than they do for us in the white majority.

More about Asian Canadian and ESL student experiences:

About racism in China:

“Chairman Mao is like a god to us!”

Chris is probably the cockiest person I’ve ever met. Not in a 19-year-old, blinded-to-danger-by-testosterone kind of way, but in a “my family is so deep in the Party that I’m untouchable and I know it” kind of way. And it was true — he got away with everything. He racked up multiple written warnings for things like scamming the other students and the school. But the school was afraid to risk ticking him off because he was too connected. And he knew it. He had this permanent smirk on face. He swaggered around the school, flirted and felt-up his showpiece most-made-up-girl-in-the-school girlfriend while ignoring the teachers and texting during class.

It was only after a tantrum where he threw a water bottle at foreign teacher’s head during a face-losing showdown in front of a large group class when the teacher forced him to obey a rule he was trying to openly flaunt — and the teacher told the school that he would never teach Chris again, period — that he finally left for good (I don’t know if they actually kicked him out, but I doubt it).

When you looked at him, you knew you were looking at one piece of China’s “symphony of privilege,” the kind of Chinese who would yell things like “My dad is Li Gang!” (see here, here, here, here and here) or “Who dares call the police?” (here, here, here and here) or possibly even worse.

A recent post by Yaxue Cao’s on Seeing Red in China called “Traitor of the Chinese People” reminded me that I once had my own drama with Chris. I once had to, with the help of two other students, physically escort him out of class. It was a free talk group class. The students were supposed to talk about whatever they wanted, so long as they used English. They were all adults. One older man, a retired philosopher named Alex who’d been “sent down” for several years during the Cultural Revolution, started saying some negative things about Mao (Alex would criticize Mao at every opportunity, in his slow, calm, 60-year-old Chinese philosopher kind of way — it was both shocking and entertaining to see). Chris immediately jumped to Mao’s defense. They argued back and forth, quickly switching into Chinese. Alex remained calm mostly, but Chris got livid. He was on his feet yelling and waving his finger in the older man’s face. Would not switch back to English. He got so out of control, rude and unmanageable that we eventually physically forced him out. A few hours later, when I figured he’d calmed down, I went to talk to him:

“Chris, I don’t care what opinion you express in class, but you must be respectful of the other students. Especially older students.”

“But you didn’t hear what he said about Chairman Mao!”

“I don’t care what he says about Mao, or what you say about Mao — you can have whatever opinion you want — so long as you are respectful to each other in class.”

“But he can’t say those things about Chairman Mao! Chairman Mao is like a god to us!”

Those were his exact words. I didn’t know what to say, though a whole lot came to mind!

Not every Mainlander has a positive view of Mao, but the vast majority of them do, and sometimes the younger, more privileged ones are the most devoted. It shocked us when we first arrived. Newbies be ye warned!

You can read more about Mao’s seemingly unassailable mythical status here:

20130118 1121maoguanyinvert1 Chairman Mao is like a god to us!