Every year from May to August the news is awash with reports of distraught teenagers committing suicide due to the overwhelming pressure of the gaokao exam. One family has made national news for discrediting the very purpose of the gaokao, i.e. receiving a university education. The girl in the story has already passed the log bridge (独木桥), the nickname Chinese have given the gaokao) and received an acceptance letter from a Chengdu university. The only thing standing between her and a college degree is her father.
QQ News reports:
“When freshmen are busy preparing for their college years, Ling Ling living on Chengdu’s Huaishudian Road has been negotiating with her father about going to college. Although she has gotten the acceptance letter from a university in Chengdu, Ling Ling’s father obstinately insists that ‘education is useless’. He would rather give Ling Ling some money to do some small business, than to ‘flush tens of thousands of tuition money down the drain’.”
Ling Ling was born in a small village in a rural area, where her parents and relatives and were farmers. Her parents only finished elementary school, and started their own business. They moved the whole family including Ling Ling and her brother to Chengdu five years ago, and bought a storefront as well as an apartment. Tuition money is not the issue, Ling Ling’s father’s objection simply comes from his belief that studying is useless.
For many, the main benefit of having a college degree is to gain a better chance of getting a job and earning good money. However, it is becoming more and more difficult for college graduates to find employment. Even if you do find a job, the monthly salary is only 2,000 to 3,000 RMB. Ling Ling’s father say: “It is almost the same as what a high school graduate earns, not only would [tuition] money be wasted but also four years of time. Not worth it!”
In contrast to his father’s belief in the uselessness of a college education, Ling Ling, a first generation urban resident, believes in the knowledge and sophistication that education offers: “I don’t want to live like my father — close-minded, a limited perspective, without any intellectual pursuit.”
Traditionally, Chinese believe that “女子无才便是德”, (Ignorance is a a woman’s virtue). The theory that ‘studying is useless’ (读书无用) had a significant national influence during the cultural revolution, when intellectual knowledge was directly associated with rightists and the bourgeoisie; college students were sent to countryside farms and schools only taught sciences, and communist theories more specifically Maoism- things didn’t work out very well.
In modern China, as society sees a surplus number of college graduates, graduates are experiencing a difficult time becoming employed in the jobs they would expect. Ling Ling’s father has this and his own life experience on his side. He has been able to make money with an elementary school degree, while 10 college grads in his neighborhood have become 家里蹲 (literally squat at homers), perhaps similar to NEETs, those “Not in Employment, Education or Training”.
However, many argue that education is about the means, not the end, and should not be purely viewed as a monetary investment to yield a guaranteed return. Ling Ling’s father disagrees, telling a local reporter:
“We are from the rural village, with no knowledge and no culture, a lot of people do look down on me. But I look down upon you city people too, so fake. People always say that with culture comes respect, but I don’t think people’s respect is important. That’s a problem people who have read too many books have. What do I want people’s respect for? If there’s money in my bag that’s good enough, why be so pretentious? I want the tangible things.”
In some ways this can be viewed as old ideas versus the new, the rural mindset versus the urban, and the under-educated against the privileged younger generation. The harsh ‘money first’ mindset is incredibly dominant in China. In a survey of over 10,000 netizens, 70 percent agree that college is not the only way out, and many support Ling Ling’s father. On the other hand, and this good news for Ling Ling, 55 readers have called the Chengdu Business Newspaper and offered to pay her tuition fees and expenses as they do not want her to miss out on an education. I wonder if Ling Ling’s old man still disagrees now that he doesn’t have to foot the bill…
Image courtesy of jhnews.com.cn.