In China, U.S. education becomes a selling point, and an incentive to lie
December 23, 2010Jing Gao16 CommentsAcademics, Child rearing, college, college student, Education, Education in the People's Republic of China, Fang Zhouzi, Harvard, Harvard Girl, Higher education, Parental skills, Science Cop
Ye Fei, a 23-year-old Chinese-American, is an inspirational role model for many young people. It is said that she was born in a well-off family in Beijing, studied abroad in Europe at an early age, won the “U.S. Presidential Award” as a graduating high school senior, went on to attend “Syracuse University, dubbed ‘Little Harvard,’ as she said.” At the age of 19, she wrote an autobiography, titled Be At Your Best: Journey of Growth of A Girl Who Won U.S. Presidential Award. The book is endorsed by Yu Minhong, founder and CEO of New Oriental School, China’s biggest and most influential private school franchise that teaches English as the second language and prepares customers for English tests, and Wang Shihong, director of Chinese Association of Higher Education.
Except that the so-called U.S. Presidential Award is a myth. It sounds like the highest distinction that a high school student can possibly gain, but what Ye Fei actually did get is a recognition much less selective.
Ye Fei mentioned in her book that when she first came to the United States, she did not speak a word of English. After more than one year of study, she had had a good command of the language and was elected President of the Student Organization. During her tenure, she founded the Asian Club for students to understand the Asian culture. On June 16, 2005 at her high school graduation, she was awarded the year’s “Presidential Award.”
She also said that then U.S. President George W. Bush wrote her a congratulatory letter, saying to the effect that he and his wife Laura felt happy for her, and that she and other award winners would become the elite of the country.
On November 27, 2010, China Central Television broadcast a talk show in which Ye said in front of the camera that the U.S. Presidential Award she got is the highest honor for high school students. Each year, only one graduating high school senior from each state is chosen. Then President Bush presented her the award in person. She also said that during the 2008 Beijing Olympics, President Bush spotted her, who then worked as a volunteer in the U.S. delegation, and soon recalled presenting her the award. She suggested the reason why he recognized her face is that she was the only Chinese recipient of the award that year.
Soon after the show was aired, Fang Zhouzi, a “science cop” and “fraud buster” well known in China for exposing scientific and academic frauds, wrote in his blog, “She went so far as to read the certificate verbatim on CCTV to every one. It surely gave her away.”
Fang Zhouzi said that according to information gathered by him and provided by other net users, there are actually two awards whose names approximate to “Presidential Award”: Presidential Scholar and President’s Education Awards. The former is for real cream of the crop of the country, and is awarded to at most 141 recipients each year, whereas the latter is by contrast more of a pat on the back. Students with high academic grades and excellent class standing can have it. Millions of students in the United States at all grade levels were given the title.
“It is similar to our country’s Three Goods Student. (Jing’s note: Good moral ethics, good grades, good physical health) Bush would not have presented the awards in person. The congratulatory letter and the certificate that Ye Fei received were also pre-printed. It’s not a letter that the U.S. president personally wrote with his very own hand,” Fang Zhouzi said.
“If she said the President did present it to her, where is the photo? It must be a significant event, right?” he said.
The reporter visited the official Web site of Presidential Scholars. It has detailed information of each student since 1964. According to Ye Fei, she was the only Chinese to win the award in 2005. But among nine Presidential Scholars of Chinese descent recorded on the Web site, none of them looks like Ye Fei.
“This is a social demon that dates back to 1980s when going abroad started to be in vogue, and the phenomenon of crowing about overseas experience to enhance one’s status surfaced,” Fang Zhouzi said. This tendency has affected the youth. “But they didn’t know that time has changed. In the era of Internet, braggadocio and lies can be easily busted.”
It is not the first time of a Chinese personality caught airbrushing academic resumes. Tang Jun, former president of Microsoft China and a social icon as a self-made entrepreneur, was also exposed by Fang Zhouzi to have invented his studies in California Institute of Technology in his autobiography. When Tang Jun countered the accusation by saying that was a typo, and his Ph.D. was conferred by Pacific Western University, Fang Zhouzi provided evidence that PWU was identified by U.S. government as a diploma mill.
Ye Fei is neither alone in cashing in on Chinese fantasies about U.S. education, especially Harvard University. A Chinese man named Danny Fung published a book titled Allocutions on the Wall of the Harvard University Library. It gained wide circulation on the Internet in China and quickly took on various titles. School principals post them up for students to recite, and eager souls put them up on their blogs. Several major newspapers, including Jiefang Daily, reprinted the excerpts. The book itself was a bestseller.
So many Chinese did not even take time to read the “original English version,” and simply bought it across the board because of the mention of Harvard University. If they did, anyone with a basic command of English would have not failed to find that while the Chinese “allocutions” make sense and are meant to exhort, the English version is totally incomprehensible, that these are software translated, grammatically messed-up English.
Another instance is Liu Yiting, aka Harvard Girl, whose parents wrote a book about they raised and educated their daughter to be admitted to Harvard University. The book was a bestseller in China and made both Liu Yiting and Harvard household names in China. Many Chinese parents tried to model their children after Liu Yiting and clone her success.
A spate of “how-to” books on parenting skills of the same genre mushroomed, including titles such as Ivy League is Not a Dream, From Andover to Harvard, How We Got Our Child Into Yale, Harvard Family Instruction, The Door of the Elite, Harvard Boy Zhang Zhaomu, Cornell Girl, and Our Dumb Little Boy Goes to Cambridge. Harvard University is revered much more in China than even in the U.S., and getting into it seems to be the sole purpose of education.
Ye Fei jumped on the same band wagon. Sadly, she tripped over her own mistake and fell.