Sunday, March 27, 2011

Chinese Education

After reading William Brody’s blog post Exploration of Imagination, which discussed Amy Chua and her contention that first and second generation Asian (or even more specifically Chinese) mothers are better than their US counterpart, it had me thinking about my own education. While I was borne in China, I grew up in the United States from the time I was one and a half, and so I have always been, at least in my opinion, immersed in American culture. I did well in high school, obviously, as I go to Duke now, and similarly my sister and brother also attend some of the top colleges in the United States (Harvard and Columbia respectfully). So is this a sign of better parenting? I’m not sure. In my household, we were all bribed (kind of forced) to get A’s. Disappointment would pervade through the household, if this grade was not reached. During the summer, when many of my friends were out relaxing on the beach or just chilling, I distinctly recall having to remember vocabulary words and working on mathematical problems in preparation for the SAT’s. When we (my siblings and I) complained about the workload, the response we got from out parents usually elicited the following response “In China, you wouldn’t even be able to be accepted into a University unless you’re the top of the top. You have  to work harder”. This had me wondering…what made the Chinese educational experience so much different than ours that perhaps gave Amy Chua her conclusion about Chinese being better parents.

Chinese Education

Currently in China, the government requires that all citizens have at least 9 years of education (from 6-15), a law that was passed in 1986. Since my parents have left China to move to the United States, the number of undergraduates and those with doctoral degrees have increased tremendously. The importance of which high school one attends in China is very significant. Every year, China holds the ‘Zhong Kao’ or middle test for junior graduates (comparable to our middle school). The students will be tested in Chinese, Mathematics, English, Physics, Chemistry, Politics, and PE. They have to process an application for the high school that they wish to attend. When students are in their last year of high school, they will often time take the ‘Gao Kao’ (high examination). This exam is somewhat comparable to our SATs or ACTs, and began in 1952 with a break in between from 1966-1976 because of the Cultural Revolution, and then began again in 1977. The exam takes place over a two to three day period and has 3 mandatory subjects – Chinese, Mathematics, and a Foreign Language. Then they have other 6 other subjects, where they choose which one (or several) that they wish to take – Physics, Chemistry, Biology, History, Geography, and Political Education. The importance of this test to enter college cannot be stressed enough – failing or performing poorly on this exam means that they might not be able to attend a university. Some will repeat their senior year in order to make a second attempt.

I remember that several years ago, my mom was telling me how a relative of ours in China did poorly on the Zhong Kao, and so didn’t even bother to go to high school. I think one of the important things to remember regarding perhaps why Amy Chua mentioned that Chinese mothers are better parents, is that they had to grow up in a super competitive educational environment, where at any stage of their educational pathway, they could either ensure success or disappointment.

The above clip is just a funny YouTube video of how the stereotypical Asian parent react to a non-A grade

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Terra Cotta Warriors

Like the ancient Egyptian pharaohs who placed belongings, furniture, mummified animals, food, etc… in their pyramids for the afterlife, the terracotta army of the first Qin emperor, Shi huangdi, was to help him rule some ‘afterlife’ empire. Even in the United States, this notion of the protective nature of the terracotta army has been captured on film. One of these movies that I can recall was a Disney movie “Wendy Wu Homecoming Warrior” in which the main character has to fight and destroy an evil being that keeps returning, who can summon up these terracotta warriors. 

This is a 10 minute clip from "Wendy Wu, Homecoming Warrior", but you only need to look at the first minute to see some of the heroes fighting representations of the terracotta warrior.

Discovery and Description

In 1974, a group of peasants, while attempting to dig a well in the Shaanxi province, founded this army. While for centuries, pieces of the terracotta fragments and figures had been dug up in the area, this new discovery had prompted archaeologists to explore further. While these archaeologists were investigating, they noted some 18th – 19th century graves, in which the diggers had come across some terracotta fragments but discarded them as worthless. There are four pits:

Terra Cotta Pit 1

 Terra Cotta Pit 1 à contains 6,000 warriors and horses (only 1,000 have been unearthed), and covers an area of ~19,000 square feet. They are placed in well-organized battle array. Pit 1, which is the largest pit, is set so that it seems like they are ready and prepared for battle at any point. 

Terra Cotta Pit 2 à ~7,100 square feet, and is shaped in an L-Shape formation. This pit, while with only about 1,300 warriors, is more elaborate and complete than any of the other pits.

Terra Cotta Pit 3 à ~600 square feet, and has been deemed the command center. It contains 68 warriors, but no commander-in-chief…so it is often speculated that it is the Emperor Shi Huangdi, himself that is supposed to represent this commander-in-chief.

Terra Cotta Pit 4 à empty of warriors, and sometimes called the accessory pits, which includes builder’s graveyards, slaughter pits, animals pits, etc…

Construction and About Emperor Shi Huangdi

Shi Huangdi was emperor of the State of Qin from 246 BC to 221 BC, and then Emperor of China from 221 BC to 210 BC. He began ruling at 13 and was able to unify China by 221 BC. The very fact that he was able to unify China and then ushering in almost 2,000 years of imperial rule makes him a very significant figure. According to historian Sima Qian, the construction of this necropolis would begin in 246 BC and involve around 700,000 workers (A LOT!) so basically he started this necropolis right when he became emperor of the State of Qin—almost seems like a testament to his confidence and thoughts about his abilities as a ruler. The terracotta warriors were manufactured in workshops by laborers and craftsmen and each were given different features and facial expression. The warriors are also life-size and vary in height, uniform, hairstyle in accordance to their rank.
Shi Huangdi

I think it is pretty cool that there is such a large monument devoted to one man – I wouldn’t mind a necropolis for myself :D

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Giant Panda

So I guess it is about time I explored why my blog is called ‘The Culture of the Panda’. As is pretty obvious, this blog is about different aspects about Chinese cultural – information about different cities, festivals, and aspects of China. The Giant Panda, along with the Chinese Dragon and Red-crowned Crane, are listed as the National Animals of China. But I think out of these three animals, the Giant Panda is the most treasured as 1) the Chinese Dragon is mythical and 2) the Red-crowned Crane’s Latin name is translated into the ‘Japanese Crane’. Even from a young age, I was able to notice the importance of the Giant Panda, as when I was 5 or 6, my parents bought my sister and I stuffed Panda Bears – I named mine Pam Pam and my sister named her Shing Shing. I think that the Giant Panda is pretty much automatically synonymous with China. While the Giant Panda is pretty much synonymous with China, there are very few left in the wild. The estimate puts about 1,600 in the wild (though upper end sometimes put it at 2,000 – 3,000) and another 300 in captivity.

Geographic Location and Habitat

The Giant Panda is situated in a few of the mountain ranges in Central China—Sichuan, Shaanxi, and the Gansu provinces. They live in a broad leaf forest of bamboo at an elevation between 5,000 and 10,000 feetThe Giant Panda’s diet almost consists wholly of bamboo, and with land development, farming, and deforestation their habitat has dwindledThe following image is a representation of the habitat and its decline of their habitat over the last 2,000 years.

Image from Smithsonian Institute, National Zoo
Physical Description and Diet

When you think about what a Giant Panda looks like, black and white comes immediately to mind. They often have black fur on their ears, eye patches, muzzle, legs, and shoulders, with the rest of their coat being white. There is speculation that the reason for this coloring is for effectiveness in camouflaging in snowy and rocky surroundings. The Giant Panda also have large molar teeth in order and strong jaw muscles to crush bamboo. As for their size, they can grow up to two to three feet at the shoulder, and up to four to six feet long. Males can weigh up to about 250 pounds, and females up to 220 pounds.

As mentioned earlier, the diet of the Giant Panda is mainly bamboo (they get water from the bamboo as well). They can eat anywhere between 20 – 30 pounds of bamboo a day. They do sometimes eat other small rodents and musk deer fawns. In zoos, they eat other stuff like sugar cane, rice gruel, high-fiber biscuits, apples, carrots, etc… But because of their diet, which is pretty low in nutrition, they then spend most of their time resting, eating, and seeking for more food.

Giant Panda eating some bamboo

Conservation and Diplomacy

Because of the low number of Giant Pandas in the wild, they are placed at a conservation status of Endangered. Besides the deforestation and land development that has placed limitation on their habitat, there are other factors that have contributed to their decline. The main one being their slow reproduction rate – a female panda can at most give birth to 5-8 cubs throughout her lifetime. Because of their low reproduction rate, there has been efforts by conservation reserves in breeding baby pandas. One of the most famous centers for this captive breeding program is the Wolong Nature Reserve. It is reported that so far with this breeding program, about 270 giant pandas have been born in captivity as of 2008.

Giant Pandas at the Wolong Nature Reserve
As a way to signify the importance of the Giant Panda to China is that when these pandas are in captive elsewhere other than China, they are actually on ‘loan’ for a set period. For example, American Zoos actually have to pay the Chinese government about $1 million dollars a year in fees, as part of its typical 10-year contract. Also the Giant Panda has been used as diplomatic gift to other countries, though after 1984, the contract and fee was included, as well as the provision that any cubs born would be a property of the PRC. China actually gave two pandas to the United States in 1972, after Richard Nixon visited China – Ling Ling and Hsing Hsing. Another example of Giant Pandas being used as a diplomatic gift occurred in 2008, when two pandas were given to Taiwan from China. There names were quite significant as well as the combination of their names mean ‘reunion’ (Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan)

The Giant Panda plays an integral role in Chinese society as they are one of the symbols of China. While they are endangered, with the help of conservationists around the world, people can hope to appreciate them in the future.