Academic journal article China Perspectives

Educating a New Generation of Students

Academic journal article China Perspectives

Educating a New Generation of Students

Article excerpt

Foreigners have tried for centuries to change China, but as many studies have shown, it is no easy task.!2) Chinese organisations and norms resist external pressures for change, as many key players feel far more comfortable with traditional modes of Interaction and the existing distribution of power and authority. Reforming Chinese academic Institutions has always been difficult, (3) particularly In the post-1978 era, M because the Chinese state sees universities as the core Institution that keeps Chinese youth loyal to the dominant value system and the existing political structures. Education's responsibility Is also to socialise a citizenry, unify the country Ideologically, and prepare high calibre leaders to reconcile communist precepts with market economics.!5)

Yet, as this paper shows, since 1997 and the reversion of Hong Kong's sovereignty to China, the former British colony, and today's Special Administrative Region, has been at the forefront In transferring more universal values to the mainland, In large part through Its academic Institutions.This transfer has occurred In three major ways: (1) by creating new academic Institutions on the mainland, which transfer new modes of thought and more liberal values to students and administrators In areas such as media, politics, medical delivery, and legal training; (2) by training mainland students In Hong Kong's universities who return to teach and work on the mainland; and (3) allowing mainlanders trained In Hong Kong and the West to "park" on the mainland's "doorstep" In Hong Kong's freer Intellectual environment, from which they can transfer some Western values and research methodologies Into the mainland.

This paper addresses these three modes through case studies and survey data.

Foreign institutions taking root in a Chinese environment: Two paths

China's late Premier Zhao Ziyang believed that reforms could best succeed In China only by creating what he called "small environments" (xiao huaniin¿j of reform. While macro-efforts at change would confront serious opposition from conservative forces In the leadership, If micro-models of successful reform could demonstrate their effectiveness, they might motivate others to adopt similar policies or programs. The effort to build Special Economic Zones during the reform era was based on this viewpoint.!6)This perspective matches the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) policy on policy experimentation and "test points." While success could be copied, failure would have limited impact. Yet as Heilmann outlines, the key question Is "how to facilitate Institutional change despite massive Inertia and opposition that block structural reform and Inhibit economic development In many political economies, without trying to Impose foreign blueprints and thereby Ignoring the Intricacies of local conditions." (9)

Antithetically, the diffusion of innovation literature argues that new organisations must be compatible with existing norms; otherwise they will be difficult to replicate.!10) However, if the new organisation posits no new norms or organisational values, offering little that is new to the local community, why take the time and undergo the effort of bringing in change?

How does one build these "small environments?" Should one create a totally new institution, which, while internally coherent, may be isolated from, or attacked by, society or outside organisations whose values it challenges? Or, should one reform an existing institution that is already embedded in Chinese society, but face the possibility that opponents of reform remaining within the organisation struggle against the new norms that are being introduced? (") The two universities discussed below followed these two strategies in their efforts to change China's education system.

Although the Li Ka-shing Foundation (LKSF) founded Shantou University in 1991, Hong Kongers made little effort in the early years to influence the school's management. …

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