By Steve Kelman

Blog archive

What annoys Chinese students

I recently had my once-a-quarter visit from a group – about 50 or so this time – of Chinese college students visiting the U.S. on a sort of mixed learning and tourism adventure. Since they (or more likely, their parents) pay for this trip, this is a sampler of students from comfortable homes. Nonetheless, it is really interesting to hear what is on their minds. Over half of them are visiting the U.S. for the first time.

Two questions I asked the students gave some insight on what kinds of things – on a relative scale – annoy Chinese students. I asked them how annoyed they were that Facebook was blocked in China, giving them the alternatives "very annoyed," "somewhat annoyed," "doesn't bother me," or "support the government's policy." On this question, about half the students said they were "very annoyed," and about one-quarter each said they were "somewhat annoyed" or that it didn't bother them. (One student raised his hand in support of the government's policy.) Those were numbers that I think most Americans would regard as good news: Young Chinese are not happy about restrictions on freedom the government imposes.

But I also asked them how annoyed they were by the recent U.S. government decision to retrofit the F-16 airplanes Taiwan uses to defend itself with additional equipment. (The decision was a compromise between China's opposition to any sales and Taiwan's wish to buy the latest generation of the F-16s.) Here, most Americans would be less happy with the responses. A larger group – probably closer to 60 percent or even two-thirds – said they were "very annoyed" by what the U.S. had done. And a smaller group – I would estimate about 15 percent – said it didn't bother them. None said they supported the U.S. government decision. Furthermore, when I asked them whether the Chinese government should remove the missiles pointed at Taiwan, only about a quarter said it should. So, as sometimes reported in the U.S. media, nationalism among Chinese students, even ones coming to visit the U.S., is high as well.

I asked the students a question I always ask them – whether they think the US government is on the whole friendly or unfriendly to China, and whether the Chinese government on the whole was friendly or unfriendly to the U.S. As always, students were inclined to think the U.S. was unfriendly toward China, but China was friendly toward the U.S. This time I asked them a new question as well – whether they thought that overall relations between the U.S. and China were relatively good or relatively bad. Interestingly, more students thought the relationship was on the whole good than who thought it was on the whole bad. I then asked them their prediction about what things would be like in 10 years. Somewhat to my surprise, the votes were basically identical: Students didn't think that the relationship would get either better or worse.

Posted on Oct 04, 2011 at 12:09 PM


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