Social Security in China

Is there Social Security in China?

You bet! The average Chinese contributes a staggering 40 percent of her salary – 3 times the US rate in the USA and is 4 times Northern Europe’s – to mandatory Social Security. The Chinese savings, trillions of RMB, funds China’s huge infrastructure investments. The Chinese government makes infrastructure investments pay off by developing land around the projects and collecting rising taxes as the development attracts higher value jobs and housing. The profits go back into Social Security.

Chinese employees contribute 11 percent and businesses contribute 29.8 percent, which ranks #1 in the world. The Chinese are savers!

China Social Security Card

China Social Security Card

 [File photo of the social security card of China]

Currently, 12 local governments, including Shanghai, Guangdong, Tianjin, Gansu, Jiangxi, and Beijing, have released schedules to cut required contribution rates to social security funds, focusing mainly on occupational injury, unemployment, and birth insurance. Shanghai, Hangzhou and Xiamen, also plan to cut contribution rates to pension and medical insurance, the Beijing Times reported on March 28.

Generally speaking, a smaller social security burden will bring benefits to the real economy. Since China set up its pension insurance system, the burden on enterprises and individuals has increased as contribution rates to pension insurance have gotten higher. According to related data,  In a sluggish economic situation, high contribution rates increase production and operating costs, causing more and more businesses to cut jobs.

Obviously, it’s difficult for local governments to cut down contribution rates to social security funds, since China is currently facing significant pressure from a growing elderly population and large pension expenses. But the bold move will help to demonstrate local governments’ steadfast determination to reduce operating stress and provide support to the real economy.

Firstly, cutting down contribution rates to social security funds reduces the operating costs of enterprises, which benefits middle, small, and micro-sized businesses. According to a calculation by the Hangzhou Municipal Human Resource and Social Security Bureau, after their cuts, some 1 billion yuan (US$153.6 million) worth of medical insurance payments will be saved in downtown Hangzhou.

Secondly, in the currently sluggish economic situation, cutting down contribution rates to social security funds will optimize the resilience of businesses, helping them step out of difficulties.

Thirdly, cutting down contribution rates to social security funds would favor accumulation and increase effective investments, so as to expand production scale. It would help to leave businesses more capital to speed up transformations and upgrades optimize Chinese industrial structure and enhance economic stability.

However, in the current situation, the extent of local governments’ cuts to contribution rates could remain at a low level. The cut-downs so far announced mainly relate to occupational injury, birth, and unemployment insurance, but not on pension and medical insurance. Since these three kinds of insurance do not account for a large part of overall social security funds, the cut-downs cannot relieve much of the burden on businesses. And the actual cut-downs are also limited, for instance, Tianjin lowered the employer’s contribution rate to unemployment from 2 percent to 1 percent and the contribution rate to birth insurance from 0.8 percent to 0.5 percent. In Shanghai, the required contribution rate to pension insurance for businesses was dropped by 1 percent to 20 percent; required contribution rate towards medical insurance for businesses was also cut by 1 percent to 10 percent. This range of the cutting is too small to cause significant effects.

Therefore, local governments are expected to maximize cuts to contribution rates within the scope of guaranteeing the payment safety of the social security funds. By doing this, the Chinese real economy could have more capital to speed up development.

In addition, a dynamic social security payment mechanism should be set up to change the contribution rates in accordance with economic reality.  China.org.cn.

The writer is a researcher at China Academy of Regional Finance. Translated by Lin Liyao.

OBOR: China’s New Silk Road

OBOR: China’s New Silk Road

In Odyssey for Chinese, Greece Sells Its Fabled Port of Piraeus [Foreign Policy] With the sale, China’s state-owned COSCO aims to turn a once-sleepy port into the “dragon’s head” of OBOR: China’s New Silk Road.

OBOR: China’s New Silk Road.

Beijing’s ambitions to build a modern-day “Silk Road” connecting China, Central Asia, and Europe took a big step forward Friday when Chinese state-owned shipping giant COSCO finally sealed a deal to purchase the Greek Port of Piraeus, south of Athens.

For COSCO and for Beijing, it’s a billion-dollar conclusion to a seven-year saga. COSCO, formally known as the China Ocean Shipping (Group) Co., took over operations at one part of the Port of Piraeus in 2009, and had long wanted to take ownership of the whole port, one of the biggest in the Mediterranean. But the port’s privatization was put on hold for a year because Greece’s left-wing leadership bitterly opposed earlier plans to do so by the previous government. On Friday, COSCO agreed to acquire control of the port and to spend hundreds of millions of dollars more to continue upgrading and modernizing Piraeus.

In classical Greece, the “long walls” connecting Athens to the Port of Piraeus were the city’s lifeline, protecting it from hostile armies and ensuring Athens’ regional supremacy. Today, Piraeus could again be a lifeline for Greece, helping attract billions in foreign investment and turning a backwater into a global hub. Read more on Foreign Policy.

Report: China Europe and the Maritime Silk Road Download

The aim of this report is to assess how the Chinese involvement in ports along the Asia-Europe maritime corridor – from the South China Sea to the Mediterranean Sea – is relevant for the European Union. The Chinese government is currently developing an ambitious programme of maritime infrastructure construction along the main Asia-Europe shipping route. China’s initiative for a so-called ’21st Century Maritime Silk Road’ is aimed at port development in South-East Asia, around the Indian Ocean and in the eastern Mediterranean region. The Chinese leadership publicly presented its initiative for a 21st Century Maritime Silk Road in October 2013. Earlier that year China had already launched its Silk Road Economic Belt initiative, which is aimed at infrastructure cooperation in a zone that stretches from Xinjiang (the north-western part of China) to the Baltic Sea. The Chinese government uses the term ‘One Belt, One Road’ to refer to the combination of these two initiatives. Chinese investment in large infrastructure projects constitutes the basis of One Belt, One Road. These projects are financed, constructed, supplied and sometimes operated by Chinese firms that are either state-owned or that otherwise have close relations with the Chinese government.

China Silk Road Report

China Silk Road Report

The developments described in this report are significant for the European Union. First, China is gradually becoming more influential economically and diplomatically – and eventually geostrategically – in regions close to Europe. Stronger investment and trade relations between China and countries in Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia are increasing China’s stake in regional affairs, as well as the need for these countries to maintain friendly relations with Beijing. For the time being, this process is hardly visible, since China is careful in such regions to keep a low profile in the military and security domain. Second, the Chinese government has an increased ability to influence which routes the trade between China and the EU flows. While this is not a matter of Beijing being able to switch between trade channels on an ad-hoc basis, the Chinese government has a growing leverage over how trajectories develop during the course of several years. The port of Piraeus is a good example:

China’s decision to develop this Greek port has been decisive in creating a new trade link between Central Europe and Asia via Greece and the Balkans. This, in turn, affects intra-EU relations, since it helps the Eastern European economies to move away from their peripheral role within the EU. At the same time, the Chinese infrastructure strategy provides an opportunity to redefine and deepen EU-China relations. Third, in the long term it is likely that transport and supply chain routes involving Asia and Africa will increasingly bypass Europe.

While China will strengthen its already central role in terms of logistics and transportation, Europe will at the same time lose much of the centrality that it long held in these areas. On the other hand, China’s engagement can help economic development in Europe’s neighbourhood, which contributes to stability and can help the EU’s own economic growth.

China’s new initiatives, as discussed in this report, will accelerate the growth of its influence in the maritime domain as well as in Asia, Africa and Europe more broadly. How this affects European interests depends in part on Europe’s response. A proactive approach to closely monitoring and working with China and local actors seems to be the best way to preserve a European role. Such engagement would also allow Europe to support and benefit from economic development in the sectors and regions affected by China’s infrastructure strategy. Download the full report here. 

China’s Big Technology Revolution

What Caused China’s Big Technology Revolution?

The article below about China’s big technology Revolution is a little wonky but hugely informative. Here’s why: the new Five Year Plan calls for jettisoning industries with low value-add and moving up the technological food chain. Astonishingly, China has begun exporting millions of low value jobs to ASEAN and Africa. They don’t want workers stuck in dead-end industries so they shut them down, disassemble and export the factories to poor countries! The guys who run China have balls as big as any rhinoceros. These are huge bets. Sometimes, entire industrial sectors – like footwear and plastic toys, which were China’s #1 employer – just get vaporized.

Chinese Technology

                                Chinese Technology

They don’t want workers stuck in crap jobs because they want to get their income distribution as good as Japan’s (a world leader in even-handed distribution of incomes, measured by the GINI coefficient) and the best way to do that is not to suppress the wealthy but to lift the fortunes of the poor: crime drops, spirits rise and the rich sleep with a clear conscience. It’s a win-win that the entire country’s technorati can help make happen.

Cooperation is how China’s economy maintains its momentum without going off the rails. Millions of them, separated by thousands of miles, learned to cooperate – to act as a coordinated unit – before Christ was born when they figured out how to prepare for and survive floods that originated thousands of miles away. Before there were any communication technologies we would recognize.

When this call to action came, everybody jettisons outdated ideas, practices and people and figures out how to cooperate cheaply and quickly with colleagues they’ll never meet. These reforms could double the productivity of China’s millions of engineers and researchers. The government is counting on it to contribute to productivity growth. Their government only announces a Plan after the program has been implemented, unlike Western governments.

Science association to get rid of bureaucracy

The China Association for Science and Technology, an association covering more than 70 million researchers, is starting a new round of systematic reform to overcome a bureaucracy that isolates the organization from the masses. The move comes after the General Office of the Communist Party of China Central Committee issued a plan for deepening reforms in science and technology associations nationwide on Sunday. Science and technology associations in China should better serve science workers, and the national strategy of innovation-driven development, as well as the government and the general public through reforms, the document said.

The document called on those associations to build closer links with science workers and the general public, and also called for better management of societies and administrative organs under the associations. The plan proposes to recruit science and technology associations in major enterprises and universities as group members of the China Association for Science and Technology, and encouraged societies of related disciplines to form coalitions as a way of sharing information and resources among the members.

“Many services that should have been provided equally to grassroots researchers, such as academic exchanges and publication of academic papers, are confined to the private circle of the director of some member societies,” said Su Xiaojun, deputy director of the Service Center for Societies of the association.

“Although this phenomenon exists only in a minority of the member societies, it will affect the connection between researchers and the government. So we have to overcome this issue through the reform,” he said.

With 207 member societies covering the gamut of natural sciences, the association is the largest national nongovernmental organization of scientific and technological workers in China, which serves as a bridge between government and the science community.

“I hope that CAST will make full use of its member societies to lead China’s science community into the new frontier of innovation,” said Fu Yuwu, president of the Society of Automotive Engineers of China.

The society has established four technological alliances that include the whole industry chain of electric cars.

“From automobile manufacturer to information technology, Internet companies, metallurgical industry and composite material and carbon fiber producers, we have a unique strength in building a large platform that is impossible for other organizations,” Fu said.

Yu Xiaohu, general secretary of the China Ordnance Society, said CAST also has an advantage in providing consulting services.

“CAST has eight member societies that cover almost every aspect related to the country’s national defense system and have strong technical strength,” Yu said.

Yu said CAST should provide in-depth consultation to decision-makers, build a cooperation platform and enhance technology transfer in the process of civil-military integration.

As part of the recent Chinese government efforts to streamline administration and delegate power, CAST will also take over some government functions.

“The association will shoulder more responsibilities assessing scientific projects and national laboratories, certifying professional credentials, recommending candidates for national sci-tech awards and developing industry standards,” said the service center’s Su.

China’s FDI: Foreign Direct Investment

Why has Chinese outward foreign direct investment (COFDI) exponentially increased since 2015? Because

  1. China’s GDP is increasing exponentially:

The CIA World Factbook gives 2015 GDP figures as

  • United States: $17,970,000,000
  • European Union: $19,180,000,000.
  • China: $19,510,000,000,000,000.

2. GDP is a gross figure disguising the fact that, every year since 1978, China has retained more value of their gross product. It rose dramatically last year when China’s import bill dropped 40 percent as commodity prices collapsed, making 2015 hugely profitable for China. Inc. Now there are trillions of dollars looking for opportunities anywhere, including abroad. At home, China is flooded with new capital – a huge US$3T a year sinks into China’s deepening pool of capital. To get a sense of how awesome this cash aquifer is, read Adjusted savings: net national savings (current US$). The reason we barbarians are seeing Chinese cash is because our investment environment is less competitive (and more timid) than theirs at home. Today, in every first and second-tier city in China there are guys ready – even eager – to throw down a hundred million bucks for something promising. It’s boom time in China and we’re being under-informed about it.

3. China has nearly 600% of GDP in in corporate, government, and private savings. The savings far outweigh the debt. Remember, not all governments are irresponsible with debt: China, Russia and Norway are on the side of the angels. China only participates in the international debt market to gain a seat at the top table, whence they are implementing Bretton Woods II, a drama entitled Keynes’ Revenge: Bancor’s Ghost. China has no need of foreign debt. Theirs is minimal.

4. They’re moving relentlessly up the value chain in accordance with their five year plans. Every year more high-value Chinese products enter my life and, probably, yours. Huge Chinese buses, for example, one of those big-ticket items every nation dreams of exporting, are muscling aside Volvo, MAN, and Mercedes where I live in Thailand. And I just spotted my first piece of Chinese hospital gear (a snazzy desktop vital signs multi-tester) in an international hospital. Next year the top-of-the-line Cadillac we see on American roads will have been made in China. Talk about coals to Newcastle!

5. FDI is good foreign policy. As one Chinese diplomat observed, “After sending ambassadors, presidents, dance troupes, art shows all around the world we discovered that what countries really like is if you buy stuff from them”. Deep-pocketed Chinese are becoming better acquirers and better ambassadors – as Geely’s acquisition and resuscitation of Volvo demonstrated.

6. It’s an opportunity to launder money. Anyone who’s been involved with foreign subsidiaries will tell you that laundering and tax reduction through transfer pricing is endemic. Laundering and tax-reduction are probably responsible for 50 percent of foreign investments. Outside Beijing and Shanghai, most transactions in China are in cash. Think about that for a moment. Offshore investments are a great way to send those accumulated billions to the cleaner.


Shanghai’s Education Secret

Wondering About Shanghai’s Education Secret?

Only two percent of American 15-year-olds and three percent of Europeans reach the highest level of math performance in the international PISA tests, demonstrating that they can conceptualise, generalise and use math based on their investigations and apply their knowledge in novel contexts. In Shanghai it is over 30 percent of kids reach the highest math level. How did Shanghai’s giant public school system beat the world? What’s Shanghai’s Education Secret?

I’m reading one of the most exciting books on education ever published. There have been landmark books on educating children, like A.S. Neal’s Summerhill, but few with the broad application and depth of consideration of Learning from Shanghai: Lessons on Achieving Educational Success by Charlene Tan. It’s a comprehensive, in-depth investigation of how Shanghai’s (pop 26 million) gigantic education system beat every education system on earth – by a wide margin that widened even further in subsequent testing. Clearly, it’s important to understand how they did it:rp_Shanghai_Book_Cover-199x300.jpg

    1. How did Shanghai (pop. 26 million) create the world’s best best school system in 2012?
    2. How did they pull even further ahead in 2015?
    3. Why did they decide to drop out of international PISA testing?
    4. What they’re planning to do next? Learning from Shanghai[/caption

The answers aren’t as simple as Finland’s (pop. 6 million) decision to recruit teachers only from the top 20% of graduates – which kept Finland #1 in the world for years  (it’s now ten places behind Shanghai)


Learning from Shanghai

Wendy Kopp, Founder of Teach for America, starts her consideration thus:

A couple of decades ago, Shanghai had a school system that was plagued by the same problems we’re facing here. There were significant disparities between the achievement levels of native children and the children of migrant families, and overall educational levels were low. Today, the best international measures we have show that Shanghai has the highest levels of educational excellence and equity in the world—to the point where their 15 year olds are now on average 3 grade levels ahead of kids in Massachusetts, our highest performing state.  Imagine that. What could be more important than getting ourselves to Shanghai and finding out how they’ve done this?

There are a number of factors to account for Shanghai’s educational success (as I shall elaborate in this book), but one key factor is the school leaders. The Shanghai educators I’ve taught and met are all well-versed in international affairs, global in their outlook, IT savvy and even ‘Westernised’ compared to their counterparts in other parts of China. But beneath all these are deeply ingrained sociocultural values, beliefs and logics that shape their behaviours and in fl uence their school leadership styles. And it’s this curious mix of tradition and modernity, a synthesis of East and West, that characterises school leadership, teaching and learning in Shanghai. 2  It is a story that is waiting to be told.

I came across this rock in one of the schools I visited in Shanghai. The inscription reads: ‘learn painstakingly, experience joyfully’ [keku xuexi, kuaile tiyan]. Painstaking learning is not new to Shanghai or China as a whole. The Chinese word ‘ku’ literally means ‘bitter’. The Chinese commonly emphasise the need to ‘eat bitter’ [chiku] – to be ready to endure hardship before one can be successful in life. When I asked Shanghai educators and students the reasons for Shanghai’s educational success, quite a number cited hard work. ‘Our students spend more hours studying than their peers in other countries’, said a vice-principal. ‘We study very hard from young. We need to get into a good university’, a student told me. The students’ hard work is matched by the teachers’ diligence in teaching. ‘In Shanghai schools, such as our school, many teachers are very dedicated to their profession’, said a teacher. ‘Once the child doesn’t do well, the teacher will panic’, he added. The culture of painstaking learning explains, to an extent, why Shanghai has the world’s highest percentage of resilient students in 2009 PISA: many Shanghai students ‘ate bitter’ to overcome socioeconomic barriers and excel academically.

Education in Shanghai takes place against a backdrop of globalisation that is essentially characterised by the rapid acceleration of cross-border fl ows of capital, goods, services, people and ideas (Green, 2007 , p. 23). Globalisation arrives at a locality through global forms . A global form is an encompassing and dynamic phenomenon that moves across diverse social and cultural situations and spheres of life (Collier & Ong, 2005 , p. 11). Examples of global forms are stem cell research, neo-liberal rationality, educational desire, global education policy and curriculum reform. 4 Two global forms are of particular relevance to education in Shanghai. The fi rst one is internationally standardised assessment such as PISA. In an era of globalisation, high-stakes testing at the national and international levels through assessment systems has become the major steering mechanism of schooling systems in many countries (Rizvi & Lingard, 2010 ) . Referring to the imperative for Shanghai to go international by participating in PISA, Wang Jueyan, the former director of the teaching-research of fi ce of Shanghai Municipal Education Commission, avers that ‘it is our shame if Shanghai, as an international metropolis, is unable to speak about its educational quality using data [from PISA]’ (Wang, 2011a , p. 48). Another senior education of fi cer from Shanghai, Jiang Yinqiao, elaborates on the motivations for Shanghai’s participation in PISA: Some colleagues ask, what is Shanghai’s objective in participating in PISA? There are three objectives. First, we hope to use an international assessment system such as PISA to know where we stand in our basic education. Secondly, Shanghai has carried out basic education reform for many years. We hope to use an international benchmark to measure the effect of the reform. Thirdly, we will be able to learn progressive educational ideologies and techniques from our participation in PISA in order to improve our assessment approach. (Jiang, 2011 )

Besides international assessment, another example of a global form is curriculum reform . Curriculum reform is closely linked to international assessment as many states are attempting to reform their educational systems in response to their students’ performance in international tests (Kamens & McNeely, 2010 ) . Shanghai’s educational success, as many interviewees have pointed out to me, is due partly to the curriculum reforms in Shanghai schools. The former director of the teachingresearch of fi ce of Shanghai Municipal Education Commission declares that the ‘success of Shanghai in PISA is essentially the success of Shanghai’s over 20 years of curriculum reform’

Shanghai’s Education Secret?


I arrived at the school in the principal’s car. The principal had sent his chauffeur to pick me up from East China Normal University, where I have been staying. Most Shanghai principals are provided with a car and a personal chauffeur –

Taking a sip of the tea, the principal continued, ‘In China, we often have this saying, “There are no students who cannot be taught well, only teachers who cannot teach well.” [meiyou jiaobuhao de xuesheng, zhiyou jiaobuhao de laoshi]. So if you’ve a wholehearted spirit, you’ll teach well.’

Fond of quoting Chinese proverbs, he said, ‘In China, we’ve this saying, “Eat from the big pot” [chi daguofan]. It means it’s the same whether you do your job Fond of quoting Chinese proverbs, he said, ‘In China, we’ve this saying, “Eat from the big pot” [chi daguofan]. It means it’s the same whether you do your job well or not, whether you do more or less; everyone gets the same pay. But this attitude cannot hold anymore in China. So under our allocation system, we underwent massive reforms and began to reward those with good educational results, good teaching results. We underwent changes in the school salary system, in appraisal system, in giving monetary rewards. Now we’ve a “with labour comes reward” [youlao youchou] system. You’ll get more if you do more. I think this is very necessary because at the management level, there is an invisible hand to manage and direct the school.’ As he said this, he moved his hand in a wave-like manner to illustrate the motion of an invisible hand in the air. ‘I’m not saying that “human beings are willing to die for money and birds are willing to die for food” [renwei caisi, niaowei shiwang]’, he added, quoting another well-known Chinese proverb about the materialistic instinct of human nature. ‘But human beings still need to consider their survival. We do not expect everyone’s thinking to reach the same level, but money can still have certain effects. So this is one reform. Of course there’re other reforms, such as regulation of the teaching system and so on. But I think this monetary reform is the most important.’ He went on to elaborate on how the ‘invisible hand’ works using the example of ‘public’ or ‘open’ lessons [gongkaike]. A public lesson is a lesson conducted by a teacher that is observed and critiqued by others. The ‘others’ could be teachers from the same school, teachers from other schools, educational experts, parents and members of the public. It can be offered at the school level, district level or municipal level and is a requirement for teacher professional development and teacher appraisal in Shanghai. Such a lesson requires a lot of preparation and can be stressful for teachers. The principal said: ‘For public lessons, we’ve already created a structural culture. So if you don’t want to conduct a public lesson, there’s an invisible hand to direct you, to make you do it. Otherwise, you cannot be promoted to the next grade, your assessment score at the mid-year appraisal will not be high’.

An engaging conversationalist, he continued, ‘A fi rst-class school also depends on having a fi rst-class classroom. ‘And a fi rst-class classroom, in my view, needs to point to a direction in reform. This direction needs to suit the students’ cognitive development, suit society’s development demands, and will not fail in practice. Our school-based curriculum ful fi ls the spirit of the second phase curriculum reform, and also ful fi lls our school’s requirement for special characteristics.’

He went on to elaborate how his school has launched new expanded and research courses (I shall explain these courses in Chap. 7 ) and innovative teaching approaches that emphasise student-centred learning. These include experiential learning where students apply scienti fi c principles to test the quality of food they purchase from the supermarkets and a teaching approach that underscores student group discussions and oral presentations. It is evident that the principal has leveraged on the school autonomy given to him to design interesting courses and teaching approaches that are tailored for the school’s needs. At the same time, he is careful to ensure that his school initiatives adhere to the spirit and requirements of the curriculum reform.

The principal’s active involvement in the school activities is also evident in his lesson observations of teachers. ‘I observe lessons every school term. On average, I listen to 4 lessons per term’, he said. Alluding to the cultural value of collectivism where teacher sharing is common, he said, ‘I just observe lessons randomly. I’ll just say, “Little He [a teacher’s name], I’ll observe your lesson tomorrow”. After that we’ll have an informal chat and discuss any problems that arose.

What came across strongly in his sharing was his reliance on prizes, exam results, college entrance rates and school rankings to validate his school’s success. This is a common phenomenon in China – references to quanti fi able yardsticks that are perceived to be objective, scienti fi c and fair. The value and preponderance of targets, indicators and evaluations to measure a school’s success in Shanghai reminds me of a performative culture. It is a culture that ‘employs judgements, comparisons and displays as means of incentive, control, attrition and change – based on rewards and sanctions (both material and symbolic) ’ (Ball, 2003 , p. 216)

4. ‘Education Is Filling a Bucket and Lighting a Fire’: The Shanghai Teacher

Chinese teachers, like master chess players, are known for putting in a lot of thought and preparation in their teaching and training their students to make the ‘right moves’ in exams. (I shall return to and elaborate on the chess analogy later.) This attitude is expressed in a local proverb that ‘to give a student a cup of water, a teacher should have a bucket of water’ [yaogei xuesheng yibeishui, jiaoshi ziji yinggai you yitongshui]. As explained by a Chinese academic: ‘It means a teacher should be familiar with not only the teaching materials, but also the wider background knowledge relevant to the teaching materials’ (Chen, 2009 , p. 97). It is noteworthy that the Chinese word for ‘teacher’ is ‘jiaoshi’ which comprises two characters: ‘jiao’ which means ‘teach’ and ‘shi’ which means ‘master’ or ‘expert’. Therefore, the term ‘jiaoshi’ underscores the cultural belief that a teacher should not just be an instructor but a ‘teaching master’ or ‘teaching expert’. To quench the student’s thirst, a teacher should have many, many cups of water, or simply put, have a bucket of water.

Chinese teachers, like master chess players, are known for putting in a lot of thought and preparation in their teaching and training their students to make the ‘right moves’ in exams. (I shall return to and elaborate on the chess analogy later.) This attitude is expressed in a local proverb that ‘to give a student a cup of water, a teacher should have a bucket of water’ [yaogei xuesheng yibeishui, jiaoshi ziji yinggai you yitongshui]. As explained by a Chinese academic: ‘It means a teacher should be familiar with not only the teaching materials, but also the wider background knowledge relevant to the teaching materials’ (Chen, 2009 , p. 97). It is noteworthy that the Chinese word for ‘teacher’ is ‘jiaoshi’ which comprises two characters: ‘jiao’ which means ‘teach’ and ‘shi’ which means ‘master’ or ‘expert’. Therefore, the term ‘jiaoshi’ underscores the cultural belief that a teacher should not just be an instructor but a ‘teaching master’ or ‘teaching expert’. To quench the student’s thirst, a teacher should have many, many cups of water, or simply put, have a bucket of water.

The emphasis on content mastery explains why the Chinese syllabi tend to be pitched at a higher level of dif fi culty compared to other countries. Commenting on Shanghai’s PISA achievement, a school principal said: ‘What’s tested in PISA is what the students have already learnt; in China, the level of content difficulty is higher than in many other countries of the same grade’. This point was repeated by other principals and teachers who told me of their personal observations when they visited schools in Anglophone countries such as the United Kingdom, Germany and the United States. For example, a vice-principal said: Last year, I went to Germany and looked at their mathematics textbook for senior secondary school year 1. Much of the content in the textbook is what we’ve learnt in junior secondary year 2. This difference is relevant in explaining our PISA achievement. Our students fi nd the PISA questions easy as they are already familiar with the concepts.

Exams are not just important for students; they are essential to the teachers too because, as one teacher put it, ‘the exam scores re fl ect how good your teaching is’. High exam scores are translated into greater rewards for the teacher as they validate his or her ability to teach well. The priority placed on exam scores entails that a mastery of subject knowledge, repeated practice and exam techniques remain important to the students. Hence, teachers need to continue to give their students cups and cups of water so that they have a ready supply of water with which to face the desert of exams without dying of thirst. A teacher said: In Shanghai, it’s about earning a piece of paper. ‘One exam to determine the rest of your life’ [yikao dingzhongshen]. You’ll move up if you score well, you’ll move down if you don’t. That’s what’s happening. In China the greatest source of pressure comes from the desire to gain employment. Ultimately we still need to return to academic subjects, to exam scores. You can have all kinds of activities for the students to have fun in but ultimately it’s the exam that matters.

Chapter 5: Tiger Mothers, Dragon Children

‘What do you think are the main factors that contributed towards Shanghai’s success in PISA?’ This was a question I asked principals and teachers in every school I visited in Shanghai. Invariably, the respondents would mention parents. ‘Parents devote money, time and energy to their child’s education’, said a vice-principal. ‘As long as the child is willing to learn, more than 95% of parents are willing to spend the money, even if 70% of family expenses go to the child’s learning’, he added. A 2004 survey points out that the main purpose for saving in Chinese households is to pay for their children’s education (Mok, Wong & Zhang, 2009 , p. 508). Explaining the fi erce competition in Shanghai, a teacher who has taught for over two decades in Shanghai said: In Shanghai, our thinking is that the kind of senior secondary school you attend will determine the kind of university you’ll go to. This is reality. The kind of junior secondary school will determine the kind of senior secondary school, just like the kind of primary school you go to will determine the kind of junior secondary school you eventually attend. So the competition starts with kindergarten. An even earlier competition begins from the time the child is born. And even earlier is prenatal education [taijiao].

A principal pointed out that many Chinese parents missed the opportunity to receive higher education due to historical and social reasons. Hence they try all means to ful fi l their desires vicariously through their children. ‘The parents have put all their hopes on their child and devote all their energies to the child. The child’s learning, school promotion, choice of career, all determine the fate of the entire family’, he added.

Chapter 6 ‘Chinese-Style’ Education for All

A senior teacher who has taught for 30 years in the rural school explained: Every week, for two hours, teachers teaching the same subject will come together to discuss, share good ideas, their problems. This allows the teachers to prepare lessons in a more in-depth manner. … The teacher training college in the county will also bring the teachers together to learn and exchange ideas. For example, our school currently focuses on the theme on ‘creating effective lessons’, so we organise teacher essay competitions, lesson plan competitions, classroom activities, and so on.

Chapter 7 ‘To Develop Every Student’: Towards Quality-Oriented Education

Chapter 8 Balancing Decentralisation with Centralisation

Chapter 9 Autonomy and Accountability: The School Appraisal System

Under the appraisal system, every school is required to formulate a 3-year development plan that comes with a yearly implementation plan. Each school needs to rally its entire staff to draft the plan based on the demands of the current curriculum reform that underscores a quality-oriented education. Each school needs to analyse its situation and identify its developmental vision, targets, strategies and measures. The Shanghai Municipal People’s Government Educational Supervisory Of fi ce will then conduct an on-site inspection, and the supervisory experts will cast votes on whether the plan passes inspection. Any school plan that does not pass the inspection will need to be modi fi ed. After the inspection, the schools will carry out their plan, with regular self-appraisal. The self-appraisal process is known as ‘school autonomous development supervision’, which forms a part of the school’s appraisal. This process entails the schools forming their own ‘autonomous supervision committee’ and organising a ‘teachers’ congress’ [jiaodaihui] to discuss the school’s plan and implementation methods. The school administration then needs to announce the plan to all its teaching staff, parents and students at the start of the school term; accept the teachers’ congress’ monitoring and appraisal during the term; give a debrief to the teachers’ congress at the end of the term; and improve upon its plan based on feedback from the teacher’s congress. The school also needs to give a report to the supervisory of fi ce every term and share the self-appraisal reports with the public. The school will determine the academic year’s work plan based on the 3-year plan and break down the targets of the plan into yearly targets to be carried out by the respective departments and people in charge. The supervisory of fi ce will visit the school regularly during the implementation phase of the plan to check on the

Chapter 10 Testing Times: Exams as Means of Central Control

A Chinese academic explains why a summative and closed-book written exam system is privileged in China: In China, education’s main function is selection. Through the screening of exams, people are allocated different grades, including different grades of schools, different grades of work places, different grades of social position. … Our country has a huge population with limited resources, so it can only allow a limited number of people to receive higher education and enjoy excellent educational resources. Therefore education needs to ful fi ll the selection function. To ensure that the selection is fair, standardised closed-book exams become the only choice. (Shangguan, 2005 , pp. 283–284)

Chapter 11 Examining the Exam Papers

Chapter 12 Taking Teacher Professional Development Seriously

As different teacher professional development plans are targeted at teachers of different grades, it is helpful, at the outset of this chapter, to brie fl y outline 4 main hierarchical titles for teachers in Shanghai, as follows: 1. Third-grade teachers. They are beginning teachers in their fi rst 3 years of service. 2. Second-grade teachers. They are intermediate teachers who are promoted from third-grade after 3–5 years of service. They need to undergo internal evaluation in the school. 3. First-grade teachers. They are advanced teachers who are promoted from secondgrade after at least 5 years of service. They need to undergo internal evaluation in the school and external evaluation at the district level. 4. Senior-grade teachers. They are teachers who are promoted from fi rst-grade after at least 5 years of service. They need to undergo internal evaluation in the school and external evaluation at the district level. Besides the above of fi cial titles, there are two main honorary titles given to excellent teachers: Backbone teacher [gugan jiaoshi] and Special-grade teacher [teji jiaoshi]. Backbone teachers are experienced teachers who have obtained at least a second grade. They comprise about 30% of the teaching workforce and are usually above 30 years old. Special-grade teachers are teachers who have achieved the rare honour of being outstanding in their teaching and leadership. They have usually taught for many years and have distinguished themselves in pioneering new and successful practices that are acknowledged by the authorities and teaching community.

Part III The Practice

CURRICULUM, etc. This is the meat of the book for educators and gives real-life examples of lesson planning and delivery styles, critical thinking, evaluation, Teacher Mentoring and Collaboration, School-Based Teacher Training, etc.

As a principal noted, ‘China is still trying to break free of forbidden zones, many domains still have ideological oppression, especially in the humanities, it is dif fi cult to apply the Chinese saying of “the words of children are harmless” [tongyan wuji]’. Socioculturally, students who grow up in a single-child family environment in China tend to be protected and doted on by their parents and teachers and therefore may not be used to independent questioning and doubting.

Chapter 17 Kung Fu Panda :



Comments on Shanghai’s Educational Success:

SHANGHAI — Whenever I visit China, I am struck by the sharply divergent predictions of its future one hears. Lately, a number of global investors have been “shorting” China, betting that someday soon its powerful economic engine will sputter, as the real estate boom here turns to a bust. Frankly, if I were shorting China today, it would not be because of the real estate bubble, but because of the pollution bubble that is increasingly enveloping some of its biggest cities. Optimists take another view: that, buckle in, China is just getting started, and that what we’re now about to see is the payoff from China’s 30 years of investment in infrastructure and education. I’m not a gambler, so I’ll just watch this from the sidelines. But if you’re looking for evidence as to why the optimistic bet isn’t totally crazy, you might want to visit a Shanghai elementary school. I’ve traveled here with Wendy Kopp, the founder of Teach for America, and the leaders of the Teach for All programs modeled on Teach for America that are operating in 32 countries. We’re visiting some of the highest- and lowest-performing schools in China to try to uncover The Secret — how is it that Shanghai’s public secondary schools topped the world charts in the 2009 PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) exams that measure the ability of 15-year-olds in 65 countries to apply what they’ve learned in math, science and reading. After visiting Shanghai’s Qiangwei Primary School, with 754 students — grades one through five — and 59 teachers, I think I found The Secret: There is no secret.  When you sit in on a class here and meet with the principal and teachers, what you find is a relentless focus on all the basics that we know make for high-performing schools but that are difficult to pull off consistently across an entire school system. These are: a deep commitment to teacher training, peer-to-peer learning and constant professional development, a deep involvement of parents in their children’s learning, an insistence by the school’s leadership on the highest standards and a culture that prizes education and respects teachers. The Shanghai Secret–Tom Friedman, The New York Times..Read more...

Are the Chinese cheating in PISA or are we cheating ourselves? Whenever an American or European wins an Olympic gold medal, we cheer them as heroes. When a Chinese does, the first reflex seems to be that they must have been doping; or if that’s taking it too far, that it must have been the result of inhumane training. There seem to be parallels to this in education. Only hours after results from the latest PISA assessment showed Shanghai’s school system leading the field, Time magazine concluded the Chinese must have been cheating. They didn’t bother to read the PISA 2012 Technical Background Annex, which shows there was no cheating, whatsoever, involved. Nor did they speak with the experts who had drawn the samples or with the international auditors who had carefully reviewed and validated the sample for Shanghai and those of other countries. Others were quick to suggest that resident internal migrants might not be covered by Shanghai’s PISA sample, because years ago those migrants wouldn’t have had access to Shanghai’s schools. But, like many things in China, that has long changed and, as described by PISA, resident migrants were covered by the PISA samples in exactly the way they are covered in other countries and education systems. Still, it seems to be easier to cling to old stereotypes than keep up with changes on the ground (or to read the PISA report).  True, like other emerging economies, Shanghai is still building its education system and not every 15-year-old makes it yet to high school. As a result of this and other factors, the PISA 2012 sample covers only 79% of the 15-year-olds in Shanghai. But that is far from unique. Even the United States, the country with the longest track record of universal high-school education, covered less than 90% of its 15-year-olds in PISA – and it didn’t include Puerto Rico in its PISA sample, a territory that is unlikely to have pulled up U.S. average performance.  International comparisons are never easy and they are never perfect. But anyone who takes a serious look at the facts and figures will concede that the samples used for PISA result in robust and internationally comparable data. They have been carefully designed and validated to be fit for purpose in collaboration with the world’s leading experts, and the tests are administered under strict and internationally comparable conditions. Anyone who really wants to find out can review the underlying data. Short of arguments about methodology, some people turn to dismissing Shanghai’s strong performance by saying that Shanghai’s students are only good on the kind of tasks that are easy to teach and easy to test, and that those things are losing in relevance because they are also the kind of things that are easy to digitise, automate and outsource. But while the latter is true, the former is not.

Memorization in Schools. OECD

Memorization in Schools. OECD

Memorization in Schools[/caption]

Consider this: Only 2% of American 15-year-olds and 3% of European ones reach the highest level of math performance in PISA, demonstrating that they can conceptualise, generalise and use math based on their investigations and apply their knowledge in novel contexts. In Shanghai it is over 30%. Educators in Shanghai have simply understood that the world economy will pay an ever-rising premium on excellence and no longer value people for what they know, but for what they can do with what they know. Andreas Schleicher, Deputy Director for Education and Skills and Special Advisor on Education Policy to the OECD’s Secretary General  Read more….

Answer Some PISA Test Questions Here.

Can you Answer Some gaokao Essay Questions?


A collective groan from millions of high school students echoed across China yesterday as the gaokao, the country’s college entrance exam, kicked off. The test has become notorious for its intensity and its challenging questions, and this year’s gaokao is no exception. From philosophical quotes to the meaning of a buzzword, these essay questions are designed to test not only students’ language abilities and knowledge, but also their creativity, experience and wisdom. Once again, we’ve compiled a list of essay questions that students across China faced during their exams this year. Think you can handle them?

Question 1. “A father was talking on the phone while driving on a highway. His daughter reminded him repeatedly to stop doing this, but her father would not listen. The daughter called the police and reported her father at last. When the police arrived, the father was reprimanded. This generated heated debate among the public.” Write a letter of 800 words to either the father, the daughter or the police officer. (Test Paper National I. Applicable to: Henan, Hebei, Shanxi, Jiangxi, Shaanxi)

Question 2: Who do you admire the most? A biotechnology researcher, a welding engineering technician or a photographer?

Biotechnology researcher: Mr. Lee led the company to a globalized market.

Welding engineering technician : Mr. Wang was an ordinary welding engineering technician, and through perseverance, has become a world-renowned craftsman.
Photographer: The photographer posted a collection of his photos to his blog and was well-received online.

Question 3. Based on the three given uses of ‘road’, write an essay.

1. “The Earth had no roads to begin with, but when many men passed one way, a road was made.” —Lu Hsun (Lu Xun)
2. There is no such thing as a road that dare not to be walked, only people who dare not to walk it.
3. You may take the wrong road sometimes, but if you keep walking, it will become a brand new road.

Question 4. Topic: Do butterfly wings have colors?

“A teacher asked the students to look at butterflies under a microscope. At first, they thought the butterflies were colorful, but when they looked at them closely, they realized that they were actually colorless.” Based on this story, write an essay. (From Anhui)Question 5. Topic: What is “Fan’er”? The buzzword “Fan’er” is popularly used to refer to a person, group or country’s “style”. Draw from personal experiences to describe your feelings about the word. (From Tianjin)

The gaokao is administered over 2-3 days, and determines the fate of over nine million students across China. Read more… [Image via people.cn and CCTVnews]

What’s PISA?

“What differentiates PISA from other international assessments is its focus on the students’ ability to use their knowledge and skills to meet real-life challenges. Shanghai students emerged top among 65 countries and economies in all 3 categories in 2009: reading, mathematics, and science (OECD, 2010b, 2010c). 1 Shanghai also has the world’s highest percentage (76%) of ‘resilient students’ in 2009, defined as students who come from the bottom quarter of the distribution of socioeconomic background in their country who have scored in the top quarter among students from all countries with similar socioeconomic backgrounds (OECD, 2010e, p. 13).”

“In 2010, the percentage of teachers with at least a university degree in kindergarten, primary and secondary schools was 71.7%, which is an increase of 19.7% compared to 2005 (Shanghai Municipal Commission, 2011c). Raising the teachers’ academic qualifi­cation also includes sending promising school leaders overseas. For example, several cohorts of Shanghai principals, heads of departments and education officers have completed a full-time Master of Educational Administration degree at the National Institute of Education in Singapore since 2008. Teacher upgrading also includes professional courses. For example, at least 95% of all Shanghai teachers have obtained qualifying certificates and others, advanced certificates for designing Information technology curriculum since 1996 (Zhao, 2009 , p. 43).”

“Essay Writing A young monk joined a monastery and was curious about many things. It is autumn and many red leaves have filled the compound of the Buddhist temple. The young monk asked his master: ‘The red leaves are really beautiful, why must they fall off the tree?’ Master smiled and said: ‘Because winter is coming, the tree is unable to support so many leaves, and has to shed them. This is not giving up, but letting go!’ Based on the information above, formulate your own essay title and write an essay in not less than 800 words. The essay question above is meant for 17-year-old and 18-year-old students. It is taken from a district exam paper for senior secondary students in 2011(Anon, 2011a , p. 21). The above questions are typical of exam questions in Shanghai today. They are part of the Shanghai authorities’ endeavours to move away from an exam-oriented education characterised by memorisation and repeated practice of past exam questions to quality-oriented education where students are equipped with the ability to think reflectively and independently.”

“Based on the information below, adopt a perspective, formulate your own essay title and write an essay in not less than 800 words. ‘Two old men are playing a game of chess in a park. They play it very slowly, making the observers feel impatient. An old man commented humorously: ‘You are not aware of this, but chess should be played slowly. Playing it slowly allows you to experience deeply the infinite changes and joy of chess; playing it fast gives us a murderous atmosphere, not like chess played among friends. Furthermore, once you place a piece on the chess board, the game begins to head towards death. If we rush through it, the chess board will be filled up fast, the chess will be dead. Good chess should be played slowly!’. Such a profound speech made the observers reflect deeply (Anon, 2011c , p. 10).”


Start reading Learning from Shanghai for free, here.


Further reading:  “What differentiates PISA from other international assessments is its focus on the students’ ability to use their knowledge and skills to meet real-life challenges. Shanghai students emerged top among 65 countries and economies in all 3 categories in 2009: reading, mathematics, and science (OECD, 2010b, 2010c). 1 Shanghai also has the world’s highest percentage (76%) of ‘resilient students’ in 2009, defined as students who come from the bottom quarter of the distribution of socioeconomic background in their country who have scored in the top quarter among students from all countries with similar socioeconomic backgrounds (OECD, 2010e, p. 13).” Novice Teachers Learning from Others: Mentoring in Shanghai Schools. Hairon Salleh & Charlene Tan.

Chinese Poverty and Corruption

Anti-graft campaign targets poverty relief

China Daily, March 15, 2016


Cao Jianming, prosecutor general at the Supreme People's Procuratorate, prepares to deliver a speech in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Sunday. [China Daily]

Cao Jianming, prosecutor general at the Supreme People's Procuratorate, prepares to deliver a speech in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Sunday. [China Daily]

One of the cruelist manifestations of corruption is officials who take money that taxpayers intended for the poor. Nobody has sympathy for such creeps, so they make excellent targets for prosecution. Lots of human interest, you might say. Now that President Xi's anti-corruption team has sharpened its claws, it's targeting sub-groups that obstruct national goals. And poverty elimination is China's #1 social goal in the current Five Year Plan. Expect China's poor to find themselves a little less poor henceforth…

China's anti-corruption campaign will include a new focus this year cracking down on the misuse and embezzlement of poverty relief funds, according to the top prosecutor.

The five-year drive is aimed at ensuring the poverty alleviation policy and special funding will benefit poor people in poverty-stricken areas, Cao Jianming, prosecutor-general at the Supreme People's Procuratorate, told China Daily in an exclusive interview.

This campaign has been launched by the SPP and the Poverty Relief Office under the State Council.

Prosecuting departments will focus on investigating graft issues that involve exporting labor services, ecological protection, education and medical insurance, as well as minimum rural living allowances, Cao said.

They will also become "more aggressive" in going after officials at grassroots levels, such as those in charge of handling traffic in rural areas, hydropower, electric power infrastructure construction, and renovation of rural homes, Cao said.

The campaign comes after a keynote speech by President Xi Jinping at an anti-graft meeting in January, during which he promised to maintain the momentum at grassroots level to benefit everyone.

In recent years, a large amount in poverty alleviation funding has been embezzled or misused, seriously harming the public interest and people's legitimate rights. It has also led to a series of petition cases, which has affected social harmony and stability.

"We will try our utmost to punish those who abuse their power to embezzle, hold back, falsely claim or squander poverty alleviation funds," Cao said.

Since November 2012, China's leadership has conducted a sweeping nationwide campaign to pursue both "tigers", or high-ranking officials, and "flies", or lower-ranked officials at the grassroots level.

According to the SPP, duty-related crimes involving poverty alleviation funds have occurred at all levels but most of the corrupt officials involved have been at county level or below.

"We will step up efforts to combat such crimes to let more people at the grassroots level share the fruits of the anti-graft campaign," Cao said.

He also said the number of corrupt officials involved in the misuse and embezzlement of poverty relief funds has risen sharply due to "loopholes in the supervision mechanism, and the high number of anti-poverty projects and the huge funds involved".

According to the SPP, 933 corrupt officials in charge of poverty alleviation were investigated by prosecutors last year, a year-on-year increase of 19.2 percent.

In October, China set a goal of building a well-off society and lifting all poverty-stricken people in rural areas out of poverty by 2020.

"By targeting corrupt officials in the poverty relief sector, we will ensure that the targeted poverty relief strategy will really benefit poor people," Cao said.

He added that prosecutors will work closely with poverty relief departments and set up a system to share information, such as the number of poor people, funding distribution, and how poverty relief programs are run.

China still has 200 million people living in poverty, based on the World Bank standard, which means they each live on less than $1.90 a day. In 2014, the central government allocated 43.3 billion yuan ($6.67 billion) for poverty relief, double the amount in 2010.

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