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Sending Chinese Problems Abroad

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China Power

Sending Chinese Problems Abroad

Are Chinese parents sending their kids to get an education overseas, or to get them off their hands?

Recently, writers in both the United States and China have been critically exploring the growing trend of Chinese students studying in America. 

In his Businessweek article ‘China Rush to US Colleges Reveals Predatory Fees for Recruits,’ Daniel Golden explores how unscrupulous Americans and Chinese make false promises to wealthy but ignorant Chinese students.

In The Daily Illini, Zhou Yeran exposes a study abroad programme that takes ill-prepared Chinese students and leaves them to fend for themselves on US campuses. 

But there’s no American conspiracy to defraud rich Chinese. First, as Professor X tells us in the Atlantic Monthly, US higher education provides an equally unsatisfactory education to both unqualified Americans and Chinese. Moreover, it’s no secret among rich Chinese that they’re overpaying for an inferior education when they send their child to the United States.     

Last week, the Chinese Communist Party’s English mouthpiece China Daily ran an article ‘More Chinese flock to US schools but at a steep price, a fierce criticism of the trend of Chinese students studying in the United States:    

‘Dennis Wang and Herman Qiao, both 18, are absolutely sick of being in the United States. “We don’t want to spend a single day more than necessary in the US,” said Wang…Both, like many Chinese students who have come to the US for a high school education, feel a sense of being lost, isolation and of not being integrated into the social spheres at their high schools at a time when many students that age are finding out who they are.’

The question that arises in both articles by Daniel Golden and Zhou Yeran is why rich Chinese who became so by understanding risk would risk their child with complete strangers in a different culture. The China Daily article offers an explanation of the seeming irrationality driving the phenomenon of Chinese students studying in the United States: 

‘On many weekends, Dennis Wang is out of the house partying with his Chinese friends at someone else’s house, free from adult supervision. That can be a bad formula for destruction, said George Zhao, who used to be a Chinese student host in Southern California.

‘These young people will run into trouble. It would be a surprise if they don’t.’

Zhao also said many lack a healthy relationship with their parents. ‘It’s not unusual that the parents worked hard to accumulate wealth but neglected their children. Now they hope the US school to fix their children.’


There are currently 128,000 Chinese students studying in US colleges and universities, and there are many reasons why they opt to do so. But a disturbing trend is how rich Chinese parents are paying US schools to take their troubled child off their hands.   

Last year, when we at the Peking University High School International Division selected our students, we didn’t consider our students’ relationship with parents in our admissions decision: It was a naïve and costly mistake.

After a year, we realized there are no smart or stupid students: Whether our students choose to use the Internet to read the New York Times or play World of Warcraft is determined by the student’s relationship with his parents. Those students that come from supportive and loving, tolerant and progressive families thrive here, while those who don’t have turned out to be too much to handle. It seems some parents just dump their problem child on us, and run away.     

Last semester, one particularly problematic student was caught stealing. We presented evidence of her crime to this student, but she denied her guilt. Her mother came, and stood by her daughter. So we felt we had no choice but to expel this student, and her mother subsequently spent six months suing our school for tarnishing her daughter’s reputation. 

I believe this mother was driven by something more than money or revenge. She sought to prove her daughter’s innocence because her daughter’s guilt would force her to look in the mirror. If she could, this mother might have been tempted to sue us for fraud. After all, she paid the tuition money so that we would take the problem away from her, not throw it back at her.  

Each time we face a troubled student we find ourselves in the middle of a family struggle; either the student is trying to win his parents’ attention, or break away from his parents’ strangling grasp. 

That’s why we decided that with our new group of students we would emphasize students’ family relationship and psychological well-being in our admissions decision. 

And, in doing so, what we now realize is that wealthy and healthy families who want to send their child abroad are the rare minority in China.      

This is also a strong warning to all those US high schools and colleges looking to recruit Chinese students. Yes, $50,000 a year does sound a lot of money, but just wait until you meet these kids.