Posted on December 22, 2017
One Thing You Need to Know About China
Recently, I was invited to be the guest judge for an English speaking competition at Xin’an Middle School in Shenzhen, China. When I accepted the position, I had no idea of what the position entailed. The organizer was kind enough to tell me more a few minutes before the start of the event. Thirty two contestants were given the opportunity to give a three minute speech on the topic One Thing you Need to Know about China. I was one of five judges, but as the guest, I would be the only judge to pose a question to each contestant about their speech. The students would then have one minute to respond to my question.
While waiting for the competition to begin, I spent some time in conversation with the other judges. They were from various schools in the Bao’an District of Shenzhen. Some of their schools were secondary schools, some boarding, some senior high schools. The teachers of Senior high schools often have the heaviest work loads, as they are preparing their students for college entrance exams. They work up to six days a week, teaching morning and evening classes. Some stay on campus with the students as most Senior High Schools are boarding schools. This means that the young people only go home on the weekend. One of the judges taught in a school with over 10,000 students. The idea of that many students at one school is beyond my imagination.
The opening ceremony started. Harry, the organizer, called the students to choose a random number from the hat. All of their names were then written down in numerical order. The hosts of the program consisted of four senior high school students from Xin’an High School, two boys and two girls. Their rehearsed speech was so well delivered, I could have been at a TV game show.
Then the speeches began. The first speech was delivered, then the second speech; we were doing good. Listening to the third speech and fourth speech, I felt like I was really learning One thing I should Know About China. The fifth speech and the sixth speech were decent too. The competitors had varying levels of English. There were a few who seemed to have a good grasp of the language by their pronunciation and delivery. However, when I asked questions, I could see that the quality of their delivery was due to practice. Comprehension and conversation were missing under ordinary circumstances for many of the speech competition participants.
On the seventh speech, we hit a snag. This contestant had the same thing to say as the second contestant in regards to the rapid development of China. The subject is interesting, but not really the one thing I need to know. The next speech was cute and original. I enjoyed her topic! She spoke about the square dancing grannies that I love to see in the park every night. I am so interested in them that I went to the park and danced with them last week. After her speech though, we got back to repetition. The next ten students wanted to talk about the popularity of China’s mobile payment system Alipay and WeChat Wallet. I quit trying to be original in my questions and began to ask the same question in a few different ways.
Once I settled into my role, I noticed I was hearing the same phrases over and over again. “We, the Chinese people, will never bow down.” “The sleeping giant of the East is waking up to meet the West.” “I am proud to be Chinese!” Every country has nationalist fervor. It was like a reflection of so many Americans and their patriotism in Chinese form. No wonder world peace is impossible. One thing I want to know, did the students choose to put this in their speeches or were they encouraged to say these things by their teachers?
My favorite speeches were by young people who did not win the top prize, but their speeches were very original. Wearing the Hanbok (traditional Chinese clothing), The Giant Pandas of China, Square Dancing and The Left Behind Elderly. I am conflicted during these events because I am not sure how seriously students take their score and their performance outcome. I want to be fair. I also know that it is high school. There will be loads of opportunities in their lives to participate in other events and improve. However, I also don’t know for what the Chinese are looking. It is the difference in western and eastern perspective. I judged from a Western perspective. While my favorites didn’t win, I am delighted to have heard these special “One Thing I Should Know” speeches about China.
My favorite part of the afternoon was watching a Chinese English teacher get on stage and share her passion for hip hop dance through a routine that she prepared. It was amazing. She travels during school breaks to take classes with hip hop choreographers in the United States. She returns to China and shares her passion for the dance with her students and other teachers. I looking forward to taking classes with someone as passionate about their craft as Lillian, in the future.
Later, Lillian’s student got on stage and performed a popular hip hop song. Hip hop is not my preferred music style. However, given the amount of school work that these students do, I am thrilled that he has the time and energy to follow his passion. I was so impressed with him and his performance that I cheered for him throughout the entire routine.
After the hip hop performances, I made a short speech encouraging the students to continue what they were doing regardless of the outcome. I encouraged teachers to keep teaching. What we do is important!
Participating in school life and activities on a voluntary basis gives me a sense of fulfillment. I am glad to do more than come to work and go home. Events such as this competition, help me to have a better understanding of the education system in China. In the midst of the rigors of student life, there is a happy place. I am finding them!