Sunday, November 20, 2011



Why China Won’t Listen

Guangzhou, China


THE Chinese government often tolerates, and even encourages, abuses of power and extrajudicial punishments by law enforcement officials. These are the underlying evils that sustain a regime that values its own preservation above all else, including human rights and the rule of law.
But how is this possible in a world where outsiders feel free to criticize China’s human rights record? Why does the Chinese government respond to some forms of protest, while stonily ignoring others? The answer can be found in the way the Chinese leaders, at all levels, think about their authority, their reputations and their power.
Consider the case of Chen Guangcheng, a human rights advocate who has been under house arrest with his family in Shandong Province. Recently, the public received news that his 6-year-old daughter would be allowed to leave the house to attend school, a concession that seemed to signal more lenient treatment.
But then, on Oct. 23, a group of Internet activists who had set out to visit him were brutally attacked by a local mob. Witnesses who described the attack on the Internet said it appeared to have been well planned — a sign that Mr. Chen’s ordeal was not yet over.
Why won’t the authorities simply let Mr. Chen and his family go? The most critical reason is mianzi, or “face,” as it is usually translated in English.
The authorities know that what they have been doing is unjust and illegal. But they saw the gathering of activists as an affront, and responded harshly because the government could not afford to lose face — which would undermine its power in the public’s eyes.
Petty cruelties and crackdowns are everyday occurrences in today’s China. Officials, especially low-level ones, have never cultivated respect for the rule of law, due process or habeas corpus.
If they were held accountable for strictly following the law in all cases, most would probably lose their jobs, bringing the state apparatus at the local level to a halt and endangering the system of government control. That is why, even though the powerful know what lesser officials do, they usually turn a blind eye — as long as they can cover up the misdeeds and the public doesn’t become outraged.
When public outrage does ensue, another mechanism of control — intervention by senior officials — sometimes occurs. That happened in September 2010 after a man set himself on fire to protest a building demolition in Jiangxi Province. High-level leaders fired a party boss and mayor for negligence.
But the case of Mr. Chen evidently didn’t qualify for such intervention, because another rule of power in China came into play: Never seem to bend to the demands of foreign powers. In such cases, it is the central government that digs in its heels, and the louder the outcry grows, the worse the situation becomes. In the government’s eyes, there is a stark difference between a homegrown problem like the one in Jiangxi and a case like Mr. Chen’s, in which the government perceives foreign meddling.
Congress has passed an amendment expressing support for Mr. Chen, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton recently criticized his house arrest in a speech. China saw these developments as an intolerable slap in the face.
Beijing does not indiscriminately reject all such “interference”; China and the United States conduct a dialogue on human rights through diplomatic channels. But Chinese leaders believe such dialogue belongs behind closed doors.
The Chinese are saying to Americans, if you grant me face, I can be reasonable; if solving the problem will help me, I’ll consider it. But don’t expect me to make concessions under pressure.
Such concessions would call into question the regime’s legitimacy. And once the issue is survival, the government is in effect cornered, leaving it no choice but to resort to drastic measures from which nothing — sense, humanity or law — can dissuade it.
The problem turns into one of “sovereignty,” which in the Chinese government’s vocabulary means the absolute, non-negotiable right to rule over a billion subjects. When sovereignty is in play, there is no longer a right or wrong side of an issue, just winning or losing.
A similar logic was involved 22 years ago at Tiananmen Square. The protesters there asked for nothing more than dialogue, but the government stubbornly refused because it didn’t want to set a precedent. To Chinese leaders, “governing” means absolute control. Allowing the people to become a rival to the government might bring down the system.
The same is true in Mr. Chen’s case, but with an important difference: in 1989, the government refused to set a precedent of yielding to popular demand at home. Today it refuses to set a precedent of yielding to American pressure.
China and the United States have been discussing human rights issues for so many years that it is baffling that American leaders remain so clueless about the Chinese government’s mind-set. Previous high-profile cases were resolved behind the scenes. Mr. Chen’s case should have been approached this way, too — not through public pressure.
I welcome American politicians’ concerns about China’s human rights situation. But I have one request: please be a bit more considerate, a bit more flexible, and a bit more tactful about our leaders’ mind-set. That way, you — and we — might have more success.
Chen Min is a former editorial writer for Southern Weekend newspaper and a former managing editor of China Reform magazine. This essay was translated by David Liu from the Chinese.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

滅火器是反恐武器 (見圖)


China’s restive Tibetan regions

No mercy

Self-immolations continue, as do the Communist Party’s hardline policies

“THEY are suffering. They have no rights”, says a red-robed monk of his fellow Tibetan Buddhists on the other side of a snow-topped mountain in Sichuan province, in south-west China. His small monastery in Songpan county has so far been spared the worst of an intense security clampdown in Tibetan areas of Sichuan, following a series of self-immolations by Tibetan protesters, most of them monks and nuns. China calls them terrorists, and fears the suicides could spark renewed unrest across the vast plateau.
Over three years ago Tibet and Tibetan-inhabited parts of Sichuan, Qinghai, Gansu and Yunnan were engulfed by the biggest wave of anti-Chinese unrest in decades. Today it is in Sichuan’s highlands that the authorities appear to be struggling most to contain simmering discontent among ethnic Tibetans. Sichuan’s two “autonomous prefectures” with large Tibetan populations are Aba (Ngawa in Tibetan) and Ganzi (Kardze), whose combined area is almost the size of Great Britain. Much of the area was once part of the famously warlike traditional Tibetan region of Kham. In 1991, China’s then Communist Party chief, Jiang Zemin, said that “to keep Tibet stable, it is first necessary to pacify Kham”. That attitude is an ancient one among China’s rulers, and still applies.
Songpan county is perched on the north-eastern edge of Aba and has become a magnet for ethnic Han tourists from across China. But tourists are not encouraged to go deep into Aba, where police swarm in remote towns and keep restive monasteries under guard. In Aba town itself, about 150km (95 miles) away, armoured personnel carriers have been deployed on the streets.
The authorities have been trying to keep foreign journalists out of the worst-affected areas of Aba and Ganzi. They are nervous that news of the immolations and the grievances that led to them will inflame tensions among more than 1m Tibetans in the two prefectures. (The population in Tibet proper is three times larger.) The handful of journalists who have ventured beyond Songpan this year have been briskly caught and turned back. The police have recently been helped by snowfall on the mountain road from Songpan to Aba town, which is at around 3,200 metres (10,500 feet) above sea level.
Officials have reason to be fearful. For Tibetans, self-immolation is a new form of protest. Such acts are difficult for the authorities to prevent, and images of them can have a powerful psychological effect among sympathisers. Eleven Tibetans have tried to kill themselves this way since March. Six have succeeded, the latest a 35-year-old nun in Ganzi on November 3rd.
On October 19th Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, held a prayer ceremony for the dead in Dharamsala, the Indian town where he now lives in exile. China’s foreign ministry accused him of inciting “terrorism in disguise”. Fire extinguishers have become the accoutrement of choice for police patrols (see picture) as far away as Lhasa, the Tibetan capital some 1,200km south-west of Songpan.
The anger and desperation that has prompted Tibetans to set fire to themselves is common across the plateau. In all of China’s Tibetan-inhabited areas, the authorities have rounded up innumerable monks, nuns and laypeople for taking part in the 2008 unrest. Reports of torture are rife. Many monks have been forced to denounce the Dalai Lama, who even in Songpan, where things are relatively calm, is deeply revered by Tibetans. This correspondent was often asked for news of him. “You can’t call yourself a monk unless you support the Dalai Lama”, says a Songpan resident.
But Aba and Ganzi share an additional layer of resentment. Both prefectures saw the only well-documented cases of police firing on demonstrators in 2008 (20-30 people may have been shot dead in Aba town). Unlike Songpan county, where monasteries are small and scattered, Aba’s main monastery, called Kirti, is large and central. Monks at Kirti have been particularly prominent in the prefecture’s unrest, and the monastery is now under heavy police guard.
Woeser, a Tibetan blogger in Beijing who closely monitors the region, says the authorities inadvertently exacerbated Sichuan’s instability by expelling hundreds of visiting monks from monasteries around Lhasa after the 2008 unrest. Many of these monks were from Sichuan, and they returned to their monasteries with tales of Lhasa’s upheaval and the recriminations that followed. Others, barred from their original monasteries, became wandering malcontents. In Ganzi, Woeser says, passions have been stoked by the hardline fulminations of the prefecture’s ethnic-Han party chief, Liu Daoping. (Aba has a Han party secretary too, as, invariably, does Tibet itself.)
The authorities have tried to intimidate Sichuan’s Tibetans into giving up their protests by imposing heavy sentences on monks accused of involvement in the immolations. Free Tibet, a London-based NGO, says six have been jailed so far. Whose side the judiciary is on is clear from the title bestowed on Songpan’s county court: “Advanced Collective Engaged in the Task of Opposing Separatism and Preserving Stability”. Not much subtlety or accommodation there. Sichuan’s restive monks can expect no mercy.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


No sooner had the curtain closed on the C.C.P. meeting in Beijing than media outlets in Hong Kong and Taiwan reported with unmistakable schadenfreude that an Oct. 17 showing at Lincoln Center of the 2009 Chinese propaganda epic “The Founding of a Republic” had drawn not a single filmgoer. The screening was an opener for the series “Eastern Promise: Popular Cinema from China,’’ a soft power ploy plain and simple. But not even the organizers from China’s Ministry of Culture bothered to show up. ...
Each time China is castigated by the international human rights community, or criticized by the Western media, the country’s leaders feel more and more that global public opinion is stacked against them. Western culture and values have gone global in a way that Chinese culture and values have not, and Beijing wants to do something about this.  ...

China’s ‘Third Affliction’

HONG KONG — “Almost a full house!” Zhao Dayong said, his eyes glinting as we gazed over rows of filmgoers shuffling into their seats. It was a moment neither of us could have imagined two years earlier, as we filmed the Lisu tribespeople through a chilly Christmas in mountainous Fugong, in southwest China, not far from the border with Myanmar.
President Hu Jintao of China.Minoru Iwasaki/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesPresident Hu Jintao of China.
Zhao’s unapproved independent documentary, “Ghost Town,” an unflinching look at a remote community on China’s margins – one of those left behind by the country’s breakneck development – was having its moment at last. But the ovation that followed the film’s world premiere in 2009 at Lincoln Center in New York could not shake the bittersweet recognition that this moment would never have been possible in Zhao’s own China.
My thoughts drifted back to that screening last month, as I watched the nine members of China’s Politburo Standing Committee preside over a stiffly choreographed meeting of the country’s most senior leaders in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Against a phalanx of red flags and an enormous golden hammer-and-sickle, President Hu Jintao delivered the Chinese Communist Party’s document on “promoting the great development and prosperity of socialist culture.”
The gist of the “Decision” was that China’s ruling party, recognizing that culture is soft power, would lead a renaissance of cultural creation. The message behind the turgid ideological phrasings and the rodomontade about how the party was leading “the great reawakening of the Chinese people” was that China’s leaders would encourage culture so long as it served their narrow political ends. The Decision states emphatically that China’s rank-and-file “cultural workers” must uphold the party’s “main theme” and “keep to the correct orientation” in cultural creation.

Controlling culture is nothing new to the People’s Republic of China. The Chinese Communist Party has twisted culture to its own ends ever since Mao Zedong dogmatized on the role of literature and art at Yan’an in 1942. During the Cultural Revolution, China’s traditions were ravaged or subverted to persecute millions. What was new last month was the C.C.P.’s urgent sense that China’s power and place in the world should be reflected in its cultural strength. The party has long sought to manufacture legitimacy by “guiding” public opinion domestically through aggressive controls on media and culture. Now it also hopes to influence global public opinion in its favor.
Behind the bravado lies deep anxiety about what some in China have called the “third affliction,” its negative image in the world. With its economy now the envy of the world, China has symbolically thrown off the affliction of poverty. With its powerful and modernizing military, it is no longer afflicted by the threat of foreign aggression, as it was during its “century of shame.” Yet the country’s international prestige remains constrained by the cultural dominance of the West. Each time China is castigated by the international human rights community, or criticized by the Western media, the country’s leaders feel more and more that global public opinion is stacked against them. Western culture and values have gone global in a way that Chinese culture and values have not, and Beijing wants to do something about this.
China’s leaders hope to close this “soft-power deficit” the only way they know how: by diktat. But commercializing state-controlled culture built on repression only turns the spotlight on the injustices of China’s political system. China’s “third affliction” is a self-inflicted malady. As the popular Chinese blogger Han Han said amid the official drivel in state-run media: “Governments in countries with cultural censorship may no longer fear criticism at the hands of their own country’s cultural work, but they must endure the ridicule of the whole world.”
While the government backs slick propaganda epics with blockbuster budgets – like this year’s “Founding of the Party” – real creativity will continue to struggle to survive in the gaps. Independent artists, writers and filmmakers like Zhao Dayong, those who refuse to submit to government censorship, will continue to endure marginalization to protect their creative freedom and work in a state of perpetual exile from their Chinese audiences.
No sooner had the curtain closed on the C.C.P. meeting in Beijing than media outlets in Hong Kong and Taiwan reported with unmistakable schadenfreude that an Oct. 17 showing at Lincoln Center of the 2009 Chinese propaganda epic “The Founding of a Republic” had drawn not a single filmgoer. The screening was an opener for the series “Eastern Promise: Popular Cinema from China,’’ a soft power ploy plain and simple. But not even the organizers from China’s Ministry of Culture bothered to show up.

David Bandurski is a researcher at the University of Hong Kong’s China Media Project and a producer of Chinese independent films through his Hong Kong-based production company, Lantern Films.

Sunday, November 6, 2011


Indeed, if universities turned on the recruiting spigot in China expecting a steady trickle of students, they’ve gotten a gusher instead. Ohio State received nearly 2,900 undergraduate applications from China this year. Mount Holyoke College could have filled its entire freshman class with Chinese students. A single foreign-college fair in Beijing this fall drew a crowd of 30,000. ...
The company concluded that 90 percent of Chinese applicants submit false recommendations, 70 percent have other people write their personal essays, 50 percent have forged high school transcripts and 10 percent list academic awards and other achievements they did not receive. The “tide of application fraud,” the report predicted, will likely only worsen as more students go to America. ...
At Kansas State this fall, several Chinese students showed up for classes but did not match the security photos that were snapped when they supposedly took the TOEFL months earlier. ...
When Oklahoma Christian University decided to jump into international admissions, it hired three recruiters and sent them to China. “China was the market we decided to target,” says John Osborne, Oklahoma Christian’s director of international programs, “because it was just so large.” Today, the university, which admitted its first foreign student in 2007, has 250 overseas undergraduates, a quarter of whom are from China. ...

The China Conundrum

Andrew Councill for The New York Times
Wenting Tang says her English wasn't strong enough to write the admissions essay for the University of Delaware, where she is now a junior in marketing. More Photos »

This article is a collaboration between The New York Times and The Chronicle of Higher Education, a daily source of news, opinion and commentary for professors, administrators and others interested in academe. Tom Bartlett is a senior writer at The Chronicle covering ideas and research; Karin Fischer is a senior reporter covering international education.
The Chronicle Web site has several features supplementing this article:
• An audio interview with Karin Fischer.
• A commentary by Jiang Xueqin, deputy principal of Peking University High School.

Andrew Councill for The New York Times
LANGUAGE BARRIER Yisu Fan, left, was conditionally admitted to the University of Delaware until his language skills improve. Some professors say they've had to alter their teaching because of the influx of students from China. More Photos »
Shiho Fukada for The New York Times
RECRUITING RUSH Concern is deepening that American colleges don't understand the Chinese market; 30,000 students attended a foreign-college expo in Beijing last month.More Photos »
Andrew Councill for The New York Times
A BRIDGE Scott Stevens, head of the English Language Institute at Delaware, worries about how to draw Chinese students into American academic life. More Photos »
Andrew Councill for The New York Times
TEACHING TOOL At the English Language Institute, the painting “Landscape With the Fall of Icarus” is used to help students identify nouns, and attach the appropriate articles.More Photos »

Readers’ Comments

Readers shared their thoughts on this article.
DOZENS of new students crowded into a lobby of the University of Delaware’s student center at the start of the school year. Many were stylishly attired in distressed jeans and bright-colored sneakers; half tapped away silently on smartphones while the rest engaged in boisterous conversations. Eavesdropping on those conversations, however, would have been difficult for an observer not fluent in Mandarin. That’s because, with the exception of one lost-looking soul from Colombia, all the students were from China.
Among them was Yisu Fan, whose flight from Shanghai had arrived six hours earlier. Too excited to sleep, he had stayed up all night waiting for orientation at the English Language Institute to begin. Like nearly all the Chinese students at Delaware, Mr. Fan was conditionally admitted — that is, he can begin taking university classes once he successfully completes an English program. He plans to major in finance and, after graduation, to return home and work for his father’s construction company. He was wearing hip, dark-framed glasses and a dog tag around his neck with a Chinese dragon on it. He chose to attend college more than 7,000 miles from home, Mr. Fan said, because “the Americans, their education is very good.”
That opinion is widely shared in China, which is part of the reason the number of Chinese undergraduates in the United States has tripled in just three years, to 40,000, making them the largest group of foreign students at American colleges. While other countries, like South Korea and India, have for many years sent high numbers of undergraduates to the United States, it’s the sudden and startling uptick in applicants from China that has caused a stir at universities — many of them big, public institutions with special English-language programs — that are particularly welcoming toward international students. Universities like Delaware, where the number of Chinese students has leapt to 517 this year, from 8 in 2007.
The students are mostly from China’s rapidly expanding middle class and can afford to pay full tuition, a godsend for universities that have faced sharp budget cuts in recent years. But what seems at first glance a boon for colleges and students alike is, on closer inspection, a tricky fit for both.
Colleges, eager to bolster their diversity and expand their international appeal, have rushed to recruit in China, where fierce competition for seats at Chinese universities and an aggressive admissions-agent industry feed a frenzy to land spots on American campuses. College officials and consultants say they are seeing widespread fabrication on applications, whether that means a personal essay written by an agent or an English proficiency score that doesn’t jibe with a student’s speaking ability. American colleges, new to the Chinese market, struggle to distinguish between good applicants and those who are too good to be true.
Once in the classroom, students with limited English labor to keep up with discussions. And though they’re excelling, struggling and failing at the same rate as their American counterparts, some professors say they have had to alter how they teach.
Colleges have been slow to adjust to the challenges they’ve encountered, but are beginning to try new strategies, both to better acclimate students and to deal with the application problems. The onus is on them, says Jiang Xueqin, deputy principal of Peking University High School, one of Beijing’s top schools, and director of its international division. “Are American universities unhappy? Because Chinese students and parents aren’t.”
“Nothing will change,” Mr. Jiang says, “unless American colleges make it clear to students and parents that it has to.”
WENTING TANG is quick to laugh, listens to high-energy bands like Red Jumpsuit Apparatus and OK Go, and describes herself on her Facebook page as “really really fun” and “really really serious.” Ms. Tang, a junior majoring in management and international business, speaks confident, if not flawless, English. That wasn’t always the case. When she applied to the University of Delaware, her English was, in her estimation, very poor.
Ms. Tang, who went to high school in Shanghai, didn’t exactly choose to attend Delaware, a public institution of about 21,000 students that admits about half its applicants — and counts Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. among prominent graduates. Ms. Tang’s mother wanted her to attend college in the United States, and so they visited the offices of a dozen or more agents, patiently listening to their promises and stories of success.
Her mother chose an agency that suggested Delaware and helped Ms. Tang fill out her application, guiding her through a process that otherwise would have been bewildering. Because her English wasn’t good enough to write the admissions essay, staff members at the agency, which charged her $4,000, asked her questions about herself in Chinese and produced an essay. (Test prep was another $3,300.)
Now that she can write in English herself, she doesn’t think much of what the employees wrote. But it served its purpose: she was admitted, and spent six months in the English-language program before beginning freshman classes. And despite bumps along the way, she’s getting good grades and enjoying college life. As for allowing an agent to write her essay, she sees that decision in pragmatic terms: “At that time, my English not better as now.”
Most Chinese students who are enrolled at American colleges turn to intermediaries to shepherd them through the admissions process, according to a study by researchers at Iowa State University published in the Journal of College Admission.
Education agents have long played a role in sending Chinese students abroad, dating back decades to a time when American dollars were forbidden in China and only agents could secure the currency to pay tuition. Admission experts say they can provide an important service, acting as guides to an application process that can seem totally, well, foreign. Application materials are frequently printed only in English. Chinese students often are baffled by the emphasis on extracurriculars and may have never written a personal essay. Requiring recommendations from guidance counselors makes little sense in a country where few high schools have one on staff. Many assume the U.S. News & World Report rankings issue is an official government publication.
But while there are certainly aboveboard agents and applications, other recruiters engage in fraudulent behavior. An administrator at one high school in Beijing says agents falsified her school’s letterhead to produce doctored transcripts and counterfeit letters of recommendation, which she discovered when a parent called to complain about being charged a fee by an agent for documents from the school. James E. Lewis, director of international admissions and recruiting at Kansas State University, says he once got a clutch of applications clearly submitted by a single agent, with all fees charged to the same bank branch, although the students came from several far-flung cities. The grades on three of the five transcripts, he says, were identical.
Zinch China, a consulting company that advises American colleges and universities about China, last year published a report based on interviews with 250 Beijing high school students bound for the United States, their parents, and a dozen agents and admissions consultants. The company concluded that 90 percent of Chinese applicants submit false recommendations, 70 percent have other people write their personal essays, 50 percent have forged high school transcripts and 10 percent list academic awards and other achievements they did not receive. The “tide of application fraud,” the report predicted, will likely only worsen as more students go to America.
Tom Melcher, Zinch China’s chairman and the report’s author, says it’s simplistic to vilify agents who provide these services. They’re responding, he says, to the demands of students and parents.
Thanks to China’s one-child policy, today’s college students are part of a generation of singletons, and their newly affluent parents — and, in all likelihood, both sets of grandparents — are deeply invested in their success. At Aoji Education Group, a large college counseling company based in China, one of the most popular services is the guaranteed-placement package: apply to five colleges and get your money back if you’re not accepted at any of your choices. “If a student isn’t placed, we’ve got screaming, yelling parents in the lobby,” says Kathryn O’Hehir, who works in the company’s American admissions department in Beijing. “They don’t want their money back. They want their kid in an Ivy League school.”
Students in China’s test-centric culture spend most of their high school years studying for the gao kao, the college entrance exam that is the sole determining factor in whether students win a coveted spot at one of China’s oversubscribed universities. So it’s not unusual for those who want to study in the United States to spend months cramming for the SAT and the Test of English as a Foreign Language, or Toefl, which most campuses require for admission.
Patricia J. Parker, assistant director of admissions at Iowa State, which enrolls more than 1,200 Chinese undergraduates, says students have proudly told her about memorizing thousands of vocabulary words, studying scripted responses to verbal questions and learning shortcuts that help them guess correct answers.
She has seen conditionally admitted students increase their Toefl scores by 30 or 40 points, out of a possible 120, after a summer break, despite no significant improvement in their ability to speak English. Her students, she says, don’t see this intense test-prepping as problematic: “They think the goal is to pass the test. They’re studying for the test, not studying English.”
Ms. Parker estimates she contacts the Educational Testing Services, the nonprofit group that is in charge of the Toefl, every other day during the admissions season to investigate suspicious scores. Like many educators, she would like to see changes to make it harder to beat the exam.
At Kansas State this fall, several Chinese students showed up for classes but did not match the security photos that were snapped when they supposedly took the Toefl months earlier. E.T.S. says it takes additional precautions, such as collecting handwriting samples to reduce the chance that students will hire someone to slip in, in their stead, after breaks. If cheating is found, E.T.S. policy is to cancel a score, but the organization won’t say how often that happens, and where. Kansas State, too, won’t comment on disciplinary measures, but it has named a committee to draft a policy on dealing with fraud on the Toefl. Says Mr. Lewis, the international admissions director, “It’s very hard, sitting here at a desk in the U.S., to judge what’s fraudulent.”
DURING this past September’s orientation on the University of Delaware’s Newark campus, Scott Stevens, director of the English Language Institute, stood on stage in front of a mostly filled theater. Behind him, on a large screen, was a stock photo of two white college students seated at desks. The male student was leaning over to look at the female student’s paper. “We are original, so that means we never cheat!” Dr. Stevens told the audience of primarily Chinese students, mixing compliments and warnings. “You are all very intelligent. Use that intelligence to write your own papers.”
Dr. Stevens has worked at the language institute since 1982. As the program has swelled in the last few years, the institute has outgrown its main building and expanded to classroom space behind the International House of Pancakes on the campus’s main drag. Watching Dr. Stevens over the course of a day, it’s clear that he is a man with more tasks than time. It’s also clear that he’s proud of his well-regarded institute and that he cares about students. He gives out his cellphone number and tells them to call any time, even in the middle of the night, if they need him.
But he is candid about the challenges Delaware is facing as the population of Chinese students has grown from a handful to hundreds. Confronting plagiarism is near the top of the list. Dr. Stevens remembers how one student memorized four Wikipedia entries so he could regurgitate whichever one seemed most appropriate on an in-class essay — an impressive, if misguided, feat. American concepts of intellectual property don’t translate readily to students from a country where individualism is anathema. (In the language program, Dr. Stevens says there has been no surge in formal disciplinary actions, as instructors prefer to handle questions of plagiarism in the classroom.)
Just as an understanding of authorship is bound up in culture, so are notions of authority. “It’s not simply the language and culture but the political element as well,” he says. “We’re well aware that the Chinese are raised on propaganda, and the U.S. is not portrayed very positively. If you’ve been raised on that for the first 18 years of your life, when it comes down to who they trust — they trust each other. They don’t particularly trust us.”
Instead of living with a randomly selected American, Dr. Stevens says, some freshmen will pay their required housing fees but rent apartments together off campus, a violation of university rules. And they rarely attend voluntary functions at the institute. At a gathering this summer, of the nearly 400 students from 40 countries, about 10 were from China. Also, according to Dr. Stevens, students regularly switch classes to be with their countrymen, rather than stay in the ones they’ve been assigned by their advisers.
One of those advisers is Jennifer Gregan-Paxton. Dr. Gregan-Paxton, program coordinator of the business school’s office of undergraduate advising, says she is impressed by the work ethic and politeness of her students from China. They regularly bring her and other professors small gifts to show their appreciation; on a single day recently, she received a folding fan, a necklace and a silk scarf. She’s not surprised that they would want to stick together. “Even if there were Chinese students who wanted to break out of their pack,” she says, “they wouldn’t necessarily get the warmest reception.”
For example, Ms. Tang, the marketing major, recalls one class in which, she says, the professor ignored her questions and only listened to American students. Also, while working on a group project in a sociology class, she says she was given the cold shoulder: “They pretend to welcome you but they do not.” The encounters left a deep impression. “I will remember that all of my life,” she says.
Last fall, Kent E. St. Pierre was teaching an intermediate accounting class with 35 students, 17 of them from China. Within a couple of weeks, all but three of the non-Chinese students had dropped the course. Why did the American students flee? “They said the class was very quiet,” recalls Dr. St. Pierre, who considers himself a 1960s-style liberal and says he’s all for on-campus diversity. But, he agrees, “It was pretty deadly.”
In many schools across Asia, vigorous give-and-take is the exception. No doubt, as Dr. St. Pierre points out, if you were to place Americans into a Chinese classroom they would seem like chatterboxes.
Despite the unfamiliar learning style, the average grades of Chinese students at Delaware are nearly identical to other undergraduates’. That may, in part, reflect China’s strong preparation in quantitative skills, which holds them in good stead in math-intensive programs like business and engineering, two of the most popular majors for Chinese students and ones in which mastery of English is less crucial. Indeed, some of China’s undergraduates are strong enough to land spots at the nation’s most selective institutions; Harvard had about 40 in the 2010-11 academic year.
But some professors say they have significantly changed their teaching practices to accommodate the students. During quizzes, Dr. St. Pierre now requires everyone to leave their books at the front of the classroom to prevent cheating, a precaution not taken during any of his two decades at Delaware. And participation counts less, so as not to sink the grades of foreign students. In the past, he required members of the class to give two or three presentations during the semester. Now he might ask them to give one. “I’ve had American students saying they don’t understand what’s being said in the presentations,” he says. “It’s painful.”
Robert Schweitzer, a professor of finance and economics, frets about using fairly basic vocabulary words. “I have students say, ‘I don’t know what ‘ascending’ means,’ ” Dr. Schweitzer says. “Did they get the question wrong because they don’t know the material or because they don’t know the language?”
If professors struggle to understand the students, the reverse is also true.
Damon Ma is in the language center’s so-called bridge program, which means his English was good enough that he could start taking regular classes even though he hasn’t finished with the language program. Mr. Ma is very enthusiastic about studying in the United States, something he’s dreamed about doing since he was a boy, and he is conscious of the academic contrasts between the two countries.
“Everything is copying in China,” Mr. Ma says. “They write a 25-page paper and they spent two hours and they got an A.”
He was nervous about taking his first university class — an introduction to ancient Chinese history — and, a few weeks into the semester, was still wrestling with the language barrier. “I understand maybe 70 percent,” he says. “I can’t get the details, the vocabulary.”
Many arrive at Delaware expecting to take English classes for just a few months, but end up spending a year or more at the language institute, paying $2,850 per eight-week session.
Chuck Xu and Edison Ding have been in Delaware’s English program for a full year. Their English is, at best, serviceable, and they struggle to carry on a basic conversation with a reporter. Mr. Ding says he paid an agent about $3,000 to prep him for standardized exams, fill out his application and help write his essay in English. What was the essay about? Mr. Ding doesn’t recall.
Mr. Xu just completed the program and is now enrolled in freshman classes. Mr. Ding has yet to pass the final stage and hopes to begin regular classes in the spring.
About 5 percent of students in the language program flunk out before their freshman year. In addition, Chengkun Zhang, a former president of Delaware’s Chinese Students and Scholars Association, has known students who simply got frustrated and returned home. “I know a couple of students who have complained to me,” he says. “They think that the E.L.I. program is doing nothing more than pulling money from their pockets.”
THE university’s push to attract more foreign students is part of the “Path to Prominence,” a plan laid out by Delaware’s president, Patrick T. Harker. When Dr. Harker came to Delaware five years ago, less than 1 percent of the freshman class was international. He knows firsthand about the classroom challenges because he has taught a freshman course each year. “They’re very good students that struggle with American idiom and American culture,” he says. Dr. Harker says he’s aware that applications from China aren’t always what they seem to be. He notes, though, that it’s a problem lots of universities, not just Delaware, are grappling with.
But Dr. Harker rejects the notion that the university’s recruiting effort in China is mainly about money. “The students from New Jersey pay, too,” he says. “For us it really is about diversity.”
Still, the majority of Delaware’s international undergraduates are Chinese, an imbalance Louis L. Hirsh, the university’s director of admissions, says he’s working to change. Delaware is trying to make inroads into the Middle East and South America, he says.
For colleges that want to go global, and quickly, a natural place for recruiting efforts is China.
When Oklahoma Christian University decided to jump into international admissions, it hired three recruiters and sent them to China. “China was the market we decided to target,” says John Osborne, Oklahoma Christian’s director of international programs, “because it was just so large.” Today, the university, which admitted its first foreign student in 2007, has 250 overseas undergraduates, a quarter of whom are from China.
Indeed, if universities turned on the recruiting spigot in China expecting a steady trickle of students, they’ve gotten a gusher instead. Ohio State received nearly 2,900 undergraduate applications from China this year. Mount Holyoke College could have filled its entire freshman class with Chinese students. A single foreign-college fair in Beijing this fall drew a crowd of 30,000.
The very size of the market can make it daunting and difficult to navigate. While many American colleges have long-established connections with universities in China, pipelines for generations of graduate students, most do not have strong relationships with the country’s high schools. When only a few of the very best students went abroad, it was easy enough for colleges to focus their efforts on a handful of elite secondary schools, but now admissions officers must familiarize themselves with potentially thousands of schools to find a good fit. That’s tough for American recruiters who only visit once or twice a year.
Some universities, including Delaware, have hired agents overseas, a practice that is banned in domestic recruiting, and this year has been at the center of a debate within the National Association for College Admission Counseling. Though the agents act as universities’ representatives, marketing them at college fairs and soliciting applications, that’s no guarantee that colleges know the origin of the applications, or the veracity of their grades and scores.
For those on the ground, there’s deepening concern that American colleges have entered China without truly understanding it.
Not long ago, Tom Melcher of Zinch China was contacted by the provost of a large American university who wanted to recruit 250 Chinese students, stat. When asked why, the provost replied that his institution faced a yawning budget deficit. To fill it, he told Mr. Melcher, the university needed additional students who could pay their own way, and China has many of them.
“Do I think the budget squeeze is driving the rush to international?” Mr. Melcher says. “Unfortunately, yes.”
At Delaware, officials are trying new strategies. They’ve started a program that pairs Chinese and other international students with mentors to help ease their transition to American academic life. In addition, the English Language Institute runs workshops for faculty members who have Chinese students in their classes. Other institutions are also rethinking their approach. Valparaiso University, in Indiana, has started a special course to give international students on academic probation extra help with English and study skills.
There are ways to improve the admissions process as well, including interviewing applicants in person to get a sense of their actual English abilities and to discover more about their academic backgrounds beyond test scores. A handful of institutions, including the University of Virginia, have alumni and students interview prospective students, either in the home country or via Skype, and the Council on International Educational Exchange, a nonprofit group, has begun offering an interview service. Such changes are welcome to some educators on the ground. Mr. Jiang, the deputy principal in Beijing, believes oral interviews could give colleges a better sense of students’ readiness for an American classroom.
Some universities, too, are hiring outside evaluators to review transcripts or are opening offices in China with local staff members who can spot the application red flags that colleges are missing. But interviewing and thoroughly evaluating every applicant, considering the deluge, would be an enormous and expensive undertaking.
For officials like Dr. Stevens, who has been dealing with international students for nearly three decades, Chinese undergraduates are like a code he’s still trying to decipher: “How can we reach them? How can we get them to engage?”
“That,” he says, “is something that keeps me up at night.”