*Little Soldiers*

by on June 20, 2017 at 2:24 am in Books, Education, Uncategorized | Permalink

The author is Lenora Chu and the subtitle is An American Boy, a Chinese School, and the Global Race to Achieve.  It’s about what the Shanghai public school system really is like, from an American/Chinese-American point of view.  Here is one bit:

“Self-esteem” doesn’t exist in the Chinese lexicon, at least not in the way Americans use it.  In China, a child’s regard for herself is rarely as important as a stark evaluation of performance.  Almost as if child-rearing were an Olympic sport, the Chinese rank children on everything from work ethic to Chinese character recognition and musical skill.

Comparisons can be informal and conversational.

“He’s not as smart as his brother, but he’s a better singer,” my acquaintance Ming said to me once, nodding at one of her boys, in earshot of the less-smart brother.  Sometimes the desire to rank is combined with a threat. “Does your father love your brother more?” a Chinese teacher once asked my friend Rebeca’s daughter.  The question came after the girl had a bad showing on an in-class assignment.

By the way, according to the author:

Nearly half of all children outside of China’s large cities are high school dropouts.

An interesting read.

1 Just Another MR Commentor June 20, 2017 at 3:29 am

It’s weird how despite this hyper competitive spirit that Cowen/Tabarrock admire so much and a huge population China hasn’t accomplished much in the world relative to its size. A little island like Great Britain has contributed more.

2 Jay June 20, 2017 at 3:39 am

Looking back vs forward.

3 Just Another MR Commentor June 20, 2017 at 5:54 am

China’s contribution to the world seems to be excellent test-takers. They won’t amount to too much in the future. There influence will not be comparable to what the US has achieved.

4 GoneWithTheWind June 20, 2017 at 10:51 am

Anyone can be taught/encouraged be a better test taker. Anyone can be motivated to try harder, study more score higher. The Chinese/Asians do this with their children and it generally works out well in that they do get more opportunities for higher education and they do get more opportunities for high end jobs.

There are two points to understand: 1. If other races/cultures/families adopted the “Tiger Mom” mentality they would enjoy similar success. 2. Education will make you more educated but it does not make you “smarter” or more innovative or capable. It should, or at least you would think it should but it does not. Would Henry Ford or Thomas Edison have been more productive/creative if they had achieved a Doctors degree? Their native skills/abilities would likely have been unaffected by higher formal education. Most of our education takes place outside a classroom and most of our innovations and breakthroughs have come more from hard work than higher education.

5 Ricardo June 20, 2017 at 11:38 am

“Would Henry Ford or Thomas Edison have been more productive/creative if they had achieved a Doctors degree? Their native skills/abilities would likely have been unaffected by higher formal education. Most of our education takes place outside a classroom and most of our innovations and breakthroughs have come more from hard work than higher education.”

In most cases, one needs both to make genuine breakthroughs. Yes, people will always cite Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, etc. as counterexamples but most of the work on innovations like CRISPR, new medical devices or procedures, advances in memory and hard drive capacity, smaller and lighter lithium ion batteries, and the like are done by highly educated scientists and engineers. Education cannot and will not teach you creativity but, at the M.S. and Ph.D. level, it will inform you about work that other people have done before that you can learn from and build upon so that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel or spend years pursuing dead-ends.

6 dearieme June 20, 2017 at 8:05 am

Back involves facts, forward involves bloviation.

7 prior_test2 June 20, 2017 at 8:28 am

Because the Romans are still making vast innovations in public sanitation, long distance road networks, and advanced ground combat tactics.

Little England is a shadow of the British Empire, in essentially the same way that today’s Italy is a shadow of the Roman Empire.

Just get used to it, OK?

And if it comforts you any, the same will apply to the U.S. too.

8 Dr. D June 20, 2017 at 9:58 pm

But other than that what have the Romans ever done for us (Monty Python)

9 Axa June 20, 2017 at 6:03 am

Haha, you’re mistaking the contributions of the English Empire with the contributions of the little island.

10 Just Another MR Commentor June 20, 2017 at 6:17 am

Not really true.

11 Kris June 20, 2017 at 6:59 am

China hasn’t accomplished much in the world relative to its size

Everyone has only so much competition in them. If you spend your entire childhood competing, you burn out by the time you get to an age where you can do creative things. So you turn into a competent drone. A society of competent drones will, well, drone on, but may not “accomplish” too much.

12 peter dunphy June 20, 2017 at 6:07 pm

It’s never a zero-sum game. If the brits align with china post brexit then they both could achieve great things.

13 Brian Donohue June 20, 2017 at 7:19 am

Over the long sweep of human history, Chinese civilization has arguably been pre-eminent. Tough few centuries is all.

14 Thiago Ribeiro June 20, 2017 at 11:40 am

Yep, the Chinese have spent more time failing than the Roman Empire spent being Christian (and united) or America spent under British control (or independent, by the way). More time than Athens spent to go from the Periclesean heigh to Roman domination. Let’s be blunt: China is a disaster, barely propped up by American greed.

15 Artimus June 20, 2017 at 3:55 am

As you said Geat Britain has “contributed “, as in past tense unfortunately

16 Just Another MR Commentor June 20, 2017 at 4:00 am

I agree but I don’t have high expectations for China quite honestly.

17 ChrisA June 20, 2017 at 5:18 am

The contrasted approach to “self-esteem” is very American (reference the horror that someone could be discussing openly the fact that someone is less intelligent than their sibling). Which is something which, if true, the kid already has figured out, and probably doesn’t bother him that much. Paradoxically I think this horror of is related to the very competitive nature of American society (which is actually more competitive than the Chinese). People are very concerned in US about their status, and hate the idea that someone might think they are somehow inferior to others in some way. In other countries people are more accepting of hierarchy I find and so if someone is smarter than them, they don’t mind saying so.

18 ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ June 20, 2017 at 12:01 pm

I think this is true, and is one reason bad and non-solutions to our problems are so politically acceptable. To but it bluntly, dumb ideas are “just as good.”

19 Malcolm Z June 20, 2017 at 6:03 am

““Self-esteem” doesn’t exist in the Black lexicon, at least not in the way Whites use it. In the ghetto, a child’s regard for herself is rarely as important as a stark evaluation of performance. Almost as if child-rearing were an Olympic sport, African-Americans rank children on everything from work ethic to rap-lyric recognition and entrepreneurial skill.”

Always liked that about blacks–“you can worry about your feelings when we get off of welfare”

20 Anon June 20, 2017 at 8:34 am

And a good number of ghetto blacks are sociopaths who commit crimes. Funny how that works.

21 Gullah Culture June 20, 2017 at 9:56 am

Lowcountry Georgia both replicated patterns of South Carolina and formed part of an extended Caribbean, and connects to the larger plantation world that stretched all way south from Rhode Island to Bahia.

There were also slaves that had learned Muskogee while among the Creeks. Indeed one fellow, named “ketch” lived as an Indian Negro; a mestizo perhaps. This formation can be found in Sliver Bluff Baptist Church, perhaps the first black Christian church, located on the Savannah River, forming a “novel form of creativity.”

22 Mengsk June 20, 2017 at 11:13 am

The same could be said about a good number of corporate executives.

23 ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ June 20, 2017 at 12:14 pm

Did you miss a good thread?


Are you here for that kind of “economics?”

24 Just Another MR Commentor June 20, 2017 at 1:44 pm

Ist that kind of economics literally the point of the MR Comment section?

25 dux.ie June 20, 2017 at 6:20 am

The academic competition in China has less to do with the IQ level of the population, it is more to do with the state limiting the number of university places. Previous when I listed the signalling value of degrees from various countries th
e rank 1 China was omitted,

Rank FracGrad Frac115 SRatio Country

1 0.036 0.159 4.43 CN

From OECD data FracGrad=0.036 while theoretically the fraction of IQ 115 Frac115=0.159 . That explain the large Chinese student population in US, they cannot get into the local Chinese universities unless they have minimum IQ=127 to be may be a pre-school teacher. In US the minimum IQ for university is 105.5

In contrast to the Indian students who might want to get a H1B visa to work in US, many Chinese students return home after graduation. Life is better for them back home,


“””Millennials in China are Twice as Likely to Own Homes as Young Americans”””

Oh. There is a Chinese saying, ‘to be rich is glorious’. Nothing about ‘to be a Nobel Laureate is glorious’.

Ancient Greeks had many scientific accomplishments compared to the Romans. Was there a Greek Empire? The ancient Greeks considered Alexander the Great as Macedonian.

26 Mr. Econotarian June 21, 2017 at 12:38 am

“Was there a Greek Empire?”

Yes, by 431 BCE, the Athenian Empire (aka Delian League) controlled the entire rim of the Aegean, including Byzantine.

27 dux.ie June 21, 2017 at 6:27 am

This come back to defination.


“””An empire is defined as “an aggregate of nations or people ruled over by an emperor or other powerful sovereign or government, usually a territory of greater extent than a kingdom”””

I take that as having a single absolute authority.


“””Shortly after its inception, Athens began to use the League’s navy for its own purposes – which led to its naming by historians as the Athenian Empire. This behavior frequently led to conflict between Athens and the less powerful members of the League.”””

This I take it as Athen did not have absolute rule over them or able to suppress them. Will you call NATO an empire?

The Byzantine Empire is depending on whether it was a Roman Empire that spoke Greek, or was it really a Greek empire.

28 Li Zhi June 20, 2017 at 7:02 am

I guess if “penis” didn’t exist in Chinese, then the Chinese would reproduce via agamogenesis. Obviously, if a particular language (and of course “chinese” is a language, right?) doesn’t have a term for something, then that something doesn’t exist. Chinese kids, adults, institutions, groups, etc. etc. don’t have a sense of self esteem because the term isn’t used?? Wow.

29 Hadur June 20, 2017 at 9:37 am

And even if there is no “word” for it, the Chinese almost certainly have a way to express the concept, perhaps with a phrase.

30 AJ June 20, 2017 at 4:38 pm

A connoisseur of Chinese penises, are we?

31 Z June 20, 2017 at 7:50 am

From my experience working at a (Canadian) Chinese-owned company and interacting with head office.

1. The ex-pat Chinese employees absolutely refused to communicate bad news, or even different-than-expected-but-neutral news up to Beijing or even to the local expat VP.

2. If a local employee did the communication of said news up the chain they were fired as a scapegoat and the news never made it up to the next level. We went through several accountants and controllers in the brief time I was there.

3. The low-level expat peons told us explicitly they had to be willing to take enormous amounts of abuse (20 hour working days, verbal abuse) because they were of a commoner caste and the expat VP was of a higher caste. Apparently us non-chinese were somewhere in between.

Despite the fact that all the expats were obviously bright and pleasant people nothing ever got done because nobody was making difficult decisions based on real information.

I definitely got the sense that if this was all representative of broader Chinese culture that (i) no Chinese statistic can be trusted because all bad news is suppressed at every level, and (ii) the business culture just can’t support any complexity because it is unable to manage failure.

32 dearieme June 20, 2017 at 8:09 am

I wonder whether that explains many of the paradoxes of Chinese history e.g. invention of this or that, but failure to exploit on a large scale.

33 mad_kalak June 20, 2017 at 10:25 am

If this is true, it certainly explains why the Great Leap Forward was killing so many people of starvation, but just kept going anyway. The only advantage of democracy being that you can’t fool all the people all the time over a prolonged period.

34 EverExtruder June 20, 2017 at 10:35 am

I think it does in many cases. A good example would be the exploratory voyage of Zheng He. Exploration and innovation aren’t much use if you believe culturally at home and upon setting out that:

1. You’re already the greatest
2. You’re the best nation on earth and all others owe you homage
3. You’re voyage in and of itself is less about discovery for its own sake than internal power politics and prestige back home
4. The things you discover you view as booty or as gifts, without the ability to examine them more closely for potential application and innovation
5. Neither yourself nor your fellow travelers have any intention of staying in the places you explore. Everyone fully intends to go back home

Niall Ferguson captured this exact sentiment when he talks about the 5 “killer apps” of Western Civilization in relation to Zheng He’s voyage in his book Civilization.

35 dearieme June 20, 2017 at 10:53 am

“the exploratory voyage of Zheng He”: but it wasn’t exploratory. All he did was “show the flag” in areas already well known to the literate civilisations of the region.

I think it’s deeply odd that the Chinese don’t seem to have tried any naval exploration at all.

36 Just Another MR Commentor June 20, 2017 at 2:08 pm

Overrated Civilization. China is big time overrated. All they e accomplished now regarding travel is to clog up Venice and Florence.

37 dux.ie June 20, 2017 at 11:04 pm

The Chinese learned early in history the cost effectiveness of such undertakings. The usual is the 10% rule, i.e. from their location only 10% of the army and supplies will reach the remote destination. That more or less defined the extent of their boundries from the heart land. The Han emperor fought the normads all the way to central Asia and depopulated and bankrupted the nation as a result. The Qing dynasty spent 25% of the national budget on defending the enlarged boundries. There were expeditions to Korea, Vietnam and Burma but they found those were not worth the efforts. The Chinese proverb https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tian_gao,_Huangdi_yuan says it all, the emperor could not have effective control of remote regions. They were very complacent to stay where they were.

38 dux.ie June 20, 2017 at 10:07 pm

Are these any different from the fates of the various whistle blowers in US?

39 dux.ie June 21, 2017 at 2:26 am

“no Chinese statistic can be trusted”

Saw this yesterday. A French analyst showed some Chinese statistics and he kept asking what the Chinese Propaganda dept had done here.


“””China: myths, propaganda and realities”””

40 Emanuel Noriega June 20, 2017 at 8:35 am
41 msgkings June 20, 2017 at 11:51 am

Milo Fan typed; no one cared

42 Milo Fan June 20, 2017 at 12:09 pm

Insert tear here:

43 Milo Fan June 20, 2017 at 12:10 pm

I guess the spam filter didn’t like my meme.

44 DJT June 20, 2017 at 12:16 pm


45 Cuck Lord June 20, 2017 at 2:57 pm

msgkings pleads and protests, but the Bull doesn’t care (and neither does his wife).

46 msgkings June 20, 2017 at 3:13 pm

Just the way I like it!

47 msgkings June 20, 2017 at 3:24 pm

I have a wife? Is she pretty?

48 The Cuckmeister-General June 20, 2017 at 3:44 pm

I’m the Senior Cuck in the hierarchy here not you! And let me tell you that Msgkings is certainly a cuck but so is EVERY poster and reader of this blog. You are ALL cucks!

49 Cuck Lord June 20, 2017 at 3:54 pm

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50 The Cuckmeister-General June 20, 2017 at 4:00 pm

You are a cuck. No one reads Marginal Revolution unless they are a cuck otherwise why the hell would you even know about this place?

51 Cuck Lord June 20, 2017 at 4:13 pm

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52 The Cuckmeister-General June 20, 2017 at 4:15 pm

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53 Milo Fan June 20, 2017 at 4:26 pm

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54 The Cuckmeister-General June 20, 2017 at 4:54 pm

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55 Jason Bayz June 20, 2017 at 5:17 pm

LOL at the pot calling the kettle black!

56 The Cuckmeister-General June 20, 2017 at 5:33 pm

Jason Bayz likes his cucking black.

57 Floccina June 20, 2017 at 10:06 am

One of the wonder of great wonders is how socialism help those people back in China (even while they did well elsewhere). I wonder what the would have made of lazy a$$ if I was born there.

58 john byrne June 20, 2017 at 10:38 am
59 Thiago Ribeiro June 20, 2017 at 11:43 am

As David S. Landes showed, Needham desperately tries to make China better than it ever was.

60 BabyRabbit June 20, 2017 at 7:30 pm

very interesting, as china has a quite significant difference in parenting methods compares with american-western style. maybe combining them both by taking the positives could gives great improvements for our kids.

61 dux.ie June 21, 2017 at 12:00 am

It is hard to compare as the effects as shown from the OECD PISA sloping pitch fork results are nonlinear. Western style parenting for Westerners with reduced stress improved the children’s performance while the Eastern style for East Asian on average performed better with added stress. And in between the two is the performance valley where slight movement towards the center (mixing the two methods) might decrease the performance on both sides unless one is willing to go all the way pass the critical point to the other side. Possible example (and counter example?) could be Estonia which places significant added competitive stress on their students who eclipsed the performance of previous European top Finland by ‘hoovering’ to the other side and joining the other Scandinavian nations. Finland with significant pop with Scandinavian descendents stayed put.

The PISA results also showed that for longer terms, on average positive generational improvement occurred with increased competitive stress. There is Qatar on the lower fork where performance was impaired by stress but managed to improve the score by 9 PISA points in 3 years, double that for Singapore.

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