China reflections – returning from Beijing

Vapid thoughts and plane journeys sometimes go hand in hand – that copy of the Daily Mail you are presented with and the strange magnetism of SvenGöran Eriksson’s deadpan prose style (e.g., following the account of his being cheated out of £10m, “I was a little melancholy”,  but I find myself drawn back to my copy of China Daily, which, although clearly having its own clear agenda, is a better spur to thought. Yes, there is the obligatory optimism – on the front page only:




But it is inside that the more interesting stories lie: an account of a deal reached between a Scottish drilling company and China (Alex Salmond is in China too); Li Jing’ang, a garbage collector in Beijing who has “become an online celebrity thanks to a video which shows him talking to foreigners in fluent English and eagerly teaching pedestrians oral English”; and, above all, a story about author Tan Kai’s latest book, Hello, I’m a Panda, which uses first person narration to illustrate the life of a panda, using the point of view of a baby panda to emphasize a mother panda’s love, focusing on “mom’s melancholy eyes” and the love that “brought forth 8 million years of pandas’ family history”. You will have to wait/skip to the end of this blog to find out some other interesting facts about pandas, but in the meantime, here are some non-panda random thoughts about the dominant impressions of the 6 days of the British Council inspired GREAT Britain Education Mission.

  • A huge appetite for educational advancement and for collaboration in order to achieve this: most strongly evident in the two schools we visited this manifests itself as a desire for Chinese teachers to go out – to the UK for example – and become more skilled in enabling Chinese students to become more creative and independent in their thinking and learning.
  • Central government worry about too many students who leave China for university education not returning.
  • The tension between the liberal Western concept of the purpose of education, which puts individual self-fulfillment as the purpose of education and the Chinese central drive which is to educate its citizens so that they can be good citizens, enabling their country to be harmonious and prosperous.
  • The way in which the most forward-looking Chinese schools are using their international sections as  a way of fostering a culture within each school that will act as a change agent, bringing in Western teachers and spreading good teaching practice that will create those more creative and independent-thinking students.
  • The speed of uptake and receptiveness of the students I taught to quite a demanding linguistic exercise  – choosing between different potential words in an Edward Thomas poem.
  • The central conundrum underpinning all of this: how can you liberate students’ thoughts in one area of their existence – i.e, the academic/intellectual sphere – whilst their political freedoms are so circumscribed? This struck me most forcibly when I visited the main bookshop on Wangfujing Street: Wangfujing Bookstore. As you walk in to the shop your immediate experience is of being surrounded by stacks of biographies and writings of the great men of the Communist Party – poles apart from the sense of plurality of views, topics and authors that greet you on entering a Western bookshop.

Finally those panda facts:

  • Panda cubs – sometimes only 52 grams – can only be fed with drops of milk from a needsl (needle?).
  • It is only in the last month of a panda’s 120-170 day pregnancy that the ovum is embedded.
  • Pandas are pigeon-toed in both of their two pairs of limbs.
  • A panda called Ming was notable in the London Blitz for remaining very calm whilst other animals were frightened, showing high morale in the anti-fascism war.

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.