Friday, December 13, 2019

Seeking Truth from PISA Facts, by Godfree Roberts - The Unz Review

Testing Chinese and American Kids

When the people have full bellies and warm clothes on their back they degenerate almost to the level of brutes if they are allowed to lead idle lives, without education and discipline. This gave the Sage King further cause for concern, so he appointed Hsieh as the Minister of Education and admonished him to teach the people human relationships: love between father and son, duty between ruler and subject, distinction between husband and wife, precedence of the old over the young, and trust between friends. Mencius.
Every three years the OECD tests fifteen year-olds around the world in reasoning and self-expression. China, aspiring to join the OECD club of developed nations, entered seven regions with a total population of 250 million–Beijing, Shanghai, and Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan–and the results from the most recent tests were released this week. China came first in all three categories – science, mathematics and reading – in the study.
This year, Pisa focused on a key skill–handling abstract concepts and discerning facts from opinions in what they read–because, thanks to ready access to information, reading is more about building knowledge, thinking critically and making well-founded judgments than extracting information. An average of 8.7 percent of the world’s youngsters scored better than 84 percent in this critical skill, compared to twenty-six percent of Singaporean children, twenty-two percent of Chinese, 13.5 percent in the US, 11.5 percent in Britain and 14.3 per cent in Finland.
Around 16.5% of students in Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu and Zhejiang and 13.8% of students in Singapore scored at Level 6 in mathematics, the highest level of proficiency that PISA describes. These students are capable of advanced mathematical thinking and reasoning. On average across OECD countries, only 2.4% of students scored at this level.
Significantly, even the 10 percent most disadvantaged students in China showed better reading skills than those of the average student in OECD countries, and performed on par with the 10 per cent most advantaged students in some of them. The report said that although its sample could not represent China as a whole, their achievement was ‘even more remarkable’ as their average income is well below the average for members of the OECD.
China has doubled its investment in education every eight years for forty years and plans to continue doing so. This is a review of its educational history and recent progress.
* * *
Though the nobility resisted Confucian meritocracy for centuries, it gradually gained sway until educational attainment replaced wealth and lineage as the sole avenue to power and prestige. In 600 AD, the innovative Emperor Yang of Sui formalized the process and decreed that Imperial Examinations, keju, would transparently admit talented commoners to the civil service. During the subsequent centuries seven hundred top scorers won immortality as zhuàngyuán, ‘the name at the top of the list’ and, much as the European nobility trace their lineage to famous warriors, famous Chinese families now trace theirs to zhuàngyuán. Their feats are immortalized in Family Books, their names grace landmarks and, to this day, mothers remind offspring of the glories they won by diligent study.
As the entrée to China’s elite, the keju created a demand for literacy so powerful that, by 1000 AD, Song Dynasty officials distributed millions of Confucian catechisms–the Little Red Books of their day–and delivered xiangyue, educational lectures, on their content. Social advancement by examination remained resolutely class-blind because, said Imperial Censor Wang Ji, “If selection by examination is not strict, the powerful will struggle to be foremost and orphans and the poor will have difficulty advancing.” The keju was abandoned when the Qing Dynasty fell in 1904 until, in 1952, Mao introduced its successor, the gaokao. He suspended it for the Cultural Revolution and, at its restoration in 1977, five-million candidates competed for two-hundred fifty-thousand university places.
In 2019, ten million teenagers contested eight million places at three thousand universities. The fiercest competition focuses on thirty-nine first-level, and one-hundred twelve distinguished universities whose collective admission rate is under three percent. Puzhong Yao[1] was not among them:
It was the summer of 2000. I was 15, and I had just finished my high school entrance exam. I had made considerable improvements from where I started in first grade, when I had the second-worst grades in the class and had to sit at a desk perpendicular to the blackboard so that the teacher could keep a close eye on me. I had managed to become an average student in an average school. My parents by then had reached the conclusion that I was not going anywhere promising in China and were ready to send me abroad for high school. Contrary to all expectations, however, I got the best mark in my class and my school. The exam scores were so good that I ranked within the top ten among more than 100,000 students in the whole city. My teacher and I both assumed the score was wrong when we first heard it but, as a consequence, I got into the best class in the best school in my city, and thus began the most painful year of my life.
My newfound confidence was quickly crushed when I saw how talented my new classmates were. In the first class, our math teacher announced that she would start from chapter four of the textbook as she assumed, correctly, that most of us were familiar with the first three chapters and would find it boring to go through them again. Most of the class had been participating in various competitions in middle school and had become familiar with a large part of the high school syllabus already. Furthermore, they had also grown to know each other from those years of competitions together. And here I was, someone who didn’t know anything or anyone, surrounded by people who knew more to begin with, who were much smarter, and who worked just as hard as I did. What chance did I have?
During that year, I tried very hard to catch up: I gave up everything else and even moved somewhere close to the school to save time on the commute, but to no avail. Over time, going to school and competing while knowing I was sure to lose became torture. Yet I had to do it every day. At the end-of-year exam, I scored second from the bottom of the class—the same place I began in first grade. But this time it was much harder to accept, after the glory I had enjoyed just one year earlier and the huge amount of effort I had put into studying this year. Finally, I threw in the towel and asked my parents to send me abroad. Anywhere on this earth would surely be better.
So I came to the UK in 2001, when I was 16 years old. Much to my surprise, I found the UK’s exam-focused educational system very similar to the one in China. What is more, in both countries, going to the “right schools” and getting the “right job” are seen as very important by a large group of eager parents. As a result, scoring well on exams and doing well in school interviews—or even the play session for the nursery or pre-prep school—become the most important things in the world. Even at the university level, the undergraduate degree from the University of Cambridge depends on nothing else but an exam at the end of the final year.
On the other hand, although the UK’s university system is considered superior to China’s, with a population that is only one-twentieth the size of my native country, competition, while tough, is less intimidating. For example, about one in ten applicants gets into Oxbridge in the UK, and Stanford and Harvard accept about one in twenty-five applicants. But in Hebei province in China, where I am from, only one in fifteen hundred applicants gets into Peking or Tsinghua University.
Still, I found it hard to believe how much easier everything became. I scored first nationwide in the GCSE (high school) math exam and my photo was printed in a national newspaper. I was admitted to Trinity College, University of Cambridge, once the home of Sir Isaac Newton, Francis Bacon, and Prince Charles. I studied economics at Cambridge, a field which has become more and more mathematical since the 1970s.. The behavior of my British classmates demonstrated an even greater herd mentality than what is often mocked in American MBAs. For example, out of the thirteen economists in my year at Trinity, twelve would go on to join investment banks, and five of us went to work for Goldman Sachs.
Who can blame Puzhong Yao? The culmination of a twelve-year educational marathon, the gaokao is the greatest affair in Chinese family life and in the national calendar. Media feature its heroes and quote their every utterance. On gaokao day road and air traffic are diverted from examination sites and millions of relatives anxiously besiege school gates while, inside, personality, charm, community service, interview preparation, and athletic accomplishment count for nothing. All that matters is answers to questions like these:
1. Given an ellipse x²/9+y²/5=1 whose vertices are A and B and right focus F. Suppose that line TA and line TB which pass through T(t,m) intersect the ellipse at M(x₁,y₁) and N(x₁,y₂) individually.(m>0,y₁>0,y₂<0).
2. Assume a positive sequence {an},whose sum of the first n terms is Sn, given that 2an=a₁+a₃,sequence{√Sn} is an Arithmetic Sequence with a common difference d. 1) Find the general formula of the sequence {an}(in n and d) 2) Assume c ∈R,for any positive integrals m,n and k that satisfy m+n=3k and m≠n,exists equality Sm+Sn>cSk
Description: Some men see things as they are and say why? I dream things that never were and say, “Why not?” Write an essay on how you think of the words of Bernard Shaw. The essay should be within 800 words.
Description: During WWII, US and British military forces conducted research on the distribution of bullet holes on battered combat aircraft in an effort to upgrade their protective capability. Most scientists agreed that the upgrade should focus on areas with most bullet holes but Ward, a statistician, prevailed over them, noting that attention should be paid to the parts with less bullet holes, since if those parts were damaged, the planes would have a smaller chance of returning home. However, his statistics were ignored. Later investigation proved Ward’s theories were, in fact, correct. Please write an essay based on this information.
In a nation obsessed with equality of opportunity and led by a Party ideologically committed to it, leveling the playing field–at least for one’s own offspring–is a source of constant concern, according to Xiong Xuan’an, zhuàngyuán in 2017, “People like me are from middle-class families. We don’t have to worry about food or clothes. Our parents are educated. We were born in big cities like Beijing. We simply got better education resources than the rest. Students from other places and rural areas are not able to get these benefits. It made my learning path easier and the top scorers nowadays, generally speaking, come from upper class families and are good at studying.”
Even poor Chinese parents suffer from university anxiety to a degree seen only in upper-class families in the West. So fierce is parental concern that, when the Ministry proposed decreasing homework, jianfu, parents objected that, by betraying its responsibility for making education a force for social advancement, the Ministry was compelling parents to fill the vacuum with extracurricular learning. Otherwise, who would to help children stand out from their peers and gain admission to good universities? “The government used to educate our children but now they don’t want to shoulder the responsibility so they’re throwing it back onto us.” Most insisted that their children were perfectly capable of handling heavier workloads, nostalgic for ‘the nineties culture when the state supported students working day and night.’
In preparation for President Xi’s push for equality by 2035, the Education Ministry has begun focusing on rural and disadvantaged children. In 2010 it sponsored a Trial Spot, the West China Enrollment Collaboration Program, to increase student enrollment in poorer central and western regions. In 2016, over city parents’ heated objections, the Ministry pushed urban schools to admit migrant children to their gaokao and provide them with university places. Two years later, eighty percent of migrant children were enrolled in city schools and ninety percent received financial support that will continue through university. By 2019 their distance from national averages, though still wide, had narrowed by two-thirds.

The Ministry has also doubled rural education support since 2015 to reduce disparities in school access, teaching standards, and even protein adequacy, yet children from underdeveloped areas still struggled to win places in major universities. In 2018, country schools began limiting their primary class size to forty-five and employing a minimum of ten senior, physical education, music, and fine arts teachers for every thousand children, while raising teachers’ pay to match local officials’. The Ministry next added favorable university application policies and scholarships for rural graduates at seventy-five national universities and pledged that the advantages will persist after rural areas emerge from poverty. In 2019 it established Trial Spots in poor areas of Anhui, Henan, Shaanxi, and Gansu, offered promising city teachers promotion to Chief Teachers at rural primary and middle schools, and encouraged them to explore their own ideas for lifting the quality of education. Their successes will be replicated regionally in the next phase.
Beijing politicians regularly urge provincial officials to ‘comprehensively address’ problems in their areas, and a Trial Spot in poor Guizhou Province is emblematic of ‘comprehensiveness.’ Children were coming to school on empty stomachs, so the province provided all schools with canteens and funds to buy produce directly from poor local farmers and prepare free lunches for fifteen-million pupils. It added monthly stipends for 1.7 million registered[2] poor students and focused on boosting their confidence in education as the best way to lift their families out of poverty. The Minitry called on its best teachers and administrators for help and Zhang Yan, a star principal in Zunyi City (pop. one-million), said, “I’ve focused my plan on coaching teachers in the poverty-stricken areas rather than giving lectures at rural schools.” Guizhou relocated two million poor people from inhospitable mountainous regions to urban areas and enrolled their 130,000 children in 1,600 schools near their new homes. By 2020, the province will have completed three hundred nurseries and junior high schools and relocated a further fifty-thousand children.
From two per cent in 1977, forty-six percent of 18-22 year-olds were at university in 2017–compared to America’s forty-one per cent–and ethnic minorities, nine per cent of China’s population, occupy nine per cent of undergraduate positions. By the end of 2019, the Ministry had rolled out the most promising pedagogic techniques nationwide, disadvantaged children were testing as well as European children, artificial intelligence wasin the national curriculum, and Britain was spending fifty-million dollars training teachers in China and translating its textbooks.
* * *
The Education Ministry’s responsibilities are mind-boggling: China, whose GDP per capita is one-fourth of America’s, supports half a million schools, fifteen-million teachers and two-hundred sixty-million schoolchildren (fifty-million of whom are disadvantaged) who speak thirty-five languages. In 1979, to leverage its meagre budget, it offered urbanites a pact: limit your family to one child and we will invest the savings in schools and teachers. Thus was born Urban Family Planning, the so-called ‘one child policy,’ and, across the vast land, two parents and four grandparents began investing their hopes and resources in an only child.
In response, Shanghai’s teachers pledged, “There are no students who cannot be taught well, only teachers who cannot teach well.” Finding that most failures stemmed from over-wide gaps in instructional sequences, they broke lessons into small, carefully spaced, tightly coupled steps, permitting classes to advance only after every child demonstrated mastery of each step. They rethought, retested and rewrote their textbooks and shared their discoveries in late night faculty sessions. They found their new approach required painstaking lesson preparation and skillful class management so their schools restricted them to fifteen hours of classroom instruction each week. They devoted the balance of their time to observing exemplary instructors, sharing observations with colleagues, experimenting, refining lesson plans and publishing their findings in education journals. School principals were all assigned chauffeurs and limos, as much to acknowledge their status as their responsibilities.
Progress was slow but results were encouraging until, in 2009, Shanghai invited the OECD, to include them in its international test. The OECD reported[3], “Mathematics scores for the top performer, Shanghai, indicate an equivalent to over two years of formal schooling ahead of those observed in Massachusetts, a strong-performing US State.” When Shanghai drew further ahead in 2012[4], critics accused the city of cheating, of rote learning, of excluding disadvantaged children and of subjecting pupils to inhumane pressure. The OECD responded[5], “Only two percent of American and three percent of European fifteen-year-olds reach the highest level of math performance, demonstrating that they can conceptualize, generalize and use math based on their investigations and apply their knowledge in novel contexts. In Shanghai, it’s over thirty percent.. We’ve tested[6] twelve Chinese provinces and even in some of the very poor areas we found performance close to the OECD average.”
By 2015, the OECD found poor Chinese children outperforming Western children in tasks like managing bank accounts, understanding financial risks and responsibilities, estimating income tax and discerning fraud and–to the surprise of all–found them using less rote[7] memorization than most schools. To illustrate the point, they pointed to typical, highly conceptual Chinese test questions like, “Write 1,000 words on, ‘You are free because you may choose how to cross the desert; you are not free because, either way, you must cross the desert.’” Children’s disposition improved with their subject mastery and when the OECD asked[8] if they feel happy at school, eighty-six percent agreed[9].
American educator Wendy Kopp[10] observed, “A couple of decades ago, Shanghai’s school system was plagued by the same problems we’re facing. There were significant disparities between the achievement levels of native children and the children of migrant families and overall educational levels were low. Today, the best international measures show that Shanghai has the highest levels of educational excellence and equity in the world and their fifteen year olds are three grade levels ahead of kids in Massachusetts, our highest performing state.”
When teachers apply for promotion, Shanghai schools invite professors of education, master teachers from across the city, parents and members of the public to observe and critique their ‘public lesson.’ Only Senior Teachers–curriculum innovators with outstanding test results who are expert child counselors and have led research–can apply for administrative roles. Public respect for teachers is high: encountering them in the street, people bow and address them as laoshi, a status higher than our ‘professor’ and the city provides all principals with limousines, personal drivers and regular sabbaticals abroad. When Charlene Tan[11] queried them about the children’s social context, one headmaster explained that many parents who had missed higher education, “Put all their hopes in their child and devote all their energies to the child because the child’s learning, school promotion and choice of career determine the fate of the entire family.” Said another, “As long as a child is willing to learn, parents are willing to spend up to seventy percent of the family budget helping them.”
* * *
In 2006, just nine Chinese universities ranked among the world’s top five hundred, with none in the top one hundred. Twelve years later, there were sixty-two in the top five hundred, three in the top ten and one, Tsinghua, ranked first in engineering and computer science. That year, China launched its first pure research university, Westlake, and enrolled one-hundred thirty PhD students. Its chancellor, Tsinghua’s former vice-president promised, “Five years from now our faculty research abilities will be on a par with Tokyo University, Tsinghua, Peking and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. In fifteen years, every indicator will match Caltech and Westlake will be regarded as one of the best universities–not just in Asia–but in the world.”
Much of his confidence rests on the country’s immense talent pool.
Though we happily compare heritable traits like height, good looks and athletic ability, we are reluctant to do the same with intelligence, some even claiming that IQ is irrelevant to life outcomes. Yet we boast about one percent, our Ashkenazi Jews, who win forty percent of America’s Nobel Prizes. The Chinese have no such ambivalence. Only brilliant students–not wealthy ones–can marry into famous families. Since the dawn of time they have known that intelligence is heritable and, every generation, parental opposition to marrying unintelligent men eliminates their inheritance from the national gene pool.
China’s process of elimination is so ancient that Ron Unz[12] found their intelligence almost immune to socio-economic factors: healthy Swiss are fifty times richer and receive twice the schooling of poorly nourished rural Chinese (who have carried a heavy disease burden for generations) yet Chinese IQs are consistently higher, “The reported Chinese PISA scores are far above those of the United States and nearly every European country, many of which are almost totally urbanized and have incomes ten times that of China. It is almost unimaginable that any non-East Asian population of rural villagers with annual incomes in the $1,000 range would have tested IQs very close to 100 [the median]. We would certainly expect Chinese numbers to rise further as the country continues to develop, but my point is that East Asian IQs seem to possess a uniquely high floor compared with those of any other population.” Political economist Anatoly Karlin predicts[13] that, thanks to the Flynn effect[14], poverty elimination, improved nutrition, and rural education, Chinese IQ will rise to 108, Shanghai’s current level, and double the number of its geniuses.
The implications of Karlin’s prediction are astonishing: about seventy percent of us have IQs between 85-115, sufficient for happy, productive lives, while only five percent–who score 125–qualify for medical school. One in two hundred, those with 140 IQs, can handle a PhD in physics, and just one in ten thousand–super-geniuses with 160 IQs–can do innovative work in any discipline.
The United States, with an average IQ of 100, has thirty-six thousand super geniuses. China, with its 105 IQ average, has three hundred thousand[15]. Virtually all of these prodigies work for the government and none in finance or business, so it is not surprising that Henry Kissinger[16], who met only government officials concluded, “The Chinese are smarter than us.”
But IQ is only half the story: the scope of children’s working memory[17] predicts[18]academic success even better than IQ, and here Chinese children have a unique advantage. To master their language, they must hold thousands of characters in working memory and use contextual variables to extract their meaning from millions of possible combinations. Even basic literacy thus demands a working memory of considerable power, and this becomes clear when we compare our old reading primer, Fun with Dick and Jane, with their Three Character Classic and its three thousand unique characters. The Classic teaches children to recognize and use the three thousand basic characters, along with their cultural history and morality. Grandparents[19] to this day delight at three-year-olds reciting these lines from memory:
人之初,性本善。 Men at their birth are naturally good.
性相近,习相远。 Their natures are much the same; their habits become widely different.
苟不教,性乃迁。 If foolishly there is no teaching, the nature will deteriorate.
教之道,贵以专。 The right way in teaching is to attach the utmost importance to thoroughness.
昔孟母,择邻处。 Of old, the mother of Mencius chose a neighborhood;
子不学,断机杼。 and when her child would not learn, she broke the shuttle from the loom.
窦燕山,有义方。 Tou of the Swallow Hills had the right method.
教五子,名俱扬。 He taught five sons, each of whom raised the family reputation.
养不教,父之过。 To feed without teaching is the father’s fault.
教不严,师之惰。 To teach without severity is the teacher’s laziness.
子不学,非所宜。 If the child does not learn, this is not as it should be.
幼不学,老何为。 If he does not learn while young, what will he be when old?
玉不琢,不成器。 If jade is not polished, it cannot become a thing of use.
人不学,不知义。 If a man does not learn, he cannot know his duty towards his neighbor.
为人子,方少时。 He who is the son of a man, when he is young
亲师友,习礼仪。 should attach himself to his teachers and friends, and practice ceremonial usages.
香九龄,能温席。 Hasiang, at nine years of age, would warm his parents’ bed.
孝于亲,所当执。 Filial piety towards parents, is that to which we should hold fast.
融四岁,能让梨。 Jung, at four years of age, could yield the bigger pears.
弟于长,宜先知。 To behave as a younger brother towards elders is one of the first things to know.
首孝弟,次见闻。 Begin with filial piety and fraternal love, then see and hear .
知某数,识某文。 Learn to count, and learn to read.
一而十,十而百。 Units and tens, then tens and hundreds,
百而千,千而万。 hundreds and thousands, thousands and tens of thousands.
三才者,天地人。 The Three Forces are Heaven, Earth, and Man.
三光者,日月星。 The Three Luminaries are the sun, the moon and the stars.
三纲者,君臣义。 The Three Bonds are the obligation between sovereign and subject,
父子亲,夫妇顺。 the love between father and child and the harmony between husband and wife.
曰春夏,曰秋冬。 We speak of spring and summer, we speak of autumn and winter.
此四时,运不穷。 These four seasons revolve without ceasing.
曰南北,曰西东。 We speak of north and south, we speak of east and west.
此四方,应乎中。 These four points respond to the requirements of the centre.
曰水火,木金土。 We speak of water, fire, wood, metal and earth.
此五行,本乎数。 These five elements have their origin in number.
曰仁义,礼智信。 We speak of charity of heart and of duty towards one’s neighbor, of propriety, wisdom and of truth.
此五常,不容紊。 These five virtues admit of no compromise.
稻粱菽,麦黍稷。 Rice, spiked millet, pulse, wheat, glutinous millet and common millet.
此六谷,人所食。 These six grains are those which men eat.
马牛羊,鸡犬豕。 The horse, the ox, the sheep, the fowl, the dog, the pig.
此六畜,人所饲。 These six animals are those which men keep.
惟牛犬,功最著。 Especially of the ox and dog is the merit most conspicuous;
能耕田,能守户。 one can plough the fields, the other can guard the house.
昧天良,屠市肆。 It is to obscure your natural goodness of disposition, to kill them and expose them for sale.
戒物食,免罪处。 Beware of eating them, and so avoid being punished.
曰喜怒,曰哀惧。 We speak of joy, of anger, we speak of pity, of fear,
爱恶欲,七情具。 of love, of hate, and of desire. These are the seven passions.
匏土革,木石金。 The gourd, earthenware, skin, wood, stone, metal,
与丝竹,乃八音。 silk, and bamboo, yield the eight musical sounds.
高曾祖,父而身。 Great great grandfather, great grandfather, grandfather, father and self,
身而子,子而孙。 self and son, son and grandson,
自子孙,至元曾。 from son and grandson, on to great grandson and great great grandson.
乃九族,而之伦。 These are the nine agnates, constituting the kinships of man.
父子恩,夫妇从。 Affection between father and child, harmony between husband and wife,
兄则友,弟则恭。 friendliness on the part of elder brothers, respectfulness on the part of younger brothers,
长幼序,友与朋。 precedence between elders and youngsters, as between friend and friend,
君则敬,臣则忠。 respect on the part of the sovereign, loyalty on the part of the subject.
此十义,人所同。 These ten obligations are common to all men.
凡训蒙,须讲究。 In the education of the young, there should be explanation and elucidation,
详训诂,名句读。careful teaching of the interpretations of commentators and attention to paragraphs and sentences.
为学者,必有初。 Those who are learners must have a beginning.
小学终,至四书。 The ”Little Learning” finished, they proceed to the ”Four Books.”
论语者,二十篇。 There is the Lun Yü, in twenty sections.
群弟子,记善言。 In this, the various disciples have recorded the wise sayings of Confucius.
孟子者,七篇止。 The works of Mencius are comprised in seven sections.
讲道德,说仁义。 These explain the Way and the exemplification thereof, and expound charity and duty towards one’s neighbor.
作中庸,子思笔。 The ”Chung Yung” was written by the pen of Tzu-ssu;
中不偏,庸不易。 ”Chung” (the middle) being that which does not lean towards any side, ”Yung” (the course) being that which cannot be changed.
作大学,乃曾子。 He who wrote ”The Great Learning” was the philosopher Tsêng.
自修齐,至平治。 Beginning with cultivation of the individual and ordering of the family, it goes on to government of one’s own State and tranquilization of the Empire.
孝经通,四书熟。 When the ”Classic of Filial Piety” is mastered, and the ”Four Books” are known by heart.
如六经,始可读。 The next step is to the ”Six Classics”, which may now be studied.
诗书易,礼春秋。 The ”Books of Poetry”, of ”History” and of ”Changes”, the ”Rites of the Chou Dynasty”, the ”Book of Rites”, and the ”Spring and Autumn Annals”,
号六经,当讲求。 are called the Six Classics, which should be carefully explained and analyzed.
有连山,有归藏。 There is the ”Lien shan” system, there is the ”Kuei tsang”,
有周易,三易详。 and there is the system of Changes of the Chou Dynasty; such are the three systems which elucidate the Changes.
有典谟,有训诰。 There are the Regulations, the Counsels, the Instructions, the Announcements,
有誓命,书之奥。 the Oaths, the Charges; these are the profundities of the Book of History.
我周公,作周礼。 Our Duke of Chou drew up the Ritual of the Chou Dynasty,
著六官,存治体。 in which he set forth the duties of the six classes of officials, and thus gave a settled form to the government.
大小戴,注礼记。 The Elder and the Younger Tai wrote commentaries on the Book of Rites.
述圣言,礼乐备。 They published the holy words, and Ceremonies and Music were set in order.
曰国风,曰雅颂。 We speak of the ”Kuo feng”, we speak of the ”Ya” and of the ”Sung.”
号四诗,当讽咏。 These are the four sections of the Book of Poetry, which should be hummed over and over.
诗既亡,春秋作。 When odes ceased to be made, the ”Spring and Autumn Annals” were produced.
寓褒贬,别善恶。 These ”Annals” contain praise and blame, and distinguish the good from the bad.
三传者,有公羊。 The three commentaries upon the above, include that of Kung-Yang,
有左氏,有彀梁。 that of Tso, and that of Ku-Liang.
经既明,方读子。 When the classics are understood, then the writings of the various philosophers should be read.
撮其要,记其事。 Pick out the important points in each, and take a note of all facts.
五子者,有荀杨。 The five chief philosophers are Hsün, Yang,
文中子,及老庄。 Wên Chung Tzu, Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu.
经子通,读诸史。 When the Classics and the Philosophers are mastered, the various histories should then be read,
考世系,知终始。 and the genealogical connections should be examined, so that the end of one dynasty and the beginning of the next may be known.
自羲农,至黄帝。 From Fu Hsi and Shên Nung on to the Yellow emperor,
号三皇,居上世。 these are called the Three Rulers, who lived in the early ages.
唐有虞,号二帝。 T’ang and Yu-Yü are called the Two emperors.
相揖逊,称盛世。 They abdicated, one after the other, and theirs was called the Golden ge.
夏有禹,商有汤。 The Hsia dynasty had Yü; and the Shang dynasty had T’ang;
周文武,称三王。 the Chou dynasty had Wên and Wu; these are called the Three Kings.
夏传子,家天下。 Under the Hsia dynasty the throne was transmitted from father to son, making a family possession of the empire.
四百载,迁夏社。 After four hundred years, the Imperial sacrifice passed from the House of Hsia.
汤伐夏,国号商。 T’ang the completer destroyed the Hsia Dynasty and the dynastic title became Shang.
六百载,至纣亡。 The line lasted for six hundred years, ending with Chou Hsin.
周武王,始诛纣。 King Wu of the Chou Dynasty finally slew Chou Hsin.
八百载,最长久。 His own line lasted for eight hundred years; the longest dynasty of all.
周辙东,王纲堕。 When the Chous made tracks eastwards, the feudal bond was slackened;
逞干戈,尚游说。 the arbitrament of spear and shields prevailed; and peripatetic politicians were held in high esteem.
始春秋,终战国。 This period began with the Spring and Autumn Epoch, and ended with that of the Warring States.
五霸强,七雄出。 Next, the Five Chieftains domineered, and the Seven Martial States came to the front.
嬴秦氏,始兼并。 Then the House of Ch’in, descended from the Ying clan, finally united all the States under one sway.
传二世,楚汉争。 The throne was transmitted to Erh Shih, upon which followed the struggle between the Ch’u and the Han States.
高祖兴,汉业建。 Then Kao Tsu arose, and the House of Han was established.
至孝平,王莽篡。 When we come to the reign of Hsiao P’ing, Wang Mang usurped the throne.
光武兴,为东汉。 Then Kuang Wu arose, and founded the Eastern Han Dynasty.
四百年,终于献。 It lasted four hundred years, and ended with the emperor Hsien.
魏蜀吴,争汉鼎。 Wei, Shu, and Wu, fought for the sovereignty of the Hans.
号三国,迄两晋。 They were called the Three Kingdoms, and existed until the Two Chin Dynasties.
宋齐继,梁陈承。 Then followed the Sung and the Ch’i dynasties, and after them the Liang and Ch’ên dynasties
为南朝,都金陵。 These are the southern dynasties, with their capital at Nanking.
北元魏,分东西。 The northern dynasties are the Wei dynasty of the Yüan family, which split into Eastern and Western Wei,
宇文周,兴高齐。 the Chou dynasty of the Yü-wen family, with the Ch’i dynasty of the Kao family.
迨至隋,一土宇。 At length, under the Sui dynasty, the empire was united under one ruler.
不再传,失统绪。 The throne was not transmitted twice, succession to power being lost.
唐高祖,起义师。 The first emperor of the T’ang dynasty raised volunteer troops.
除隋乱,创国基。 He put an end to the disorder of the House of Sui, and established the foundations of his line.
二十传,三百载。 Twenty times the throne was transmitted in a period of three hundred years.
梁灭之,国乃改。 The Liang State destroyed it, and the dynastic title was changed.
梁唐晋,及汉周。 The Liang, the T’ang, the Chin, the Han, and the Chou,
称五代,皆有由。 are called the Five Dynasties, and there was a reason for the establishment of each.
炎宋兴,受周禅。 Then the fire-led House of Sung arose, and received the resignation of the house of Chou.
十八传,南北混。 Eighteen times the throne was transmitted, and then the North and the South were reunited.
辽与金,帝号纷。 Under the Liao and the Chin dynasties, there was confusion of Imperial titles;
逮灭辽,宋犹存。 when the Liao dynasty was destroyed, the Sung dynasty still remained.
至元兴,金绪歇。 When the Yüan dynasty arose, the line of the Chin Tartars came to an end,
有宋世,一同灭。 and the House of Sung was destroyed together with it.
并中国,兼戎翟。 It united the Middle Kingdom, and attached to the empire the tribes of the north and west.
明太祖,久亲师。 The founder of the Ming dynasty was for a long time engaged in warfare.
传建文,方四祀。 He transmitted the throne to Chien Wên only four years,
迁北京,永乐嗣。 when the capital was transferred to Peking, and Yung Lo succeeded the latter.
逮崇祯,煤山逝。 At length Ch’ung Chêng died on the Coal Hill.
辽于金,皆称帝。 The Liao Tartars and the Chin Tartars all took the Imperial title.
元灭金,绝宋世。 The Yüans (Mongols) destroyed the Chin Tartars, and put an end to the House of Sung.
莅中国,兼戎翟。 They governed the Middle Kingdom, and also the wild tribes of the north and west;
九十年,国祚废。 after ninety years their mandate was exhausted.
太祖兴,国大明。 Then T’ai Tsu arose, his dynasty being known as Ta Ming.
号洪武,都金陵。 He took as his year-title Hung Wu, and fixed his capital at Chin-ling (Nanking).
逮成祖,迁燕京。 At length, under the emperor Ch’êng Tsu, a move was made to Swallow City (Peking).
十七世,至崇祯。 There were seventeen reigns in all, down to and including Ch’ung Chêng.
权奄肆,寇如林。 The hold on the people was relaxed, and rebels sprang up thick as forests.
至李闯,神器终。 Then came Li Ch’uang, and the Imperial regalia were destroyed.
清太祖,应景命。 The founder of the Ch’ing or Pure dynasty responded to the glorious summons;
靖四方,克大定。 he tranquilized the four quarters (N,S,E,W), and achieved the final settlement of the empire.
廿二史,全在兹。 The Twenty-two Dynastic Histories are all embraced in the above.
载治乱,知兴衰。 They contain examples of good and bad government, whence may be learnt the principles of prosperity and decay.
读史书,考实录。 Ye who read history must study the State Annals,
通古今,若亲目。 whereby you will understand ancient and modern events, as though having seen them with your own eyes.
口而诵,心而惟。 Recite them with the mouth, and ponder over them in your hearts.
朝于斯,夕于斯。 Do this in the morning; do this in the evening.
昔仲尼,师项橐。 Of old, Confucius took Hasiang T’o for his teacher.
古圣贤,尚勤学。 The inspired men and sages of old studied diligently nevertheless.
赵中令,读鲁论。 Chao, President of the Council, studied the Lu text of the ”Lun Yü.”
彼既仕,学且勤。 He, when already an official, studied, and moreover with diligence.
披蒲编,削竹简。 One opened out rushes and plaited them together; another scraped tablets of bamboo.
彼无书,且知勉。 These men had no books, but they knew how to make an effort.
头悬梁,锥刺股。 One tied his head to the beam above him; another pricked his thigh with an awl.
彼不教,自勤苦。 They were not taught, but toiled hard of their own accord.
如囊萤,如映雪。 Then we have one who put fireflies in a bag, and again another who used the white glare from snow.
家虽贫,学不缀。 Although their families were poor, these men studied unceasingly.
如负薪,如挂角。 Again, there was one who carried fuel, and another who used horns as pegs.
身虽劳,犹苦卓。 Although they toiled with their bodies, they were nevertheless remarkable for their application.
苏老泉,二十七。 Su Lao-ch’üan, at the age of twenty-seven,
始发愤,读书籍。 at last began to show his energy and devote himself to the study of books.
彼既老,犹悔迟。 Then, when already past the age, he deeply regretted his delay.
尔小生,宜早思。 You little boys should take thought betimes. 若梁灏,八十二。 Then there was Liang Hao, who at the age of eighty-two,
对大廷,魁多士。 made his replies in the great hall, and came out first among many scholars.
彼既成,众称异。 When thus late he had succeeded, all men pronounced him a prodigy.
尔小生,宜立志。 You little boys should make up your minds to work.
莹八岁,能咏诗。 Jung at eight years of age, could compose poetry.
泌七岁,能赋棋。 Pi, at seven years of age, could make an epigram on ”wei-ch’i.”
彼颖悟,人称奇。 These youths were quick of apprehension, and people declared them to be prodigies.
尔幼学,当效之。 You young learners ought to imitate them.
蔡文姬,能辨琴。 Ts’ai Wên-chi was able to judge from the sound of a psaltery.
谢道韫,能咏吟。 Hsieh Tao-yün was able to compose verses.
彼女子,且聪敏。 They were only girls, yet they were quick and clever.
尔男子,当自警。 You boys ought to rouse yourselves.
唐刘晏,方七岁。 Liu Yen of the T’ang dynasty, when only seven years of age,
举神童,作正字。 was ranked as an ”inspired child”, and was appointed a Corrector of Texts.
彼虽幼,身己仕。 He, although a child, was already in an official post.
尔幼学,勉而致。 You young learners strive to bring about a like result.
有为者,亦若是。 Those who work will also succeed as he did.
犬守夜,鸡司晨。 The dog keeps guard by night; the cock proclaims the dawn.
苟不学,曷为人。 If foolishly you do not study, how can you become men?
蚕吐丝,蜂酿蜜。 The silkworm produces silk, the bee makes honey.
人不学,不如物。 If man does not learn, he is not equal to the brutes.
幼而学,壮而行。 Learn while young, and when grown up apply what you have learnt;
上致君,下泽民。 influencing the sovereign above; benefiting the people below.
扬名声,显父母。 Make a name for yourselves, and glorify your father and mother,
光于前,裕于后。 shed lustre on your ancestors, enrich your posterity.
人遗子,金满嬴。 Men bequeath to their children coffers of gold;
我教子,惟一经。 But I teach you children only this book.
勤有功,戏无益。 Diligence has its reward; play has no advantages,
戒之哉,宜勉力。 Oh, be on your guard and put forth all your strength.
[1] Excerpted from The Western Elite from a Chinese Perspective by Puzhong Yao. American Affairs. Winter 2017 / Vol I, No 4. More from him at
[2] Their families are officially enrolled in the government’s anti-poverty campaign.
[3] Shanghai tops global state school rankings, Chris Cook, FT, December 8 2010.
[4] Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) Results. 2012. “Among the 34 OECD countries, the United States performed below average in mathematics in 2012 and is ranked 27th. Performance in reading and science are both close to the OECD average.”
[5] China shines in PISA exams
[6] Are the Chinese cheating in PISA or are we cheating ourselves? OECD Education Today. December 10, 2013
[7] Lessons from PISA outcomes. Andreas Schleicher, OECD Observer No 297 Q4 2013
[9] Seventy-nine percent of American youngsters agreed.
[10] Wendy Kopp, founder of Teach for America, to graduates. May 1, 2014
[11] Learning from Shanghai: Lessons on Achieving Educational Success. by Charlene Tan. 2013
[12] The East Asian Exception to Socio-Economic IQ Influences RON UNZ • THE AMERICAN CONSERVATIVE • JULY 18, 2012
[13] Through A Glass Ceiling Darkly: Racial IQ Disparities and the Wealth of Nations ANATOLY KARLIN • APRIL 16, 2012
[14] The Flynn effect is the substantial, sustained increase in intelligence test scores measured across the world in the 20th century: when the new test subjects take the older tests, in almost every case their average scores are significantly above the earlier norm of 100.
[15] Because IQ is distributed logarithmically and China has four times more people.
[16] Nixon’s China Game. PBS. January 31, 2000
[17] Analogous to computer RAM, working memory is the part of short-term memory devoted to immediate, conscious, perceptual and linguistic processing.
[18] “children’s working memory skills at 5 years of age was the best predictor of reading, spelling, and math outcomes six years later. IQ, by contrast, accounted for a smaller portion of unique variance to reading and math skills, and was not a significant predictor of spelling performance.” Investigating the predictive roles of working memory and IQ in academic attainment. Alloway TP, Alloway RG. J Exp Child Psychol. 2010 May;106(1):20-9.
[19] Google ‘Baby Genius Recites San Zi Jing’