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What Drives China’s Success?

On September 19, 2014, Alibaba of China created the largest U.S. IPO in the modern history. Thirty years ago, no one in the world imagined this could happen. Nobody believed that China would be able to grow its GPD at an average of 10% per year, becoming the second largest economy in the world in 2010 and expected to surpass the American economy by 2025. Nobody would believe that China has not only become the “World’s Factory,” but also sent their astronauts into space.  Since 1978, China has lifted more than 500 million people out of poverty, creating one of the largest economic miracles in the later 20th century.

What drives China’s success?  One major explanation is through the introduction of market mechanisms, modern technology and management from the West. Since Deng Xiaoping implemented the open and reform policy, China has experienced rapid productivity improvement. Obviously, learning from the West is an essential contributor to China’s economic growth. However, it alone fails to explain why many other nations in Africa, South America and South Asia were unable to duplicate China’s success, though lots of them have implemented democracy and have little restriction of trade and information.

Alternatively, some scholars attribute China’s success to better governance of the Chinese government. Dambisa Moyo, economist and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom regards China as “new idol for emerging economies.”  Thomas Friedman also gave significant credit to the Chinese government for its ability to get things done quickly by stating “what if we could just be China for one day?”

It is true that the Chinese government has done an extraordinary job in managing a difficult transition from an isolated communist nation, to a largely open, economic driven nation without falling into turmoil. The Chinese government has also successfully implemented many pro-development policies such as Special Economic Zones and industrial development guidelines.  However, the opposite views could argue that the Chinese government has also created many problems, such as serious corruptions, pollution and inefficiency in allocating economic resources, all of which hinder growth.  As a matter of fact, the Chinese leaders have recognized many weaknesses in their governance and President Xi Jinping has called for modernizing China’s governing systems.  Even with the right governmental policies, China cannot achieve success without a highly motivated and competitive workforce—human capital.

I would argue, among the major drivers for China’s success are the Chinese people, the true creator of China’s economic success and the great culture that shapes their characteristics: ambitious, hardworking, thrifty, caring for their families and relentlessly pursuing good education and success.

We all knew the American Dream, a symbol of American ambition. However, people are largely unaware that there are more than 40 Chinese phrases ( Chengyu), to encourage children and adults to have big dream for their future. These motivate Chinese people to study diligently and work hard. Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China, authored by New Yorker reporter Evan Osnos, echoes this untold secret of China’s success: Ambition, which is called Zhixiang in Chinese.

The next secret of China’s success is an emphasis on education. Shanghai, China has consecutively ranked the #1 in 2009 and 2012 PISA international student assessment. Each year, China educates about 6-7 million college graduates, 40% with engineering and science degrees. In January 20013, a New York Times article claimed: “Next made-in-China boom: college graduates.”  Chinese educated scientists and engineers are rapidly driving China’s technological advancements and economic growth.  In fact, educated Chinese immigrants have become a major driving force in America’s high tech and engineering industries as well.

Thrift is another secret of China’s success.  With a 25% personal saving rate, Chinese people rarely suffer from personal bankruptcies or foreclosures.  The huge saving by Chinese people have created financial security for many Chinese families, reduced government spending on social welfares, and helped fund many grand infrastructure projects in China, such as the world’s #1 high speed railway system.

The above are just a few examples of how the Chinese culture, predominately Confucian values shapes Chinese people’s characteristics and drive China’s success.  In 1979, Herman Kahn, the world-famous futurist, predicted, “the Confucian ethic—the creation of dedicated, motivated, responsible, and educated individuals and the enhanced sense of commitment, organizational identity, and loyalty to various institutions—will result in all the neo-Confucian societies having at least potentially higher growth rates than other cultures.”   In 1980, Roderick MacFarquhar, the world-renowned China expert and Harvard Professor declared: “That ideology [Confucianism] is as important to the rise of the east Asian hyper-growth economies as the conjunction of Protestantism and the rise of capitalism in the West.”

In my opinion, China’s success is built upon an inseparable three-legged stool: Pro-development government policies, learning from the West, and great cultural values that help create highly motivated and competitive human capital.  Today, the global economic rivalry is not only a competition on governance of a nation, but also a competition on its human capital and cultural values. Any nation who wants to advance their economies needs address both.

This Oped was first published on October 2nd, 2014 by Forbes

Elevate academics, top students will be as revered as athletes

Over the past two weeks, more than 400,000 students in Central Florida started their 2014-15 school year. They are expected to make meaningful progress, with support of many diligent teachers and caring parents. To facilitate our educational progress, our society needs to foster a pro-education culture, by elevating academic education and honoring top students.

I have written that in American society, pop culture and distractions from various video games and TV shows have created a powerful counterforce against educational progress. When sports stars are widely viewed as role models and entertainment celebrities are worshipped, academic education is often put in the back seat in our society and subsequently by many students.

However, in the communities where academic education is elevated and top students are honored, such as in Chinese- and Asian-American communities, we see excellent academic performance, Just take note: Chinese-American students comprised more than 20 percent of 2014 Presidential Scholars, while making up only 1.2 percent of the U.S. population.

Influenced by Confucian values, most Chinese-American parents view education as the primary way for their children to have a great future. They are willing to challenge their children to study diligently and to achieve top academic performances. Winning various science, technology and other academic competitions is highly encouraged, in particular at the regional, state and even national levels.

The success of Chinese/Asian-Americans in education clearly disproves the “Self-esteem Movement” doctrine — that accommodating students’ self-esteem, not challenging them academically, is the best way to encourage them to learn. The truth is outstanding academic achievements give students true pride and confidence to continue studying and excel academically. In Chinese/Asian-American communities, expectations for academic excellence have created a strong pro-education climate. Children make efforts in learning, feel cool in learning and are proud of being top students.

It is important to point out that many schools overlook the importance of academic clubs. These schools would rather fund sports than support academic competitions. By ignoring academic competitions, they lose the opportunity to instill a pro-education school culture, because winners of various academic competitions are great role models for other students.

Honoring top students is also essential in creating a pro-education culture. In America, although schools honor their top students, our society has done too little to applaud academic excellence. In 2012, I took my kids to the National Junior Beta Convention in Greensboro, N.C., where my son Hubert won the national championship in science competition. To my surprise, no local English news medium covered the award ceremony. In contrast, as soon as World Journal, the largest Chinese newspaper in the U.S. learned about this, it reported my son’s story and published his picture.

In Chinese culture, academic-competition winners are heroes and get the media attention they deserve. Similarly, students who were admitted by Ivy League and other top universities are regarded as role models for younger students. In large Chinese communities, such as New York and San Francisco, they are frequently invited to give speeches and share successful experiences.

Even with a small Asian-American community in Orlando, each year the Asian Heritage Foundation selects and rewards top students of each grade level for the best academic performance, leadership and volunteering activities. Honoring top students will inspire more students to pursue academic excellence. In this regard, it takes more than schools, but the whole society to support education.

On June 18, WFTV-Channel 9 broadcast a great program, “OCPS Super Scholars,” featuring Orange County Public Schools’ graduating high-school students who have been admitted into our nation’s top universities. We surely need more programs like this. If our local TV and newspapers had more coverage on exceptional students; the winners of our regional, state and national competitions; and especially those who achieved academic excellence from our disadvantaged communities, I am sure we would be able to build a culture supportive to learning.

When most of our students are inspired to learn, America will have the chance to become an educational leader again.


Note: This Oped was first published by Orlando Sentinel on August 24, 2014

Revive American Exceptionalism

As America is celebrating her 238th birthday today, our nation is faced with serious challenges both internationally and domestically. Just a few months ago, Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine. Today, Iraq is falling apart and exposing America to much bigger terrorist risks than before the Iraq War began.

Domestically, our economic recovery is slow. We also have serious issues with education, the national debt, personal finance, obesity and crime. Though America is still the strongest nation in the world, we are not advancing as fast as many other nations.

Where is our American exceptionalism? What national traits once made America the greatest in the world? A few years ago, I watched a History Channel documentary called “America: The History of Us.” It depicted many moving accounts drawn from American history: How George Washington led the Continental Army, overcoming almost insurmountable difficulties — lack of military supplies, contagious diseases and a brutal winter — to prevail against the British; how pioneers conquered rugged mountains and harsh weather to finally settle the West.

What these stories demonstrate is the courage and endurance of our ancestors, who were up to whatever challenges life offered.

American exceptionalism was also demonstrated in our Founding Fathers’ willingness to learn the best practices from the world in order to build the best country in the world. We borrowed the idea of separation of powers in the executive, judicial and legislative branches from Baron de Montesquieu, a Frenchman. We championed the free-market system from Adam Smith, a Brit. We also learned from a German to put research centers in universities, which helped incubate numerous American innovations.

That was an era of American openness and pragmatism. We did not allow ideology and political correctness to disguise the truth. As William James famously put it: “Ideas become true just so far as they help us to get into satisfactory relations with other parts of our experience.”

In the past few decades, unfortunately, some people have misinterpreted what American exceptionalism means — that everything we do is the best. We fruitlessly exported our democracy to the Middle East without sufficiently considering local complexities. Though South Korea and Taiwan had a proven model toward democracy, we discounted them because they started with a benign dictatorship instead of free elections, as our ideology prescribed.

When our children indulge in video gaming, instead of discussing how it negatively impacts their study, our researchers justified it: Video gaming will enhance children’s multitasking ability. We are unwilling to challenge them to study hard, and to have the right disciplines and courage to succeed in whatever challenges the world has in store for them.

Worse, this symptom has spread to our media. Domestically, we cover too much entertainment, and not enough about the challenges we face. Our international reporting always conveys a “big brother” message: how great America is and how we help other nations. We rarely report: How Germany builds its unparalleled engineering capacity and keeps its economy strong, even during the financial crises. How South Korea developed the best-educated work force, which rapidly advances the country’s industries and corporations. What China has done right in rapidly growing its economy.

We do have Tom Friedman and Fareed Zakaria, who frequently tell Americans that we can learn from others. However, we have too few of them. If you travel internationally, it is easy to find TV channels in Europe that convey more serious content and broader perspectives.

America is still the greatest nation in the world. However, self-centered, myopic news reporting only creates arrogance in our politicians and complacency in our citizens. Americans have many great characteristics and should not be treated as vulnerable “indoor flowers.” If we let our citizens know the true picture of the changing world, and great things other nations are doing, they will be motivated to compete, to better prepare their children to meet challenges.

In my view, openness, pragmatism and the courage to meet challenges are the true ingredients of American exceptionalism because they will enable America to continuously improve herself. If we rejuvenate these qualities, I am confident that America will, as President Obama put it recently, lead the world for another century.

This Oped was first published on July 4th, 2014 by Orlando Sentinel with the title “Learn from others to revive American exceptionalism”

What does it take to become an American

In the last 20 years since I immigrated to the U.S., people often asked me: Why did you come to America? Like many other immigrants, I came to America for a better life. However, it is easy for us to appreciate what a better life means, but not easy for many others who take it for granted.

A better life means children have enough food and nutrition, and are not limited by just one pound of meat per month as I was rationed during my childhood. It means people will not be politically persecuted, unlike what my father suffered during China’s Cultural Revolution.

Worse, the persecution also extended to my whole family. Twenty years after being persecuted by the corrupted Kuomintang officials, in 1969 my grandparents were forced by Maoist revolutionaries to relocate from Kunming, the capital of Yunnan Province, to a remote and extremely poor village. Without adequate medical treatment, a few months later my grandma died of a heart attack.

To become self-reliant, I started to learn cooking and other living skills when I was six, including taking care of my grandma in the hospital. After surviving many more devastations to my family, I made it to one of China’s top universities after Deng Xiaoping implemented reform and open policy, and offered my generation an opportunity to attend colleges and pursue our dreams.

Coming to America was the grand dream of my generation. However, it took an extraordinary endeavor for a poor foreign student to become an American. That included obtaining admission and financial assistance from an American university, getting a job and finally receiving American citizenship.

It took me about two years of intensive English training before I was able to score higher than most American students on the Graduate Record Exam. Based on that and my work accomplishments, Virginia Tech granted me admission, a tuition waiver and a $600 per month stipend.

I finally made it to America in 1992. To bring my wife here, I had to save out of the monthly $600 by living in a basement and buying low-priced groceries. We had to overcome many more cultural and language barriers in our path to become Americans. After graduation, it took me five more months to find a job in the U.S. because the American government stipulated restrictive regulations for companies to hire foreign students and most companies did not even try.

In October 1996, I got my dream offer from Westinghouse, where I met many executives and colleagues with professional integrity. With their support, my career development had a good start. I worked hard and smart.

Like many other first-generation immigrants, now my family is able to live with a better life as we dreamed: Our children have enough to eat, a beautiful house to live in, the chance to pursue their dreams without any financial, language and cultural barriers, and no worries of political turmoil and persecution.

In July 2009, more than 10 years after my company started the sponsorship, my wife and I finally received our American citizenship. It was a great joy for us, but in a difficult time for our new home country: America was in the middle of the financial crisis.

Like other Americans, we are proud of what makes America great: the rule of law, democracy and free-market system. We are also concerned about her many challenges: our declining education and poor money-management practice by many families. I began to think: What can we do to help?

Why do so many immigrants prosper in America? Because we have suffered many life challenges from where we started to become Americans, we have valuable experiences we can share with struggling families, our spirit to overcome challenges, and our great cultural heritage on education and money management.

America has attracted the brightest and most hard-working people from all over the world. If we, as new immigrants, all participate in shaping the culture and the future of America, instead of just being dissolved in this melting pot, we can make America better. In this way, we will become true American citizens.

This Oped was first published on May 16th, 2014 by OrlandoSentinel with the title “Immigrants can add valuable ingredients to melting pot”

We need treat wise money management as a religion

On Monday, President Obama’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability for Young Americans recommended including financial education in curricula as early as in pre-kindergarten. Joining 17 other states, Florida is in the process of introducing financial-literacy education for all high-school students. These programs will clearly create a positive impact on young generations. However, even with these efforts, we have a daunting task to reduce our widespread financial illiteracy.

During the financial crisis in 2008, about 40 percent of American households lived beyond their means.

Six years later, however, even after many serious lessons were learned, America is still faced with significant challenges on personal finances. In June 2013, Bankrate.com released survey results which stated that “Roughly three-quarters [76 percent] of Americans are living paycheck-to-paycheck, with little to no emergency savings.” Among them, 50 percent of those surveyed have less than a three-month cushion to cover a job loss, a medical emergency or other unexpected events, and 27 percent have no savings at all. In October 2013, the Washington Post reported that “most [three in five] Americans are accumulating debt faster than they are saving for retirement.”

There are a few reasons why our irresponsible borrow-to-spend habit is deeply rooted. First, our failing math education is to be blamed, because too many adults cannot understand the compounding interests of their debt. The second is our consumerism-driven culture. Manufacturers frequently introduce cutting-edge gadgets and new fashion products to lure consumers. Our retailers regularly mislead consumers by falsely alleging, “the more you buy, the more you save.”

More important, we have an instant gratification disorder in our society, as suggested recently by Tiger Mom Amy Chua, in her new book, “The Triple Package.” I have personally met many families who lost their homes simply because they spend all they earn each month and do not hesitate to take high-interest debt.

Last May, business-writer Michele Lerner reported my story about my student life 20 years ago. I had to stay in a basement and buy the cheapest groceries in order to save money to bring my wife to America. One reader left the following comment: “To be so frugal with oneself is sad. We [are] only here for a short period of time and should leave this world having great memories of wonderful experiences we have had.”

This reader does not realize that many Chinese/Asian-Americans follow Confucian wisdoms, wisely manage their money and have achieved impressive results. By being thrifty when they do not have a lot of money, they develop a good habit of not squandering money down the road. By avoiding high-interest debt, they contribute most of their income back to the family, instead of giving it to Wall Street bankers.

By taking a long view of money management, they have more savings for family emergencies, retirement and children’s education. With a good amount of saving and credit history, many working-class Chinese/Asian-Americans were able to invest in real estate during the financial crisis and accumulate more wealth. On June 4, 2013, Wells Fargo released a survey report that demonstrates that Chinese-Americans manage their money better and are more confident about their current and future financial situation compared to the general U.S. population.

How can Chinese-Americans resist the influences of consumerism? It is largely because Chinese culture treats thrift and saving money as a religion. For example, during the Chinese New Year’s Eve, Chinese families always serve a dish of fish. This is not because fish is healthier or tastier, but because it is a symbol of wise money management. The Chinese pronunciation of fish — “Yu” — is the same pronunciation of “surplus.” Having a fish dish on the New Year’s Eve dining table reminds every family member to save, and to have surplus for the following years.

In order to win this uphill battle of money management, financial literacy for children is just a good first step. Society needs to value thrift and saving money again and treat them as a religion, regardless if they are called Confucian wisdom on money management or Americans’ traditional Protestant virtue.

This Oped was first published on March 17th, 2014  by Orlando Sentinel.

Why Chinese Americans are successful while China still lags behind the U.S.

In a recent interview, Fareed Zakaria, the host of CNN Global Public Square asked Tiger Mom, Amy Chua and her husband, Mr. Rubenfeld’s: How do you explain the phenomena that Chinese and Indians are doing very well in the U.S. but China and India still lag behind the U.S.?  This is an unanswered question that perplexed many readers of Tiger Mom’s new book The Triple Packages: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America. Actually, I was also faced with the very same question when I wrote my book, The Chinese Secrets For Success: Five Inspiring Confucian Values.

To address this question, we need understand that the factors that drive a nation’s success are largely different from those that drive individual and family success, though a few factors drive successes of both a nation and a person, for example, education. By understanding the difference, we can explain why Chinese Americans succeed in the U.S. while China still lags behind the U.S.

A nation’s success depends on its political, economic and social systems. They were built upon many wisdoms and cultural values in human history. For example, ancient philosopher Aristotle wrote “Law should govern.”  French Enlightenment political philosopher Baron de Montesquieu proposed of the separation of political power among a legislature, an executive, and a judiciary. The free market system was championed by British scholar, Adam Smith. Opposing views include Italian Fascism and Japanese Militarism which led to disasters in human history. It is the better political, economic and social systems that help create a better country.

In fact, ancient China had one of the most advanced political, economic and social systems for more than one thousand years. Influenced by Confucian values, Chinese emperors were asked to put people’s interests first. While the rest of world selected their ruling classes by nobility or family origins, China already selected their administrators by virtue and knowledge, using a nationwide imperial examination system which was open to anybody, regardless of family or social status. Confucian pro-education culture also facilitated China’s economic development and technological innovation. In the Song Dynasty (960-1279), China reached its peak of civilization. Its economy took up more than 50% of world’s GDP and Song was the world leader in commerce, banking, manufacturing and technological innovation. Unfortunately, the Song Civilization was brutally destroyed by Mongol invaders in later 13th century. The later Dynasties, Yuan (ruled by Mongol invaders), Ming and Qing (ruled by Manchu invaders) adopted barbaric political and economic systems which put the ruler’s (not people’s) interests first. They also discouraged industrial development, commerce and forbade international trade. As a result, Chinese civilization was reversed and stagnated.

When China stopped her economic development and technological innovation, the West was moving forward with the enlightenment, industrial revolution and establishment of capitalism. The West surpassed China with its modern political and economic systems: Rule of law, free market system, equal rights and democracy. It is best represented by the United States, which has developed as the most economically, technologically, militarily powerful nation on the earth since World War II.  Though China has started adopting many essential elements of modern political and economic systems, such as free market economy and rule of law, it has not yet completed its journey to build a modern governing system. This explains why China is not as advanced as the US yet. Most of China’s serious challenges such as corruption, pollution and food safety have something to do with its weakness in its political and economic systems, not with its personal and family development culture.

Personal and family success depends on a set of cultural values that are related to personal or family development. They include how a society and individuals view education, family, money management, and morality.  In this area, Confucian values illustrate many strengths. Lizhi inspires everyone to have a big dream for their lives, motivating people to work hard and succeed. Qinxue emphasizes education and enables people to pursue a rewarding career. Jiejian advocates people save money and build their financial security wisely. Gujia teaches people how to create a loving and successful family. Zeyou stresses good moral values and advises people to select beneficial friendships. Blessed by their cultural heritage—Confucian values, Chinese Americans and other Asian Americans with an East Asia origin are able to deflect many undesirable influences in American society: consumerism/over-spending, anti-intellectualism and worship of celebrities from pop culture, to become part of the highest-income, best-educated racial group in the US, according to a 2012 Pew Research Center Report.  Many researches have also proved that Chinese/Asian Americans manage their money and family better, resulting in a higher saving rate and lower rates of divorce, crime and obesity.

As I put in the introduction of my book, “After the Chinese immigrated to the U.S., they embraced and benefited from many important Western values such as rule of law, equal rights and independent thinking. At the same time, they retained much of their own cultural heritage, predominantly Confucian values, such as the emphasis on education, saving and devotion to the family. It is the combination of positive values drawn from both Confucianism and Western culture that make many Chinese/Asian Americans successful in their pursuit of the American Dream!”

In summary, it is the weakness of the Chinese political and economic systems that makes China lag behind the U.S. On the other hand, it is the inspiring of Confucian values on personal and family development that helps Chinese Americans succeed in the U.S.

Revamp education: more Confucians, fewer Kardashians

In the newly released 2012 PISA International Student Assessment results, out of 65 nations and jurisdictions that participated, American students have slid in the global rankings for math (No. 30), science (No. 23) and reading (No. 20), further dropping from our already mediocre positions in 2009.

Faced with a worsening situation, politicians and educators are calling for further education reform and investment. However, none of them touch an important, but unpleasant truth: Our dumbing-down pop culture is driving down our nation’s education quality.

In America, movie and music celebrities and sports stars are regarded as heroes and role models. Their lifestyles and overnight-rich stories are lauded by the media, resulting in a misleading influence on schoolchildren and parents. Too many children worship celebrities and don’t want to learn.

“They’re sitting on couches for hours playing video games, watching TV” and “fantasizing about being a baller or a rapper,” first lady Michelle Obama said last May in her commencement speech at Bowie State University.

In our schools, the most popular students are football stars, or those who are “cool.” Top academic performers are frequently ridiculed as “nerds.” Likewise, many parents admire that Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps spent many hours per day in athletic training, but they are unwilling to ask their children to study a couple more hours per day, even though it is essential for their future.

In American society, pop culture and distractions from various video games and TV shows have created a powerful counterforce against educational progress. It seems no matter how much effort the teacher or school makes, if students believe that learning is not cool, and they do not have to study, the chance for their education success is minimal.

Consequently, we fail to educate enough home-grown scientists and engineers to support our rapidly growing high-tech industries and take these highly paid jobs. While this pop-culture influence has created a small number of super-rich sports stars and a few overnight-rich Kim Kardashians, too many have failed to achieve upward mobility because most highly paid mainstream jobs are education-based.

In contrast, pro-education cultures make a difference. The top seven performers in the 2012 PISA assessment — Shanghai-China, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea, Macao and Japan — are all Confucianism-influenced societies. Most people in these societies respect teachers and do not worship celebrities. Most parents view education as the primary way for their children to have a great future. They devote unparalleled efforts to motivating and supporting their children’s education. In East Asia, children feel cool in learning. Top students are regarded as heroes, not nerds.

East Asia’s education success also facilitates its economic growth. Over the past five decades, the world has witnessed the economic recovery of Japan, rapid industrialization of Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Korea, and the rise of China. In 1979, Herman Kahn, the world-famous futurist, and in 1980 Roderick MacFarquhar, the world-renowned China expert and Harvard professor, attributed East Asia’s rapid economic growth to Confucian values.

With a similar influence, Asian-American students also succeed in education. They have a disproportionately high enrollment in our nation’s top universities. In America’s most prestigious high-school science competitions, Intel Science Talent Search and Siemens Science Competition, over the past five years, more than 20 percent of the national prizewinners had an East Asian heritage, while they make up only about 2 percent of the U.S. population.

Asian-Americans’ experiences have demonstrated that Confucian values help foster a family’s passion for education, hard-working ethic and perseverance for success. It has helped Asian-Americans deflect the undesirable influences of pop culture, and affirms that a commitment to education will be rewarded with highly paid mainstream careers.

It is worth pointing out: East Asian countries have started learning the strengths of American education — emphasis on creativity and social-skills development, which will make their education even stronger. To revamp American education and maintain our global economic and technological leadership, we need to embrace the education strengths of East Asia, especially a pro-education culture, which means: We need fewer Kardashians and more Confucians.

This Oped was first published on January 5th, 2014  by Orlando Sentinel .

The Bigger Secret Behind Shanghai Education Success

In his column “The Shanghai Secret” of October 22, 2013, Thomas Friedman attributes Shanghai educational success to “its ability to execute more of these fundamentals in more of its schools more of the time.” Usually, Friedman challenges us to open our mind to see the big picture of the changing world, but this time he fails to go one step further, emphasizing that the bigger secret behind the educational success of Shanghai and other East Asian countries (all score among highest in 2009 PISA international education assessment) is their Confucian heritage. It is the Confucian values on education that makes Shanghai’s education progress possible and fast.

First, most people in Confucian influenced societies emphasize education, and do not worship celebrities. Most parents view education as the primary way for their children to achieve upward mobility, and to have a great future.   In these societies, people respect knowledge, teachers, scientists, and experts, instead of following Kardashians or Honey Boo Boos. Shanghai’s schools and teachers are blessed with a pro-education culture, which makes their work much easier than that of their American counterpart’s.

The second, according to Confucianism, parents have an inescapable responsibility to educate their children. As a result, Chinese parents devote unparalleled efforts in motivating and supporting their children’s education throughout their school years. One of Shanghai’s key education successes was the improvement of education quality for schools with students predominantly from poorly-educated migration worker’s families. Similar to less educated families in the US, their children have poor academic performances. After the Shanghai education department started teacher’s training and tailored programs towards such students, it immediately generated results, because, every migration worker, like every other Chinese parent, wants their child to have a great education. Parental support is an essential part of Shanghai success. Unfortunately, in the US, a significant number of parents either do not have the similar level of passion on education or do not know the proper parenting methods to support their children’s education.  I recently attended an education gathering for disadvantaged neighborhoods in Orlando. The low parent participation disappointed both the organizer and me. It clearly underscores the importance to create a pro-education culture for these parents.

The third, in Confucianism influenced societies children are rewarded and respected in learning. In China, Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore, academic performance, not sports, is the most important performance indicator for students.  They feel cool in learning. Students with excellent academic performances are regarded as heros, not ridiculed as “nerds” like they are in the US. When a student wins a major academic competition, his/her name will be in the newspaper the second day. Last year, I took my kids to participate in the National Junior Beta Convention in which my son won the Championship in the Science Competition.  To my surprise, no English media, neither local nor national, covered winners of this convention. When we only glorify sports stars, singers and movie celebrities, our children are likely follow suit, pursuing these non-education based careers.  However, in these non-education based areas, career opportunities are quite limited.

The fourth, Confucianism has provided many lasting wisdoms in education. When children are young, Chinese parents encourage them to Lizhi, to have big dreams for their future. This motivates them to learn. 2000 years ago, Book of Rites, a Confucianism classic, already documented many education principles, from which most Chinese educators and parents still benefit. Here, I’d like to clarify that, the wisdom behind Chinese parenting is much broader than the strict Tiger Mom parenting, as portrayed by Amy Chua in 2011.

Clearly Shanghai also benefited from learning from the West: They reduced schoolwork from their overloaded students and encouraged creativity in classrooms. Nevertheless, they do not go too far to lower the education standard as we did in the US. As one Chinese newspaper commentary pointed out, winning PISA assessments proves the importance of building a solid academic foundation for students.

It is worthwhile to point out that, with the same cultural heritage, Asian American students with East Asian origin perform among the best in our schools. They dominate our nation’s top science and engineering colleges. In the nation’s most prestigious high school science competitions, including the Intel Science Talent Search and Siemens Science Competition, over the last five years, more than 20% of the national prizewinners have Chinese or East Asian heritage, while they make up only about 2% of the U.S. population. This is great testimonial of the positive influence of Confucianism on education.

I am glad that American educators have taken first step to Shanghai, to learn from their schools. To improve American education, we also need address the parenting and cultural side of the equation. The good news is, they do not have to travel far. Many Asian American families are great examples of parenting success!

The Great Testimonial of Confucian Wisdom on Money Management

On June 4, 2013, Wells Fargo released a survey report that demonstrates that Chinese Americans save more, manage their money better and are more confident about their current and future financial situation compared to the US general population. On the next day, June 5, in a Time Magazine article “Uh-Oh: We already Started Spending Like It’s 2005,” William Emmons, an economist at the St. Louis Federal Reserve stated, “the rise in consumer spending is somewhat worrying because it’s a product of the saving rate falling back to 2.5%.” This means that the majority of American families will not have sufficient saving for the rainy days and their future retirements.

What make Chinese Americans stand out in their money management? It is their cultural heritage, Confucian values on money management. Knowingly or unknowingly, most Chinese families around the world apply these wisdoms to their lives and benefit from them. Let me give you a few examples.

2500 years ago in the Book of Rites (礼记), Confucianism already advocated people “Size your spending based on your income (量入而出).” If using today’s words, it means “Living within your means.” According to the Wells Fargo national survey, most Chinese Americans follow this tradition very well. 65% of them pay off their credit card debt each month, as compared to 42% of all Americans. In addition, only 11% of Chinese Americans carry credit card debt of $5000 or higher, while 24% Americans reported to do so. What is the benefit of not carrying credit card debt? You do not have give away a large interest payment to the bankers. You contribute most of your hard-earned income back to your family.

The second Confucian wisdom is saving. 2500 years ago, the King of state Qi asked Confucius to define the essence of managing a nation: He answered: Saving. I guess because neither President George W. Bush nor President Obama consulted Confucius on this, we ended up having 16 trillion national debt today. Isn’t it? It is a fact that many American families have not learned such wisdoms, so they have to depend on the very next pay check to make a living.

In Chinese community, saving is an ingrained cultural value passed from one generation to another, regardless if you have read a Confucian book or not. In the Chinese New Year Eve, Chinese families always serve a dish of fish. This is not because fish is good for heart health, or taste reasons. It is because of a symbolic reason. The Chinese pronunciation of fish “Yu” is the same pronunciation of “surplus.” Having a fish dish in the New Year Eve dining table reminds every family member to save, and to have surplus for the following years. Benefited from this wisdom, Chinese Americans save more. According to the survey, non-retired Chinese Americans have self-reported median retirement of $100,000, compared to $45,000 for overall non-retired Americans. During the financial crises when the housing price dropped to the bottom, many working class Chinese Americans were able to invest in real estate not because they are super rich, but because they have savings and good credit histories.

Last but not least, Chinese Americans also benefit from Confucian value on education. With an excellent education, in particular on math, Chinese Americans can better handle many money management challenges such as mortgage financing and security investment.

With good savings for the future and good money management skills, Chinese Americans are more optimistic about their financial futures, according to the survey.

What a difference Confucian wisdoms can make! I hope every one of you can benefit from them and succeed in managing your personal finances.

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How Should We Celebrate Asian Heritage Month?

In May, our nation celebrates the Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Many people will watch wonderful performances of Chinese Kung Fu and Indian dancing, and taste delicious Chinese and Korean cuisines. Today, when many Americans are still struggling with various parenting, education, money management, personal and family development issues, I urge them to take it one step further, learn from the great cultural values Asian Americans have brought to this country.

Asian Americans have been recognized as “the Model Minority” by the American media since 1960s. In a 2012 Pew Research Center Report “The Rise of Asian Americans,” Asian Americans are applauded as “the highest-income, best-educated, and fastest-growing racial group in the US.” Following are a few impressive facts:

  1. Family income: In 2010, the median income of Asian Americans was $66,000 while the median income of the U.S. population in general was $49,800.
  2. Education: In 2010, 49% of Asian Americans held a college degree or higher while the percentage for the general American population was only 28.2%. Over 90% of Asian American high school graduates enrolled in college. Their enrollments in our most prestigious universities, including the Ivy League schools, Stanford, and MIT, are several times higher than their 5.6% as reflected in the U.S. population.
  3. Family management and crime control: Asian Americans generally have lower rates of divorce, obesity, crime, and drug abuse than the general population. For example, the divorce rate among Asian Americans is less than half of the national average and the crime rate is only one quarter of the national average.

In particular, Asian Americans succeed in many critical areas in which our nation is struggling, such as science and math education, money management, family stability, and crime and obesity control.  They have also weathered the financial crisis better than any other racial group. Many working class Asian Americans were able to invest in real estate when its price dropped to the bottom.

What are the secrets behind Asian Americans’ success? Their cultural heritages. One of the most important is the inspiring Confucian values on personal and family development. As early as in 1979, Herman Kahn, the world-famous futurist, attributed the rapid economic growth of Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong, and Singapore to the cultural strengths of the Confucian Values. One year later, Roderick MacFarquhar, the world-renowned expert on China and Harvard Professor, declared: “That ideology [Confucianism] is as important to the rise of the east Asian hyper-growth economies as the conjunction of Protestantism and the rise of capitalism in the West.” It also contributes greatly to the rise of China.

It is the same set of Confucian values that also help Chinese, Japanese, and Korean Americans to succeed in the US. After they immigrated to America, they embraced and benefited from many important Western values such as rule of law, equal rights, and independent thinking. At the same time, they retained much of their own cultural heritage, predominantly Confucian values, such as the emphasis on education, saving, and devotion to the family. It is the combination of these positive values drawn from both Confucianism and Western culture that make many Asian Americans successful in their pursuit of the American Dream!

By opening their minds to learn inspiring Confucian values, many families will be able to improve their parenting, education, financial and family management skills. When good values and practices are promoted, families will reap the benefits and our society will advance.