2011 was also the one-hundredth anniversary of the Xinhai Revolution in China, usually deemed the start of “New China” by Westerners. (The PRC prefers to label the 1949 communist victory as New China’s beginning.) This was an especially inauspicious time, in any case, for the PRC to report that absconding government officials had embezzled over $120 billion, with many preferring to settle in the United States.
Like many Chinese elites, a large number of Tsinghua students will later seek graduate degrees in the United States. Tsinghua estimates that 40–60 percent of graduates who study abroad do not return. The government has tried to stop this brain drain by providing money for talented researchers, especially Chinese scientists already established abroad. This is not easy, one professor explains, when funding in the PRC has traditionally been divvied up based on connections.
A Long Grind
Suicide rates are a controversial subject on Chinese campuses, so much so that neither universities nor the government publish statistics. Suicide here can be partly attributed to the immediate material pressures weighing upon Chinese students.
Despite economic growth around them, Chinese students face tremendous pressure from their future job searches, especially since the “growth” touted by the Chinese Communist Party represents China’s mastery of manufacturing and assembly, manual labor that Chinese graduates have no interest in. And even Chinese qualified to work at Western firms have high turnover due to gaps in education, including a lack of creativity, flexibility and communication.
For China’s next generation, the road ahead is not paved in gold, nor is it very inviting. Lest this be cause for American relief—that somewhere, someone is worse off—Americans should remember that economic links render China’s future important to the United States. And if the future of China is in part seen in its universities, there is cause for concern. Every day I’m reminded that the students I engage with here are in the midst of a great grind through a troubled, antiquated system—and then outward into a China moving faster than it can handle.
David Lundquist is a lecturer of Western philosophy at Tsinghua University in Beijing.
Image: chong head