Most columns in small community newspapers are written by local folks about local issues. In recent months, however, readers of Jerry Loving’s column, “Meandering Through World Politics” in the Ocean Springs Record, have been treated to an inside look at what it is like to live and work in China.
Loving, a former lobbyist for the Legislature who has been involved in a number of different business ventures in Mississippi, has been working in China recently giving instruction to university teachers about how to write English. He has also volunteered to teach English to elementary students.
Most recently Loving has been in Xuzgu (Chew Go).
“This has been quite a learning experience for me being in a different part of China because each province has its own culture and identity,” Loving said. “China is divided into six provinces, and this one located near the Yellow Sea is populated by upper middle-class citizens.”
It has been interesting for Loving to compare schools in China to those in the U.S. The school in Chew Go has 13,000 students in grades one through 12.
“The principal lives on campus with the students,” Loving said. “One of the most fascinating things I have discovered about the education system in China is that the administration and students must live on the school grounds.
“And the administrators are paid about one-tenth of what our American administrators are paid, and they love their jobs. They focus on the students — not filling out government paperwork for grants. What a novel concept, huh?”
Here is where it can get confusing. Loving is in China teaching Russians basic English. There is a tremendous shortage of English teachers in China, so the country is going to other countries including the U.S. to recruit teachers.
“Russian teachers are anxious to learn, but are arrogant and can cop an attitude in a New York minute,” Loving says. “But, the teacher controls the classroom here (something the U.S. school systems should go back to) and what the teacher says is law.”
Teaching the Russians has sometimes rubbed him the wrong way.
“These Russians are arrogant and belittle the Chinese, which really gets my goat,” he said. “I have already had several confrontations with Russians over the way they treat their students.”
When teaching at the elementary level, Loving had an average of 60 students per class, but didn’t find the large class sizes to be a problem.
“These students were respectful and had a great desire to learn,” he said. “I had no discipline problems. My aide could speak Chinese and English, so she helped me over some of the language problems. It was a great learning experience for me.”
Loving reports traveling on brand new freeways that, as of yet, have very little traffic on them. He said China is developing an infrastructure to support economic growth and the creation of a middle class that will buy cars and need these roads to get around in a few years.
“Who is paying for all of this?” Loving asks. “We are at 16¢ per hour. Folks, the manufacturers in America are laughing about how cheap the labor is over here. But they don’t realize they are feeding a very hungry tiger that is getting bigger as each year passes. It won’t be long and China will pass Japan as number two in GDP and, a couple of years later, pass us as number one.”
Loving is working for a private school that has more than 100,000 students spread through nine school districts. He has tried to get an American college to come over to China and open a campus, but had no luck.
“It would be a gold mine, and would be one heck of a public relations scoop for America,” Loving said.
In China, private schools compete with public schools for dollars and students.
“The students in the private school are a lot smarter and more attentive than those in the public schools,” Loving said. “Of course, there is a lack of books in both types of schools, and a lack of English-speaking teachers.”
Loving has been losing weight while in China in part because he has volunteered to teach students volleyball and basketball, because P.E. teachers are in short supply.
“China is a good place to come if you want to lose weight,” Loving said. “I wash my clothes by hand. Not in the brook, though, but in the sink. I did see several women washing their family’s clothes in the brook. These people are very clean. However, their alleys and streets need a lot of work. The school needs a few improvements, too, like lawnmowers, weed eaters and leaf blowers. I asked why they don’t have lawn equipment and was told there is a shortage of gasoline. So, they are feeling the effects of the war in Iraq.”
Loving says the saddest thing he has seen so far is hundreds of people who sleep outside of train stations.
“I found people sleeping in alleys, behind bushes, against buildings,” he said. “But you can see that this new class structure (lower-middle-upper) is developing quite rapidly.”
A few observations
Considering how difficult it used to be for an American to even travel in a communist country like China, let alone send back detailed summaries of what he has seen, Loving’s columns are unusual.
For example, consider these statements published in a recent column:
We all know that China is a communistic government. However, the people hate their government just as much as we do. Also, they like Americans, but dislike President Bush. The reason Taiwan is not a part of China is that Taiwan is a republic like us. If China takes them back, they will have to convert to communism and that is the problem. Eventually, though, through violence, China will attack Taiwan and take control of it.
Politics in China is a three-tier system. The first tier is a Central Committee of 23 elected officials who make the laws and policies for all of China. However, of the 23 members, 14 members are from Shanghai, so you know which city gets all the money and political favors. That is why Shanghai is one of the most modern cities in China.
The second tier is at the province level which compares to our county system. There are elected officials at the province level that enforce the Central Committee rules and then make rules of their own.
The last tier is the city government. These officials are also elected. And they make rules, too. The one thing I like about their election system is everyone runs at the same time. We really need to think about doing this ourselves.
So, it seems they are a lot like us when it comes to electing their leaders, but the difference is in their doctrine and implementation. I have yet to see a soldier or policeman with a weapon; yet, the people follow the rules to the letter because of past atrocities. China has a very violent political past.
There isn’t enough room in this column to explain why people follow the rules but a simple explanation would be: if you break a rule and China punishes you, you may never be seen again. Remember the young man who stood in front of the tanks in 1996 in Tiananmen Square? No one knows where he is at and no one in the world has asked why. I find that rather strange.
Loving, who has been traveling to China on teaching trips for the past four years, welcomes specific questions or comments. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at email@example.com.