Critical Reflections

Critical Reflections



Critical Reflections

Summary and Critical Analysis

In his article “Chinese Ways of Thinking in the Transformation of China’s Higher Education System”, Rui Yang examines the role of Chinese culture and the Chinese traditional way of thinking in the way that China has formed its education system. Yang contrasts the western and Chinese way of thinking and reasoning, especially in relation to the way both cultures perceive the position of humanity in relation to nature. He notes that his reasoning has led to the Chinese belief that humans are part of nature, which is a different from the western thought which separates humanity from nature. Yang includes a history of China’s higher education, highlighting the effects of Chinese influences on the educational system. The Chinese willingness to learn new and different things have led to them adopting systems from the Japanese, Europeans and Americans. Although Yang has written much about Chinese universities, he has failed to show how the China has been able to retain their culture and traditional way of thinking in their universities. Yang points out that some of the Chinese universities have adopted the American system, but he has failed to show how they have maintained distinct elements of their culture.

Martin Cortazzi and Lixian Jin look at different cultural aspects towards learning in their article “Cultures of Learning: Language Classrooms in China.” They look at the methods that the teachers use to teach languages in schools, how the students receive the instructions, and the perception of both students and teachers concerning teaching as a profession. Cultural differences between the students and the teachers and among the students result to differences in learning. Educational and societal cultures determine the culture of learning. People are more likely to repeat a successful learning procedure or process. Chinese children learn their language by repetition, imitation, and memorization, and they use the same strategies to learn a foreign language. The authors include the differences in the teaching methods of the western teachers and the learning methods of the Chinese students. The western teachers and the Chinese students interpret the actions of the other differently. The western teachers may misinterpret the actions of the Chinese students, and the Chinese students may fail to comprehend the actions of the western teachers. These differences occur because of cultural differences in learning between the two groups.

The authors also highlight the influence of Confucian principles in the way that the students perceive their teachers. The students respect their teacher and they expect him to be a symbol of knowledge and of good moral values. This influences the way that the students react towards their teachers, and it explains why they would avoid doing some activities that would seem to mean loss of respect for the teachers. The authors explore the paradox of education in China, whereby the students accord the teacher respect because of the knowledge they have but they do not want to become teachers because of the economic disadvantage. The authors have done significant research in attempting to learn more about the Chinese culture and its influence on education. They have conducted extensive research that seeks to explain the behavior of the Chinese students. Their decision to contrast the perception and views of the western teachers and the Chinese students highlights the differences between the different cultures clearly.

Similarities and Differences between the Articles

The two articles are similar because they have observed the importance of culture towards learning and the education system in general. Both of them observe that culture can determine the way that people think, and this affects the way they learn. Culture affects the way that Chinese students learn new words. The students learn how to memorize new words and characters from an early age when they are learning Chinese. As they grow older, they use the same methods to learn English. The Chinese have a culture of saving face, and they tend to avoid embarrassing situations. They take the same culture to the classroom, where they may avoid asking the teacher questions during lessons or asking for help because they do not want to be embarrassed.

Confucianism largely influences the Chinese culture. Yang notes that China’s educational system gravitates towards the Confucian thought of how a good scholar can become an official. There is strong political influence on education. Learning institutions have over the years relied on the ruling class, and this has had a major effect on education. The difference between scholars and teachers is not clear. Learning institutions tend to make decisions based on the prevailing political situation. Hence they will adopt a learning system because the government encourages them to do so. Cortazzi and Jin note that students have the Confucian ideals where they expect the teachers to have good moral values worthy of imitation.

Both articles note how materialism has become a major part of learning and of achieving education goals. Yang notes that materialism in the achievement of educational goals is China-specific and this is mainly because of Chinese culture (35). Cortazzi and Jin (180) note how students do not want to become teachers in future because of the low salaries, and how the practicing teachers are always looking for better opportunities elsewhere. Both articles highlight the effect of foreign influences towards learning. Yang notes the influence of the university systems in America, in the design and teaching approach of some Chinese universities. Cortazzi and Jin examine the influence of English, as a foreign language, on teaching. They note that learning English has become mandatory in schools. It is no longer a question of academic excellence, but it is a necessity that enhances people’s professional lives.

The articles differ in their approach and in their area of concentration. While Yang has chosen to concentrate on higher education, Cortazzi and Jin have looked at the kindergarten and middle schools. They have also focused specifically on learning languages as opposed to general education. They also differ in the way they have emphasized Confucian influence in the educational system. Cortazzi and Jin note that Confucianism tradition influences the students in many ways. The students expect to learn from their teachers. They respect the teachers as symbols of authority and they obey them. Although Yang observes the Confucian influence on Chinese education, he does not emphasize on it. He notes that the Chinese traditional way of thinking flows towards achieving harmony but not similarity, but he does not elaborate this further or connect it to the current educational system or way of learning.  

Quote and Comment

Yang notes that “Chinese universities are looking to their most elite American counterparts for standards, policy innovations and solutions to their own development problems (41).” This has led the universities to focus more on the material aspect of culture at the expense of social institutions and values. Western educational institutions tend to value intellectual freedom and independence of learning institutions. Chinese universities have not been able to implement this, as it is not a significant part of their culture. Therefore, they have tended to focus more on the material aspect. I consider this the most important part of the reading because it explains the decisions made by the Chinese universities. It provides the basis for critique towards educational reforms and the education system in China. America has developed educational standards and policies and it has formed an education system that is suited to solve the problems that it encounters and the challenges it envisions in future.

China faces different problems from America and it has different goals. Therefore, the education system it chooses to develop should enable it solve its problems. If the country fails in its educational system, it will always have the same challenges. People will be dissatisfied with the system because it is not helping them. Being aware of the universities decision to adopt the American system is crucial for my professional development and career goals. It helps me understand other nation’s decisions in developing their education system. I am able to appreciate the differences of other education systems used in different institutions. In addition, I believe that I can influence policy towards making decisions even in the setting of the curriculum. I understand the importance of having an educated populace who will have the required skills and knowledge to counter the challenges that the society is facing.

Cortazzi and Jin discuss the differences between the perception of the western teachers and the Chinese students towards learning. They note that the Chinese students value their ability to memorize and they consider it a success when they are able to memorize many foreign words. The western teachers do not understand this, and they consider it a burden (186). The authors note that the perception shown by the teachers fail to recognize the student’s culture of learning. Teachers can misunderstand the students if they fail to recognize their learning culture, which includes the expectations that the students have when they learn. This observation struck me most in the article.

Students have an idea of what they expect to learn. However, teachers are rarely aware of these expectations. The education system in a learning institution influences the teaching methods. Some schools emphasis the importance of focusing on the student and being aware of their needs. In such situations, teachers know what the students expect from them and they establish ways of delivering it to them. However, in some cases, the teacher assumes the central focus as the deliverer of knowledge. The teachers are not aware of the student’s needs, as they are too focused on imparting their knowledge.

This knowledge will help me in my professional development because it has made me aware of the importance of knowing and understanding the students’ needs. Some students have dismal performance because they do not know how they can approach a teacher and ask for help. They consider the teacher unapproachable since he has not made any effort to know them. They do not know how they can express what they want to learn to the teacher.  I aim to consider the students needs while teaching despite the education system in place. I also aim to influence policy by ensuring that the administration encourages a system of learning where it is not only concerned with how best the students pass exams, but it also considers the progress that the students have made since they started learning.

Conclusion and Critical Discussion

Yang could have discussed more concerning the alliance between the learning institutions and politics, as this seems to affect major educational decisions. The Chinese seem to have adopted a way of following the government’s directive without much opposition or questioning. Yang notes that the government implemented the soviet way of learning as opposed to advancing the western educational methods, which they had already started. The government decided to do this because of political reasons, as the Soviet Union supported communism, which the western countries opposed. He notes that the west developed policies that pushed the nation towards the Soviet Union (40). The decision to follow the soviet way led to a diversion of the educational reforms and progress that the Chinese had started to realize. The lack of distinction between scholars and teachers makes it hard for the learned to make an impact towards the education system in China. Scholars can make a positive contribution towards education reforms in China, because they hare highly educated and they have specialized in different study areas.

Cortazzi and Jin could have contrasted the methods used by Chinese teachers when teaching English, and they could have contrasted this with the western approach. I believe that this would have resulted into a clearer discussion of the effects of culture, as it would have contrasted two similar viewpoints. From the research, the authors would have been able to establish whether the differences in the western perspective towards Chinese learning culture have a negative effect on the performance of the students. Since the Chinese teachers would have been from the same culture as their students, they have the same understanding of the subject. The teachers know the areas to emphasize on to ensure that the students understand the language. Undertaking this research would have eliminated bias and stereotypes from a western perspective as a reason for failure of the Chinese students to understand English. The author could have highlighted whether the Chinese have difficulty when learning other foreign languages. This would have served to highlight the effectiveness of the curriculum used, as well as the students’ ability to learn languages.


Cortazzi, M., & Jin L. (). Cultures of learning: Language classrooms in China.

Yang, R. (). Chinese ways of thinking in the transformation of China’s higher education system.

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