Our Role as Chinese Teachers

Our Role as Chinese Teachers

Following a heated discussion on a Mandarin Chinese Teacher’s forum about a TV programme:

Two thoughts based on this discussion (I have nothing to add on the programme itself):

  1. The way our students feel/think about Chinese people (and themselves) as a result of our lessons is of infinitely greater value than the amount of Chinese language they learn from us
  2. The greatest thing we can do for our students is to inspire them to discover more (“举一隅,不以三隅反,则不复也”) – about others and about themselves in the process
It is not what we teach that will last, but the attitude we engender in our students through the way we teach.

Following a discussion on the same forum about Taiwan:

As educators I would suggest our duty is to help our students to ask questions rather than to feed them any particular set of answers.  In an increasingly fractious world, what our students need more than “right answers” is the ability to engage with people with whom they disagree with humility, understanding and respect.

As was said in the [previous] discussions, there are in Britain many unhelpful stereotypes and misconceptions about China, as well as a pervasive negative tone towards China in the British media.  Our role as teachers is to help our students challenge what they are fed.

The same goes for politically sensitive issues like the 3 T’s.  The People’s Republic of China’s government is very clear in its position. At the same time, on the international stage (in organisations such as the World Trade Organisation and International Olympic Committee) Taiwan is often treated as an entity separate from the People’s Republic of China.  Our role as teachers is to help our students to understand both what the PRC’s position is and why Taiwan is sometimes treated as a separate entity – and in the process to also recognise Britain’s historic and contemporary biases.  There is something for all of us teachers to take on board here, whether we come from Beijing, Taipei or Manchester.

At a practical level, I often ask my students to put themselves in different people’s shoes and try to articulate how they think they would feel – eg. if they were a peasant in Qingdao during the Boxer Uprising; if they were a university student in Beijing when the Treaty of Versailles was published; if they were a 13 year old in the Cultural Revolution etc).