Reading thread is a new series offering personal journeys through the Marco Polo Project catalogue. This piece is the fifth in a series by Francis Beechinor, from the London University School of Oriental and African Studies. 
Nankai University


I’m a good student. I attend all my classes, get good grades and don’t go out too often. Yet in China I felt that that wasn’t enough.

Whilst living with my Chinese homestay family and meeting Chinese friends, the message I got was that in seeing friends, apart from maybe at sporting activities, you were a bad student.

Feeling stuck between two cultures, the experience was frustrating at times. I wanted to fit into two distinct university lives – and this was harder than it seemed.

This week we have pulled together some critical but also original articles on university life in China. Feel free to comment and tell us how your uni experience compared.


中美教育逻辑对比– Comparing the underlying models of education in China and the US

by Bai Weilin, 9th June 2013


This is a well-argued piece which confronts why Chinese people want to study in America so badly. American education allows for personal development and growth, where Chinese schooling does not.

But Bai Weilin isn’t just some Uncle Sam sycophant. The balance in this article is what really gives it weight. Does anyone agree that American education is about ‘finding talent’?


当代大学生如何可能 – How did our contemporary students come about? 

by Li Tengteng, 16th October 2013


More and more young people receiving university education is no doubt a sign of great social development. Yet, as Li Tengteng discusses, because of this, you can go to university and not be an intellectual.

In China, more so than in England perhaps, some simple logic applies to university study. That is, go to a good uni, by any means necessary, and you will be successful in life.

Where does this leave students? Li Tengteng talks about how so many young people study at university who aren’t necessarily suited to university. This ultimately distorts what education is about.


大学生为何后悔上大学 – Why do Chinese students regret entering University?

 by Xin Lijian, 29th June 2012


Rather worryingly, I am often told that your time at university is the best time of your life. So what, it’s all downhill from here?

That’s unfortunate, especially if you’re Chinese. A large proportion of students in China regret entering university and feel that they learn very little.

After entering uni, they believe that it’s all smooth sailing and success from then on. Unfortunately, it’s not like this and this is hard to take after a high-pressure high school life.


我为什么读博士 – Why am I writing a PhD?

by Jiang Zhidao, 13th February 2013


I like this piece because our academic environment is largely, as Jiang Zhidao says, ‘diluted’. People go to university for the sake of it.

Yet, despite this, there are those who still truly believe in what they’re studying; and that’s a relief!

Jiang Zhidao has chosen to do a PhD and here he outlines his reasons why. Chinese students aren’t all disheartened and dejected by university life, there’s passion there too.


我对高考的一点看法 – My views on the university entrance exam

by Li Yehang, 7th June 2008


One of the major pressures a Chinese teenager faces is that of the Gaokao, the university entrance exam which determines what universities he or she may go to.

Through many horror stories, the exam has become infamous. For example, I’ve heard of kids going on UV drips in order to study longer during revision time.

In this article, Li Yehang draws upon the really interesting Marxist idea of alienation. Unfortunately, some of the key parts haven’t been fully translated; are there any Marxist specialists out there who want to give it a shot?


Languages and Cultures for Australian Universities (LCNAU) is offering seed funding grant for projects related to their mission, in particular, projects presented at the 2011 colloquium. Raphael, Dan and myself will work on a research proposal around the possible integration of Marco Polo into a formal language curriculum.

This is crucial to the success of our project: if we can somehow integrate the activities of our website as part as the language teaching curriculum, we would be assured of a constant in-flow of volunteer translators. This was also the advice we received from Jeremy Goldkorn @danwei.

But this is also a great opportunities for universities. Language teachers know that the few contact hours between them and their students are insufficient for successful language learning outcomes. Teachers generally encourage language activities outside the classroom – clubs, theatre, exchange programs, etc. But, so far, there is no real program to integrate them, and find a way that participation in such activities could count as credits.

This seed grant is a great opportunity, and I really hope it works through!

Last night, Raphael and I presented a poster on the Marco Polo Project at the first LCNAU Colloquium.  The poster was well received, and we had quite a few conversations with lecturers from around Australia. In particular, we had a wonderful chat with Beatrice Atherton from the University of Queensland, who promised to put us in contact with her colleagues in the Chinese department. The University of Queensland is building a translation program specialising in English-Chinese translation. Precisely the public we’re looking for!

This was the first official presentation of Marco Polo to an external audience, and it went OK. This bodes well for the future. Part of the success must be attributed to the beautiful graphic work done by wonderful Mathieu Vendeville.

In the evening, we stayed for the LCNAU dinner. I had a great conversation with my table partner, Lynne Li from RMIT. She gave me this interesting tip: I should not put aside writing in my Chinese learning, but copy characters. In her experience, students who regularly copy words are those who learn the best. I received similar advice from a philosophy teacher in preparatory class. In order to improve my writing skills, he once told me that I should copy. ‘Keep it a secret, but it’s the most effective way’. So I spent hours copying Montesquieu’s De l’esprit des lois in a little A5 notebook. And my writing improved. I will try that with Chinese now.