An International Student Recalls China’s Education Machine

Ryan is currently working in exports and living in Los Angeles. This is his story.

I am from Xi’an city in Shaanxi province. When I was 6 years old, I entered first grade in elementary school. My mother, just like many other moms, took me to Trimathalon-style math training. I went there 3 to 5 times every week after my regular school hours. The main purpose of this extracurricular was to win in competition so that I could go to the best local middle school. Attending the best middle school provides the chance to attend the best high school. Going to the best high school wins the chance to go to a better college. 

Throughout my education in China, I understood that competition was always the core value. To have success in the final competition–the college entrance examination– one needs to always provide the correct standard answer and constantly change one’s own thinking to obey the way the system tells you to think, until one completely forgets their own thinking of what’s right and wrong, and accepts the system’s standard of what’s right and wrong.

A machine could always produce the needed answer in the shortest time, but a machine doesn’t have the ability to judge what is right or wrong. In certain classes like history or politics, there was a lot of twisted and hateful content. Beginning in elementary school we studied a politics book “Society.” In middle school the politics book is called “Ideological and Ethical Education.” In high school it is called “Politics.” These are three different titles, but they all teach the same thing. Whether it is a political test in middle school, high school or college, if you are not showing how correct or wise or great the communist party is, or if you don’t show worship toward the leaders of the party, you won’t get the score. The whole book of political education is an example of direct or indirect worship of the communist party.

History class is taught according to how the system wants the students to see history, instead of presenting the facts. One can only constantly read lies from textbooks. The truth is hard to find, and giving different answers or having different thinking is prohibited. One must give the required answer. One day, lies become truth. The history in our textbook is a made-up history which contains less than 20% of real history combined with some twisted content that manipulates a student’s feelings so they will think that western society only kills Chinese or bullies China. This is similar to today’s media in China, which always tries to find a common enemy for the public to hate. This will let the public ignore or forget how horribly the communist party treats the Chinese people.

Encounter With Falun Gong

The first time I heard about Falun Gong was when I was 7 years old. One day the TV started broadcasting negative news about Falun Gong. I constantly saw negative news about Falun Gong on TV. When I saw this kind of news, I didn’t really take it to heart. Even when I was a kid I did not keep those things in mind. There was also propaganda about Falun Gong in our textbooks when I was in elementary school. On our exams there were questions that needed to be answered about Falun Gong. You had to make Falun Gong look bad in order to answer the question “correctly.”

After 18 years’ education in China, I got tired and completely failed my education in that system. Later on my parents sent me study abroad, but I still lost any interest in studying. So I spent the majority of my time hanging out and partying with other international students. I just tried to keep drinking, laughing, and losing myself. But one day I found no fun in it anymore. So I drowned myself in video games until that lost its attraction.

Feeling the emptiness in my heart, I started to search for some spiritual books to read. One day I found Zhuan Falun, which is the main book of Falun Gong. Feeling that its principles were just what I needed, I began to practice. That was about 4 years ago when I was 23 years old

At that time I lived with three roommates who were also exchange students from China. I had some worries about them seeing me reading a Falun Gong book. So after reading 3 chapters I stopped. My roommates were the same age as me. We all grew up seeing negative propaganda about Falun Gong constantly. It’s not everyone that has the ability to get out of that kind of programming. For myself, I just wanted to do my own thinking. But my roommates had these negative ideas deeply rooted in their minds. So I was worried that they would treat me differently or keep a distance from me if they found out I was reading a Falun Gong book. 

Growing up in China, we students are programmed to see certain things as bad and certain things as good and I was really tired of that programming, so I wanted to judge things for myself. During the early 2000s, there was a lot of news on TV saying that Falun Gong practitioners set themselves on fire in Tiananmen Square, and I never heard anything different about it. But one day I saw some news online that said the immolation was not true, and that the communist party staged the event to give Falun Gong a bad name. After seeing that news, I decided that I wanted to take another look at Falun Gong so I began again to read Zhuan Falun. So from 6 p.m. one day until 6 a.m. the next morning I read the book. I stayed up all night because the book explained a lot of things for me. After that I began to practice Falun Gong.

Peer Fear

At the very beginning of my practice, I met some other Chinese in my age group and I tried to discuss with them about Falun Gong. I saw different reactions. One girl I talked to was almost shaking, like she was afraid to talk to me because she read too much bad news that makes Falun Gong practitioners seem like monsters.  Other people I talked with really showed no curiosity about what Falun Gong is. They already believe what they were made to see. They think they already know the truth.

I eventually told my roommates. I just told them that I practice Falun Gong and Falun Gong is not like the Chinese media said. So they stopped being afraid of Falun Gong. But then they immediately switched to another way of thinking,  like they wanted to get away from this government related thing. Their attitude went there right away. After I talked to them, they understood that Falun Gong are not like monsters, but they still think that Falun Gong is participating in certain political things and that Falun Gong is trying to take down and overthrow the government. So they wanted to get away. They also understood that the Chinese government is trying to eliminate Falun Gong so they were trying to stay away from this. They don’t want to be in any trouble. 

I have talked to a lot of young Chinese about Falun Gong. I have met some Chinese who were on campus at the University of California, Irvine. We had a booth to clarify the truth about Falun Gong and people reacted differently. On the positive side, I met one Chinese student who came to the booth and she said that “I knew it! I knew that the negative news about Falun Gong was fake.” She said that when she saw the negative news, in her mind she already knew that it was fake. There are also people who have come to us and said that they wanted to quit the communist party.  One lady said that she wanted to quit because she did not like the system. There are also some negative ones. Sometimes Chinese students come to video record us. They try to intimidate us like that. It doesn’t matter; we just do what we should do and explain to people what is going on.

After I had practiced Falun Gong for about a year, I went back to China to change my visa type from student to business. On the first night I landed in my hometown, I told my parents and my grandparents that I practice Falun Gong, and also how evil the communist system is. My parents, like everyone else, were exposed to very vicious lies regarding Falun Gong and were heavily influenced by this. At one point things seemed out of control and I felt that they may even want to turn me in to the local police. After that, I shortened my stay in China and went back to the U.S. and applied for asylum. Three years later, my parents came to the U.S. to visit me. Like usual they used some very harsh words and behavior towards me and Falun Gong during their stay. I guess I handled it much better than three years ago, so they left with a more positive attitude.

Freedom of Thought

I have been living In the U.S. for eight years now, having graduated from a community college. The education here is absolutely different than in China. It was a big surprise to me. I found that students were actually speaking and having conversations with professors in class; they were actually having a discussion and exchanging opinions. You absolutely cannot see this in China. In China, in a 45-minute class, the teacher is the only one to speak and the students just listen and accept the answers. There is absolutely no conversation or exchange of opinions or ideas.

In China, the education system is not really about learning and discussing, so there is really no point to discuss anything. First, you have to absolutely accept what you are taught, and second, you do not have access to any other information besides what is taught in class. Because you only see one thing, you do not have any comparisons to think about or discuss. The environment is a contest, so there is no point to discuss whether something is right or wrong or if you have a different opinion.

Personally, I think that the communist party’s education system is persecution towards all students, It is a system that drags you into a process of forgetting yourself, forgetting the best parts of humanity, forgetting the way to see the world with a kind eye. When students are 6 or 7 years old they are required to join a communist youth group, there is no option in this. Young children make a vow to sacrifice themselves to the communist party. Little kids may feel excited that they get to make a vow like that, but they really don’t understand it. A ritual should never be forced on elementary school kids. 

After years of an education like that, students come out in a very similar model with similar ways of thinking. Everyone is pursuing, cold, and competitive. Eventually, one loses the ability to make their own judgement, and loses the ability to see things in a conscious and objective way. It is an education without a moral standard, with only fighting and competition. This is the result of an education system that doesn’t educate, but only selects the best candidates who will meet the production standard. The people who want to succeed in this type of education will certainly need to give up some part of themselves, some good part of their humanity. They will also lose some of their own ability and creativity. I failed my education in China. I especially failed in politics and history class since elementary school and barely graduated from high school. I am very glad that I had the chance to study abroad.

Whether a person accepts the communist party’s education, in my personal opinion, is directly up to one’s moral standard. Everyone is in the system, but a person can still choose to remain true to their conscience. They can think: “Yes, I am in the communist culture and education system and yes I have to give the required answer but in my mind I can have my own thinking. I will write the necessary answer but in my mind I know this is not right.” So within the system that is the key to maintaining independent thinking and judgement.

With regard to the Falun Gong issue in China, I really want to say to my Chinese friends that I very much understand. We grew up seeing nothing but negative propaganda about Falun Gong. I know that it is something that you heard too much and you may not really be willing to change your mind. Your mind is already set with a negative feeling and attitude. But If you have a chance to go out of China, just for one second put all of the negative thoughts and understandings to one side and leave them there. Then take a look at what is the truth and see how the world outside of China feels. You can view both sides and do your own thinking about whether Falun Gong is negative or positive. 

That’s what I hope. I hope people will take a minute to do their own independent thinking instead of being programmed to see things as good or bad.