Now that parenting and education is the talk of the nation across America, I thought I relay a wildly popular story from 2010 in China, another view into Amy Chua’s “Chinese mom.” Enter “奶茶妹妹” or “奶茶mm” on Baidu.com if you wish to research this story yourself.
Back in 2009, a student posted this image of her friend in a forum on 猫扑 (mop.com), admiring her good looks. This girl quickly became a sensation, and soon, her photo was forwarded around the Internet. Once public curiosity has set in, 人肉搜索 (human flesh search) started offline. She became known as “奶茶mm,” short for 奶茶妹妹 (milk tea younger sister). They found her a sophomore at the Nanjing Foreign Language high school. She turned out to be 章泽天 (Zhang Zetian).
Of course, and understandably, there were many who opposed the public attention (in Chinese) given to Zhang, especially with such superficial circumstance behind her fame. As more was discovered about her, Chinese netizens began to adore her. Certainly, many were critical of her.
In this qq.com video report (in Chinese), Zhang’s school has helped blocked media attention for her. She lamented how a photo of her on the virtual world of the Internet could spill over to real life; all the more strange through actions none of her own.
At the height of all this, famous Chinese movie director, 张艺谋 (Zhang Yimou), offered her a starring role in one of his upcoming films. As the QQ video reveals, she turned it down. Her reply on why:
When I was going into my third year in high school, I was preparing really hard for the college entrance exam. I didn’t consider Zhang Yimou’s offer for too long (in the sense that she was busy). I decided to turn it down.
When pressed by the reporter that many would accept the offer for instant fame and fortune, she said, “but I am not particularly interested.” Her parents also were adamant that she continued her education.
A school official complimented her being an exemplary student.
In her high school entrance exam, she achieved a grade of “4A” in Jiangsu Province. That amply demonstrated her an excellent student.
Zhang made headlines again recently, because 清华大学 (Tsinghua University) listed her on their admissions roster for the coming school year. Admissions into Tsinghua University, one of China’s top universities, is a very honorable achievement.
Comments from around China streamed in in support of Zhang’s path:
Having such a motivated and highly academically achieving child is a pride of society! In the quest for knowledge, focus is even more important, nurturing of ethics is the responsibility of every parent, common responsibility of every teacher. Let them grow into a new generation of impactful and society-loving young adults.
Refused to enter the entertainment business and focus on one’s education; such beautiful girls are already few!
Really beautiful. Excellent academics. Impressive! Really wish some peoples mouth are not so foul.
What does this all mean? In the West, we are accustomed to hearing Bill Gates dropping out of prestigious Harvard to pursue his dreams and becoming a billionaire. Abandoning a life-time opportunity of starring in a Zhang Yimou film in a nation of 1.3 billion people sounds foolish, doesn’t it? Obviously, there are many American parents who would disagree with Gates dropping out. Likewise there are many Chinese parents not allowing their daughter to forgo a Zhang Yimou film opportunity.
On the balance, and generally speaking, in the West, we have the pursuit of dreams being the paramount. In China, the pursuit of education is still king. This brings us back to Amy Chua’s “Chinese mom.” Why is there a particularly stronger emphasis on education with focus in academics? Zhang Zetian’s story also reminds me of the Imperial Examination system. For thousands of years, this is one of the greatest social equalizer the world has ever seen. Regardless of one’s socioeconomic background and as long as he or she demonstrates academic competence (Confucian thought emphasized), there is advancement. Before the recent emergence of the West, China was viewed favorably by the Europeans. The British and others tried to adopt this examination system as well.
What exactly is it that makes for this difference on the balance? Is it that Zhang and her parents are longer term in their thinking on a day to day basis? Is it that instant-successes are less touted in Chinese society? Or perhaps opportunities in China have been not so abundant, so traditional education is still the best bet?