Under the title "English without Chinese at exams 'traitorious,'" China Daily ("China's Global [English] Newspaper") presents an article by Wu Yiyao describing the uproar over the decision by four Shanghai universities to include an English test as part of their independent admission examinations, but not to include a corresponding examination for Chinese language. The controversy swiftly spilled over into other media reports, with strong opinions on both sides.
While one can understand how patriots might be offended at the requirement for testing English and the absence of a requirement for testing Chinese, the examinees and their parents were strongly in favor of the new arrangement. First of all, one less exam to take means that much less stress in an already highly competitive atmosphere. Second, one must factor in the cost of preparation, since nearly all Chinese students attend cram schools for the exams that are required. Third, there is the sheer fact of economic value attributed to advanced English ability by students and their parents.
Furthermore, many courses — especially in the sciences, medicine, and business — are actually taught in English, and even in the social sciences and in the humanities, courses are sometimes offered in English. In fact, it is not uncommon for Chinese universities to offer (or, perhaps more accurately, allege to offer) entire English curricula, especially to attract students from overseas. I have met students from Sri Lanka, India, African nations, and elsewhere who applied for graduate school in China in response to advertisements promising them instruction in English. Upon arrival (not knowing a word of Chinese), however, they all too often discover that the actual available offerings are rather meager, or that the English spoken by their instructors is barely intelligible to them.
Incidentally, it is interesting that the People's Daily Online, which reprints the China Daily article here, has an audio feature at the top of the page which seems to be able to convert the printed text into spoken English. In contrast, when I visited the Russian, Arabic, French, Spanish, Japanese, and Chinese versions of People's Daily Online, I did not notice a similar feature for these languages (I wonder if they exist). One thing that perplexes me in the spoken version of the article is how poorly the machine does with pinyin. I listened to the recording many times, and it sounded to me as though it pronounced Qin more like a typical American than like a speaker of Mandarin. She (it's a female voice) almost chokes on the name "Hu Guang." It is also very bad about consistently providing appropriate pauses between sentences and paragraphs (it tends to be better with commas).
However, it is curious that, even if the text-to-speech conversion software was acquired from abroad, it seems to have been at least partially adapted for home-grown purposes. In this recent article about President Obama's energy initiatives, his name comes out sounding like "Aubama," which resembles the pronunciation of his name in Mandarin (AO1BA1MA3 奧巴馬) more than it does the way it is pronounced in American English. On the other hand, the machine voice here is not saying "Aulympics."
But then why did the synthesizer (if that's what it is) do such a poor job with the pinyin in the article about English only testing (and not Chinese) on entrance exams?