There's an important article on Li Yang's Crazy English that has just come out in this week's New Yorker. I have been following the Li Yang story for over a decade. It is both fascinating and deeply troubling.
Three years ago, Amber Woodward, a student in my "Language, Script, and Society in China" course, wrote a long paper on Li Yang, and I published it as Sino-Platonic Papers no. 170 in February, 2006. This year she wrote her senior thesis on Li Yang's Crazy English, and I will also publish it in SPP. I hope to get both of these papers up on the web very soon. You will be able to find them at http://www.sino-platonic.org. (Meanwhile, see "Crazy English", 11/21/2007, for some background.)
Amber documented the unmistakable cultic and demagogic aspects to the Li Yang method and movement. In her public lectures on the subject, Amber has shown chilling video footage that remind one of nothing more than a Goebbelsian political rally. On the other hand, judging from the article in the current New Yorker, it seems that Li Yang has evolved into more of a pragmatic businessman, and has even been somewhat domesticated by his American wife, who seems to have had a definite taming effect upon him. Still, we should note carefully what Wang Shuo, the famous Chinese "hooligan" novelist has to say about Li Yang's brand of populism: "the same shit as racism."
The Crazy English teaching style is on display in this YouTube video, recorded on May 20, 2007, at HUSE:
The NYer story, by Evan Osnos, is "Crazy English: The national scramble to learn a new language before the Olympics". There is also a slideshow here.
Evan Osnos is the Chicago Tribune's Beijing Bureau Chief. He has written some award-winning articles concerning China's impact on the global environment, including one that — quite amazing to me — detailed how the production of cheap cashmere can have disastrous consequences, both in China and in the world ("The price we pay for China's boom", 12/17/2006).
In the end, Osnos' New Yorker story reveals the overwhelming passion for learning English that grips the Chinese nation, becoming almost an existential imperative. Ironically, this devotion to one of the most conspicuous symbols of Occidentalism is right this moment being countered by a rising tide of anti-Westernism occasioned by the furor over Tibet, the passage of the Olympic torch, and political repression in the heartland.