Annual wave of Anti-English sentiment in the PRC

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Article in official CCP media source:

"Chinese lawmaker proposes removing English as core subject"

Liu Caiyu, Global Times (3/5/21)

Coming from GT, the hyper-nationalistic tabloid, this attack on English is not unexpected, and similar anti-English proposals come up every year around the time of the national meetings of the Liǎnghuì 兩會 (Two Sessions), annual plenary meetings of the national People's Congress and the national committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference that have just concluded in Beijing (March 4-11).

Here we go again:

Is English really that important? A Chinese lawmaker at the two sessions has proposed removing English as a core subject for Chinese students receiving compulsory education, triggering heated discussion on Chinese social media.

The proposal was made by Xu Jin, a member of the Central Committee of the Jiusan Society and also a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). It has also been proposed by other lawmakers in previous years.

Some experts said the idea is just narrow-minded populism and is unlikely to be adopted, as China's importance in globalization means that it needs the global language to share views and technology with the outside world. Others said it was reasonable as the majority of Chinese people do not use English in their lives, except during their education.

"In the compulsory education stage, English and other foreign language courses should no longer be set as the main subjects equivalent to Chinese and mathematics, and should be removed as compulsory subjects from the college entrance examination," Xu said.

Xu believes the amount of time spent on English by students will not lead to commensurate results in future employment. English teaching hours account for about 10 percent of students' total class hours, but English is only useful for less than 10 percent of college graduates, he said. 

Instead, smart devices offering translation could provide professional, competitive translation services and more problem-solving than English teaching goals that run through the entire compulsory education, Xu said, adding that translation is one of the first occupations that will die out in the era of artificial intelligence….

There's not a snowball's chance in hell that students and their parents will be willing to cut back on English language education.  Good English is a ticket for getting into the best schools and universities, and for going abroad.  The same situation obtains for plans to deal with myopia among youth, as we have just seen two days ago:  "Myopia in the Middle Kingdom" (3/16/18).  The demand for English education is ever greater; the strain on students' eyes are ever more demanding.

The craze for English increases every year, and I must say that the level of English ability of students from China in my classes — and I have lots of them — is astonishingly good, and getting better all the time.  China is not going to go back behind a bamboo curtain, and even the formidable Great Firewall cannot extinguish the burning desire of Chinese citizens, especially youth, for global information sources.  It simply will not happen, because even the children of the highest ranking Party members — together with their parents — are complicit.


Selected readings

[Thanks to Alex Wang]


  1. Bathrobe said,

    March 21, 2021 @ 9:27 am

    What a fool! How did he even get into government? Brown nosing?

  2. Arthur Waldron said,

    March 21, 2021 @ 9:48 am

    I find this deeply discouraging. I was never enchanted; I never thought China was Shangrila. But the intelligence and creativity of the Chinese people is a fact. In the early 1980s – “my China” defining and precious – the university where I spent months was full of enthusiasm and achievement. It was heady. One sensed immense possibility. My last visit was late spring 1989 for a conference. The day I was to leave I arose at 05:00 turned on VOA Chinese and started shaving. Those dreams vanished. Tragedy ever since. /. I think we should teach the Greek alphabet and kanji in kindergarten. From the ignoramuses running China we get crude destructive xenophobia like this. I am old now. I fear I may see fireworks from the country to which I have devoted my life. But cultural flowering, true realization of potential? That would be the Vision Glorious, a miracle. Best to all. Arthur

  3. Batchman said,

    March 21, 2021 @ 10:54 am

    Phasing out study of English, or any foreign language, in favor of automated translation services is utter folly. Apart from the oft-mocked quality of those services, where do you think the folks who develop and train those services will come from?

  4. David Moser said,

    March 21, 2021 @ 12:57 pm

    I'm currently teaching at a program in Beijing for undergraduate students who have already been accepted to various US universities, but are unable to travel to America to begin their studies due to Covid-19. The courses are in English, and are designed to replicate, as much as possible, the undergraduate courses that they were supposed to be taking in the US right now. Having taught and interacted with these students for two semesters, I can tell you they are quite focused on English as the key to their entry into global citizenship. The very notion that English should be removed from the core curriculum would be totally laughable to them. The brightest minds in China wish to avoid or escape the Chinese higher education system, and they are well aware that English is their ticket out of here.

  5. cliff arroyo said,

    March 21, 2021 @ 2:57 pm

    Interesting that the primary benefit of English for citizens of the PRC is the perception that it allows them to get out of… the PRC…and function in countries which on the whole are experiencing rather worsening relations with the PRC.

  6. Bathrobe said,

    March 21, 2021 @ 5:58 pm

    Interesting that the primary benefit of English for citizens of the PRC is the perception that it allows them to get out of… the PRC…and function in countries which on the whole are experiencing rather worsening relations with the PRC.

    Maybe that is the point of Xu Jin's remarks….

  7. Chester Draws said,

    March 21, 2021 @ 11:43 pm

    Are we likely to get to the point where English becomes the lingua franca of China?

    If a Swiss German and French German meet, they are likely to talk to each other in English. Yes, the German will have taken French at school, and vice versa, but both will often have much better English. How long before two Chinese people from different corners find their shared English is better than their shared Mandarin if writing to each other?

    I know the powers that be will fight it all the way, but the French Academy do too, but are losing the introduction of English words and phrases into French.

  8. Twill said,

    March 22, 2021 @ 1:16 am

    @Chester Draws Seeing as Mandarin is not merely the lingua franca of China but the native tongue of a vast and ever increasing majority of the population, it is about as likely to happen as Parisians and Marseillais choosing to communicate to each other in English. The reality is that even if the Chinese government totally relented on its campaigns to promote Mandarin over other topolects tomorrow, its position would not be remotely threatened over the next century, barring an opposite and even more fervent campaign against it. English is nowhere near as established in China (or indeed East Asia) as it is in Europe anyway, which I would chalk up to the dominance of Anglophone culture, particularly in online contexts, one sees in e.g. Scandinavia.

  9. Michael Watts said,

    March 22, 2021 @ 3:33 am

    How long before two Chinese people from different corners find their shared English is better than their shared Mandarin if writing to each other?

    As Twill notes, Mandarin is the language of instruction in Chinese schools; this can never even theoretically happen.

  10. Victor Mair said,

    March 22, 2021 @ 6:28 am

    I know lots of Chinese people who speak to each other in English and write to each other in English too.

  11. Ouen said,

    March 22, 2021 @ 7:01 am

    While I agree that English can never be the lingua france of China, I do think that English has an ever-expanding role in the sinosphere (and many other places) that makes it not quite as ridiculous as it sounds. We've so far been talking about how English is a tool for ambitious Chinese, a key that grants access to the networks of the wider world (professioanl networks, information networks etc). But English has many other functions in China. English is a mark of not just educatonal capital, but of cultural capital. As Victor notes many Chinese use English to speak to each other. This is not just a utilitarian activity aimed at practicing what was learnt in school but a way of showing yourself to be a wordly or modern person. From my observation it's not just people enamoured with Western culture, I know Taiwanese people who consume mostly east asian pop culture (korean and japanese), but their social media pages are entirely in english (despite nearly everyone they know being chinese). From what I understand the phenomenon is not quite as noticable on the mainland as in Taiwan, but it's getting there.

  12. Victor Mair said,

    March 22, 2021 @ 7:04 am

    Indeed, Ouen! Thank you for your sage and apt observations.

  13. Ouen said,

    March 22, 2021 @ 7:08 am

    and i forgot to mention the neverending discussions in Taiwan about potentially making English an official language, and the goverment's widely popular campaign to make Taiwan bilingual in English and Mandarin by 2030. But of course we started off by talking about the PRC where these things could never happen for political reasons.

  14. cliff arroyo said,

    March 22, 2021 @ 11:57 am

    "a way of showing yourself to be"

    Sounds more like status striving more than anything else.

  15. alex wang said,

    March 23, 2021 @ 7:45 am

    Its not just status,its the language cant efficiently absorb words. An increasing amount of educated professionals of a wide range of industries are turning toward English words to be more precise or because its less awkward to substitute with English than use the Chinese.

    Due to the writing system its only going to become more unwieldy.

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