Monday, March 31, 2008

Of Chinese-Ed, English-Ed and the Many Kinds of Chinese

Note: Adapted from my comment in a ReCom thread.

That was a heck of a long title, but it summarises what I am going to write, i.e. Chinese-educated Chinese, English-Educated Chinese, and the mutual disparagement and aversion between them.

To begin with, let me define the terms in this article. Chinese-ed and English-ed are vague and ill-defined terms; but in the context of Malaysia, Chinese-eds are people who learned Chinese language up to the level of primary school / secondary school / Form 5 (depending on the context); while English-eds are simply any Chinese who are not Chinese-ed. Not terribly accurate terms, but this is how it goes.

If you have been living in Malaysia long enough, I am sure you would have noticed the commonplace prejudice towards people from different education backgrounds. Some Chinese-eds tend to paint a generalised, biased picture of the English-eds, that is, they are often perceived as being more self-centred, ardent admirers of everything from "the West", and most importantly, they "forget their roots". They are often referred to with the derogatory term "bananas" - yellow on the outside, but all white inside. On the other hand, English-eds tend to view the Chinese-eds as being deeply engrossed and obsessive of their language / culture / "root" to the extent of compromising other responsibilities such as the national unity (e.g. the resistance to Vision schools). There is also some counter-aversion by English-ed, stemming from their suffering from prejudice cast by the Chinese-ed.

The rabbit hole goes deeper. Even among the Chinese-eds, you have this stratification of "Chinese-eds who learned the language up to UPSR","Chinese-eds who learned up to PMR but 'betrayed the culture' by dropping SPM Chinese"; and "the TRUE Chinese who took Chinese paper up to SPM without fear for the A2". (See note for more information) The first two groups are deemed to be inferior and more disgraceful than the last group.

I am absolutely appalled by this phenomenon.

Chinese need to wake up to the fact that racial chauvinism is not the way to go in this world, or at the very least, outside China. Yes, written and spoken language are a huge part of a race's identity; but to disparage your fellow friends because of his inability to write, read or speak in Chinese language simply show arrogance and ignorance on your part. Some Chinese in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan etc look down on foreign Chinese who can't speak Mandarin, but to do so is pathetically ignorant of the stories of Chinese diaspora throughout the world.

For the case of "people who didn't take up SPM Chinese" = shameful... why, why, why? Some people might be native Chinese speakers, as they are brought up in a mandarin-speaking family who speak Mandarin and read Chinese papers on a daily basis. Naturally, they will be relatively more fluent and proficient in the language. Some others may have it the harder way, as their family may not be the most conducive environment for learning Chinese, but yet they managed to build a good command in the language through sheer hard work. They definitely deserve our respect. However, some people have never had conducive environment, and had struggled to do well in Chinese language despite continuous effort. In your opinion, are they obliged to take up SPM Chinese just to prove that "they are Chinese", or so that they do not appear to leave out their compatriots who are fighting the cruel grading of SPM Chinese?

I personally know a friend who is from the last category, and he had to go through the ordeal of SPM Chinese as my school makes the subject compulsory. Despite his blood, sweat, and tears, he "only" got an A2 in the end, to much detriment of his scholarship opportunity in spite of his overall excellence in every subject. He only managed to get the scholarship he truly deserved with the help of MCA.

And no, he didn't "become more Chinese", as some claimed SPM Chinese's benefit to be. In fact his aversion towards the language only grew stronger. The only thing we gained from forcing him to take up SPM Chinese, is the false sense of vindication among the overzealous Chinese, who think that "YES, another student has preserved his root and has stood up to the injustice of deviant SPM Chinese marking." But that is also where the benefit ends.

I am all for Chinese learning Chinese language, or for that matter, any foreigner learning Chinese language. It is a beautiful language, it has painted sublime poetry throughout history and adorned the Chinese civilisation. I have always given my wholehearted support for the effort to preserve the opportunity of learning the language in Malaysia and other countries. However, I think that people ought to do away with the systematic discrimination down the "levels of Chinese education", which in turn depends on a lot of factors like opportunity, logistics, interest, and to a huge extent, odds. We need to rethink our obsession of linking Chinese exam papers and Chinese-ness, Chinese identity, Chinese culture or what have you. If there's a single most detrimental effect of the ridiculously low A1 percentage in SPM (with respect to other subjects), in my opinion, it is to widen the divide within the Chinese community.

I must say that I have had enough of it. It ought to be rectified, or there will come a day when I am ashamed to identify myself as part of this racial group.

Note: For the uninitiated, SPM Chinese is one of the most dreaded subjects in the SPM exam, the reason being that only a very low percentage of candidates obtain A1 in it (around 1 - 2% since 2001) compared to most other subjects (around 10 - 20%). Many people dropped this subject in SPM because it lowered their chance of getting scholarships if they did not get an A1. Many people allege that the low percentage is an attempt by the government to deter Chinese from learning their own language, while some claim that this is to cut down the number of Chinese getting the much-coveted JPA scholarship. Read more about this issue in Education Malaysia blog and ReCom (Malaysian Student Forum).

Image Credit: Saratoga News


Alvin Ooi said...

Although the low percentage of A1 in SPM Chinese is something we all know, I wonder if there is any official data - stating the % of A1 in each subjects - released by the govt or other reliable sources? If it was based on the performance of candidates in one school alone, surely that is not representative? Given our govt's lack of transparency, I will be surprised if they released the data.

Having said that, I wish I had taken chinese at some point of my life. Like you said, its a beautiful and very very useful language. However, in this world of practicality, I would say it's a rather good choice to drop it at SPM if one is not confident getting an A1 (also assuming an SPM's candidate's goal is to land a JPA scholarship).

Alvin Ooi said...

Oh apparently sin chew published the statistics. If this stats was taken from the ministry, its certainly amusing to see how the govt can give us this stats right to our face and did not bother to explain anything.

changyang1230 said...

I do pay attention to the official statistics every year at the time SPM result is released. But shamefully Sin Chew and other newspapers don't really keep a good archive on their website, so I can't really find a good link now.

Jin Ye said...

Actually, contrary to your description, I've always felt inferior as a Chinese-Ed. When I was in school, I always thought the English-Ed are smarter, speak better English, and better in voicing their opinion. I guess I was at the other extreme.

changyang1230 said...

Hey welcome Jin Ye, first time seeing you here! :D

Actually I felt the same way too back in secondary school. In this post I am elaborating more on the "cultural righteousness" among the Chinese-ed, regarding how they thought they are the "better cultured person". I guess this self righteous attitude may actually stem from the inferiority complex you mentioned here.

Grace said...

hi, am new here too =) got linked from recom, and interestingly, i was doing the Tzuo Hann chinese tranlations, and here we are talking about chinese..

One thing I am unclear on -- your footnote seem to be pointing at the govt for glass ceiling-ing the A1 percentage in attempts to 'deter chinese from scoring JPAs', etc, but you also mentioned 'there will come a day when I am ashamed to identify myself as part of this racial group.', as if the fault lies with the chinese.

There will always be people who'd think they are mightier than those who didn't learn chinese up till SPM, but perhaps in some of the arrogance is hidden the jest of the latter 'giving up' the language and conforming to the 'govt's plot of dividing the chinese'?

Had the grade not carry any weight in SPM (or any other national exams), it's undeniable that more people would give chinese a shot.

In the larger picture, the govt has succeeded in rifting the chinese?

- ack, post sounds so long now..=P

changyang1230 said...

Hi Grace, nice to meet you here!

"...As if the fault lies with the Chinese"

I am not saying that the fact that people give up on the paper is the fault of those Chinese. My source of embarrassment come from the generalised disparagement and aversion based on the education background. Making hasty generalisation, beefing up one's "cultural righteousness" while belittling others is what will make me ashamed if such phenomenon persists.

I don't think that the low A1 percentage is used as a tactical tool to divide the Chinese community. Or at least, it isn't what they have in mind when they set the cutting point every year. Yes the further divide of the community is one of the adverse effect of this issue; but I believe the main reason behind this low-A1-percentage is more likely to be (or at least was) the JPA scholarship allocation, as argued by Education Malaysia blog. The divisive effect is, in my opinion, more of a side effect, despite a big one at that.

Yes to give up the Chinese paper can be interpreted as "yet another failure to stand up to the obstacle by the establishment"; but the thing is, "Chinese community" is not like an army fighting a well-defined enemy troop; every single Chinese makes their own decision about their education and cultural upbringing based on their selfish requirements.

While it would be nice if they can "stand up to the unfair policy"; if they choose to bow over instead and opt for something that's better for themselves, we can't really inculpate or belittle these people. In my view, no one is born with an obligation to "defend his culture". Or in other words, great if he does promote and defend his race's culture; but NOT defending it is not a sin.

Culture is a very vague concept anyway. Some link culture to a person's genetic makeup or the ancestry, but I beg to differ. If a Chinese grows up in Malaysia and obtains the Malaysian culture and the "English-educated Chinese" culture, who are we to judge that "HEY, those are not YOUR culture, you should pick up your OWN REAL culture, i.e. the CHINESE culture"? What the hell do we mean by "those are not YOUR REAL culture" when he really grew up and acquired them with his own life experience?

Those are some things that I reckon people should put more thoughts in.

WP said...

I simply think it's dumb judging someone based on what language they can speak, or supposing that someone must speak a certain language. The world still has a long way to go before it can stop generalising.

Anonymous said...

This is a very sensitive issue. We may all end up in jail... This fear is enough to suppress the comments that we can pass on this issue.

Language is the backbone of a culture. The Chinese in Malaysia is very lucky to be able to sustain this level of Chinese cultural identity, this is very much down to the fact that we have the opportunity to learn our language.

The survival of Chinese Schools, is not merely by luck. The Chinese community in general and few "educationalist" is behind this survival.

The history is complex, until we understand the history of the struggle for survival of Chinese School, we will not understand why the Malaysian Chinese has such an issue about being "Chinese Ed" or "English Ed".

changyang1230 said...

While I agree that the institution to learn the language is instrumental in preserving the language in our country. Without dongjiaozong's efforts, it's very likely that more of us won't be speaking mandarin at this juncture or in the future.

Regarding your last paragraph: In my opinion, the mutual disparagement between the chinese ed and the english ed is a simple issue of unmoderated cultural chauvinism. The struggle may have helped the development of such chauvinism, in the sense that when our fathers and grandfathers fought for the survival of vernacular education, they can't help but to develop aversion towards their counterparts who simply "reject" their culture and to "surrender" to the harsh trial of political pressure. Such sentiment is understandable, or even justifiable.

However, in the context of modern society, I think the mutual disparagement is an outdated vestige of our forebear's sentiment, and should no longer be allowed to persist in our society. We ought to continue the education of our ancestor's language; however, at the same time, we should strive to eliminate such prejudice that was borne in the history. It does us no good.