Chinese Students in America are All ___

Saturday, January 14, 2012 19:39
Posted in category The Big Picture


Dan over at China Law Blog took a bold step last week by laying out (and accepting comments on) some of the common stereotypes that surround Chinese (some say Asian) students studying in the U.S.

Entitled Chinese Students In America. It’s Bad Out There, the core of the post is a the list of “observations” of Chinese students on U.S. campuses. The list is pretty much what you would expect from the title, and in my 20+ years of studying with, managing, mentoring, and teaching to Chinese students, I cannot say anything here is new or surprising… it’s just all in one place

  • – They don’t come here to learn. They just come here for the grades.” I have heard this one at least a half dozen times.
  • – “I am convinced that if our teacher asked the class what 2+2 equals, and nobody spoke up who is not from China, not a single student from China would answer.” I have heard some form of this one at least a dozen times.
  • – “They are killing class discussion. They never contribute.” One student told me of how all the students not from China agreed not to speak one day to see what would happen. There was no class discussion and the teacher asked them not to do it again.
  • – “I cannot even stand having to listen to them give presentations. Their English is terrible and they don’t even try. Somebody else must have taken the tests for them.”
  • – “The school is going to regret having admitted them. They will never donate money to the school as alumni. It will be like they were never here at all.”

.. and that is just half of Dan’s list

Some of the “observations” on the list, particularly those that are focused on issues of Chinese (asians) integrating on campus,  I would say are valid on the widest most generalized terms.  Others that Dan included in the post (and in the  comments that followed) were either racist in tone, inflammatory, or just go to show the depths of immaturity that some of America’s finest students have to offer.

This list actually reminded me of the ho rah rah surrounding the clip above a couple of years back where a student at UCLA make the epic decision to load a Youtube rant about Asians on campus… and all the parodies that came from it…

In reading this list, one of the more important things that I come away with is the fact that this issue is that not only is this issue not only not going away, it is likely to get worse.  More mainland Chinese students are going to school in the States, with an exponentially increasing growth curve, and many of these schools have been working on building strong foreign student programs for high school and undergraduates alike.  Part of it is economic, perhaps a large part for some schools, but it is also about building the widest possible student bodies possible to provide the deepest ecosystem possible.

At any rate, I recommend readers take a look at Dan’s post, and spend some time in the comments section.  There is a healthy (and for the most part) respectable debate going on in the comments section, and some of the responses from Chinese readers offer nice insights on the stereotypes exists… and why.

* Moderator comment – I have been receiving a number of comments that are in violation of the comments policy. Comments that I will delete.  I am doing so as I am not interested in All Roads becoming the latest medium for personally attacking consultant, lawyers, or accountants who operate inside (and outside of China).  This post is focused on the stereotypes that American students hold of Chinese students, and any comments focused on that subject are welcome.

Both comments and pings are currently closed.

18 Responses to “Chinese Students in America are All ___”

  1. Today on China from the blogosphere January 15, 2012 | China You says:

    January 15th, 2012 at 10:33 am

    […] All Roads Lead to China » Chinese Students in America are All ___ Entitled Chinese Students In America. It's Bad Out There, the core of the post is a the list of “observations” of Chinese students on U.S. campuses. the list is pretty much what you would expect from the title, and in my 20+ years … […]

  2. Martin says:

    January 15th, 2012 at 5:08 pm

    Reading this, I think I am glad to have missed Dan’s post. Some of the list is just a misplaced blame game. Let me explain why.

    Last year, I studied at a prominent Chinese university and went to class with Chinese students.

    – I can assure you there was a LOT of discussion to which most of the Chinese students contributed actively, some even passionately. For me, on the other hand, contributing was next to impossible due to the speed at which my Chinese fellow students spoke, and to the use of expressions I did not know. I’d say the alledged non participation of Chinese students in the U.S. may be a language problem rather than ill will. I discovered it makes a HUGE difference if you talk one on one in a completely different language than your own, or participate in a high level debate in a university. (I also participated in a class that was taught in English, and saw that most Chinese are too shy to speak English even when the whole class is Chinese plus 1 foreigner, imagine what this means if you place a single one among 100 American students.)

    – I hardly understood the classes and they let me pass anyway on high marks. The grades were implemented in my European University’s program, so they really counted. Who was the one again that was ‘only here to pickup the grades’??

    – The Chinese students had to listen to some presentations my me, and I could see they were struggling to keep showing on their faces that they thought it was interesting. My Chinese must have been as bad as their English, and my subject perhaps something that they already learned in grammar school. Yet, they had the decency to listen to me and let me finish, and even applaud for me. If American students only look down upon someone like me, then they are a bunch of arrogant asses, sorry to say so.

    – I know a few foreign students too who don’t seem to have learned anything about China and the Chinese when they studied in China. Here too, it’s just a matter of blaming whereas you should take a look at yourself before you blame another.

    I don’t want to see Dan’s list, I am afraid I would have to spend all day trying to point out how stupid many points of the lists are – even though they may partly be true.

    Please give the Chinese students a break – they did give me one!

  3. Chris Devonshire-Ellis says:

    January 15th, 2012 at 6:29 pm

    But what it either useful or provided any solutions? No. It was an anti-Chinese border-line racist forum for a rant and if anything I suspect stereotyped and created anger at Chinese students overseas without offering any leeway or suggestions as to how it could be changed. The age-old ploy – when your economy is suffering – blame someone – anyone – else. It thought it a disgraceful article.

  4. Rich says:

    January 15th, 2012 at 6:54 pm


    I have actually written a second post to follow this one where I break down the “segments” I have found within the Chinese students I have studied with, mentored, managed, and taught.

    For me, as a professor, I found it difficult my first year to get discussions going. It wasn’t easy, but after a few lectures I realized that by doing a few small things right, you can get anyone to speak… and in meaningful engagements. It is one of the most valuable skills I have learned (from my students).

  5. Rich says:

    January 15th, 2012 at 6:58 pm


    Honestly, I am not sure what the point of the list was, but it did generate a pretty interesting discussion. Some of the comments are worthwhile… but yeah, borderline racist.

    With regard to what Chinese students think of the comments, that is an interesting one, and I actually spoke to some of my friends who are studying in the US. Their reply was funny because they (1) recognize the stereotypes exist, and agree with some of them, but (2) have very different reasons for their existence than one would think… when it comes to participating in class, one friend told me that American’s love to talk in class period.. they would speak out of their ass if they had too… and actually the discussion is pointless…. so, to engage is not worth their time. Also, when they do engage, they often find that the American’s need to always have the last word, so again, it takes a lot of energy…


  6. Chris Devonshire-Ellis says:

    January 15th, 2012 at 9:22 pm

    The thing is, I evaluated several colleges and schools in North America last summer because my daughter (Eurasian, 15 years old) will be attending school there from September. Neither the schools I met, or the students there I talked with seemed to have any issues. Yes, they had Asian students. No, I didn’t get an inkling of anything Harris has pinpointed as allegedly “being bad out there”. Accordingly I doubt either his research or his motives. Maybe he’s talking about low end schools and not private education (although I doubt it as Chinese students have to pay) – I can state with a fact that schools charging USD25,000 plus do not have issues with Asian students. I saw and visited them. As for allegations of mass cheating by Chinese students – well that’s a discipline issue for the schools, and I didn’t get any sense of that going on either. To summarize, I thought the piece xenophobic, trash talking sensationalism, accusing Chinese students of nasty habits and consequently designed to attract reader volume rather than serve any well meant constructive purpose.

  7. Tommy Banks says:

    January 16th, 2012 at 9:46 pm

    I read Dan’s post and I see exactly where he is coming from. It is wrong to call the post racist when all he does is list the comments he keeps hearing and especially when he takes care to comment that he finds these comments “troubling.” Calling the post racist is like calling someone anti-semetic for writing about the holocaust. There is a difference between reporting facts and joining in with them.

    If you found it strange why Dan did the post at all and you don’t see a point to it, why did you run a post on his post? Don’t you realize the point was to expose the hatreds running rampant on U.S. campuses right now so that we can dissect them and figure out what we as responsible adults can do about it, beyond just calling people racists. Dan’s final paragraph sums it all up.

    “I know we are going to get comments from people criticizing the students who made the above comments (and me for publishing them), but I think the more fruitful comments will address what can be done to help bridge this massive fissure. I would also love to see people address what this university-level tension portens for future China-US relations. I will note that I have heard Australia and the UK are dealing with the same sorts of issues.

    What, if anything, needs to change?”

    Dan’s post is one of the most forward-thinking posts I’ve read yet on Chinese-American relations and I am celebrating it. I am a 33 year-old Chinese-American and all I can say is that I sure wish there had been something like this written when I was a kid so that the hatreds I had to go through could have been brought out into the open and discussed so that I could have known that I wasn’t alone and so that others would have known what was happening. We should be thanking Dan for exposing this, not hating on him as though he is to blame for having been the messenger.

  8. P.M. Lee says:

    January 16th, 2012 at 10:48 pm

    There was no point and it was a nasty piece aimed at Chinese students. It provided nothing but stereotypes and to promote xenophobia with no solutions or wilingness to debate cultural differences. It was spiteful. .

  9. Rich says:

    January 17th, 2012 at 12:11 am

    @Chris – interesting insights. For the mass cheating, I am myself skeptical that it exists, but I think one should also consider the context. When I was an undergrad (and even in grad school), it was known that test banks did exist and that papers could be bought. I won’t say that access was equal, and in many cases it was group owned… but it was not limited to the Chinese per se. Fraternities, sororities, and other clubs would do what they could to give their members a leg up.

    With regard to the intent of the piece, I think the comments have (at times) been far more xenophobic than anything else. Dan for me is serving as a messenger of sorts, but in doing so, I think he should have presented the other side of the issue better instead of just focusing on the negative.

  10. Rich says:

    January 17th, 2012 at 12:15 am

    @PM – In some respect, I think the post served a purpose in that some of the comments have been interesting. But, as a professor, I can tell you that even when you put 20 professors into a room one often fails to come up with solutions to some of the issues highlighted.

    At any rate, I have put together a followup post for next week that lays out a few different types of Chinese students that I have interacted with through my time as a cohort, manager, mentor, and professor.


  11. Rich says:

    January 17th, 2012 at 12:28 am


    Not sure where you see me “hating on Dan”, but if you read my post (and replies to comments) more carefully you will see that I am saying the post is worth reading and my negative comment (I only made one) was focused on the students themselves

    Did, I did find some of the “observation” and comments borderline racist? Sure, but Dan wasn’t the source of the comments themselves, and in the end I said that the debate in the comments section was worth reading.


  12. Eurasian Dude says:

    January 17th, 2012 at 11:24 pm

    I think it showed the general attitude of Americans towards Chinese is negative, like the girl in the video stupidly saying “chinky chonk ting tong” when discussing Chinese students talking on their phones. Unnecessary and unoriginal. Next: “Flied Lice”? Maybe it shows up Americans for what they really are: unprepared for globalisation.

  13. Rich says:

    January 18th, 2012 at 5:01 am

    @Eurasian Dude.

    I was once told by someone that American wants a globalized world, but isn’t ready for it, and there are clearly some who fall into that category. With respect to a wider dislike of Asians in the U.S., I (keeping in mind I am as white as they come thanks to my Danish genes) do not see this. There are always pockets of people who are closed minded, and unfortunately, some of those people are smart enough to get into the top schools.

    Thanks for the comment

  14. Eurasian Dude says:

    January 18th, 2012 at 5:10 am

    @Rich – agreed. However overall I thought the piece was deliberately provocative and ill-mannered.

    @Chris Devonshire-Ellis – Your experience is more inline with mine, I lectured at several universities in humanities in the US and found Asia students hard working and polite.

    @Tommy Banks – I searched your name, couldn’t find you. You’re not a euphenism for Dan Harris per chance?

    @Dan Harris (I’m sure he’s read this blog) – why not come and answer some of your own accusers here instead of hiding behind your own blog comments (which you control)???? Because the difference of opinion here and on China Law Blog seems to be very striking. Now why would that be I wonder?

  15. Allen says:

    January 19th, 2012 at 8:31 pm

    I believe the piece is racist and bigoted and wrote a strong response to what to me is racist, bigoted, hate speech.  It can be found here.

  16. Courtney says:

    January 26th, 2012 at 7:39 pm

    I’m not taking a position on Dan’s post, but I completely agree with @Martin. Reading that list actually horrified me when I was treated so well when studying as an undergraduate and as a law student in Beijing. Unfortunately, so many in the US are completely ill-informed about the cultural differences, big and small, that abound between Western and Eastern mindsets.

  17. James says:

    February 6th, 2012 at 9:27 pm

    I taught writing at Nankai U. for several years.

    Most classes were surprised that they had to learn critical thinking to write convincingly. In a few weeks they were beginning to write more logical, convincing arguments, using their own brains to come up with their own opinions – but one of the classes was torture.

    It came down to one student. He was placed in English, because he hadn’t tested high enough to get another major, and he wasn’t interested in working hard enough to be allowed a second major.

    His future was fixed. He wouldn’t be kicked out of school unless he did something really wrong, and he knew that once he graduated, he would be working for his father, in his father’s company. (That has to be crushing, to know that nothing you want matters, you will do what you are told. Don’t bother to think for yourself.)

    He had no need to achieve, no need to participate, and no interest in learning English or writing. And he was the class monitor.

    Because he wouldn’t discuss in class, nobody else in that class wanted to discuss opinions on any topic, no matter how non-political it was. Most of those students were happy to discuss their ideas one-on-one, in my office hours, and I would give them feedback on how to write better, but that one student killed the class discussion – dead.

    I would not be surprised if those student groups in US universities also have such a student as part of them – somone whose future is fixed, and nothing they want matters – they were sent to get that diploma.

  18. All Roads Lead to China – Business News, Analysis, and Insights from China » All Chinese Students are ___ (Part 2) says:

    February 12th, 2012 at 7:08 pm

    […] it has been a few weeks since Dan at CLB posted his article (and I posted my response) about commonly held stereotypes held by American students of their Chinese cohorts on campus, I […]