Xueqin Jianghas been designing and implementing a specialized curriculum
for Chinese students planning to study in American colleges and
deputy principle of the
Peking High International Division, which
aims to educate China's next
generation of educators, writers, and thinkers by teaching them empathy
Transcripts:: Thanks so much to
Alicia Lui for doing the Transcripts!
Xueqin Jiang & Edwin
Rutsch: How to Build a Culture of Empathy in Chinese Education System
Jiang is the deputy principal of the International Division of the
Peking University Affiliated High School in Beijing
was born in China but grew up in Toronto, Canada and graduated from
Yale College in 1999. Since then he has worked in China under
different capacities first as a high school teacher, then as a
journalist, and a documentary film maker and for the past for years in
the study abroad education market in China
Time 00:52: What is
Peking University High School (PUHS)
·Peking University High School was founded
in 1960 as a lab school for Peking University so many of the
university’s professors received their training from this high school
and many professors sent their children to attend this school.
·Since the 60s this school has been
considered an innovative and progressive high school in China. Many
top scientists, thinkers and entrepreneurs such as the founder of Sina
have graduated from this school. What makes the school interesting is
the community and the interactions between teachers and students. The
school has a very nurturing environment. In 2010 they started the
·Since 2005 / 2006 many more Chinese
students have started to apply to study in the US even though study
abroad has been occurring since the mid 90s but this was primarily for
students who didn’t do very well in the Chinese system and opted to go
to school in Australia, Britain, Canada. In 2005 / 2006 the US started
to relax it’s visa restrictions against Chinese students so what we
started seeing was a lot of top students who could have attended
Peking University or Tsinghua University choosing to go to the US
·This trend has only accelerated since
then and right now (2012) there were over 160,000 Chinese students
studying on US campuses and you see entire classes opting out of the
Chinese system to go study in the US instead. This has become a huge
·In 2010 they started the International
Division to meet student demand but more as an experiment to see what
is possible in terms of education reform in China.
Time 03:18 Proposal
·ER and JXQ were connected because JXQ
entered the Ashoka Competition to activating and promoting empathy in
·Empathy is not a well-known concept in
China; in fact there is no good translation for the word. There is a
translation for sympathy but not empathy.
·There’s been debate in recent years that
the Chinese education system doesn't work and the question has been
“Why does China not produce Nobel prize winning scientists?” “Why
doesn’t China produce innovative entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs or Bill
Gates or Mark Zuckerburg?”
·JXQ: the key reason is empathy. Empathy
and creativity are directly linked and empathy leads to creativity. So
at his school they are trying to cultivate China’s next generation of
thinkers: the entrepreneurs, the writers, the scientists, and the
educators that are going to lead China in the 21st Century.
For them the fundamental essence has to be empathy because it’s the
foundation for collaboration, understanding group dynamics and the
need to work with others but also communication. Effective
communication requires the understanding of the other person, but also
JXQ is a strong believer in creativity. It’s the constant negotiation
of knowing who you are and what the world demands that will lead to
Time 05:40 Implement
empathy in China nationwide?
·JXQ: Right now in China there’s a
fundamental shift in society. For the past 20 / 30 years China was very
much a manufacturing base economy so all the innovation was happening
elsewhere. But as China shifts from an agricultural society towards and
industrial society with GDP growth of 8 / 9 % a year then you also see a
massive accumulation of wealth.
·But when you’re a manufacturing society you
need literate workers who can do simple tasks. That’s what Chinese
education is very good at doing – producing disciplined, focused
individuals who can read and write and the way they do this is by using
standardized examinations to filter out who succeeds and fails and this
motivation system works fine.
·What we’re finding now is China is shifting
from a manufacturing base economy to a knowledge base society. But
because of this education system students are not required to think for
themselves and they have no motivation to study outside of this school
·About 10 years ago Richard Florida wrote a
booked called “Rise of the Creative Class” about individuals who are
constantly learning, challenging themselves and who learn for the sake
of learning. Daniel Pink wrote “Drive” which talks about motivation 3.0
(intrinsic drive) and these are pretty much what China lacks right now.
Because of this China cannot progress as a society and its economy so
there’s a fundamental debate about how China can transition from this
manufacturing base economy to knowledge base economy.
·The school’s solution is empathy. It has to
be the fundamental essence of China. And the shift from standardized
tests to a more progressive education system. For the past two years the
school has been focusing on empathy
Time 08:50 is
empathy a word that the school uses? What about teachers, staff?
·JXQ: because empathy is a word that is
difficult to translate directly, they use different ideas to express
the same meaning: such as communication, collaboration, group
dynamics, self-learning, self-understanding, self-control.
Time 09:42 How to
build a culture of empathy?
·JXQ: humans through evolution have been
programmed and designed to be individuals through empathy. Empathy is
a natural state. We all have families, we have friends, and we have
colleagues. In order to effectively communicate with them we need
empathy. So really, empathy fundamentally is about being a human
being. So the question is: “What is happening in this world that is
reducing the level of empathy?” For example, China’s not a society
built on empathy and in the US you have the Wall Street scandals.
·The answer is probably that society is
increasingly focused on material ends like money and tests. PUHS is an
example of this. When the students entered they were products of the
Chinese system, standardized tests and incentive based learning and at
their school they have eliminated that culture and said, “here you’re
come in to learn to be individuals and to be thinkers.” They don’t
want short-term goals since learning is a life long process. Yet their
students come in and think their goal is to do well on the SAT or the
TOEFL or to be accepted by a top American school. So they tell their
students, “if you think that way then there’s no difference to being
in the Chinese system where your goal is to get into those top Chinese
universities” and that is the reason why many students lack empathy.
·Science shows that humans have two
centers: the altruistic, creative center and the other utilitarian
short-term center. These two centers are mutually exclusive. You can
choose to tell the students that “you’re in school to be better
individuals” or you can choose to tell students that they’re in school
to do well in standardized exams so you can get into a top college.”
You can choose one or the other or choose both. And what happens often
is that if you use the same message it's the short-term utilitarian
center that overrides the altruistic morale creative center. And
that’s what they have discovered in their program. That by constantly
engaging the utilitarian drive, students have become more creative,
more empathic, more moral individuals and this is something that their
school is proud of.
·They constantly reinforce this with group
dynamic in classes, having the students do group work, and constantly
reminding students that just because they do well in tests it doesn’t
mean they are smart. Being smart includes the ability to work with
different people and to be able to recognize the strengths of other
people and to match your strengths with the strengths of other people
to build something great, creative and long lasting.
·Last month (Feb 2012) the school sent
students to Botswana to do service learning to work with AIDS children
and disabled children. That was intellectually very challenging, to
shift from one culture to another culture and to adapt that requires
empathy. The students were able to do that, they had two teachers who
constantly worked with them and helped them process the experience.
·Their students came back transformed and
[empathy plays about 90% of it]. The other fundamental point is why
they go – to meet new people and to expand horizons. If you frame it
as something they should do to improve their college applications then
they go in with different motivations, their experience will be
different and they’ll come back not as transformed as they could have
been.So it’s very fundamental to tell students, and to both American
and Chinese society to move away from seeking short-term materialistic
rewards and goals and move towards a more holistic thinking,
altruistic based society thinking.
and China at the moment are too focused on the individual, on short
term goals like test scores and money
Definition of empathy
·JXQ: Thinks empathy is related to many
things. Empathy, morality, altruism and creativity are all linked
together somehow (even though there is no science behind it). One
reinforces the other.
·Empathy is the ability to be able to
adapt the viewpoints of others. It’s very easy for us to know what we
think but the ability to sympathize or understand what they think and
to articulate their viewpoint.
·From an intellectual perspective, the
ability to articulate and read another person’s mind is the most
·ER also shared his definitions of
empathy: the 4 parts of empathy: Self empathy (self awareness,
mindfulness – sensory awareness of what you personally feel); mirrored
empathy (your body mirrors whoever you’re interacting with); theory of
mind / imaginative empathy / cognitive empathy (being able to take the
position of someone else and see the world from their perspective);
empathic action (as we connect we create action together that is an
empathic type of action).
·JXQ shared the individualization and
socialization process that educators use. You first go through the
individualization process before you can socialize. Individualization
is similar to ER’s definition of self-empathy.
Time 20:40 on
requiring a big cultural shift towards empathy in China
·China’s model (more authoritarian,
patriarchal, hierarchal, you always follow the leader) and that is
very different from the definition of empathy, which is feeling
everyone for their humanity and how we see each other’s humanity. So
it seems to be a huge cultural change and shift
·There is a problem in China and that’s
the hierarchy where power is distributed unevenly, so the ones with
power feel it is their right to bully the ones who are powerless and
that’s why China lacks a culture of empathy
·But that’s also a problem for
communication and creativity as well. For communication you need
equality; you need to respect and trust that people you are
communicating with and China lacks communication as well. With
creativity you need a culture of innovation where you’re not afraid to
lose face, to make mistakes or to offend your superiors.
·China is very much in need of these three
aspects: creativity, communication and empathy to progress as a
society and civilization. Fundamentally it’s a question of power
distribution. If China wants to progress it needs to fundamentally
reexamine its political system and look at its effectiveness in the 21st
century global economy.
Time 23:20 How to
create that empathy within society? What’s the picture in China for the
development of empathy?
·JXQ: believes strongly that empathy is
about being an effective school, business and society. Which is the
ability to channel the creativity, the energy of everyone involved to
create something great. You look at companies that treat their
employees with respect like Google or Apple or Facebook, which
encourages their employees to be creative individuals and remove
something called scientific management from the equation, where people
aren’t treated like animals anymore. These are creative companies that
have shown they can grow and any company that employs a culture of
empathy can show growth. And it’s because of the way Americans have
been educated. They do go into the workplace expecting to be treated
as equals, to be given autonomy and freedom to pursue what they love.
The companies that do this seem to [fry] and the companies that go
against that they suffer.
·In China the issue is there is no word
for empathy; there is no understanding of the word empathy in this
culture. The closest word is sympathy (same feeling in Chinese) and
the word for compassion.
·What China needs is to be first shown the
concept of empathy and that’s what their school tries to show. If you
remove pressure and hierarchy and standardized testing from the
Chinese system and focus more on a culture of empathy students become
happier and become more motivated and creative and more driven to
learn; they’re become better at collaborating together. That’s what
they have seen in their students and they feel quite strongly that
they need a showcase to inform people of the possibilities of what
empathy can lead to.
·JXQ: At the moment businesses are willing
to discuss empathy because of what companies like Apple, Google were
able to accomplish and if you didn’t have these companies then you’d
might not have as many companies talking about empathy. So they feel
strongly that their school is a lab, a showcase for what is possible.
And even if empathy is not explicitly articulated it is in the blood
and culture of the school.
Time 27:00 How to
maximize empathy? It seems very important to first have a word for
·JXQ: China is very different from
America; an example is driving in China. It seems like drivers in
China don’t have awareness for other drivers or pedestrians. It’s like
they feel that because they have a car then they can do whatever they
want. The culture of mutual respect doesn’t seem to exist here. It
seems more a culture of power, face and shame and less about empathy.
When Americans are together there seems to be a culture of empathy at
the fundamental level; even strangers can do that. But in China
strangers do not express empathy with each other; families can though.
Families are very tight knit and connected so there is a fundamental
misunderstanding of the world about China. China as a nation is quite
fragile and weak and that’s because there is no empathy, there is no
social glue to glue everyone together and to think nationally.
·China is still very clan based / family
Connecting with other schools to share experiences or lesson plans or
learning activities …
·What the school does is very special in
China; it’s quite distinctive and their students enjoy it. They feel
better as individuals and as students; they feel respected and they
feel empowered in our culture. However the parents themselves are
under tremendous pressure because they have different social circles,
which tell them, “What is your kid doing? Your child wants to go to
America? Why is he not studying for the SAT right now? Why’s he not
memorizing words? Why’s he reading books and going to Africa to do
volunteer work? What’s the point of that?” So what’s important for the
school is to connect with other schools and to share the philosophy.
They do want to be part of a global network because what they do in
China is so challenging, so it’s good for the students and it can
reinforce the values that they are trying to teach and at the same
time can broaden their horizons which leads to greater empathy.
·JXQ: hopes in the future that ER can
arrange for their students to discuss with other students from other
·Mutual benefits to talk to students who
are not Western educated
Time 33:00 what is
Jiang Xueqin’s personal metaphor on empathy
·JXQ: dolphin is the first image that
comes to his mind because they are considered to have empathy. Empathy
is like water and it’s like ear. It’s fundamental to life and society
cannot function without it. Empathy nourishes us and it’s fundamental
to who we are; and it’s fundamentally what we are actually; it’s the
source of life. If water is to the individual then empathy is to the
society. If society lacks empathy then it slowly starts to degenerate
Time 35:20 what was
the actual Ashoka proposal
·What PUHS tries to do is called “Empathy
in Practice” so even if they don’t explicitly articulate it nor do
they indoctrinate their students with it, empathy is fundamental to
everything they do and their focus. They have students focus on this
program that is fundamental to their identity.
·The first is on reading literature. JXQ
wants his students to be lifelong readers and traditionally literature
was used to teach empathy in schools because literature is about
seeing the world through someone’s perspectives or through their
characters. And writers themselves are people with tremendous empathy
for themselves and for the community. So reading is fundamental to
what they do. And it’s unfortunate that reading has been increasingly
irrelevant in schools.
·So the proposal to Ashoka was showcasing
the school and what they are doing.
·Empathy cannot be done half-heartedly and
it can’t be a class on empathy only; it’s like water and it needs to
·The second is on group dynamics and that
prevails every class and they try to get the students to learn to work
together. It’s not that easy to get students to work together and
there are things that need to be emphasized, such as
self-understanding, appreciation of other’s strengths and weaknesses,
appreciating that different people bring different things to the
·The third is to emphasize evidence and
logic and for them it’s been via debate. Also to offer specific
feedback during discussions. For students and even for adults it’s
quite easy for discussions to degenerate into insults so the ability
to hold yourself back and offer specific feedback requires empathy.
·What’s important therefore is also to
offer feedback to students for what they do. For reading the feedback
is reflected in that the difficulty is higher as they read more so
they feel a sense of accomplishment. Group work is also important
because at the end of the day there’s also something concrete from it.
·The school is trying to move away from
tests to papers, presentations, and experiments. They read many books
to train themselves on neuroscience and many books that discuss the
importance of empathy. So empathy is very fundamental to their culture
and their practices.
Time 39:25 Student
is invited to participate in discussion; her name is Rebecca and a grade
·Rebecca has been in the PUHS program
since the first day
·Rebecca: there hasn’t been a good
translation for the word empathy because in Chinese there isn’t a word
that is as broad as empathy. There are smaller words that mean
“thinking for others”
·If you use the German derivatives of the
word which mean feeling and thinking, you can translate feeling as “感觉，思考
(gan3 jue2, si1 kao3)“
·It’s been so difficult to translate in
Chinese because unlike in western culture where the word has been used
for so long that use of the word brings up specific connotations or
ideas, they don’t exist in China. So even if you created a word to
capture the essence of the empathy it still wouldn’t have the same
·Rebecca has learnt about empathy from her
trip to Botswana, which for her and many classmates was their first
time to Africa. They went in with many stereotypes but Botswana turned
out to be very different from what they expected. The people were very
nice, they always greeted each other on the streets, and they were
very nice to the students. And they did service learning in Botswana.
Because most of them are single children at home they’re not
accustomed to always thinking about someone else like when you have a
brother or sister.
·Rebecca stayed with a home stay family
and her counterpart had brothers and sisters, including younger
siblings. So when they ate her friend would say things like “don’t get
too close to the television” or “you can’t eat with your hands like
that” or “have you washed your hands?” and she was constantly thinking
about them. For Rebecca she’s never had that experience where she’s
always worrying about someone else all the time.
·During the service learning they worked
with children who had Down syndrome, some of who had difficulties
expressing themselves and she was sitting with one girl who couldn’t
speak. This girl was supposed to draw something but she had problems
holding the pen so they just say there for half and hour and for
Rebecca that half an hour was a long time to be thinking about what
the girl wants and what she was thinking about and it was probably the
longest time she had spent just trying to get into someone’s head to
feel what they’re feeling right now. The girl would always look at a
group of people who were eating so Rebecca thought she was thirsty and
through the teachers communicated with the girl to get her some water.
It was a very different experience for Rebecca. She realizes after
this trip that she was lacking this sense that there are constantly
people around you. When she’s home there’s only her so it’s easy to
only think of herself and forget the rest of the world.
·JXQ: Chinese students have very little
experiences growing up, they pretty much go to school and they go
home. They don’t really date, they don’t really work and have very few
interests outside of school. Because their experiences are limited
their emotional range is also limited and that hinders empathy.
Time 48:00 Empathy
is also about the feeling of others experiences. @Rebecca – who did she
feel the closest to during her trip to Botswana?
·Rebecca: probably the girl she stayed
with for the home stay family even though she only stayed for 1 night.
But it gave them sufficient time to talk to each other and they talked
till very late at night so got to know each other.
Ends around 49:00
(The rest is chitchat
about connecting with other schools)