LESSONS IN SEPARATION
Sending children to study abroad is pretty commonplace in China today. So it should be no surprise that a TV series based on the subject is making waves. Xu Fan reports.
In 2006, Lu Qiang toured the United States to visit some famous universities. The veteran reporter saw a number of Chinese there, most of whom had begun their US educations in middle school.
“They had left home as teenagers.”
But this was from the past.
“Earlier, most Chinese went abroad to study after graduation,” says Lu, better known by his pseudonym, Lu Yingong.
Realizing what he was witnessing was unprecedented — in later years, it led to headlines aboutChinese students abroad “getting younger” — Lu decided to document what he saw.
The then deputy editor-inchief of the Hangzhou-based QianjiangEveningNews started by interviewingChinese students in Russia in 2007 and Japan a fewyears later.
Recalling what he saw then, he tells China Daily in a telephone interview: “The parents struggled and hesitated, apart from enduring the long separations from the only child in the family.”
The emotional trauma he witnessed is woven into his novel A Love for Separation.
The work struck a chord. Within weeks of the publication of the 120,000-character tale in early 2013, at least six film studios called Lu for the rights.
His work has come into the spotlight again with a namesake television series, starring Huang Lei andHaiQing.
The series, which ran from mid-August to early September this year, is a hit.
It topped TV ratings in a 35-city survey, dominates the hot-topic list on China’s Twitter-like Sina Weibo, and has been watched nearly 4.7 billion times on video-streaming sites.
On the country’s largest review site, Douban.com, 10,674 viewers gave it scores that average 7.9points out of 10.
For many viewers, the series isareflection of the anxietyand frustration they face because of the Chinese college-entrance exam, or gao-kao, which uses scores as the only criterion for admission.
One viewer, who reviewed the series on Douban.com, says: “The conflict between Duoduo and her mother (who pushes her daughter hard) is what happens inmy life. Every time the school releases scores, a departure I feel extremely scared if I fail to meet my mother’s expectations.”
In the series, three teenagers — from a low-income, a middle-class and a rich family, respectively — face the same dilemma: stay home or go abroad to study.
Dwelling on the subject of sending children abroad to study, chief producer Xu Xiao’ou tells China Daily: “It’s not an easy choice. Besides the separation, families also have to endure economic stress, culture shock and language barriers.
“The struggle resonates with Chinese audiences. Most of them see their depression and confusion reflected in the series,” Xu says.
“The series reflects a changing trend and provokes thought about the state of education in China and the accompanying social issues.”
Meanwhile, the popularity of the series has prompted the producers to work on a sequel.
To prepare for this, Lu says he traveled to the United States earlier this month to meet students, parents and consultants to write the script for the second season.
Zeng Minghui, publicity director of Linmon Pictures, says the series, which is now running again on the small screen, will be broadcast in Taiwan, North America and some Southeast Asian countries.
“The timing is yet to be decided. But the version for the US market will be dubbed,” he says.
For Lu, whoisnowanauthor and professor at Zhejiang University of Media and Communications, the wave of sending youngChinese abroad to study, which began around 2005, is different from the earlier ones.
According to him, the Chinese have had a long history of pursuing advanced studies overseas — with peaks at the end of the Qing Dynasty (16441911), in the 1950s and in the 1980s.
He says what differentiates the currentwave is that domestic college fees have surged in recent years, making going abroad not as expensive as in the past.
He also adds that most parents now are well-educated and favor Western education for their children.
Lu, who sent his daughter to the US to study, also says a US middle school background makes it easier for Chinese students to be admitted to prestigious US universities, which is another reason the number of adolescent Chinese students going abroad is rising.
Government statistics show the number of Chinese students studying abroad was 500,000 last year, making China the top source of international students in such major host countries as the US, the
(Send Children to the Ivy League Schools and Colleges), who sent her teenage daughter to the US in 2005, says: “It gives them (the children) more options and opens their eyes, making them more international.”
Separately, one is also seeing parents take up a domestic option, which has appeared in recent years.
He Chugang, general manager of Amber Education (South China), says many Chinese families opt for international schools in China instead of sending their children abroad.
But any way you look at it, the trend shows Chinese parents are becoming more open to other education systems.
“Adolescence is the most significanttimeof life forahuman being. It affects your entire life. And an increasing number of Chinese parents are realizing that children should have a happy adolescence,” Lu says.
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