TV series about children studying abroad makes waves
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 a departure 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 about Chinese students abroad “getting younger” — Lu decided to document what he saw.
The then deputy editor-inchief of the Hangzhou-based Qianjiang Evening News started by interviewing Chinese 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 and HaiQing.
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 is a reflection of the anxiety and 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, 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, who is now an author and professor at Zhejiang University of Media and Communications, the wave of sending young Chinese 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 current wave 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.
The parents struggled and hesitated, apart from enduring the long separations from the only child in the family.”
Lu Qiang, author
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 United Kingdom, Australia and Canada, domestic media report.
Also, reports from several agencies handling Chinese students going abroad show that nearly 50 percent of inquiries now are about middle schools.
The annual cost for a teenager studying in the US is between250,000 ($37,500) and 500,000 yuan, says Li Peng, vice-general manager of the Beijing-based agency, Kentrexs Enterprise.
“Culture shock and different lifestyles are among the main obstacles,” Li says.
For instance, he says, some Chinese who opt for homestays are used to having the shower curtain outside the bathtub when they bathe, but this causes the bathroom floor to get wet and this often annoys the host family.
“There are other trivial issues, too, but the overseas experience does teach them to become independent,” says Li.
This view is echoed by a number of Chinese parents.
Yu Jie, a 53-year-old mother, who sent her 14-year-old son to the US in 2015, says around 90 percent of the parents she reached out to feel anxious and miss their children for the first six months. But the overseas education benefits the youth.
Guo Li, one of the authors of the best-selling Song Haizi Qu Changqingteng (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 significant time of life for a human being. It affects your entire life. And an increasing number of Chinese parents are realizing that children should have a happy adolescence,” Lu says.
The hit TV series ALoveforSeparation, starring Huang Lei (right) and Hai Qing (third from right), is about Chinese parents sending their teenage children to study abroad.
Chinese students Karl Li (second from right), from Jiangsu, and Wisdom Xiewei (right), from Chongqing, are joined by their host family following a Vietnamese dinner in Temecula, California.
“Helen” Zhou Hailun, from Chengdu, poses on campus at Linfield Christian School in Temecula. She is part of the increasing wave of Chinese students attending US schools and colleges.