Hard choice

TV se­ries about chil­dren study­ing abroad makes waves

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - Con­tact the writer at xu­fan@chi­nadaily.com.cn

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.

Phe­nom­e­nal boom

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.

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