This week we have four very different stories from mainland Media. The first talks about the rising rich poor gap in Hong Kong. Our second looks at changes to women’s’ rights in China, especially following the COVID epidemic. Our third is about a new Cold War that may affect relations between the West and China. Our last is about the continuing debate in China about the need to continue compulsory English tuition in schools.
Hong Kong’s rich-poor gap
On Tuesday (6th) “Forbes” announced the 2021 Global Rich List. 23 Hong Kong people or families will be among the top 500 in the world, with net worth ranging from more than US$5 billion to more than US$30 billion. Most of the world’s richest people have gained wealth in the past year, and those with assets of US$1 billion or more have soared from 2,095 last year to 2,755.
On Thursday (8th) Citibank issued the “Hong Kong Multimillionaire Survey Report”. Last year, the number of citizens in Hong Kong with assets of tens of millions of Hong Kong dollars or more increased to 515,000, an increase of over 2% year-on-year. Calculated by respondents aged 21 to 79, that is, there is one multi-millionaire for every 12 Hong Kong people, and the number is a record high.
At the same time, the unemployment rate in Hong Kong rose from 6.6% in the fourth quarter of last year to 7.0% and 7.2%. The number of unemployed has reached 262,000, and another 155,000 are underemployed. Looking back at the “Hong Kong Poverty Report 2019” released at the end of last year, the number of poor people in Hong Kong before the outbreak of the epidemic had risen to 1.49 million, with a poverty rate of 21.4%. Both set new highs since 2009.
“The poor get poorer, the rich get richer.” The seemingly simple eight words, but the life behind it is full of blood and tears, which is not enough for outsiders. The white-haired mother-in-law hunched her back to pick up papers, while the uncle was eating the lunch box overnight, and the family of four shrank in a 100-foot sub-room.
Compared with the dazzling Victoria Harbour, the wealthy people’s rising net worth is even more ironic and absurd.
Women’s rights in China
Does “marrying” mean that a woman walks into a home, or is she supporting a home, or does it have to be attached to a home? Anyway, women’s rights are closely related to family structure. The epidemic that makes it impossible to go out makes 2020 a year for everyone to rethink “home”.
Entering 2021, the Mainland officially implemented the “Civil Code”, trying to provide clear protection for the weak in family disputes from the legal level. Cases of domestic violence and housework compensation have become the focus of the news. Coupled with the divorce cooling-off period and childbirth support policies, it will ultimately affect China’s overall population development.
The complex situation faced by women today far exceeds the scope of the family. It also involves the workplace, equal rights, reproductive rights, non-marriage rights, and the single economy. From whether to give birth to the second child, to the distribution of property and the possibility of more same-sex marriages, these are still an unfinished journey that must be achieved through institutional changes and conceptual evolution.
After the epidemic in the Mainland stabilized a bit last year, the first family topic that arose was: Why are people queuing up to get divorced? It seems that the relationship between men and women has not improved during lockdown. On the contrary, conflicts have intensified (so now we must introduce a divorce cooling-off period). Of course, the increase in the number of divorces after the epidemic includes those that could not be processed during shutdown, but the real reflection still needs to be faced squarely.
The concept of family and women’s roles in China is being reshaped, linked to the transformation of women’s roles and the protection of their rights. At the turning point from 2020 to 2021, the newly implemented “Civil Code” and resumption of normal of life at home – these have brought the situation of women and the challenges they faced to the focus of public opinion.
A new cold war?
The Foreign Relations Committee of the US Senate met on April 14 to discuss and vote on a bipartisan “Strategic Competition Act of 2021” to strengthen the ability to prevent China from expanding its global influence. This is a special bill completely aimed at China’s threat. Once passed, it is tantamount to proclaiming the beginning of a new cold war between the United States and China.
This 283-page bill requires the U.S. government to strengthen its monitoring of Chinese weapons and space equipment. It will also strengthen the protection of human rights through allies and multilateral mechanisms. And it will curb the harm to human rights caused by China’s expansion in Asia and the world. In other words, the bill would be the US national policy towards China in the medium and long term and the tone is not friendly.
China’s response has aggravated the antagonism between the two countries. The rise of nationalist sentiment has changed China’s diplomatic policy of keeping a low profile. On the one hand, the strength accumulated over decades of reform has greatly enhanced China’s national self-confidence and pride: it has begun to strive for international status and influence that matches its own national strength. On the other hand, the historical memory of the so-called “hundred-year national humiliation” has caused China’s posture to easily swing between sadness and pride, giving the outside world the impression that emotions are higher than rationality.
Since the start of the Sino-US trade war, the contradiction between China and the Western world seems to have been increasing. Considering the implementation of the Hong Kong National Security Law, the dispute over the “genocide” of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang, the origin and accountability of the coronavirus, the call for “armed reunification” against Taiwan, the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, and other issues, China and the United States are increasingly divided.
It is becoming more difficult to communicate with Western countries, mainly the European Union. The China-Europe Comprehensive Investment Agreement, which was originally regarded as a diplomatic breakthrough by China, has recently been on the brink of hitting the rock because of China’s increase in counter-EU sanctions on the Xinjiang issue. Following Britain and France, Germany announced that it would dispatch warships to the South China Sea in August, reflecting the speed and extent of the reversal of Sino-European relations.
The sudden blockage of the Suez Canal in March highlights the fragility of economic globalization, or accelerates the adjustment of the world’s industrial chain, and affects the economic foundation of the existing geopolitical structure. After the COVID-19 pandemic, the deep dependence of the economies of various countries on each other will probably undergo profound changes. As the world’s factory, China may suffer a lot from this. If the tension between China and the Western world does not improve, the current international investment and foreign trade environment may not be able to avoid the deterioration of the situation.
No more compulsory English teaching in our schools.
During the National “Two Sessions”, a CPPCC member’s suggestion of no longer making English a compulsory subject for the college entrance examination has aroused concern and heated discussions in the mainland education community and society. Recently, the Chinese Ministry of Education’s examination centre officially issued an announcement stating that the Cambridge General English Test Band 5 (MSE) will no longer be held from now on, again making this issue a hot topic in public opinion.
English courses in the Mainland have been arranged for more than 20 years, and similar controversy has arisen before. In 2013, when discussing the reform of the high school and college entrance examination, the criticism of English teaching in society was fierce. At that time, some people even proposed to cancel English classes in elementary schools and add subjects such as Chinese studies. There are two very different positions in Mainland society as to whether primary and secondary schools should abolish the status of the main subject of English subjects.
Xu Jin, a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, proposed that the status of compulsory education in English should be reformed. Other CPPCC members proposed to cancel it, saying it was a waste of time
Xu Jin’s suggestion is based on two arguments: First, English teaching accounts for about 10% of students’ total class hours, but English is only useful for less than 10% of college graduates. The application rate is low; second, in the era of artificial intelligence, language translation is very convenient. Even if you don’t speak English, it will not affect your life. This topic quickly aroused widespread discussion in the mainland public opinion field.
Public opinion is divided. One part agrees. Parents of students must spend a lot of money and time in English classes outside of school for ten to twelve years. It takes time and effort, but the learning effect is not good. After entering society, English is only useful for the work and life of a few people, which is high input and low output. As for cross-cultural communication, it can be solved by artificial intelligence, translators, and other technical means.
Of course, there are also some people who disagree. They say that learning English is not only for mastering a foreign language and facilitating communication, but also for the citizens to actively participate in globalization. At the same time, public education provides English for all citizens. Education is an important means to promote social mobility and equity.
Where should the English education in the Mainland, especially the English education in primary and secondary schools go? That is the question today.