Category Archive: Kelly Yang

Kelly Yang

Former chief secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang said that, “We don’t want Hong Kong to be just another Chinese city”. I could not agree more. We’ve all worked too hard and been through too much for Hong Kong to be just another Tianjin or Shanghai. And it’s in China’s interests, too, that Hong Kong doesn’t become just another Chinese city, and instead keeps its rights, practices and traditions – including the right to free speech.

That right is a fundamental part of Hong Kong, one that I, like many Hongkongers, hold dear. I support every person who wants to express his or her opinion; dialogue, discussion and debate are the cornerstones of a healthy society. This is what I teach my students, from five years old to 18, every day. But when freedom of speech morphs into the freedom to interrupt and disrupt, it gets tricky.

Last week, just before all the Occupy Central protests, I visited my dentist at his new office. For four years, he had worked for a bigger dental practice, saving up for this moment, when he was finally ready to break out on his own. It’s a risky move. In a town full of medical groups and fancy offices, his looked tiny in comparison. But he didn’t let that deter him. I watched as he hopped around his new office, getting this cleaning tool and that sink ready. He was dizzy with excitement.

Then, Occupy Central happened. When it did, I immediately called him. I was supposed to go and see him on Monday. He told me not to bother. Because of Occupy Central, he can’t open his office. Nobody will come in anyway now, he said. His office is smack in the middle of Central. When I asked him if he thought everything was going to be OK, he said with a loud sigh: “Who knows?”

My dentist was not talking about Hong Kong democracy. He was talking about his life.

In Hong Kong, having to close up a shop is no joke. With sky-high rents, closing, even for a few days, could destroy a small business. When I hung up the phone, I sat there stunned. That’s when it dawned on me that, in this fight for democracy, we may also be crushing a lot of dreams – not through tear gas and pepper spray, but through something that’s also dangerous: disruption.

These dreams are not the dreams of Beijing or Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying. They are the dreams of innocent, hard-working people like my dentist – the kind of conscientious, good people who make up Hong Kong. These people did nothing wrong. By making it impossible to go to their store, by making it hard for people to go to work or children to go to school, we’re hurting all the people who live in Hong Kong. It may not seem like a big deal in the grand scheme of things, and I’m confident that, when Occupy Central is over, many people will be able to quickly rebuild. But some won’t.

This is not to say that I think the protesters should give up; that they shouldn’t fight for what they believe in. They absolutely should. But I believe that the pen is mightier than the sword. And it’s far, far mightier than disruption.

Kelly Yang teaches writing at The Kelly Yang Project, an after-school centre for writing and debate in Hong Kong. She is a graduate of UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School.

Kelly Yang, New York Times



Although Chinese state news media have cited concerns recently that the United States is indoctrinating Chinese students by including its founding documents upholding freedom and human rights in the SAT, teachers and parents don’t seem to be too alarmed.

As American universities become a popular choice among affluent Chinese who want their children to receive top-quality higher education, hundreds of thousands of Chinese students are taking the SAT college admission test every year. Last year, nearly 200,000 Chinese students went to universities in the United States, the state news agency Xinhua reported.

The growing number of young Chinese who are eager to attend American universities has spawned a large number of companies vowing to help students ace the test, forming a lucrative industry for SAT test preparation across the country.

An English-language newspaper in Hong Kong, The South China Morning Post, published a column last month by Kelly Yang, a local SAT tutor, who asserted that the SAT redesign scheduled for 2016 would be “the first time America is able to systematically shape the views, beliefs and ideologies of hundreds of thousands of Chinese students.”

The Beijing Youth Daily reported recently that some Chinese were worried that the minds of the country’s young would be “forcibly infiltrated with American values.” The report, which was distributed by Xinhua, was paired with a cartoon of Uncle Sam holding a hamburger and a movie reel on one side while, with another hand, thrusting forward a piece of paper that says, “SAT ideology and politics.”

The College Board, the organization that administers the SAT, in March announced a broad SAT overhaul that will be implemented in 2016 in response to criticisms in the United States. Among the changes is a new evidence-based reading and writing section, which will contain a passage from one of America’s founding documents — including the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Federalist Papers — or from a text inspired by the documents, like the Gettysburg Address.

Despite the state media criticism of the overhaul, some teachers and parents say they believe that studying the American documents can better prepare Chinese students for life abroad.

“This has already been a highly diversified society,” said Ju Jinrong, an SAT tutor at New Oriental, a large, private education company in China. “Young people get exposed to such Western values all the time through the Internet and Hollywood movies. It’s not that they can only come to know the values through SAT,” she said.

Ms. Ju says she doubts that the United States is intentionally exporting its ideologies through the test, which is the same for Americans and students from other countries.

“The majority taking the SAT are still American students. If America wants to export its ideology, why don’t they redesign TOEFL?” she asked, referring to the Test of English as a Foreign Language, which all students from non-English-speaking countries must take to apply to universities in the United States.

Mr. Yu, who gave only his surname, is the father of a Beijing student who is to take the SAT next year. He said he would not be concerned even if his son were to take the test in 2016 and believes it is good for his son to understand different political systems.

“Even if he doesn’t learn such Western ideologies in the test, he will be exposed to them throughout the four years in college anyway,” he said. “I don’t think learning Western ideologies will completely change his mind. People of his generation are able to think independently and see merits in every system.”

Li Zhou, who is in charge of the elite Beijing No.4 High School’s special program for students seeking to apply to American universities, believes that studying such historical documents before students leave for the United States will serve them well.

“Only through studying extensively can we develop critical thinking,” he said.

“Asking students to read those documents and learn world history is in no way brainwashing. Nothing to fear,” Mr. Li said. “Only Chinese think education means brainwashing.”

He said the redesign was a “positive change” because it “forces” Chinese students to understand American society beforehand.

Dong Yuxiu, an SAT tutor at FocusEdu, which specializes in SAT test preparation, agrees.

“Understanding how American history and politics has developed will definitely help students better adjust to the new environment and integrate into American society,” she said.

Ms. Dong said she believes the redesign will not put Chinese students at a severe disadvantage so long as they have overcome the language barrier. She said SAT preparation companies could also easily cope with the change by providing students with more reading material about American history and politics.

“I think as long as a student has strong English, plus a little bit of common sense, she should be able to cope,” she said, adding that her company will start to tweak its curriculum in 2015 for the new test.

A 16-year-old student at a prestigious Beijing high school agreed. She will take the test in 2016 and says she is not troubled by the redesign. She asked not to be named.

“Of course it will be harder for us Chinese students because we never studied the documents before, but we can from now on read more about American history and politics to get fully prepared,” she said.

Asked whether she realized she would be studying ideologies drastically different from the ones she has been instilled with, she said: “There is no way to skirt the political stuff. It will be part of our life sooner or later.”