this is a brief gathering of and musing about rumors i have recently heard about how much money (a few, but clearly influential) shenzhen parents are willing to spend on their child´s education.
at a teashop: daughter is at a u.s. university, which happens to be a $60.00 cab ride into the city, where she can buy good food to cook in the dorm kitchen, rather than eat in the cafeteria. if daughter goes into the city even once a week, its probably an additional $200 a week for trip and food. the mother considered a worthwhile investment for two reasons: (1) daughter isn´t yet ready to drive in a foreign country (safety first) and (2) cafeteria food isn´t as nutritious as homemade chinese food. truthfully, i understood the reasons, even if my financial threshold is much lower.
at an italian restaurant: family worked very hard to get son into a private high school in the u.s. the allure of this particular high school is that a high percentage of graduates go on to the ivy league. with preparation, tuition and travel between u.s. and shenzhen and other stuff that son needs to be comfortable, the family spent 1 million rmb to make this possible. this one had me trying to figure out where all the money had gone. even if i estimate tuition and boarding to be $50,000 that still leaves about $100,000 unaccounted for.
on a bus: there are many people trying to get investment green cards in california (at least 1 million u.s.) because then they will enjoy discounted rates to the u.c. system. this investment will also give the child something to do, once she graduates from college.
what becomes clear in these stories is how important a child´s education is for the expression of social value. indeed, through these stories, parents and others debate what it means to be a family and a global citizen. these families are debating: how much is too much to spend on an education? and why is it important to get a good education even if there is no immediate return on investment? in other words, yes these are huge sums of money, but it is money invested in children, who remain our future. so there is a particular understanding of what is necessary for the future to be better.
given how hard it is to earn these sums in china, what becomes painfully clear is that a top education represents the ¨good life¨ and many shenzheners want this life very, very badly, if not for themselves at least for their children. and this future is clearly american. in every story i´ve heard (yes, self selected sample, not even pretending random), the u.s. exemplifies both the kind of future these parents want for their children as well as the kind of education they feel will make that future possible.
moreover, these rumors interestingly link up with the desire that infuses the study of english in shenzhen. everyday, cabby´s, janitors, college students, and friends tell me that their lives would be significantly better if they could speak english. for a long time, i misheard the desire in the rush to study english. i kept hearing, ¨want to make more money,¨ which is true as far as it goes. however, listening to the rumors of the cost of an education, i finally understood the point: these are people who want out of their current situation and see the foreign as the way. or rather ¨english¨ names the skills that will allow them transition into a new and presumably better lives.
at this moment, shenzhen education desires dovetail with american fantasies of how chinese investment can save the u.s. economy. uncomfortable and unhappy where we are, we seek elsewhere as if on the journey we could become otherwise, leaving our troubled selves behind.