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The Opening of the Chinese Mind?

This article from the New York Times notes an interesting consequence of China's one child policy when combined with what has been a growing economy:  increasing numbers of Chinese parents have been able and motivated to save for that one child's education in ways and numbers not previously imagined.  And a shortage of adequate universities to meet this demand in China has resulted in a large influx of Chinese students coming here; and not just as graduate students in the hard sciences, either.  Increasing numbers are coming here for an undergraduate education and, what is even more interesting; they are coming here--often--for the opportunities available at small to mid-size liberal arts colleges.  This is significant, according to the article, because up till now, "the concept of liberal arts, [and liberal arts colleges were] both relatively unknown in China."

The awakening to this type of education has to do, in part, with the publication of a now popular book in China that was written jointly by three Chinese graduates from Bowdoin College, Franklin & Marshall College, and Bucknell University.  The book apparently explains the purposes and the virtues of a liberal education and describes the sort that is available here in the United States.

Colleges and universities in the U.S., of course, responding to the new demand are looking at this as a potential way to make up for declining funds resulting from the recession . . . but wouldn't it be something, too, if a market demand from Chinese students (and students from other eastern nations) were to drive American universities back to a kind of liberal arts equivalent of the Great Awakening?   
Categories > Education

Discussions - 6 Comments

Get them to the right schools! Too many so many "liberal arts" schools are propaganda mills.

Too bad so many, etc.

AEI has a Tocqueville in China program for Chinese scholars, a Gary Schmitt-led attempt to teach Tocqueville. But who says it will be only soft despotism in the future?

A pro population control article. They are not saying the people of china can afford education and become yuppies like us they want us to have a one child policy.

The web links only yield so much info on this. Does anyone have translated segments of the book's main arguments or more info? I am very interested. A potentially significant mini-event(8,000 copies sold so far)...and note the American flag's prominent incorportation into the cover design! Liberal Education is American, and America at its best is Liberal Education. That seems the cover's message.

But what do these Chinese students mean by liberal education? One of them attends Bowdoin, where there is one prof, Jean Yarbrough, who is the real deal, teaches Amer Pol Thought but also has an amazing course on courtship and marriage that is an absolute showcase of what real, life-chaning liberal ed that engages with the best minds of the past ought to be. One of the Chinese student authors speaks warmly of Amherst, which is probably not a good sign. The noises coming out of that institution have been far more liberal (as in dogmatic politics) than educational for some time.

There is a conception of "liberal education" that simply defines it as embodying freedom, choice, vareity, "questioning," and leisure. The very wise Pomona college John Seery veered toward saying this in his defense of liberal education in his fine America Goes to College book ( In my one published essay, I criticize Seery for just this. You may find my essay in a book recently published Democracy Reconsidered (

And here, for those interested, is the most germane bit of my essay:

"Probably a majority of Americans today consider college be a kind of extended vacation, the purpose of which is to try your hand at freedom, which involves play. It is your chance to play with your identity, perhaps to “play the field” sexually before you settle down, to play with ideas and things intellectual, perhaps to play at being an athlete or a political activist, and generally, to try things out. College, in this view, is our brief opportunity to live like the true Democratic Man, the privileged and radically free one described by Plato, before we are consigned to go back to the competitive “real world,” in which we basically live like Tocqueville’s Democratic Man.
I do not endorse this view of what college is for—nor, ultimately, does Seery. But the prevalence of this view causes me to have reservations about the manner in which he defends liberal education. Let me here sketch what I hold liberal education to be. Liberal education should be thought of as having a primary and secondary purpose. Its primary purpose is to find, or at least get closer to, the truth—i.e., the truth about the whole, and about the most important questions. Because this is its goal, liberal education necessarily seeks to unify knowledge, to sit at the feet of the greatest thinkers, to foster openness, and to have the leisure to do this. In other words, conversation across the disciplines, the study of the Great Books, the intellectual courage to seriously entertain ideas that shock society, and a freedom from careerist concerns are all basic features of liberal education, but they are all means to the primary end, which is truth. They must not be mistaken as the end itself. But Seery often celebrates the leisurely openness of liberal education in isolation from its other features, as if it were the real aim: “…the spirit of liberal arts is to encourage you to try your hand at a range of activities. There is a time to be bookish, a time as well to play a part in a theatre
production, a time to take a class that simply won’t lead to a job, a time to make friends” (Seery, 90). Clearly, liberal educators should encourage their students to try different things, and particularly because young persons need to make an informed choice about the sort of life which is best for them, but they must also remind them that every activity exacts a price, that some are more virtuous than others, and that they stand with the college in seeing the activities in pursuit of wisdom as atop the hierarchy. They should regularly and roundly mock the conception of college as a four-year Freedom Festival in which you try a little of everything."

If you want to know what the secondary purpose of lib ed is, well, you gotta spring for the Democracy Reconsidered book, which also contains fine essays by Peter Lawler, Jim Ceaser, Elizabeth Kaufer-Busch, Martha Bayles, and John Seery himself.

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