Moving at the Speed of Creativity by Wesley Fryer

Chinese Parental Expectations, Creativity, and Chinese Film Recommendations

Early this morning (thanks in part to the delayed effects of jet lag) I finished reading Shouhua Qi’s outstanding book, “Bridging the Pacific: Searching for Cross-Cultural Understanding Between the United States and China.” Dr. Qi is currently a professor of English at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury. I shared a few ideas I gleaned from the book in my post last Sunday, “Takeaways from the 21st Century Learning @ Hong Kong Conference.” I’d like to share a few more thoughts and learning points I had while reading it.

Why do we stereotypically think of east Asian students, including Chinese students, as struggling with creativity in school and in society more generally? Like all stereotypes this is not an accurate perception universally, but it is something I’ve encountered previously both in literature and casual conversations. On pages 201-202 of his book, Qi offers the following insights into this question.

All children of Chinese descent living in this country [the United States] can testify as to how hard it is to win a word of praise from their parents. One of the scariest days in their lives is when their report card is coming by mail. Even if they have always been straight-A students. They know too well that their parents’ eyes will glide over all perfect grades, only to be glued to any tiny imperfections. Their parents always like to see the bottle as at least one percent empty. They always expect more, and so do I. Tough love…

I used to wonder why the once-splendid Chinese civilization has somewhat faded in the last couple of centuries. But the answer seems obvious now. Absence of positive reinforcement for the last few millenia has finally traumatized her children, stunted their growth and creative power, and stifled their enterprising spirit to venture out into new territories.

So, if the Chinese are serious about reclaiming their lost glory, they’ve got to lighten up. They’ve got to stop being miserly with words and learn to say, “Wonderful!” “Fantastic!” and “Super!” enthusiastically. Especially when it comes to their children.

Some educational observers are fond of deriding efforts in U.S. schools to help students build up their self-esteem, and seem to subscribe to the approach referenced by Qi in this passage of rarely ever praising children for their efforts and creativity. It is certainly true that the feedback of adults can have a big impact on the degree to which young people feel empowered and supported in acting in creative ways and taking creative risks. As we continue our “Storychasing Creativity” project, it will be interesting to see how different people answer the questions “What does it take to increase your creativity?” and “How can others best encourage you to be creative?” Verbal encouragement must figure high on the list of answers, I’d hypothesize.

Apparently Oklahoma is not one of the better-known U.S. states in east Asia. On my flight back from Hong Kong last week, I sat next to someone who spoke very little English, but asked me where I was going. I tried to explain I was returning home to Oklahoma, but they didn’t have any idea what I was talking about. This was my extremely poor attempt at sketching the outline of the United States, and showing both Minneapolis (where we were flying from Tokyo) as well as Oklahoma. Obviously my own art skills never advanced much beyond the second grade level of competency. Yet, we do what we must to communicate in intercultural circumstances, despite perceived artistic disabilities!

My poor airplane sketch of the U.S. and Oklahoma

My airplane row companion was heading to Disneyworld in Florida. I suppose that might seem to be the “ultimate” U.S. vacation destination for visitors from east Asia?

Last of all, I found the following Chinese film references from Qi very interesting, and may add several of these to our family Netflix queue. I cannot vouch for the content and appropriateness of these for younger audiences, but Qi does raise interesting issues about the themes of Chinese films and how these are perceived both in the West and in China. These Chinese responses are particularly interesting, including those like the “China Can Say No” campaign from 1996 which questions a wholesale embrace of Western ideals as well as economic terms.

Life on a String
Raise the Red Lantern
Qiu Ju
Yellow Earth
Farewell, My Concubine
Red Sorghum
The Day the Sun Turned Cold
The Joy Luck Club (not a Chinese film, but one with Chinese cultural themes)
Ju Dou

I’m looking forward to a second journey and conference in China at the end of October, which will take place in Hangzhou (just southwest of Shanghai.) I was only able to Skype out to one class of students from Hong Kong last week, but if schedules permit I’d love to Skype and/or Ustream with students from China this next trip. We’ll see. There is so much to learn!

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