China’s Education and Great Wall Street

In the Hutong
Planning a Den Meeting
0834 hrs.

Superb article in The New York Times by Beijing’s own Didi Tatlow covering the issues she faces in putting her child into the Chinese educational system. It was fascinating to me as a parent, but what really grabbed me was this throwaway comment deep in the story from a friend who was commiserating with Didi about today’s Chinese school kids:

“Once, the nation’s elite wanted to be scientists and build their country. Today they want to be bankers, or stick with safe state jobs.

‘They don’t know what they want, but they hear bankers make the most money and everyone else is doing it, so that’s what they want to do,’ Hua said.”

China’s best and brightest don’t see a future in inventing or making things. They want to work for Goldman Sachs. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? The story could just as well be quoting someone talking about undergraduates at any of America’s elite universities, as Don Peck does in the March issue of The Atlantic:

“…to an unprecedented degree, people who graduated from high school in the 2000s dislike the idea of work for work’s sake, and expect jobs and career to be tailored to their interests and lifestyle. Yet they also have much higher material expectations than previous generations, and believe financial success is extremely important. “There’s this idea that, ‘Yeah, I don’t want to work, but I’m still going to get all the stuff I want,’” Twenge told me.”

Two generations of young Chinese people have been told “to get rich is glorious,” they want to take the easiest route possible, and they see investment banking as that route.

China needs to cultivate a core of smart investment bankers to help the nation wisely invest its treasure, guide the consolidation of overbuilt industries, and extend its reach overseas. But does China want to become a nation led by its investment bankers in which the primary locus innovation is in arcane financial instruments? Or would the nation and its leaders prefer to be a global leader in science, in innovation, in solving the world’s problems and profiting richly therefrom?

If China starts siphoning its best minds into investment banking at the expense of other industries, teaching finance at the expense of creativity and innovation, the PRC may well follow America’s path into looming national insolvency.  To stop that, China’s youth need to be infused with a passion for not just doing well, but doing good.

No easy task.