Discovering the NEW China!
DEAR MIDDLE-SCHOOL EDUCATOR,
We know we don't have to suggest reasons for teaching young Americans about China! The origins and achievements of its people's millennia-old culture is a key topic in curriculum guidelines for many middle-grade classrooms in the USA. But of equal importance today is the "new" China, the China that has become a recurring topic in our news. China now has the world's largest population. It recently surpassed Japan, to become the world's second-largest economy. And its global influence is expanding daily — not only through global trade and investment, but within groups of international policymakers.
"Discovering the NEW China!" — a brand-new study unit from Learning Enrichment (LE) — has been designed to help students explore the China of today's world. But the unit's designers didn't stop there! Each high-interest, high-concept page was also developed with an eye toward helping students expand their reading and critical thinking skills. For whatever classroom purposes you use this unit, LE hopes you find all its materials helpful — the three original short articles written for students; the single-page reading selection with follow-up questions; the map and data pages; and this guide's tips and website links.
A "Culture Contact" Unit.
Appropriately for middle-grade classes, LE's new unit focuses on China's culture. But LE takes what we believe is a unique approach to the topic. Through the eyes of a fictional Chinese-American family, touring China in the summer of 2010, readers will discover a society — a culture group — that is undergoing the pressures of rapid economic and social change. No one "announces" that theme in the unit's various pages.... But clues abound!
Thus: On the "Journal" Page, Jay, Lena, and their Dad arrive in Beijing, where the teenagers meet their father's Chinese brother and his wife and begin a tour of several cities, during which they keep a journal of their observations. On the "Questions" Page, Jay and Lena interview their uncle, probing for a better understanding of the new China. And on the "Knowledge" Page, they make a report to their U.S. classmates, sharing knowledge they've gained on their trip and even offering some "analyses" of China's experience.
The final student page — "Reading More" — is not part of our young visitors' journey to China. Instead, it includes a separate reading selection on China's interest in oceanic research. Formatted as a reading-skills quiz, this page will give students a little practice in handling that kind of test material. (Note also that specific guided-reading reading tips are suggested at the end of LE's comments on each student page.)
The four student pages in this unit have been developed around curriculum standards selected from three sources: the NCSS publication "Expectations of Excellence" (EOE); the "National Standards for History" (NSH); and the National Geography Standards, "Geography for Life" (GFL). Each student page is a "stand-alone" product. Each can be downloaded, copied, and distributed in any order you wish. However, LE recommends that the pages be used in the order in which they are numbered. That's the best way, we believe, to help middle schoolers strengthen their ability to:
- "identify and describe selected ... patterns of change within ... cultures..." ("Time, Continuity, and Change," EOE);
- "explain and give examples of how ... traditions, beliefs, values, and behaviors contribute to the development and transmission of culture" ("Culture," EOE);
- "explain the characteristics of places and regions from a variety of points of view..." (Places and Regions," GFL);
- "analyze connections between globalizing trends in economy ... and dynamic assertions of traditional cultural identity and distinctiveness" ("Major Global Trends Since World War II," NSH).
Throughout the unit, several challenging terms are defined directly or within context. They are also included in the following lists, to allow you to preview them with students. Note that place names are spelled in the form in which students will find them on most English-language maps and sources. Pronunciation aids were developed by LE.
"Journal" Page: bullet train, Confucius, harmonious, investor, mosque, plateau, renewable energy, solar panel, smartphone, wind power. Pronunciation aids for students: Beijing (Bay-jing), Dezhou (Deh-shoo — as in the second syllable of "treasure"), Guangzhou (Koo-ahng-shoo — as in the second syllable of "treasure"), hutong (who-tong), Qinghai (Ching-high), "wo ai ni" (woh eye knee), Wuhan (Woo-hahn), Xining (She-ning).
"Questions" Page: engineering, environmental, green energy, modernization, pollution, smog, social wealth, technology. Pronunciation aid: Wen Jiabao (Wen Chee-ah-bough).
"Knowledge" Page: Buddhist, guarantee, migrant workers, migration, network. Pronunciation aids: hukou (who-koo), Taoist (Dow-ist).
"Reading" Page: coastal, conserve, desalinate, marine science, pollutants, sea farming, spawning ground, sustainable development.
Depending on your students' prior exploration of China as a classroom topic, you may want to preface your introduction of the Student Text Pages with an overview of one or more of the following questions.
- Where is China? How old is it?
Located in the eastern part of Asia, modern-day China is heir to the oldest continuous civilization in human history. Evidence of the earliest human presence in China has been dated to a period hundreds of thousands of years ago. Centralized government in China began over 4,000 years ago and can be traced through the millennia to 1912, when a short-lived republic was founded. In 1949, after a period of invasion, internal warfare, and famine, the Communist Party of China (together with a few smaller parties) formed the People's Republic of China. You will find much more detail about China's history in the Wikipedia article on China.
- How large is China?
For handy references to China's physical size and population, students might benefit by receiving their own copies of this unit's Data Page and Map Page. For more on China's geography, see "Maps of China," under this guide's tips for "Page 1..." (below).
- What are China's natural resources?
The list is impressive: China has the world's largest source of potential hydropower. It also contains major deposits of coal, iron ore, petroleum, natural gas, and other minerals. And, despite the fact that less than 20 percent of its own land is arable, China's rich soil enables it to rank among the world's largest producers of rice, potatoes, tea, and a number of other crops. (Another way of looking at China's agricultural output: With only 10 percent of Earth's farmland, China feeds one fifth of Earth's people.)
- What type of economy do the Chinese people have today?
Since 1949, the Communist Party of China has set all major policies for the People's Republic of China (PRC). Within this system, the country's economic goals used to be planned and implemented by the government. Today, under China's new socialist market economy, the government continues to retain ownership of major industries (steel, for example), but the country now has a growing private sector, too, with thousands of small businesses. China, which has attracted billions of dollars in foreign investment, has the world's fastest-growing major economy and ranks first in world exports (2010).
USING THE STUDENT TEXT PAGES
Taken together — and in the order in which they appear — the sub-titles on the three Student Text Pages and on the "Reading" Page sum up key stages in the way we learn about a new topic: (a) As on the "Journal" Page, we begin to zoom in on a new issue by taking note of details that we see, hear, and otherwise observe. (b) We soon begin to formulate queries ("Questions" Page). (c) At a certain point, we start sharing information and ideas with others ("Knowledge" Page). And eventually, (d) we find ourselves reading more on issues related to the topic ("Reading" Page)! You might want to make observations about that process as you take students through the pages of this unit.
Page 1/ "... Keeping a Journal."
Lena, Jay, and Dad arrive in Beijing, where they meet Uncle Wu and Auntie Li. A tour of the capital and three other places (Dezhou, Xining, and Guangzhou) ensues. In the course of their journey, the little group touches base in three of China's geographic regions: North China, the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, and South China (see the unit's Map Page). You might want to prompt students to research the history of these and other regions in China. Google and Wikipedia are good places to start, though the names of China's regions may differ slightly from one source to the next....
- Maps of China.
This unit's Map Page focuses on China's key geographic regions. For maps detailing China's political units, see Wikipedia's "Administrative divisions of China," and, while you are at that page, follow up by selecting some or all of the five categories in the upper right-hand corner ("Provincial level," "Prefectural level," etc.). If you're looking for a wider variety of thematic maps related to the study of China, don't miss the excellent "China Maps" material in the Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection.
- Solar Power.
The teenagers' visit to solar-powered Dezhou introduces the concept of renewable energy, a topic covered by Andrew Higgins in a recent Washington Post article, "With Solar Valley Project, China Embarks On Bold Green Technology Mission." Renewable energy and the interrelated topics of climate change, oil dependency, etc., have stirred much debate within the USA. For one thing, large-scale conversion to solar energy is considered to be an expensive proposition. Ask students to speculate on why solar energy has become such a priority within China. What would make it worth the effort? For good background information on the science behind this topic, see "Solar Energy," a page "for kids" at the website of the USA's Energy Information Administration. "Covering 4% of the world's desert area with photovoltaics could supply the equivalent of all of the world's electricity," reports the EIA. "The Gobi Desert alone could supply almost all of the world's total electricity demand."
- Learning the words.
The "Journal" Page concludes with a Chinese saying attributed to Confucius: "Without knowing words, it is not possible to know people." Challenge students to imagine — and role-play — different situations in which this observation might apply: a meeting between people who speak different languages, for example, or a public address by a stranger who uses only obscure technical language ("obscure" to the audience). In today's world, how important is it to know the language of someone arriving from another country (and vice-versa)?
- GUIDED READING:
The overall question at the head of the "Journal" Page addresses the issue of what's "new" in China today. That question taps into what human brains are always doing — making comparisons! Ask students what they deem to have been either "old," or "new," in the teenagers' experiences of China. Give them four minutes to make a list — and a prize for the one with the most answers!
Page 2/ "... Asking Questions."
Jay and Lena interview Uncle Wu and find themselves thinking about some very serious issues now facing China: poverty and its relationship to prosperity, environmental pollution, and (mentioned only in passing) a serious water shortage....
- Recent History. Uncle Wu's reference to the changes introduced in China in 1979 by the policy of "Four Modernizations" is pivotal to understanding China today. Encourage students to discuss the four target areas: agriculture, industry, defense, and "sci-tech" (science-technology). How important is each field to any country? Is there a way to rank them in importance? When a government plans its budget, which target area should get first consideration?
- Thinking Globally. The statement by China's Premier Wen Jiabao, cited by Uncle Wu, is often quoted in the world press: Sharing the "pie" of social wealth is a catchy analogy. But the subject of how to relieve poverty is not viewed similarly in every country. Ask students: Does poverty have a universal definition? Or is it defined differently in various countries? (The international standard for dire poverty is a daily per-capita income equal to less than $1.50. There are millions still living at that level in China. In the USA (2010), the cut-off line for determining if an individual is living in "poverty" is an annual income of slightly less than $11,000.) Who — if anyone, or any group — should be responsible for relieving poverty?
- GUIDED READING:
Have students write an answer to each of the questions at the top of the "Questions" Page. Make clear that the goal is to identify the main idea — namely, that China is undergoing profound changes. You might also want to have students speculate on whether Lena and Jay could offer tips to some TV and radio interviewers! Their questions ask for clarification and interpretation. They keep their (amiable) interviewee on track. And they offer comments made by others, in order to get his reaction. Urge students to be on the watch for such tactics in any interviews they may hear or read in coming days.
Page 3/ "... Sharing Knowledge."
Both teens are back in the USA, reporting to their teacher and class about their trip. Some of the questions that arise force Jay and Lena to reflect on their experiences in a way they may not have done while in China....
- Urbanization and Hukou.
In China, urbanization and the hukou system for guaranteeing social benefits are linked by a third phenomenon — the migration of 200 million workers from farm to city. You might want to share details from the following article with your students: "Time for 'Hukou' System Reform in China...." And don't miss Daniel Chinoy's "Growing Pains on Road to Urbanization," a detailed, forthright account by the mayor of a rapidly expanding urban area in China.
- Religion in China.
Eric's question ("Are religions permitted in China?") reflects a common misunderstanding among many people in the USA — namely, that religious worship is still forbidden in China. It once was, but, according to the recent testimony of the UK's former prime minister, things have changed. See Tony Blair's " 'Astonishing' Growth of Religion in China," published online by newsweek.washingtonpost.com. Since the 1980s, China has officially recognized five major religions (though it has refused recognition to other groups claiming a religious identity). And as recently as 2007, a Chinese law alluded to religion as an important part of its people's cultural life.
- Bullet Trains.
While in China, Jay made a journal entry about their bullet-train ride (see the "Journal" Page, above), and now the trains are discussed during their report to their classmates. Ask your students what they think might be the pluses and minuses of a network of bullet trains for the USA. As Keith Bradsher reported in The New York Times in early 2010, California may be getting a bullet train! See "China Is Eager to Bring High-Speed Rail Expertise to the U.S." A good idea? Remind students of the role that new railways played in the westward expansion of the United States in the 19th century. Would a revival of rail lines in the USA today have benefits similar to those predicted for China?
- GUIDED READING:
The questions at the top of the "Knowledge" Page call for analysis and application of what students have learned from the unit's materials. Among many possible answers, an insightful evaluation might be that today's China is a modern-day version of the unique society it has always been.
USING THE ENRICHMENT PAGE ("... Reading More")
The reading selection on this page includes a specialized vocabulary that may challenge even good readers in the middle grades — though the follow-up questions are fairly easy. Once students have completed reading the article and answering the questions, prompt them to think further about the topic. Could oceans be the next "frontier," as they are sometimes labeled?
- Answers: 1-Answers will vary but should include: (a) a reference to some of the urgent reasons behind China's support of oceanic research, (b) a statement that (in the eyes of the writer) such research is needed; 2-B; 3-C; 4-B; 5-Answers will vary but should include supportive facts and ideas from the reading selection.
Looking back at the curriculum objectives for this unit, you might want to hold a concluding "seminar" on China, during which some or all of the following issues become topics for discussion — or perhaps an essay or two!
- What kinds of social changes did Lena's and Jay's father find when he returned to China, 25 years after leaving it? (greater wealth and mobility, new forms of energy, more freedom of religion, etc.)
- What traditions and/or patterns of life may have seemed unchanged to him? (preservation of such sites as the Great Wall and the Mosque in Xining, continued reflection on Confucian sayings, etc.)
- Compare the viewpoints held by Auntie Li and Jay's father toward Xining and the surrounding area: How did they differ? (Auntie Li saw the city as a monument to the past, Jay's father viewed the area as a potential site for new forms of renewable energy.)
- What clue does each of the following offer us about the "new" China's interaction with the rest of the world? the Bird's Nest stadium, bullet trains, the hukou system, smartphones, Usher's concert. (The hukou system is still largely a continuation of a centuries-old tradition, the other four terms have a connotation of China connecting with the rest of today's world.)
In addition to the sources cited throughout this Guide, the regularly updated entry on "China" in the CIA's World Factbook provides an excellent data profile. And the authorized government portal site for the PRC (China.org.cn) offers a wealth of links leading to facts, figures, and feature stories about today's China.
Note: The quotations that appear at the end of the "Journal," "Questions," and "Knowledge" Pages were taken from "The Lun Yu in English" at the website of the Confucius Publishing Co. Ltd. In page order, the three citations are from: Chapter 20, Verse 3; Chapter 5, Verse 19; and Chapter 15, Verse 11.
NEW China Student Text Page No. 1 | NEW China Student Text Page No. 2 | NEW China Student Text Page No. 3 | NEW China Enrichment Reading Page | NEW China Map Page | NEW China Data Page | NEW China Gallery Page
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LE wishes to thank the Embassy of the People's Republic of China in the United States for underwriting the costs of producing and distributing the original printed version of this unit. We hope that, in this new electronic version, our unit continues to serve teachers and students in Grades 6-9.
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Content last updated: November 2010. Page last reviewed: January 2011.