What makes Douban so successful in China

The performance culture also has its good sides


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So the requirements swing higher and higher. For example, an eighth grader in Beijing published an essay on the filter effect of visual communication. His school requires the reading of extracurricular learning materials of at least five million characters and is two years ahead of other schools' curricula. It is Renmin University High School, one of the most prestigious schools in Beijing. On a hot day in mid-July, 22,000 primary school students took the school's selection test this year. The children and their parents stood in line for hours when the temperature felt like 40 degrees. However, there is no great hope: only 200 of them will be among the elect.

As a result of this competition, an entire industry of luxury summer camps has sprung up in China. They usually last about two weeks. The prices for this start at the equivalent of 2,500 euros, there is no upper limit. The camp programs are designed to make the children's résumés as outstanding as possible: intensive physical training is offered, often a trip to a top university, seminars with famous professors or even encounters with Nobel Prize winners. The summer camps are the model case of herd behavior: some parents put down a whole month's income for their child's two-week stay just because the other parents do the same. More than 60 percent of primary school students in China receive extracurricular tuition in subjects such as English, literature, and math. Tutoring is also on the program in many of the summer camps.

The huge investment in children's education strengthens traditional Chinese family culture, which can be heartwarming but also very stressful. Above all, it makes it very difficult for adolescents into adulthood to distance themselves from their parents. Young people in China are often controlled by their parents in all areas of life: when choosing a career and partner, when to have their own children, and when they are brought up. It is a lifelong entanglement that gives both sides enormous support and emotional support. But often there is also something suffocating and sometimes even destructive about it. On Douban, a popular social media platform in China, a self-help group called "All Parents Are a Curse" collected thousands of personal stories from downright traumatized adolescents. Many were about the pressure to learn and homework control. The censors later removed this group from the platform.

European schools? Are way too loose

Nevertheless, the situation is changing. Some middle-class parents - especially those who have lived in Europe or America for a while - use healthier and more appropriate parenting methods from a Western perspective. They do their utmost to reduce the children's learning stress. Children lucky enough to be born into such families can benefit tremendously from this experience. They experience devotion in their families and learn to be efficient and persistent in order to achieve a clear goal, with sufficient practical and emotional support in the process.

The performance culture that the Chinese education system demands (at least where it is not corrupted) and that supports parents has its good sides. It creates a sense of community, at least when parents help each other through the maze of competition. On WeChat, parents have long got together in a wide variety of discussion groups to discuss their children's education and to exchange helpful information. However, this culture treats the less gifted with harshness, if not brutality; good schoolchildren receive great recognition for this. For this reason, Chinese society is much more nerd-affine than the West. The expectation that gifted children also have to develop great social skills is much less pronounced.

The completely different culture, in turn, often makes it difficult for Chinese immigrants to integrate into Europe. Those who went to elementary school in China experience schools in Europe as casual and far too little concerned with rewarding outstanding achievements. Often this is perceived as downright discouragement.

On the great days of the Gaokao, national solidarity then reaches dramatic proportions. There are reports and pictures in local and national media: Police cars clear the way for school buses so that the pupils can reach the exam locations on time; Authorities or companies provide free drinks for the Gaokao participants in the heat; Taxi drivers chauffeur sick students to the hospital for free. On social media, people share their own Gaokao experiences, with jokes about their own ordeal, in triumph that they survived this war. It is almost a national healing ceremony that creates a unique bond between millions of families. Now, the ceremony symbolizes, one is ready for the moon landing. Or even for conquering distant planets.

Translation: Robert Meyer