An antidote to the so-called Chinese way of teaching

As I said before, I don’t think there is a single “Chinese way of teaching”. In addition, the Chinese ways of teaching are also changing. However, there are characters that are commonly agreed to be associated with Chinese ways of teaching: emphasis on discipline and order, rely primarily on repetition and memorization.

In the discussion provoked by the BBC documentary, “Are our kids touch enough: Chinese school”, I’ve seen a lot of people praising these characters. Well, here’s an antidote to the obsession of academic achievement:

Mind you, I don’t see this as a full argument against Chinese way of teaching. I’d love to get more cases like Gillian Lynne from Mr. Ken Robinson. However, this talk at least challenges us, reminds us to look further, wider, beyond academic achievement, in education. I’ll provide a Chinese translation to the transcript in another post.









Advantages of Chinese Teaching

OK, I use this title just to bring attention.

After watching all 3 episodes of the BBC documentary, Are our kids tough enough, Chinese School,  in my opinion, there is one aspect of British kids that really needs to improve: coping with competition and failure.

When British kids were in the PE class, they were very upset that they might fail. Philippa actually sobbed on not passing one item. And she said:

“I just don’t think comparing yourself to others is a good, healthy life style.”


Philippa is not alone. In the 1st episode, we saw another boy sobbed during PE class.

Well, I have to agree with Philippa that it is not a healthy life style. But competition is part of life. Ranking students all the time with different measures is of course too much, but exposing them to a certain dose of competition is essential to their development. To Philippa, I’d say it’s equally not healthy if young people are so scared of competition that they sob on a failure in just one PE preparation. I don’t want my daughter to be so fragile.

So this is the advantage of Chinese teaching. Put all the drawbacks aside, this is probably one thing Britain should learn from Chinese teaching: To get the kids used to competition.


BBC的纪录片“Are out Kids Tough Enough? Chinese School”,中文名“我们的孩子足够坚强吗?中式学校”一下子就火了朋友圈了。上网一搜,各种评论铺天盖地。赶快花了两个小时找到看看,免得落后时代太远。下面的我的感想和评论:







It’s about language and culture, dude


It came to me as a complete surprise that the BBC documentary Are Our Kids Tough Enough? Chinese School got so much attention, and the debate over which is better, the Chinese way or the British way, actually got so heated up.

So I just spent 2 hours watching it on Youtube and here’s what I think.

First of all, I’d say the heated debate and all the furious comments on which way of teaching is better are mostly not based on the video itself. Because what the documentary shows is not a meaningful comparison. All the Chinese teachers simply failed miserably in managing their classes from the very beginning, due largely to, in my humble opinion, cultural conflict and language barrier. So I’ll base my comment on the program and maybe comment on the debate over this program in a separate post.

The Experiment

I don’t know who organized this. I think it’s a fantastic idea in terms of cultural exchange. But if the goal is to compare the Chinese way of teaching to the British way of teaching,  it cannot be taken seriously.

Teaching involves extensive interaction between the teachers and the students. Language barrier and cultural difference cannot be overlooked. Stories of foreign teachers got frustrated in Chinese classes because Chinese students were inactive have been around since 20+ years now. Why should we expect the Chinese teachers not to be shocked in a British school? This cultural shock should be expected and extra time should be planned for both the teachers and the students to adapt.

继续阅读It’s about language and culture, dude




Tang Bohu
cover image of story book “Tang Bohu”.

文:范钧宏 吕瑞明 任梅

Man Jiang Hong
Cover page of storybook “Man Jiang Hong”

文:李源 任宝贤
图:韩亚洲 范世评

Ba Xie Guo Hai
Cover page of story book “Ba Xie Guo Hai”

文:吴晗 李大发




building self-aware device – part 2

After about 15 months, here’s part 2. You can see part1 here: building self-aware device – part 1

So now we define self-awareness as:

  1. Knows ones own properties and boundary;
  2. Able to learn ones own identity from self-initiated training;

Can we build device that is self-aware? After some thought, we have to say, achieving the most general sense of item 1 is way beyond our reach. Animals learn its own properties and boundary (again) through learning. The learning process correlates the visual signal from eyes,  touch signal from sensors covering the whole body, signals from motor neurons and maybe more. We might be able to build an artificial eye, but currently there’s no technology that come close to a distributed sensing system like the skin and the fur, or a distributed control system like the muscle.

But, if we limit our device to have a rigid body, then it becomes something we can handle, at least to a certain extent.

If the 3D model (the shape, the size) of the rigid body is known. Then with a GPS receiver installed in a fixed point within the rigid body, and a gyroscope to tell the orientation of the device, we basically have a device that knows it’s own properties and boundary. (In our simplified case, both the properties and the boundary are static. Properties are whatever inside the rigid body, boundary is the boundary of the rigid body.)

Following this approach, we might be able to add some moving parts into this rigid body gradually.

<Here further expansion is needed>

Then let’s move to the next step. Let’s put it in front of a mirror. The device has to start some random movement, and then correlate the movement with the movement it sees in the mirror.

For that we need a neural network, the input would be, on the one hand, the instructions for the random movement and on the other hand, the actual movement it sees in the mirror. So this becomes a supervised learning problem.

So we see that building self-aware device is still a long way to go. However, I believe we should be able to experiment it in controlled scenarios, like fully automated driving, and try to push the limit to see how far can we go.

Stereotyping and its costs

Recently I watched this

And this:

I’ve been watching TED videos for years now but still feel like an eye opening.

People may say, “Oh come on, these are TED videos right? They are meant to impress people.” I’m actually not that easily impressed. I’m not talking about the technology or the plasticity of human brain. I’m talking about the very fact that a disabled person could become an MIT professor, lead a world class research team or could be so sharp, so articulate and appear so *normal*.

Despite all the pride of being Chinese, we have to admit, that would not happen in modern China.

If Mr. Hugh Herr had been born in China, he would have probably at best dropped out of school very early on and attended a special school or even worse, simply stay at home, completely isolated. If Mr. Daniel Kish were in China, he won’t have had the chance to share his personal experience with others. Instead, with his outstanding ability, he probably will end up making a living by showing off his special ability in a circus (Or in Beijing subway if circus fade out of favor completely).

The reason behind the differences, I believe, lies primarily in everyone’s mind.

I happen to know the concept of “stereotype threat”. For those who don’t know, according to wikipedia it is “one of the most widely studied topics in the field of social psychology”, that evaluates the impact of stereotyping. As it turns out, a lot of performance gaps between groups can be explained by this stereotype threat. I personally believe that stereotype threat is the key reason behind the performance gap between disabilities in China and disabilities in the US.

Let’s face it: China is still a country full of biased stereotypes. It’s true that stereotyping is part of human nature and that stereotypes exist in every society. However, China stands out in allowing stereotypes to go unchecked in every corner of everyday life, TV programs, newspapers, magazines, even textbooks for children. As a consequence, people are so used to all sort of stereotypes that no one even bothers to stand up against said stereotype, even though everyone has been a victim of one form of stereotype or another.

I have to admit that, I only started to pay attention to this topic after my wife and I had a child. My wife and I are lucky, our daughter is normal in every aspect. However, as new and inexperienced parents, at times when my daughter was sick and sometimes we became scared and couldn’t help but think about all kinds of what-if scenarios.

Out of this kind of reasoning I became a person that is conscious about stereotype. Bit by bit I recalled how I have struggled against all sorts of stereotypes against myself when I was young. I started to realized how I have stereotyped others and how destructive that could be. Everyone is a victim of this inescapable net of stereotyping.

So, on this special day, I propose one thing we could do to bring positive changes to China, without disturbing the government: reflect on ourselves and stop stereotyping.

To end this article, here’s a Stanford professor on this topic:


building self-aware device – part 1

The canonical way to tell whether an animal (or anything) is self-aware is the mirror-test. Put it in front of a mirror, if the animal recognize itself, then it’s self-aware; otherwise it’s not.

But then what exactly is self-awareness? What exactly does the mirror-test test? Can we make self-aware machines? I was pondering on this because I recently realized that vehicles (or in general any device) are considered dumb not only because they have no intelligence, but also because they are not self-aware.

Take a car for example, it’s considered dumb not only because it cannot make any intelligent decision on itself, but also because it will do things that are obviously against it’s own best interest as long as that’s the command from a human being. Would it be interesting if we can build a car that cares itself and avoids crashes and collisions out of its own interests?

Back to the mirror test. Essentially the test tests the ability of an animal to recognize oneself through visual signal of optical reflection. Let’s try to break it down by replacing non-essential part.

First of all,  it seems that there’s no obvious reason we should limit ourselves to visual signal. It’s just one form of signal that a lot of animals can sense easily. A lot of other animals rely on other sensors. For example, bats are known to be able to tell its own ultra sound signal from others. If we’re not limited to visual reflection, then recognizing oneself through reflected/echoed signal is not that difficult. For example, if an device could simply broadcast its own identity through ultra sound like a bat.

We can build a device that broadcast its own identity through ultra-sound, let’s say the identity has a form of a GUID. Now, our device will be able to tell its own signal apart from other signals. Is that enough to be self-aware?

Most cars manufactured nowadays have more than one ultra sound radar built in. They beep when they sense the danger of crashing into something. It seems that it kind of self-aware, but not quite, right?

We have to take a closer look at the mirror test. When a self-aware animal first sees itself through a mirror, it has no prior knowledge about its own appearance in the mirror. Then how exactly does it come to the conclusion that the object inside the mirror is a visual representation of himself? The only possibility is, the animal actually learns that by experimenting.

Wikipedia actually has a full description of the mirror test being conducted the first time:

In 1970, Gordon Gallup, Jr., experimentally investigated the possibility of self
-recognition with two male and two female wild pre-adolescent chimpanzees (Pan
troglodytes), none of which had presumably seen a mirror previously. Each chimpanzee
was put into a room by itself for two days. Next, a full-length mirror was placed in
the room for a total of 80 hours at periodically decreasing distances. A multitude
of behaviors were recorded upon introducing the mirrors to the chimpanzees. Initially,
the chimpanzees made threatening gestures at their own images, ostensibly seeing their
own reflections as threatening. Eventually, the chimps used their own reflections for
self-directed responding behaviors, such as grooming parts of their body previously
not observed without a mirror, picking their noses, making faces, and blowing bubbles
at their own reflections.

From this description it’s obvious that the recognition is a learning process. This observation has several implications:

First of all, because it’s a learning process. It’s very flexible, very adaptive. The animal doesn’t have to stand still in front of a mirror to recognize itself. Even the physical appearance later changes dramatically, the animal will be able to recognize himself again very quickly.

In contract, if a device just broadcast our own identity, then in a noisy environment, then it may have difficulties. Or, if for some reason we have to change the identity, then we also have to change the verification logic.

Secondly, indeed we don’t have to limit ourselves to visual reflection. Voice will also do. Touching will also do. In fact, people that are born to be blind are able to recognize themselves by other senses. And we don’t think they are not self-ware.

Last, a very subtle prerequisite of such a learning process is, the animal has to know its own properties and boundary. Otherwise, the animal won’t be able to know a waving arm is its own or not (with or without a mirror). Every animal knows it’s own properties and boundary (This is my fur, this is my claw, etc),  if we’re trying to design devices to be self-aware, we have to build this capability as well.

So by now I think we can define self-awareness as:

  1. Knows ones own properties and boundary;
  2. Able to learn ones own identity from experiments;