Flush with knowledge

Flush with knowledge
Mar 9, 2018 (WiC 400)

What value can be placed on a good education? In many countries, a debate is growing about whether college graduates recoup the costs of their schooling in terms of later salary and career prospects.

And in Wuhan – a city whose cluster of universities prompted a visit from UK leader Theresa May last month – there was some unwelcome news for graduates last week. With the city turning out so many students, it seems that a degree is no longer viewed as a prerequisite solely for higher-flying jobs in areas like banking or management consultancy. Wuhan officials said they were also asking the workforce at its public toilets for evidence of a higher education.

Not surprisingly, the announcement prompted derision among netizens. But China’s public conveniences have been a topic of some debate during Xi Jinping’s period in office and their often lamentable state prompted a three-year government programme from 2015 to improve standards.

“Toilet issues are not petty matters, but are an important aspect of improving infrastructure in urban and rural areas,” the president was quoted as saying by Xinhua.

Perhaps that prompted Wuhan’s government to demand more qualifications from its toilet teams? Officials from the city’s urban management committee told Chongqing Morning Post that its job advertisements for public toilet managers had been misinterpreted. The employees would be managers overseeing multiple public toilet facilities. “They’re not cleaners,” the official told the website.

“Our committee values talent. Getting talented people to run toilets shows the high importance we attach to public toilets.”

Thumbs down for the US

Thumbs down for the US
Mar 2, 2018 (WiC 399)

They are one of the most recognisable symbols of Chinese culture – the Terracotta Warriors, the army of soldiers that guards the tomb of the country’s first emperor. But the 2,000 year-old statues have now become another flashpoint in relations between Beijing and Washington after the disappearance of a warrior’s finger from a museum in the US where it was on loan. The vandalism happened at Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute in December but only made headlines recently when Delaware resident Michael Rohana was detained by the FBI after footage showed him breaking off the thumb of a statue and taking it home. Shaanxi authorities called for him to be “severely punished” for damaging “a priceless part of China’s cultural heritage”. (CNN estimates the value of an individual Terracotta Warrior at $4.5 million).

The life-sized statues were discovered in 1974 by farmers and are on display at a purpose-built museum in Shaanxi’s provincial capital Xi’an.

Netizens in China were scathing over the museum’s security. “The warriors in Xi’an are kept far away from the public. How come the sculptures in Philadelphia are not displayed inside glass cases?” one asked. But another said criticism should be levelled closer to home: “The Shaanxi cultural relics department really should blame themselves. They lend cultural relics to exhibitions outside the country just for collecting money. They cannot just care about revenue, and not pay sufficient regard to the safety of the relics.”

Xu Zhimo: king of King’s?

Xu Zhimo: king of King’s?
Feb 9, 2018 (WiC 397)

Were you asked to name the most famous 20th century alumnus of King’s College, Cambridge you might choose the economist John Maynard Keynes, the novelist EM Forster or the father of computing, Alan Turing.

You probably wouldn’t opt for Xu Zhimo. However, Xu arguably takes the prize, courtesy of the ‘China factor’ and the huge numbers that its population always entails.

The main reason for Xu’s fame as a King’s man is his 1928 poem Saying Farewell to Cambridge which is a compulsory text in Chinese literature courses and is learned by millions in the nation’s schools ever year, reports China Daily.

WiC first cited the poem back in issue 58 and now Xu’s alma mater is getting in on the act, with the help of its world-famous choir.

Late last month it released its newest album, which features a choral interpretation of Xu’s poem (as well as the Jasmine Flower Song, a Chinese classic). It is the first time in the choir’s 500-year history that it has recorded songs in Chinese. “The album represents the nearly 100-year bond that King’s College shares with China,” claims China Daily.

The music will be available to stream on Baidu and Netease and will be promoted widely across social media, the newspaper noted. (It’s on Apple Music too.)

The outcome of King’s College’s latest effort at cultural outreach will go beyond album revenues into more visits from Chinese tourists (and we’d guess more undergraduate applications too).

The college clearly sees further opportunities to play on the association: later this year it will hold a Xu Zhimo Poetry and Art Festival and open a new Xu Zhimo Friendship Garden, marking the latest Cantab charm offensives aimed at China. (See this week’s Sinofile column for another link up between China and the English university city involving