TV Personality: Chinese Children Are Taught to Lie

June 11, 2017 Updated: June 11, 2017

Wang Chong is a well-known scholar of diplomacy and international relations, a best-selling writer, and a reporter and television personality. He was the first Chinese news reporter to interview Barack Obama, in 2004. In this article, published on the author’s blog, Wang Chong reflects on the culture of dishonesty in China and how it impacts children. — Epoch Times translation team

I remember a survey a few years ago that asked people whether they were willing to fight for their country in a time of war. Only 11 percent of Japanese replied “yes,” while 71 percent of Chinese said “yes.” Does this indicate that Chinese people are more patriotic than the Japanese, or Chinese are not as honest as the Japanese? Would this many people actually be fighting for the country if there really was a war?

There have been a number of similar surveys. On April 8, 2010, the Japan Youth Research Institute published a survey conducted with high school students from China, Japan, Korea, and the United States. The results showed that up to 45 percent of Japanese high school students doze off during class, the highest among the four countries, while the ratio was only 4.7 percent for Chinese students.

If there were 50 students in a class, 22 students in Japan doze off, while only 2 students in China doze off. It is easy to draw the conclusion that Chinese high school students love to study. The survey reflected a negative attitude by Japanese students toward studying, while Chinese students’ learning behavior appeared to be the most positive.

However, this conclusion is far from the facts that all we Chinese know. Everyone who has gone through high school remembers very well that a class with only two or three students dozing off was extremely rare, no matter whether it was an ordinary or a gifted classroom.

There are two possible reasons for this extremely low “dozing off ratio.” One is an unscientific sample, i.e. the majority of students participating the survey were outstanding students who do not doze off in class. Or the Chinese students lied on the survey.

In China, every student has a “standard” answer — one that’s expected of them — and an “honest” answer when responding to a survey. “Paying attention in class” is the standard answer, and “napping” may be the honest answer. Chinese children are likely to choose the standard one. But why did Japanese children answer honestly? It involves social and cultural values that are reflected in the family environment and education system.

Southern Weekly once published an article titled “The Lying Essay,” about how Chinese school children are first taught to lie when writing an essay. It quoted a teacher saying: “I gave the students an assignment to write an essay titled ‘The Teacher in My Heart.’ All students wrote about a Teacher named Ye. They listed her heroic deeds, which even surpassed Confucius. I was Teacher Ye’s co-worker for years, how come I never heard of any of this? Their essays became more and more outrageous and full of lies year after year, from the teacher getting cancer to her parents passing away.”

Scholar Zhu Dake once recalled that he used to lie in his essays. He also wrote “Red Diaries” about Chairman Mao’s quotations, saying how “very touched” they made him feel. Or he watched a revolutionary movie, and it too made him feel “very touched.” All his essays followed similar patterns — ensuring they were correct politically.

Japan makes a striking contrast.

Japanese parents generally attach importance to cultivating childrens’ honesty. If a three or four-year old child accidentally breaks a vase at home, he will be praised if he tells the truth, instead of being punished. If he doesn’t tell the truth and blames others, he may be severely punished and even forced to use his pocket money to pay for it. A clear system of reward and punishment helps to establish honesty at an early age.

If a Japanese child says he wants to be a baker when he grows up, the adults will listen and nod their approval. Chinese children often have grandiose aspirations, as they will otherwise be criticized by adults. Over time, “standard” answers become deeply rooted in their minds.

When Zhou Yang won a gold medal at the winter Olympics, she did not follow the standard answer to thank the country. Instead, she said that her parents could now live a good life. Chinese people praised her for this, yet she was forced to change her statement later. Current in China the social atmosphere is so bad. People fear that telling the truth will result in bad luck, while by telling lies one can at least survive.

In Japan, education in integrity runs through the entire life. At home, parents tell their children not to lie. At school, children also learn to be honest. At work, integrity is almost treated as a universal business philosophy.

I once participated in a Sino-Japanese education exchange seminar. The host asked both sides to list the shortcomings of their education system. Chinese delegates discussed which ones to bring up. Some mentioned campus violence, lack of respect for teachers, etc., but these were immediately rejected as China’s image during international exchanges had to be protected, and one should not tell the truth.

Lies don’t become truth even if repeated a thousand times. It is better to tell fewer lies even when they seem harmless.