Learning China’s ways does not mean learning Chinese

CAESAR Cheelo.

SINCE time immemorial, people in societies around the world have used proverbs to pass on values, norms, knowledge and wisdom from generation to generation.

The beauty about proverbs is that they often have hidden meanings that the listener must think critically about in order to decipher. Sometimes, they have multiple meanings, and can have different interpretations for different people.
Here is an interesting Chinese proverb. Take a moment to think critically about it. How would you interpret it? What does it mean for you?
You do not discuss with a tiger concerning the stripes of its skin when you want a tiger-skin coat (by unknown)
Well, the first thing that comes to some people’s minds is: “what is a tiger?” Obviously, you are not one of those people, right, for surely you at least know what a tiger is?!
Other people think: “ok, so who is the tiger in real life? Who is this proverb likening the tiger to; is it me?” Others still might ask: “where is this tiger that I might subdue it and take its skin?”
Apparently, the first thing that came into each of our minds when we first read and thought about this proverb tell volumes about our values, norms, culture, mind-set and attitudes. A group of Zambia Government technocrats who visited China some years ago were reportedly presented with this very proverb. They responded that they needed to take the proverb back to their capital Lusaka, commission the local think-tanks to analyse it and then email the response to the Chinese enquirers after a few months…
Presented with the same proverb, the counterpart Chinese technocrats kicked off their high heels, took of their ties, rolled up their sleeves and said: “please, show us this tiger…”
Attitude counts for much in a society’s success during its quest for development and prosperity. Societies that figure out how to instil well thought-out and well-defined spiritual grounding, values, inspiration, confidence, education and skills (or know-how) in their people, especially in young people, often excel at development. Through a mix of education improvements, skills development and socio-cultural retooling, they create a generation of daring people with winning attitudes.
China did this. Between 1998 and 2004, China noticed that it was facing a demographic challenge in terms of an aging population. It realised that in order to afford to take care of the aging population those in their productive ages (say, 25-64 years old) would have to become high income earners on the world stage. China therefore launched its human resource talent search and discovery aspiration around 2004. It formalised this through the Science, Technology, Talent and Education Reform and Development Plan (2006–2020), reorienting the entire workforce from thinking in terms of “made in China” to “invented in China” or “designed in China”. The Plan established education, skills training and talent nurturing systems through a rule stipulating that 50 percent of secondary school-goers would pursue technical and vocational training. It virtually drew a line in the sand, dividing the school goers into the half that would focus on applied science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects, and the other half, which would specialise in professional and academic courses like accounting, law, marketing, economics, and so on. By 2015, China’s workforce included 154 million highly talented STEM workers; yes, a talented workforce that is nearly 10 times the size of the entire Zambian population. This was the extent of the Chinese resolve to reshape the attitudes of its worker through education, skills and talent discovery.
Zambia could learn plenty from China. This is not to suggest that we should necessarily focus on the STEMs the way China did or that we should all learn how to speak Chinese, but that we should be thoughtful, deliberate and calculated like China has been over the years. We should take time to continually do our introspection, seeking to understand who we are as a people and what moves us as a collective. We should decide on our version of development and chart the course for it, which we then diligently pursue.
This is but one of the many sets of ideas coming from the report that ZIPAR recently launched, on China-Africa Trade Developments and Impacts: Case of China-Zambia Relations. The full report can be downloaded at: www.zipar.
The Author is a Researcher at the Zambia Institute for Policy Analysis and Research (ZIPAR).

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