2011年1月30日 星期日

So who’s top of the class now?

So who’s top of the class now?

A few weeks ago, I visited New York’s Columbia University to take part in a debate about the global economy. Since the evening was chaired by Hugh Patrick, a professor of Japanese studies, I was not surprised to see some Japanese faces there.

几周前,我前往纽约哥伦比亚大学(Columbia University),参加一个有关全球经济的辩论。由于当晚担任主持的是日本研究教授休•帕特里克(Hugh Patrick),因此,在会场里看到一些日本面孔并不令我感到意外。

What was striking, though, was the behaviour of the Chinese students in the audience. When the speeches were over a clutch of them introduced themselves very articulately, and continued the debate in impressively fluent English. The Japanese students, by contrast, hovered silently on the margins, half-unseen.


Perhaps that was a coincidence. Or maybe not. This week, following the visit by Chinese president Hu Jintao to Washington, the US has been convulsed by debate about the changing role of China on the world stage. But away from those visible, macro-economic changes in east Asia, a rather fascinating little power shift has been quietly developing in the grassroots of some American business schools and universities.


The issue revolves around the behaviour of Chinese and Japanese students. A couple of decades ago, when Japan was riding high in the global economy, Japanese companies and institutions were keen to send their brightest students to study in US (or British) universities, to teach them western technology and skills.


Once those students arrived, they were often a rather polite, quiet bunch; typically they kept their heads down while working phenomenally hard. But nobody at the universities dared ignore them: Japan was associated with money and power. (Just read Michael Lewis’s book Liar’s Poker for an entertaining description of how this played out in the Salomon Brothers 1980s training programme.) And Japanese students were usually enthusiastic about the opportunity; going to Harvard or Columbia was considered useful for their career.

这些学生到达国外后,往往表现得相当有教养和文静;他们一般都保持低调,埋头苦干。但 大学里没人敢小瞧他们:日本这两个字当时是与财富和实力联系在一起的。(只消读一读迈克尔•刘易斯(Michael Lewis)的《骗术扑克》(Liar’s Poker)就知道了。该书对上世纪80年代所罗门兄弟(Salomon Brothers)培训项目如何体现出这一点做了有趣的描述。)而且,日本学生通常对机会非常热诚,在他们看来,进入哈佛(Harvard)或哥伦比亚大 学有利于自己的职业发展。

But in the past five years the number of Japanese students at six of the most elite American universities, such as Harvard and Stanford, has tumbled by 36 per cent to 477, according to the Nikkei newspaper. Last year alone, Japanese enrolments at all US institutions fell by 15 per cent to 24,000, according to the Institute of International Education. That pushed Japan into sixth place in the foreign students’ league table, below Taiwan and South Korea.

但据报纸《日本经济新闻》(Nikkei)称,过去5年里,在哈佛和斯坦福 (Stanford)等6所美国最杰出的大学中,日本留学生人数骤减了36%,仅剩477人。根据美国国际教育协会(Institute of International Education)的数据,仅去年一年,美国所有机构招收的日本留学生总数就减少了15%,至2.4万人。这使得日本滑落至外籍留学生人数排行榜的第6 位,位居台湾和韩国之后。

Kathy Matsui, a Harvard alumna who is now one of the most senior economists in Japan, confirms: “The number of Japanese students studying abroad has plummeted. If you look at what Chinese or Korean students are doing, there is a real contrast. It is worrying, because Japan needs more people who are global and international.”

毕业于哈佛的松井凯蒂(Kathy Matsui)如今已经是日本最资深的经济学家之一。她证实:“日本留学海外的人数已大幅减少。反观中国或韩国学生的表现,的确对比鲜明。这令人感到不安,因为日本需要更多具有国际视野的全球化人才。”

Why is this happening? One factor is Japan’s stagnant economy. “Japanese corporations don’t have the money to send people over here in the numbers they used to, nor does the government,” observes Alicia Ogawa, adjunct associate professor at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs. But the problem goes beyond finance: even when Japanese students can find the money to come, their English is often too poor – and they often fail to properly engage. “In Japan there now seems to be a ‘What’s the point?’ attitude,” Ogawa suggests. “Even when Japanese are let in, they often won’t engage in the class debate – they keep to themselves.”

为何会出现这种情况?一个原因就是日本经济的停滞。“日本企业的财力不足以像以前那样 把那么多的人送到这儿来,政府也没钱,”哥伦比亚大学国际关系与公共事务学院(School of International and Public Affairs)兼职副教授艾丽西亚•小川(Alicia Ogawa)说道。但问题不仅出在资金上:即便日本学生找得到资助,他们的英语也往往太糟糕了——往往没办法与美国人展开正常沟通。“在日本,现在似乎出 现了一种‘这有什么意义?’的观点,”小川表示。“即使是日本学生被录取后,他们往往也不愿参与课堂辩论——表现得很自闭。”

. . .


The trend in China could hardly be more different. Last year, the number of Chinese students at US institutions rose by 30 per cent to 128,000, pushing China for the first time into the top slot. And the Chinese who are now arriving at Columbia, Harvard – or anywhere else – not only tend to speak good (self-taught) English, but they are becoming increasingly assertive too. “The Chinese are really engaging in the class,” says one Harvard academic. “So are the Koreans.”

而中国学生的情况可谓是大相径庭。去年,美国各机构中中国留学生的人数增长了30%, 至12.8万人,使得中国首次成为留美学生人数最多的国家。而目前就读于哥伦比亚和哈佛(或其它任何一所大学)的中国学生,不单单是英语流利(自学成 材),而且正变得越来越自信。“中国学生真的正参与到课堂中来,”一位哈佛学者表示。“韩国学生也是。”

Perhaps this is inevitable: China, after all, is a vast, rapidly growing country, while Japan is a mature economy. Young Chinese consequently seem convinced that there is plenty to learn – and copy – in America. Many young Japanese, however, feel that learning foreign skills, ideas or technology is more effort than it is worth; a new sense of isolationism is taking hold.

也许这是一个不可避免的趋势:毕竟,中国是一个快速发展中的庞然大国,而日本已经是一 个成熟经济体。因此,中国年轻人似乎坚信,美国有很多东西可学——和模仿。但许多日本年轻人感觉,学习外国技能、思想或科技,回报还抵不上付出的努力;日 本正渐渐为一种新的孤立主义情绪所笼罩。

To me, this seems to be a tragedy for Japan; particularly since it reflects and fuels subtle cultural perceptions inside the US too. Twenty years ago, Japan was perceived in America as a powerful presence on the world stage; these days, the country has slipped into the margins of public consciousness and debate.


China, by contrast, is visible and centre-stage – partly because America cannot decide whether it poses an opportunity or threat. Perhaps the presence of those Chinese students at US universities will be a force for good; after all, it should promote more engagement and global growth. Or perhaps this trend will simply enable Chinese students to beat Americans at their own game, and thus ultimately create more tension. Either way, the one thing that is clear is that nobody can afford to ignore the Chinese; the country, like its students in that Columbia hall, has presence – and an air of purpose.

相比之下,中国赫然可见,处在舞台的中央——这在一定程度上是因为,美国还不能断定中 国带来的是机遇还是威胁。美国大学里中国留学生这么多,也许是一股好的趋势;毕竟,这应该会推动更多的交流和全球增长。抑或,这种潮流只会让中国学生效仿 并反超美国人,最终加剧紧张关系。不管怎样,有一点很明确:没人能小瞧中国人。就像哥伦比亚大学会场里的那些中国学生一样,中国已展现出自己的存在——以 及抱负。

The only question that really hangs in the air, at Columbia and other campuses, is whether this pattern will still be in place in 20 years time. Will those Chinese students still be flocking to the US? Or will they have decamped to Shanghai, or been replaced again by another group of “newcomers”? Any predictions or ideas would be gratefully received; particularly if they emanate from China – or Japan.