Saturday, January 30, 2010

Revisiting Guanxi

From Saturday, December 17, 2005

The different levels of corruption in this country keep becoming clearer and clearer. I know these forces must be at work in my own country, but I don't think they are as widespread or obvious. Here, it impacts every corner and level of society.

Take my friend Apple, for example. She has been banking on the chance of going to Beijing International Language University. She has to take an exam to go there and if she does well on it she'll be accepted and not have to take the National Examination in June. Last week she found out that there are only 8 seats for the exam at students from No. 1 Middle School and only one of them is for a girl. She was so afraid that her classmates may use their parents' position to influence the decision. Luckily, Apple found out yesterday that she was picked. She is certainly deserving of it, as she is the best at English in her grade.

It's upsetting that she would even have to worry about such a thing. The truth is, students use their parents' influence all the time to get things they don't deserve. I have guanxi (Chinese term for 'having good connections' though it literally translates as 'relationship') and I hate it even more after today.

Guanxi puts people in the position to always be asking for and granting favors. Being the independent girl that I am, I'm not too big on asking others for favors. But what I hate even more is asking favors on behalf of someone else. This is also very common in China, and there are few things that make me more uncomfortable (other than, perhaps, eating mysterious Chinese food).

The current situation is this: Zhao Ming's cousin (his aunt's daughter) must pass an exam in order to get hired for a job. His cousin desperately needs this job because her parents both have cancer (yes, both of them) and only her uncle is working; he may not be able to work for long. According to Ming, his cousin isn't exceptionally bright and will not be able to pass this test. I should add that the test is probably something similar to the ACTs--testing general math, language, etc.

Zhao Ming had this wonderful idea that we ask Angelina (my friend and student that I teach in Class 2) to take the test. This involves getting her picture taken and making a fake ID. She must take the exam tomorrow--her only day free from school. I know I had to suck it up and help him get the favor. This is for the well-being of his family. Well, Angelina has agreed to do it, but we shall see what happens tomorrow.

I think it's rather strange that this is all happening. A fake ID? Sitting in on someone's exam? That's a pretty sly move in the U.S. but according to Zhao Ming it's all quite normal here. I don't know what to believe anymore.

footnote: Apple did not get admitted to Beijing Language University but eventually went on to go to another university in Beijing. Ming's uncle died of lung cancer in 2007. Angelina reassured me that sitting in on someone's test is quite normal, however the scheme failed when someone at the exam center recognized her--Ming's cousin, therefore, did not get the job.

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