29 July 2008

Cheating: a time-honored Chinese tradition?

Is cheating a time-honored Chinese tradition? I've always had that impression from my interactions with Chinese people. Being American but of Chinese descent, that sometimes leaves my ethics a little muddled. I try to be honest as much as possible, but occasionally, I'll see a way to cut corners and feel strongly compelled to "cheat."

I tried to do a Google search on "cheating chinese tradition." I didn't really find much. There was one blog post complaining about cheating in Chinese business practices and a few articles about cheating on high-stakes exams. Apparently, some sophisticated technology has been spotted in exam rooms.

Even in America, my cursory observation has been that Chinese-American students cheat a lot more than students of other ethnicities. The most infamous example is Saratoga High School in California, which has a very high Chinese/Asian student population. In 1997, a student called her friend in an Asian time zone to get the essay questions for the AP United History exam. In fact, the culprit was a friend of my friend from Chinese language school. In 2004, a widespread cheating scandal involving changing grades was uncovered.

It's hard to discuss the topic of cheating with other Chinese people because they don't really see it that way. Their view is of a dog-eat-dog world where if you're not cheating, you're not trying. As long as you don't cheat your family or get caught, there's nothing wrong with it. In fact, if you cheat for your family, that's even better.

The dog-eat-dog mentality extends to social interactions. You always see Chinese people forming a big blog instead of an orderly queue to buy something or get onto a bus/train. They push and shove each other, cut in the line.

You have to admit that a dog-eat-dog mentality will bring you great material success. I remember being in Paris and talking to an Algerian immigrant. He said that the Chinese people were slowly buying up a small part of the city. They work hard, they save money, they're unstoppable. My theory is that if the world comes to an end, the last people around will be Chinese. They are the ultimate survivors.

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