英语新闻(English news about China)

"I'm" fad among Chinese MSN users——fr. China Daily

It seems that almost all your friends' names on MSN have added a little green "i'm" symbol overnight. If you ask what is going on, someone will tell you it's a charity initiative and send you an intro link. Though this charity program has not yet officially launched for Chinese users, this little green symbol has proven popular among Chinese Windows Live Messenger users. Windows Live Messenger's official blog announced on March 1 that Microsoft was launching an "i'm"  program in United States. Every time someone starts a conversation using i'm, Microsoft shares a portion of the program's advertising revenue with nine organizations dedicated to social causes. With every instant message a user sends, it helps address issues one feels most passionate about, including poverty, child protection, disease and environmental degradation. One only has to add certain code next to one's name for the organization one would like to support. "*red'u" is for the American Red Cross, "*bqca" is for Boys & Girls Clubs of America and "*unicef" stands for the American branch of UNICEF. After a Chinese blogger named "hung" introduced this program on his blog on March 2, "i'm" has invaded the Internet in China with no actual promotional campaign from Microsoft. Beijing-based Youth Weekend reported that famous IT blogger Keso regarded this program's rapid spread as a successful virus marketing case. He thinks that the success of the "i'm" program is because it's spread by users without being a bother to others. This answers why "i'm" has spread so rapidly across the Internet like a virus with almost no promotion. However, Feng Jinhu from the press center for Microsoft China told Youth Weekend that the "i'm" project is only eligible for Messenger users in United States. Instant messages sent by Chinese users would not count. This has not affected Chinese Messenger users' passion for the little green symbol. These users hope their instant messages will actually become donations to charitable organizations someday.

[ 本帖最后由 fussfun 于 2007-3-27 11:55 编辑 ]
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me too, an i'm user. The text code i set up is *help: stopglobalwarming,
hehe, the environment problem is really critical.

The Microsoft is not pulling our legs, isn't it?
I do trust Bill Gates quite a lot , hopefully he will not abuse our trust.:naughty:

[ 本帖最后由 fussfun 于 2007-3-28 00:54 编辑 ]


Pungent pulp: Panda poop perfect for paper(CNN)

BEIJING, China (AP) -- There's a new Chinese saying: When life hands you panda poop, make paper.

Researchers at a giant panda reserve in southern China are looking for paper mills to process their surplus of fiber-rich panda excrement into high quality paper.

Liao Jun, a researcher at the Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding Base in Sichuan province, said the idea came to them after a visit to Thailand last year where they found paper made from elephant dung. They thought panda poop would produce an even finer quality paper, he said.

The base is in talks with several paper mills on how to turn the droppings of Jing Jing, Ke Bi, Ya Ya and dozens of other pandas at the base into reams of office paper and rolls of wrapping paper, Liao said.

They hope to have a product line available by next year, he said.

"We are not interested in doing this for the profits but to recycle the waste," said Liao.

"It's environmentally friendly. We can use the paper ourselves, and also we can sell whatever is left over."

The center's 40 bamboo-fed pandas produce about 2 tons of droppings a day, but Liao said he was not sure yet how much paper would result.

What about squeamish customers who might consider the paper unsanitary?

"People won't find it gross at all," Liao said. "They probably won't even be able to tell it's from panda poop."

The Chiang Mai Zoo in northern Thailand already sells multicolored paper made from the excrement produced by its two resident pandas. Making paper there involves a daylong process of cleaning the feces, boiling it in a soda solution, bleaching it with chlorine and drying it under the sun.

panda poop

[ 本帖最后由 fussfun 于 2007-3-28 00:58 编辑 ]


China and Russia to explore Mars (CNN online)

BEIJING, China (Reuters) --

China and Russia will mount a joint effort to explore Mars and one of its moons in 2009, Chinese state media reported on Wednesday following an agreement to boost cooperation between the two ambitious space powers.

A Russian rocket will lift a Chinese satellite and Russian exploration vehicle to survey Mars and Phobos, the innermost and biggest of the red planet's moons, the China Daily reported, citing China's National Space Administration.

The announcement followed an agreement signed on Monday in Moscow, where Chinese President Hu Jintao has been visiting.

A Chinese space official said the agreement would boost cooperation between China and Russia, both eager to expand their presence in space as the United States seeks to keep its lead.

"It indicates the two sides have taken a key step forward to working on a large space program," said the official, according to the China Daily.

The small Chinese satellite will explore Mars while the Russian craft will land on Phobos to explore the environment and scoop up soil samples.

Russia has much more experience than China in space exploration. But Beijing has been using its newly acquired wealth and technological muscle to break into the exclusive space club.

In 2003, China put a man in space, becoming only the third country to achieve the feat after the United States and the Soviet Union. It launched a second manned space flight last year and plans to eventually land a person on the moon.

The United States has announced its own plans to expand exploration of Mars and eventually send a manned expedition there. Washington chided Beijing in January for testing an anti-satellite missile that pulverized an old Chinese satellite, scattering debris that could damage other satellites.


right strategy
coupling with Russia against U.S.A:naughty:


Reporting protests in rural China (BBC)

In a one-party state, made up of more than a billion people, there is an awful lot to hide.

On any given day in China there may be 200 different protests. Most take place in the countryside, where many feel left behind by China's economic boom. But the Chinese state works hard to make sure that these demonstrations are kept well out of sight. This week, though, there was an exception. People in the town of Zhushan, near the city of Yongzhou, in central China's Hunan province, burned buses in a protest against a rise in bus fares. Riot police were sent in to take control. A camera crew managed to film and broadcast pictures of the aftermath. We wanted to go and have a look for ourselves.  

Security presence
Until last year, there was a clear procedure to follow. We would have needed permission from the local authorities to travel to Zhushan. Once we got there, local officials would have had to accompany us to every interview. But, in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics in 2008, the Communist Party has decided to relax its rules.

In theory, foreign journalists no longer need to seek permission from the local authorities in order to visit. So, I flew with my colleagues to Hunan and we drove straight into the town of Zhushan. Along the main road, shops and market stalls were open. All evidence of the recent protests had been swept away. But as we drove on, we saw riot police standing in formation in the grounds of the police station. The station's gates were left open. A few blocks away, we saw soldiers in green camouflage uniform. A handful were standing over a pot preparing to cook a leg of pork. We approached a few local people who were happy to talk to us. They told us that problems began after the Chinese New Year in February when a single bus company took control of all local routes. They say the company took advantage of its monopoly to double its fares. One regular passenger told us that fares rose from between five to seven yuan (65-90 US cents) to 15 yuan ($1.90).

Violent clashes
What angered people in Zhushan was the belief that their local officials were colluding with the bus company to raise prices - for a share of the takings. So, last Friday, parents of secondary school students started to protest against the fare rises.

The protests gained momentum. Four days later, reports say that around 20,000 people took part in demonstrations. Protestors set fire to a number of buses. At this point riot police moved in to impose order. "I was scared," said one woman, who did not want to be identified. "My whole body trembled. I ran away holding my baby. I heard they attacked a pregnant woman. Also they dragged a man off his motorbike to beat him. They didn't care whether or not you were a protester."  

Reporter's arrest
Still, the protesters made their point. The bus company was forced to abandon its fare rise. But it came at a cost. It is reported that dozens of people were injured and that one student was killed, although the Chinese authorities denied there were any deaths.

We tried to check the report of the student's death. One woman insisted that he had not been killed, but his legs had been broken. No-one could give us his name. Before we could find out any more, several dozen soldiers approached us and told us to stop what we were doing. They told us the town was under military control and we did not have permission to stay. They called for the local police. The police decided we should answer questions in the upstairs bedroom of a hotel off the main road. So we climbed the stairs, sat on the bed and handed over our documents. Half a dozen officers watched over us. Several had video cameras with them - so our interrogation turned into a kind of photo shoot. The officers took it in turn to film us as well as each page of our passports. Then, two senior officers came in. The room went quiet. "You need a certificate of permission to be in this town," said one of them as he sifted through the passports. Then he paused and looked up to make his point. "Do you have such a certificate?" "No, we don't," I replied. "This is not Britain or the United States," he warned. "This is China." We told him of the new decree that allowed foreign journalists to travel anywhere in China without permission. "That's only for Olympics-related stories," he said. Then he paused again. "And I don't think you are here for the Olympics." He looked down at the passports once more. Outside, it was beginning to get dark. In the hallway, officers discussed the idea of watching us overnight. We prepared for a long stay. But then, they told us we could go. We were escorted to our car. Slightly bizarrely, the police officers stood by the side of the road and waved us off. They had made their point - this was their town. And we had broken their rules. We left Zhushan. We never did get to find out the name of the teenage boy who may or may not have been killed in the protests.

[ 本帖最后由 fussfun 于 2007-3-30 10:16 编辑 ]


for the chinese goverment a single common life is  not so much worthy of attention


Japan deploys missile near Tokyo

IRUMA, Japan (Reuters) -- Japan trucked its first ballistic missile interceptors to an air force base north of Tokyo on Friday in an effort to beef up its defenses against its unpredictable neighbor North Korea.
The deployment of Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) launchers, capable of shooting down incoming missiles in the final stage of flight as they near their target, was sparked by Pyongyang's firing of a ballistic missile in 1998 that flew over Japan.
But Tokyo rushed the equipment into service a year ahead of schedule after North Korea unnerved the region last year by firing more missiles and testing a nuclear device.
"We consider it very meaningful to deploy the air defense missiles close to metropolitan Tokyo, which is the center of business and political activities," Kazumasa Echizen, the Iruma air base public-information chief, said in a statement. "We will continue our efforts to be ready for any possible emergencies."
About 50 demonstrators shouted and waved banners as a line of green trucks carried the equipment through the gates of the base, about 40 km (25 miles) from central Tokyo, before dawn on Friday.
"Bringing PAC-3s to places like Iruma makes them the focus of interception strategy and therefore at risk of becoming the target of attack by other countries," an activist group said in a statement condemning the deployment as a "military performance".

Closer to Tokyo

The relatively short range of PAC-3 interceptors -- about 20 km (12 miles) -- means they are likely to be deployed closer to the center of the capital to protect financial and government hubs. More interceptors are set to be deployed at bases around the country over the next few years.
The United States has already deployed its own PAC-3s at a base on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa, and has deployed ship-based Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) missile interceptors at Yokosuka, west of Tokyo.
The new interceptors are the first to be controlled by the Japanese government, which has been pushed into a tighter defense relationship with the United States as regional tensions rise.
Tokyo's close involvement in U.S. defense strategy in Asia, while not as controversial as Washington's planned shield in eastern Europe, stretches the boundaries of Japan's pacifist constitution. Russia reacted angrily to U.S. plans to place parts of such a shield in Poland and the Czech Republic.
Japan limits military activities strictly to self-defense, meaning it is unable to shoot down a missile which is not headed for its own territory. The restriction annoys some officials in the United States.
Tokyo plans to equip one of its own warships with SM-3 interceptors, intended to shoot down ballistic missiles in the mid-phase of flight while outside the earth's atmosphere, by the end of this year.
It will attempt to bring down a dummy missile using its own ship-based SM-3 interceptors in a test later this year, Lieutenant-General Henry Obering, director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, told the House Armed Services Committee this week, in the first such test by a U.S. ally.
Japan's spending on missile defense is set to increase by 30.5 percent to 182.6 billion yen ($1.55 billion) in the financial year that starts next month.
Friday's deployment came after a setback for Japanese intelligence this week, when one of the set of four satellites it launched to monitor North Korea broke down. It is not scheduled to be replaced until 2011.



I. The Student

“Definitely wake me up around 9!!! I have an important presentation . . . wake me up at that time please. . . . Thanks!! Meijie.”

The e-mail message, sent to me at 3:55 a.m. under the subject line “yeah!” was my enthusiastic welcome to Harvard from a freshman named Tang Meijie. That was last May, nine months after she arrived on campus from mainland China. Except for the ungodly hour at which the message was dashed off, you wouldn’t have guessed that its author had come to Cambridge trailing accomplishments and expectations that were impressive even by Harvard standards. Nor was there obvious evidence of a student superstar in the tousled figure in a sweatshirt and khakis who appeared at the Greenhouse Café in the Science Center at around 10 a.m. Greeting me with a reflexive bow, as she had at our first meeting a couple of months earlier, Meijie apologized for taking a few minutes to finish up the talk she had been assigned to give that morning in one of her courses.

Her topic gave her away. What Meijie was editing between bites of a bacon cheeseburger and sips of coffee was a short presentation for an expository-writing class called Success Stories. The questions addressed in the course, which focused on “what philosopher William James once called ‘our national disease,’ the pursuit of success,” have become newly urgent ones in Meijie’s own country. “What is ‘success’?” the course introduction asked. “Is it a measure of one’s financial worth? Moral perfection? Popularity? How do families, schools and popular culture invite us to think about success? And how are we encouraged to think about failure?” At Harvard, she and her classmates were discussing those issues as they read, among other things, “The Great Gatsby” and David Brooks on America’s résumé-rich “organization kids” and watched movies. In China, a nation on a mission to become a 21st-century incubator of “world class” talent, Meijie is the movie. As she progressed through her classes in the cutting-edge city of Shanghai, spent a year abroad at a private high school in Washington, D.C., and came to Harvard, she became a celebrated embodiment of China’s efforts to create a new sort of student — a student trying to expand her country’s sometimes constricting vision of success.

Downstairs in the computer room of the Science Center, Meijie showed me the thousands of Chinese citations that come up when you Google her name. “That’s very crazy,” she said with a laugh, a girl all too familiar with the Chinese ardor for anything associated with the name Harvard. Getting in “early action” in December 2004 set off a media frenzy at home, where it’s still relatively rare for students to enroll as undergraduates at elite American schools, and study abroad promises to provide a crucial edge in a jammed job market. A packet of press coverage her parents gave me — Meijie rolled her eyes at the trove — portrayed her as every Chinese parent’s dream child. Child magazine accompanied photos of Meijie and her parents with counsel on how to “raise a great child.” The winner of no fewer than 76 prizes at the “city level” or above, as one article marveled, she was a model that top Chinese students themselves were dying to emulate. “What Does Her Success Tell Us?” read a headline on an article in The Shanghai Students’ Post. “Meijie Knocked at the Door of Harvard. Do You Want to Copy?” asked The Morning News Express in bold Chinese characters. For months, she was besieged by journalists begging to profile her; publishers, she recalls, clamored to sign her up to write her life story and companies asked her to advertise their products. A director of Goldman Sachs’s China division wanted her on the board of the private school he recently helped found, which was then under construction in an erstwhile rice field outside Shanghai.

But what was truly exceptional about Meijie was how she responded to the adulation. The fervent worship back home made Meijie uncomfortable and anxious to clarify what she wasn’t. “Don’t call me ‘Harvard Girl,’ ” she told one of many magazine interviewers. She was referring to a student six years ahead of her, Liu Yiting, whose arrival at Harvard in 1999 made her a huge celebrity in China when her parents published a book, “Harvard Girl,” describing the meticulous regimen that produced their star. It quickly sold almost a million and a half copies and inspired numerous how-to-groom-your-child-to-get-into-college-abroad knockoffs. For all her triumphs, Meijie wasn’t obsessed with being at the head of the class and didn’t want the well-programmed-paragon treatment. She excelled in assorted subjects, but her school reported that her overall ranking wasn’t in the top 10 percent. Her parents had stood by, a little stunned, as their intrepid daughter won distinction in an unusual way, by accomplishing all kinds of things outside of the classroom.

Amid the hoopla, Meijie insisted that the last thing Chinese students (or parents) needed was to be encouraged in their blind reverence for an academic brand name, much less be told there was some new formula to follow and competitive frenzy to join. That was just the kind of pressure they had too much of already. It was everywhere in a culture with a long tradition of rigidly hierarchical talent selection, dating back to the imperial civil-service-exam system more than a thousand years ago — and still there in a school system driven by a daunting national college-entrance exam. The Chinese call it the gaokao, a three-day ordeal for which the preparation is arduous — and on which a single point difference can spell radically different life options. The cramming ethos, which sets in before high school, was what Meijie had tried hard not to let erode her curiosity. In her experience, America had come to stand for a less pressured and more appealing approach to schooling. “There is something in the American educational system that helps America hold its position in the world,” she told me. “Many people will think it’s a cliché, but there is something huge about it, although there are a lot of flaws — like bad public schools and other stuff. But there’s something really good, and it’s very different from my educational system.”

Once at Harvard, in the fall of 2005, Meijie figured out what she wanted to do. She would try to make liberal education’s ideal of well-rounded self-fulfillment “more real in China.” She plunged into conceiving a summer exchange program run by and for students. Meijie named it the Harvard Summit for Young Leaders in China, or Hsylc — pronounced “H-silk,” evoking the historic trading route. In August 2006, on the campus of that now-completed private school outside Shanghai whose board she had joined, a cosmopolitan array of Harvard undergraduates would offer a dose of the more freewheeling American campus and classroom experience. Meijie and an inner circle of organizers (similarly on-the-go Harvard women, all of Chinese descent, some reared in the U.S.) envisaged nine days of small-group discussions on wide-ranging issues outside of math and science. Hsylc would also offer extracurricular excitement and social discovery — chances for students to try new things and connect with one another, rather than compete for prizes. The participants that Meijie had in mind were several hundred promising Chinese high-schoolers, to be chosen in an un-Chinese way. She and a selection committee would pick them on the basis not of their G.P.A.’s but of their extracurricular activities and their essays in response to the kinds of open-ended prompts they never encountered at school. On her list was a question that might be a banality in the U.S. but was a heresy at home: “If you could do one thing to change the world, what would it be?”

Meijie’s answer to that question — help shake up Chinese education — puts her in step with the latest wave of a 30-year-old government effort to overhaul China’s schools and universities to keep pace with “socialist modernization.” After the chaos of the Cultural Revolution, when schools were closed and cadres of students assaulted “enemies of the state,” Deng Xiaoping resumed the National College Entrance Exam in 1977, marking the start of a radical expansion of the education system. A developing economy demanded it; the implications for politics were less clear, and after Tiananmen Square, there was a brief slowdown. The continued growth since then has been a success in many respects; educational attainments and college attendance have surged. Yet in the process, some prominent government officials have grown concerned that too many students have become the sort of stressed-out, test-acing drone who fails to acquire the skills — creativity, flexibility, initiative, leadership — said to be necessary in the global marketplace. “Students are buried in an endless flood of homework and sit for one mock entrance exam after another, leaving them with heads swimming and eyes blurred,” lamented former Vice Premier Li Lanqing in a book describing his efforts to address the problem. They arrive at college exhausted and emerge from it unenlightened — just when the country urgently needs a talented elite of innovators, the word of the hour. A recent report from the McKinsey consulting firm, “China’s Looming Talent Shortage,” pinpointed the alarming consequences of the country’s so-called “stuffed duck” tradition of dry and outdated knowledge transfer: graduates lacking “the cultural fit,” language skills and practical experience with teamwork and projects that multinational employers in a global era are looking for.

Even as American educators seek to emulate Asian pedagogy — a test-centered ethos and a rigorous focus on math, science and engineering — Chinese educators are trying to blend a Western emphasis on critical thinking, versatility and leadership into their own traditions. To put it another way, in the peremptorily utopian style typical of official Chinese directives (as well as of educationese the world over), the nation’s schools must strive “to build citizens’ character in an all-round way, gear their efforts to each and every student, give full scope to students’ ideological, moral, cultural and scientific potentials and raise their labor skills and physical and psychological aptitudes, achieve vibrant student development and run themselves with distinction.” Meijie’s rise to star student reflects a much-publicized government call to promote “suzhi jiaoyu” — generally translated as “quality education,” and also sometimes as “character education” or “all-round character education.” Her story also raises important questions about the state’s effort, which has been more generously backed by rhetoric than by money. The goal of change is to liberate students to pursue more fulfilling paths in a country where jobs are no longer assigned; it is also to produce the sort of flexibly skilled work force that best fits an international knowledge economy. But can personal desires and national demands be reconciled? Will the most promising students of the new era be as overburdened and regimented as before? As new opportunities have begun to emerge, so have tensions. If Meijie’s own trajectory and her Hsylc brainchild are any guide, the force most likely to spur on deep-seated educational ferment in China may well turn out to be students themselves — still struggling with stress, yet doing so in an era of greater personal independence and international openness. Overachievers of the world unite!

II. The Expansion

Brave Shanghai’s traffic and head southwest for 40 minutes to the well-groomed grounds of Xiwai International School, the site of last year’s Hsylc conference, and you see the broad contours of what has been happening in Chinese education. In an area that is projected to become Shanghai’s biggest satellite city, new construction is everywhere and up-to-date school campuses are being built. While American leaders have been debating how best to demand more accountability from a decentralized education system, the Chinese government has decided to loosen its administrative and financial control. The process dates back 20 years now, to the Decision on the Reform of the Education System, issued in 1985 (the year Meijie was born). The push was on to consolidate the Soviet-style hyperspecialized universities into more comprehensive institutions; with the Compulsory Education Law of 1986, mandating nine years of education for all, a major expansion was also under way. In the early 1990s, the government urged an easing of exam pressures and took the step of encouraging “social forces” to establish private schools alongside the public system.
Parents whose own schooling was curtailed by the Cultural Revolution have been avid to realize their educational ambitions — the Confucian key to social and moral advancement — in the paths they chart for their “little emperors,” the singletons mandated by the one-child policy of the past quarter of a century. The pace of growth and school privatization surged in the course of the 1990s. The goal was to send 15 percent of the college-age population on to the postsecondary level — that figure being the standard definition of “mass higher education” — by 2010. Meanwhile, extra financing went to a group of top universities in a quest to make them “world class.” And in the new millennium, rice paddies are still making way for state-of-the-art school facilities. A nonprofit, private school, Xiwai could be mistaken for a medium-size college. Its spacious brick classroom buildings and dorms (capacity 3,500 students, from pre-K to 12th grade) flank a lovely courtyard with a fountain in the middle. At one end stand an imposing library and a dining facility, and across the way is a large arts-and-sports complex.


“You could say we overbuilt,” said Xiwai’s co-founder, Xu Ziwang. Boyish in his khakis and navy blazer, Xu, who is 50, has energy to match the wealth he earned as one of Goldman Sachs’s first mainland Chinese partners. He has devoted both his zeal and money to establishing the school with Lin Min, Xiwai’s headmaster, plowing proceeds from local real estate development into the enterprise. Theirs is a project with roots in a past that could hardly have seemed more remote on the balmy fall day the two of them proudly showed me around the one-year-old campus. Friends from their teenage years on a farm during the Cultural Revolution, Xu and Lin were sent from school to the countryside when they were about the age of the oldest Xiwai students who greeted us cheerfully on the paved pathways. The two men were among the many millions who, feverishly studying when they weren’t busy at their appointed labors, swarmed to take the college-entrance exam in the first sittings in 1977 and 1978; they ended up among the few who scored high enough to secure a scarce college spot. Thirty years later, both had studied and worked abroad (Xu in the United States, Lin in Slovenia, England and New Zealand), and back home, Xu had played a big role in privatization deals. Here they stood on what had been mud, eagerly sharing their vision of a pedagogical and curricular renaissance that would produce a generation “better than us.”

What a fortunate cohort today’s kids were, both men said: young people growing up in a booming country that had plenty of problems but also a growing middle class and expanding horizons. By 2006, China had vastly exceeded its higher-education enrollment goal; 22 percent of the college-age population — compared with roughly 40 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds in the United States — were receiving some form of postsecondary schooling. Yet Xu and Lin also joined in the widespread worry that Chinese youths, spared the real-life challenges their elders were forced to cope with, faced very different constraints. Hunkered down, doing endless exam-haunted schoolwork, they were constantly hovered over by their parents. In 1998, years before the McKinsey report of a talent shortage, Xu heard the wake-up call when he initiated Chinese recruiting for Goldman Sachs.

He picked three graduates from China’s top universities and was impressed that they all scored 100 percent on the exam following the associate training stint in New York — only to be disappointed a year later, when their performance reviews were in the bottom quartiles. “There’s a price,” he concluded, “for 12 years of prep for an exam, and that’s to always think there’s a narrow, right answer. If you give precise instructions, they do well. If you define a task broadly, they get lost and ask for help.” If he and Lin had their way, independent students eager to use their imaginations would be the dominant breed on their campus. They were counting on a rising tide of “broad-minded” parents eager to provide their children with the less-straitjacketed education — a creative mix of the best of East and West — that Xiwai preached and aimed to find teachers able to impart. But as we toured a campus plastered with exhortations to be “global citizens” and to “Smile, Embrace, Communicate, Cooperate, Negotiate,” Xu was also blunt: there are lots of obstacles, not the least of them the gaokao that exerts such sway. “The dilemma is, everybody realized it is the problem, but nobody knows what to do.”

Chinese routinely say they wish the exam weren’t such a monolithic force, and various provinces have lately been allowed to offer their own versions. Yet bigger changes — like Fudan University’s use last year of broader criteria and a totally different test to admit some 300 students — stir concern. In a country so huge — and in a culture so steeped in cronyism — the fear is that no other process could work as fairly. Meanwhile, the success of China’s educational expansion hasn’t eased gaokao panic, and in fact has made the secondary-school exam a newly fraught hurdle. The unforseen pressures have unfolded this way: As the number of college graduates has outpaced the growth in desirable high-level jobs, generally located in China’s developed eastern region, one result has been a surge of unemployment among degree holders who resist settling for less. Along with that has come a rise in qualifications for lower-level jobs that once didn’t require a college diploma.

The situation has left students still desperately chasing elite-university credentials. A degree from the most prestigious Chinese schools, especially those given extra money in the quest for “world class” status (with Fudan and Jiao Tong universities in Shanghai, Peking and Tsinghua in Beijing at the pinnacle) — or from the University of Hong Kong or, more distinctive yet, from a college abroad — is the best shot at success in a job market where a big gap looms between top jobs and the level below. The college race has led in turn to an intensified struggle to get into the best high schools. They boast records of strong gaokao scorers and prestige university placements — yet high schools in general haven’t multiplied at the rate that colleges have. Xu wasn’t alone in sighing over these strains in the system and at the same time in seeing signs of hope: real change was bound to come.

III. The Experiment

When Meijie next had time to talk, it was in early June of last year, and she was swept up in arrangements for her education summit meeting in August. Among other things she and her fellow Harvard organizers would do when they were in Shanghai (where some Chinese university students would help out, too) was handle the late batch of Hsylc applications from seniors in China’s 10th-to-12th-grade high-school system. Meijie had extended the deadline for those applicants so they wouldn’t have to squeeze in work on the essays — one in English and one in Chinese — at the height of gaokao cramming. Answering Hsylc’s more creative questions would be a nice break for them, she told me at one point with a laugh and a shake of her cropped hair, and she wasn’t entirely kidding. Here was a college freshman who had barely closed her own blue books and was eagerly preparing to stage a $200,000 event (financed primarily by the Goldman Sachs Foundation, thanks to guidance from Xu). Lightening burdens, that “quality education” goal, was not exactly on any of these students’ agendas; juggling competing aspirations was more like it.

From the start, as Shanghai pioneered quality-education experiments during Meijie’s primary-school years in the early 1990s, she has been the rare student who navigated, undaunted, between China’s established educational ways and the emerging opportunities and expectations. Her upbringing reflects the deep-seated zeal for schooling that fuels but also complicates reform efforts. Almost the first thing Meijie told me about her mother (a former opera singer from a musical, Westernized family) and her father (a middle-school teacher of Chinese from a more traditional background) is that “they’re very typical Chinese parents.” By that she meant “they really focus on my education and cultivation.”

In China, a child’s schooling is a family endeavor worthy of great sacrifice, in money and time. Over dinner in Shanghai, a melodiously voluble Mrs. Tang confirmed that “when Meijie was very young we controlled her a lot, watched her very closely and guided her carefully. Luckily she was very cooperative and followed our instruction.” Effort rather than ability is considered the key to achievement — and among the most important expressions of filial piety is studying diligently (a word I heard a lot). “If there is no dark and dogged will, there will be no shining accomplishment; if there is no dull and determined effort, there will be no brilliant achievement” goes an old saying, invoked as soon as school starts — a far cry from the Western progressive interest in encouraging curiosity and play in the early years. Meijie told me her mother had her memorize her primary-school textbooks (much thinner than ours). Like many children, she was also sent to lessons in music, art and calligraphy. This kind of broader training is a legacy of the Confucian focus on self-perfection, and it is in step with the Maoist notion of “all-round development”; the emphasis is on practice and mastery, where American parents, busy enrolling their young kids in arty extras, are likely to stress self-expression and creativity.

For the reformist vision of more individualized, active learning, this ingrained educational drive has been something of a mixed blessing. It is a great core to build on: “quality education” advocates are emphatic that they have no intention of jettisoning a strong Asian heritage of discipline and humble, family-oriented commitment to self-cultivation. At the same time, the traditional emphasis on arduously conformist, adult-driven, hypercompetitive academic performance — well suited though it is to a standard class size of 40 or 50 — can get in the way of liberating individual initiative and easing pressures.

In her compulsory-education years, Meijie had plenty of old-style schooling — sitting in rows, being rigorously trained in the basics by revered teachers, and excelling. This was the well-entrenched approach observed by the developmental psychologists Harold W. Stevenson and James W. Stigler in the 1980s and praised in their frequently cited 1992 book “The Learning Gap: Why Our Schools Are Failing and What We Can Learn From Japanese and Chinese Education.” But she received new-style broadening, too. Seeing he had an eager reader, Meijie’s father began buying her books — she remembers the series of 115 Western classics he got a deal on one summer — in the belief that if she learned one thing from each, they were worth having. Meanwhile, in primary school, Meijie lucked into an early example of just the kind of extracurricular, community-oriented pursuit championed by Vice Premier Li. Thanks to an arrangement between her school and a Shanghai TV station, the 9-year-old Meijie was one of several top third graders tapped to produce a weekly kids’ news segment, which meant skipping class to work on the clips. She ended up doing it single-handedly for three years; her classmates’ parents pulled their children out, worried about school demands and exams.

Meijie moved on to middle school in the late 1990s just as “keypoint” schools, which accept the best students and are better financed, were banned from using the term in the interests of greater egalitarianism (though they remain as sought-after as ever). A lottery was instituted in Shanghai to spread the stellar students around. When Meijie landed in a merely ordinary school, her parents were distraught — and then upset when she flunked a computer-skills test. (She failed to hit “save.”) But soon they backed off, Mrs. Tang explained, to “let her develop herself because we saw how good she is.” Indeed, Meijie proceeded to reap benefits beyond Vice Premier Li’s dreams. “You have time to live your own life,” she told me, remembering the more laid-back atmosphere of her nonselect school, “and you have your freedom to think about a lot.” Among other things, she thought about Web design, partly to prove she was no computer dunce, but mainly because she was an unusually informed girl. Thirteen-year-old Meijie, former journalist, followed the news and was struck that in the midst of the Internet boom, “China is too quiet and behind” in appealing to teens. She saw a niche and focused on building one of the first popular youth sites in China. She was then recruited to help work on kids.eastday.com, a government-endorsed site with comprehensive information and services for younger teenagers.

Up to this point, which brought her to the turn of the millennium, Meijie’s experience was a preview of how less hierarchical, more flexible educational innovations might free an extroverted, quite extraordinary student — even as it also shed light on the persistent power exerted by stringent school expectations and demanding parents. By 2001, the pace of curricular change began to pick up, with private schools often in the lead, trumpeting mottoes like “We must put students in the center of learning and focus on cultivation of creativity.” At Xiwai, where I sat in on a first-grade class of merely 29, there was a smart board and desks arranged, Western-style, in clusters. A lively young teacher had the kids chanting cheerfully (and perfectly) in unison, old style, but also scrambling to find partners with whom to practice their Chinese characters; the room buzzed with collaborative work, as Xiwai’s administrators proudly pointed out.

Another day, over tea and then lunch in a cafe at East China Normal University, I met Cui Yunhuo, a young professor there who has been active in the nationwide curriculum review and implementation process. He gave an upbeat account of the progress he has seen in grades one through nine in a mere five years — though he also lamented the lack of good assessment methods. There is a wider variety of new textbooks to choose from, he explained, reporting that color had been added and outdated and often dense passages removed. Teachers are “more at an international level,” Cui said and gave me a booklet heavy on proclamations about the new importance placed on “encouraging students to inquire” and helping them “learn to learn.” More hands-on, project-based learning and cooperative endeavors are required. Time must also be allotted for “comprehensive practical activities and school-based curriculum,” which include optional courses designed by individual schools to appeal to students’ interests — a hortatory agenda hard to evaluate. At a so-called demonstration middle and high school I visited in Beijing, the vice principal extolled an environmental-studies project, which sent students to visit a waste-water recycling factory. They returned with ideas that they were eager to apply to the new campus under construction on Beijing’s outskirts. Student-run clubs are now de rigueur. There are also new curbs on competition. The middle-school entrance exam has been officially abolished. Shanghai eliminated midterms in the early primary-school grades, and weekend and vacation review classes are widely discouraged.