9z versus China

The Danish national broadcaster had a show about how Danish teenagers compared with Chinese teenagers after 9 years of school. It came out around about the time of the lockout. I have only watched one episode.

Comparing school systems is a great interest of mine and there is much to be said about the differences/similarities between the Danish and the Chinese system. I am not going to touch those issues here though.

What I found overpowering about the show itself was how Danish the people behind it were. I can imagine if a French team had made the show, or Brazilian, or Japanese:- Comparing Denmark and China still but coming without the cultural baggage of being Danish. That would be a show I would love to watch. The show did not have the self-awareness to address this weakness of a lack of self-awareness.

If I had been in control, I would have changed a lot of the presentation.

For example, the show starts with the first school day in both schools. The Danish school is shown, with singing and flag waving and dancing. Then the stark lines of Chinese children standing in the playground chanting “We are proud to be Chinese”.

If I had been in control of the editing, I would have put it together to show the similarities and not the differences. Flag goes up in Denmark, flag goes up in China, teacher chants slogans in China, teacher sings slogans in Denmark, children standing outside in Denmark, children standing outside in China, children look happy in Denmark, children look happy in China, children look bored in China, children look bored in Denmark.

Another thing I would have changed was the panel of “experts” called on to answer questions about both the Danish and the Chinese system. They had the head of the teachers’ union and some guy from a Danish university. Not one Chinese educational system expert was called on. (Neither in the sense of someone in Denmark who has made it their life’s work to study the Chinese system nor in the sense of a Chinese person involved in running the Chinese educational system.) The questions about the Chinese system were addressed to 12 year old Chinese girls and Danish men.

Not to mention, the Danish university “expert” did not even have a very good handle on what goes on in the Danish system. In one part, he claimed that children from all levels and backgrounds are together in their class, resulting in them having a better understanding of the breadth of Danish society.

Except. Denmark has private schools. And Denmark has special schools. So, apart from the children who go to private school and the children who are in special school, the Danish classroom is a cross section of Danish society.

He just repeated cultural myths about Denmark without being aware of how poorly he understood his own country. So, I took his pronouncements on the Chinese system with more than a pinch of salt.

How can a tv programme claim that the Danish system sets Danish teenagers up as being better critical thinkers than Chinese teenagers when it cannot demonstrate critical thinking in the actual show?

The teenagers were asked some “general knowledge” questions, to show how ignorant the Chinese children are. The questions were

“Who were The Beatles?”

“What is a teenager?”

“What happened on September 11th 2001?”

The children were not asked

“Who is Teresa Teng?”

“What do we mean by adolescence?”

“What was the Cultural Revolution?”

Also, the icons to show the children’s performance have little cartoon figures with flags as t-shirts. The Chinese ones are bright yellow faced and the Danish ones are pink faced. (This is despite the programme going to extraordinary hamfisted lengths to establish that the Danish class in question has a lot of brown people, to pre-explain why the results will be so bad… because of diversity of “social” groups)

What the actual fuck, though? Both have slitty eyes, so I guess that’s progress of a sort, though the Chinese eyes are the slittiest.

Cartoon depiction of Chinese and Danish child
I facepalmed so hard, my hand got bruised

In conclusion, an interesting concept for a show, ruined by the lack of cultural understanding and critical thinking by the programme makers. Prejudices go unchallenged and are presented as self-evident truth, when a little digging would have found reality to be a lot more nuanced.

4 thoughts on “9z versus China

  1. Gotta say it, the Chinese won this one. The Danes were not in control, had no knowledge of basics, and precious little respect for the reason that they go to school in the first place.


  2. I didn’t even bother watching it, because I knew it’d be bad and embaressing. The whole premise was wrong: they set up an elite school with 10-12 hour days to compete with an avarage Danish school. I just knew that the conclusion would be something along the line of “yes, the chinese a better at everything academically, but look at our precious danish system, creating happy, well rounded, socially consious individuals, blah blah blah”. I have no idea if that was the conclusion, since I didn’t watch the programme, but I didn’t even want to take the risk. I knew I’d be shouting at the TV.


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