2021-01-23 12:15阅读:



书评:Invisible China,也许可以译为《看不见的中国》。作者是斯坦福大学的两个经济学家Scott Rozelle and Natalie Hell。
OECD (经济合作与发展组织)的PISA排名,即Program For International Student Assessment (国际学生能力评估) 显示中国的高中生比其他国家的高中生在综合能力方面更强。但是这完全是一个骗人的评估系统。
Invisible China. By Scott Rozelle and Natalie Hell. University of Chicago Press; 248 pages; $27.50 and £22.
The china that most foreigners see is modern and metropolitan. The skyscrapers glitter. The bullet trains are fast and comfortable. Anyone who visits only Beijing, Shanghai or Shenzhen would conclude that China was already a rich country.
Yet there is another China: poor, rural and scarcely visible to outsiders, esp
ecially when covid-19 has made travel so hard. Toilets can be holes in the dirt, tricky to find in the dark. Women sometimes break river ice to wash clothes by hand. In many villages, most working-age adults have moved to the cities, where they lay bricks, deliver packages and only occasionally return to see their children. “It’s a hard life being away from your family so much,” one migrant in Hebei province told this reviewer.
Granted, rural Chinese are far better off than they used to be. In the 1950s, when Mao Zedong forced them onto collective farms, tens of millions starved to death. Now they generally have enough to eat, and proudly insist that guests in their draughty homes have second helpings of oily noodles. But a crisis is brewing in these villages, argue Scott Rozelle of Stanford University and Natalie Hell, a Californian researcher, that could prevent China from attaining Xi Jinping’s dream of widespread prosperity. Two-thirds of Chinese children are rural, partly because rural parents have more babies than urban ones. And rural Chinese children—the workforce of the future—are doing terribly at school.
China has invested huge amounts in physical infrastructure, but neglected its human capital. Do not be fooled by league tables, such as the oecd’s pisa rankings, that show Chinese high-school students outperforming those of nearly every other country. The Chinese figures are not for the whole country, but only for the better schools in the richer cities.
The children of rural migrants are barred from such schools, thanks to China’s brutal hukou (household registration) system, which excludes people with rural origins from many public services in big cities. Migrant workers’ children must either pay to attend awful urban private schools or stay back in the countryside with grandma and go to a mediocre government school there. Such discrimination is keenly resented.
Healthy bodies, healthy minds.
After decades of research, Mr Rozelle and Ms Hell present some startling data. Their team gave an iq-like test to thousands of rural Chinese toddlers. They found that more than 50% were cognitively delayed and unlikely to reach an iq of 90 (in a typical population, only 16% score so poorly). There were several reasons for this.
Half of rural babies are undernourished. Caregivers (often illiterate grandmothers) cram them with rice, noodles and steamed buns, not realising that they also need micronutrients. Studies in 2016 and 2017 found that a quarter of rural children in central and western China suffer from anaemia (lack of iron), which makes it hard for them to concentrate in school. Two-fifths of rural children in parts of southern China have intestinal worms, which sap their energy. A third of rural 11- and 12-year-olds have poor vision but no glasses, so struggle to read their schoolbooks.
Some of these problems would be laughably cheap to fix. A pair of glasses costs $30. Multivitamin pills are a few cents. De-worming tablets cost $2 per child each year. One reason the problems persist is that harmful myths abound. Many rural folk believe that—as a grandmother told this reviewer—glasses are bad for children’s eyesight. Some fret that de-worming pills reduce fertility in girls. A recent study found that 99% of Chinese farmers gave their pigs de-worming drugs, but hardly any did the same for their children.
Rural children fall behind long before they are old enough to go to school. Whereas urban parents constantly talk to their babies, rural grandmothers often strap them to their backs while they work in the fields, keeping them safe but barely stimulating their minds. The segregation of rural children into second-class schools then widens the gulf between the two Chinas.
Among the entire labour force in 2010, 44% of urban and 11% of rural Chinese had graduated from high school. Among the current crop of students, the figures are much better: 97% of urban students graduated from high school in 2015, and 80% of rural children went to a high school of some sort. But the rural “high schools” were often dreadful, opened rapidly to meet official targets and staffed by teachers with little interest in teaching. The authors tested thousands of children at “vocational” rural high schools, and found that 91% had learned practically nothing: they scored the same or worse on tests at the end of a year of schooling as at the beginning.
Currently, 70% of the Chinese workforce is unskilled. Such labourers can do repetitive factory work, but as their wages rise, those jobs will move to poorer countries such as Vietnam. To escape from what economists call the “middle-income trap”, China needs rapidly to improve its people’s skills, so that they can handle more complex tasks. Yet its workers are far less educated than those in other middle-income countries, such as Mexico, Turkey and South Africa. They are also less educated than workers were in countries that recently grew rich, such as Taiwan and South Korea, when those places were no better off than China is today.
Much of the blame for all this rests with Mao, whose Cultural Revolution was “perhaps the largest intentional destruction of human capital the world has ever seen”. But the authors also blame “an almost unbelievable oversight” on the part of China’s more recent leaders. Correcting that is arguably the most important challenge facing China’s current rulers. They have the resources to succeed. A country that invests a whopping 43% of gdp can surely afford to spend a bit less on bridges and a bit more on its people’s brains. The authors offer sound prescriptions: improve rural schools, end discrimination against rural children, teach rural parents to read to their babies (instead of policing how many they may have), and so on.
If rural Chinese do not learn essential cognitive skills, the authors predict mass unemployment, social unrest and perhaps a crash that would “lead to huge economic shocks around the world”. China’s rulers should order crates of de-worming pills—and copies of this book.