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China frets over ‘values’ in American SAT

BEIJING – Chinese students have shown an insatiable appetite for attending U.S. colleges – last year alone, more than 235,000 were enrolled at American institutions of higher education. But now, China is grousing that the SAT may impose American values on its best and brightest, who in preparation for the exam might be studying the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights instead of “The Selected Works of Mao Zedong.”

“Including content from America’s founding documents in a revised U.S. college entry exam has drawn attention in China, with worries the materials may impose the American values system on students,” China’s official New China News Agency said this week.

The U.S. College Board in March announced plans to redesign the SAT to include U.S. founding documents in one portion of the test, known as the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing, by spring 2016.

“The vital issues central to these documents – freedom, justice, and human dignity among them – have motivated numerous people in the United States and around the globe,” the College Board said in a statement.

But those are the exact values that the Chinese Communist Party has deemed as threatening to its rule; Chinese activists who have tried to promote such values have been silenced or even sentenced to prison. Human rights advocate Xu Zhiyong, who initiated the “New Citizens Movement” to promote such values, was sentenced in January to four years in prison.

The news agency’s report cited a commentary published last week in the South China Morning Post, a Hong Kong newspaper, about the SAT changes. Author Kelly Yang argued the new focus on civil liberties may “change the mindset and world view of an entire generation of Chinese youth.”

“If the new SAT succeeds, it will be the first time America is able to systematically shape the views, beliefs and ideologies of hundreds of thousands of Chinese students every year, not through a popular television show or a politician’s speaking tour, but through what the Chinese care about most – exams,” she wrote.

Her report did not mention that no one is forcing Chinese youths to take the SAT.

Yang’s remarks and the news agency’s report didn’t sit well with some Chinese intellectuals, who called on the government to ease its ideological control on students rather than make accusations against a foreign exam.

“I don’t think they have grounds to question what’s in the SAT before they cancel all the ‘political classes’ in Chinese schools,” said Zhang Ming, a political science professor at Renmin University in Beijing.

Inculcating China’s youth with Communist ideology has always been a key focus of the party, though the task has required greater mental gymnastics in recent years as the nation has adopted a capitalist economic system. Chinese students are required to take “thoughts and morals” lessons to study Communist ideology as early as first grade. In China’s college entrance exams, questions regarding core Communist theories such as Marxism and Maoism are essential to a student’s success.

In recent years, thanks to a booming economy, hundreds of thousands of Chinese families have opted to send their children to study in the United States, and other Western countries, to avoid China’s highly competitive, sometimes grueling, college entrance exams.