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Aha! But they come alive for a class photo! (Li Ren photo)
Aha! But they come alive for a class photo! (Li Ren photo)


“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.”

  • Mark Twain

It is hot. It is humid. The windows are open. There are no screens. The air does not move. An upright room air conditioner sits mute in the corner. I am sweating profusely.

The seats, three abreast, are bolted to the floor. Students file in silently, sit mostly in the back, drop their heads to their cell phones.

The teacher, positioned on a raised marble platform, stares down at his groundlings. The sage on the stage. I feel like I’m teaching in a high school.

The American teaching in China cannot help but remark on the differences in our educational systems, techniques and outcomes.

Chinese students, once asked to put away their cell phones, are attentive but passive, stoic, unexpressive and definitely not bold enough to be vocally curious.

A question-and-answer session is likely to be met by stubborn silence. My Chinese professor/colleague has to plead with his students to ask questions. And these are journalism students!

Ah, but then I am reminded: this is a cultural difference, embodied in the old Chinese saying, “The first bird to fly, is the first one shot.”

So, while teaching in China can be challenging (do you use your translator or not? When do you know the students are understanding you? Is your translator quoting you faithfully? Etc.) it is well worth the sweat equity­­.

I’ve learned that Chinese students who appear unmoved and bored – may actually be paying close attention and occasionally may even be inspired.

Following one of my lectures I received this e-mail today.


Mr. Jock:

Hi! I am very happy to meet you at the lecture. Thanks for your exciting shares with us. I hope I can learn more news knowledge from you. I really admire your experience! Hope you can share more knowledge and experience to me. Thank you very much! Best regards. Lucy


My great lifelong friend and professional colleague, Professor Steven Knowlton of Dublin City University, was once asked: “How do you do good journalism in a country without a free press?”

To which he answered, “The answer, I think, is community journalism.”

Taking that a step further: How do you teach journalism in a country without a free press?

From 9,000 miles away, I can hear Prof. Knowlton giving the same answer.

Long live community journalism.

Out of the classroom, “Mr Joke” gets to meet the student journalists from the Huixing Journal in Chongqing — an experiential learning project similar to the Durham VOICE and Carrboro Commons at UNC-CH.
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