Lessons from China

Neil addressing 500 teachers in Beijing

As we journey through life we absorb the culture in which we live and form limited impressions of other cultures. Having the privilege to visit and be immersed in other cultures and traditions has challenged my own biased and partially formed views. In all countries citizens are bombarded with political and media rhetoric, which does little to create harmony between peoples. My great learning is that people like you and me the world over are so similar, as we all share the same humanity. We all appreciate the love shown by others and we hope for health, peace and happiness.

Values-based Education (VbE), proposes the building of relationships based on universal positive human values such as respect, trust, honesty and harmony. These values have the potential to give us personal holistic competence (PHC) and unite us as one human family, whereas the holding of exclusive beliefs, as history shows, divide people. It was with these thoughts in mind that I accepted an invitation from Beijing Hireader Education Co Ltd, 北京弘书阁教育科技有限公司 to take part in their 12th annual conference to promote the teaching of quality English teaching in China. The company’s Chairman, HUO Qingwen, has brought to China quality teaching materials from the UK, such as The Oxford Reading Tree. His aim is to transform the teaching of English in China so that pupils are able to converse fluently. Currently many children learn English to pass tests but do not possess the competencies to communicate effectively. There is a realisation in China that formal rote teaching has severe limitations and its leaders are encouraging teachers to be able to teach using a wide variety of teaching methods. This point seemed fascinating to me, as politicians in the UK are so often encouraging teachers to copy what they think are the good formal practices in China and other Eastern countries, such as South Korea and Singapore.

The Conference held in Beijing gave me, supported by my wife and co-presenter Jane, two hours to introduce Values-based Education to 500 teachers and school Principals. It would not be an exaggeration to tell you that we were overwhelmed by the reception we were given. I have rarely felt such a genuine desire to learn and understand VbE in order to implement it in classrooms. China’s moral philosophy is based on the teachings of Confucius, so the messages of VbE were complimentary to their understanding of the role of values in society.

Following the presentation about VbE, I was invited to critique two demonstration English lessons: one primary and one secondary. The quality of teaching was excellent and I was told that my evaluative comments were well received.

Neil commenting on an English lesson

Besides working at the Conference, we were giving opportunities to visit some of the historic sites of China, such as The Forbidden City and the Great Wall of China. The visits have given me a thirst to read and understand more about China’s history.

There is no doubt that China has gone through enormous changes, some of which have been painful for its peoples. However, China seems to be at a point in its development where it has to balance economic development and the prosperity that this brings with a revisiting of the values that it wishes its society to be built on in the 21st Century. It is a paradox that human beings seek more social and personal prosperity but on gaining it begin to loose the moral compass to live in harmony. Some Western countries are clear examples of what happens when there is an excess of consumerism and materialism. Individual greed replaces cooperation and collective responsibility.

Finally, I would like to share some thoughts with you that I shared at the Conference. I was talking about Aristotle’s notion of the Golden Mean. This may be explained as follows: if you consider a value such as harmony, we should talk about what this word really should mean in our society. What does harmony look and feel like? Aristotle suggested that in answering such questions we consider what words such as harmony looks like at the extremes. At one end of the continuum harmony can be seen as excessive collectivism (the individual is of little consequence). At the other end is excessive individualism, what I call libertarianism, which means that the individual does exactly as he or she wants without any thought for the wellbeing of others.

I believe that we can create a new universal narrative, based on values, in which such issues as the above can be considered and society can be balanced so that we can all live in true harmony on this planet.

Thank you to my friends in China for giving me such a rich opportunity to work in harmony with Chinese colleagues.

Thank you to our friends in China not forgetting the wisdom of Confucius



Neil Hawkes is well known as an inspirational speaker, educator, broadcaster, author and social commentator. He is a popular TEDx presenter.

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Neil Hawkes

Neil Hawkes is well known as an inspirational speaker, educator, broadcaster, author and social commentator. He is a popular TEDx presenter.