Chinese geek or Bruce Lee?

23rd September 2005 at 01:00
Chinese pupils are either quiet, studious overachievers, or high-kicking martial-arts experts.

This is the stereotype common among pupils and teachers in British schools, a study has revealed.

Researchers from London Metropolitan university questioned 80 British-Chinese pupils currently in Years 10 and 11, along with 30 Chinese parents. They found that other teenagers often expect Chinese pupils to do well at school, purely because of their race.

One Chinese pupil summed up the situation: "My friends and other people, they think 'oh, you're clever because you're Chinese. They say 'I've revised just as much as you, but you get a higher mark just because you're Chinese'."

This preconception extends to staff. Teenagers felt that they were expected to be brighter than their peers, because of their race. One parent said that she had been told by a teacher not to worry too much about her daughter's grades because: "You're Chinese, and generally speaking Chinese people seem to do well in education."

There was also a prevailing belief that Chinese pupils behaved well and worked diligently. Several girls said that, despite an active social life, they had been told repeatedly by teachers to go out more often.

One teenager said: "I've been told lots of times that they see us as really hard-working, and we should relax more and play more and go out."

And these stereotypes are current even among Chinese pupils themselves. One Chinese teenager told researchers: "Normally Chinese are all geeks. They all have thick glasses and study at school."

Some Chinese pupils do rebel against this image. But by doing so, they fall into another, equally strong stereotype: the Chinese martial-arts fighter.

The same teenager said: "They all ask me to do karate... They want to start to fight, like 'come on, Bruce Lee. come on, Bruce Lee'."

Another said: "Sometimes it gets really annoying when people come up to me and say 'do you wanna fight me?' " But researchers found that, while pupils disliked this stereotype, they welcomed the more laddish alternative to the hard-working boffin.

Last year, 75 per cent of Chinese children gained at least five A*-C passes at GCSE, compared with 51 per cent of white children. Proportionally, Chinese pupils are more likely to go on to higher education than any other ethnic group in Britain.

b.francis@londonmet.ac.uk

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