WHO, Covid, space exploration, AI, company listings, big data, environment, world resources, human rights – all of these subjects fill media headlines – so it is no surprise that, “everyone is thinking China, China, China.” As the world’s second largest economy, largely fuelled by globalisation and a decades-long national vision to lift itself out of poverty, China is now firmly intertwined with other nations through logistics and supply chains and boasts the largest population in the world. Add a new-found self-confidence and its actions are bound to have huge global impact and no wonder everyone has China on their minds.
Dame Caroline Wilson, British Ambassador to China, spoke today to the Generation UK: China Network about the importance of building a ‘China-literate’ generation. Elaborating on what this phrase means, she said, “China literacy is not just about history but rather understanding the dynamics of sectors and the interdependencies that we share…it is also about nuance, nous and networks.” She added that demonising China is not helping for finding solutions to global problems.
Engage with China, (EwC) an educational charity building China literacy in schools, has been aiming to build all these since 2018. Founded by two British women who have long experience of engagement with China, EwC’s vision aligns with Dame Caroline’s, enabling young people to build trust and be involved in informed dialogue having discovered what China is like for themselves. Theresa Booth, a former corporate lawyer, took the entrepreneurial route and set up a sandwich deli in Beijing in the mid 1990s. H-J Colston-Inge, studied mandarin at Durham University and worked for Chubb as the only ‘foreigner’ in their network of offices in mainland China. Together they also run the Chopsticks Club, an innovative China-UK professionals’ network, founded in 1993.
“If Global Britain needs a China-literate generation to promote its interests, then starting young is really important,” says Director, H-J. “China has so much to interest young people – from its mythological dragons to food, AI, inventions, values and language – that we can see how easy it is to capture the imagination from a very young age. Our learning resources are designed for primary and secondary school pupils.”
Fostering a global outlook and an understanding of China through age-appropriate, curriculum enrichment ‘Challenge Days,’ EwC enables young people to recognise that China plays a large part in their lives linked to us through history, the things we buy and where they come from, and also to consider the way they interact with the world, for example through TikTok, the massive social media phenomenon utilised by young people that is Chinese-owned. Schools value how EwC brings an international experience into the classroom, that pupils are encouraged to form their own opinions and to see that cross-cultural collaboration is the best way that humanity can hope to solve sustainability goals necessitated by climate change.
A key learning for pupils is also to understand ‘the how’ of China’s growth and economic transformation and to consider its growing influence and impact. Through activities and learning, pupils discover that China’s unprecedented rise is largely due to its system of government and its vision for itself. Director, H-J continued, “We want young people not only to be ‘thinking China, China, China’ but what does China mean for their future?”
Generation UK is a British Council campaign that has enabled 67,000 young people aged 18+ to study, travel or intern in China since 2016.