Perceptions from western educators of Asian students


A typical conception of Chinese students from a western perspective is:

‘[…] respectful of the lecturer’s authority; diligent note-takers; preoccupied with fulfilling the expectations of the lecturers; uncritical of information presented in the textbook and by the lecturers; seldom asking questions or volunteering to contribute to tutorial discussions; and unaware of the conventions regarding acknowledging quotes and referencing sources and therefore unwittingly guilty of plagiarism’.

Volet & Renshaw, 1996. pp. 205–206.

There are some generally-held ideas about many Chinese (and Taiwanese) students – that they are studious, respectful of the authority of a teacher, and that they rely heavily on rote memorisation, giving the impression of being passive in their learning.

Some teachers make comments about the role of parental pressure on their students, that the only reason a student is the way she is is because of her parents constantly cracking the whip. This for me robs the student of any kind of agency, suggesting that Taiwanese children are passengers in their education, with mom, dad and teacher vying for control of the wheel. In actuality, by the time students arrive at the high school here at TES, the aspirational drive is the student’s, not the parents’.

Zhu (2016, p. 14), in her study of Chinese overseas students and intercultural learning environments, suggests that a great deal of contemporary literature tends to dichotomise western and Chinese students into opposite extremes, and that the ‘model’ Chinese student is almost directly the opposite of a ‘model’ British student. Zhu goes on to suggest that there may be some truth in such characterisations, but that such descriptions are oversimplified (often down ‘collectivist’ vs. ‘individualist’ lines) with conclusions reached purely from a western perspective:

[…] a diligent Chinese student, who is regarded as a good student in China, might be negatively viewed as a rote learner in other learning cultures, where independent thinking and active participation are not only expected, but also defined differently.

Zhu, 2016. p. 15.


Volet, S., & Renshaw, P. (1996). Chinese students at an Australian university: Adaptability and continuity. In D. A. Watkins & J. B. Biggs (Eds.), The Chinese learner. Cultural, psychological, and contextual influences (pp. 205–220). Hong Kong: CERC [u.a.].

Zhu, J. (2016). Chinese Overseas Students and Intercultural Learning Environments: Academic Adjustment, Adaptation and Experience. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

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