I recently learned that a grad student at my university worked hard over the CNY vacation and earned 8000 rmb. That’s about US$1000. That might not seem like a lot if you don’t live in China, but that is quite an impressive sum for a college student to earn in two months. To put it in perspective, my university teaching job in Hangzhou got me only 3000 rmb per month to start. Many Chinese laborers earn less than 1000 rmb per month.
The student earned the money as a Chinese tutor. The going rate in Shanghai for grad student tutors is 50 rmb per hour. That means she put in 160 hours of teaching during her vacation.
She earned the money not because she really needs it (although she has supported herself through her entire college education–something which very few Chinese college students do). Here’s the kicker: she worked so hard to earn money so that she could send her parents on a nice vacation. She just really wanted to do that for them.
This kind of thing blows me away. Even a Chinese friend of mine marveled at her behavior, calling it the definition of 孝: the Confucian virtue of filial piety. It’s stories like those that still give me a little jolt of culture shock. I mean, sure, I’d like to do something like that for my parents too, but I’d never consider it as a self-supporting grad student.
Filial piety, hard work… they may not be universal in China, but these values are still very much alive and well here. (Take a guess as to whether it’s significant that the student is not from Shanghai…)