Over the last few months I’ve been getting frequently frustrated with the way things are done at the publishing company I’ve been working at. It’s one of my various part-time jobs, It’s a challenge and often enjoyable but immensly disillusioning if you care about quality of work. I think it’s mainly because the errors I see are so easily fixed and yet no one cares as long as they keep on producing materials. I suspect many of the business practices I see here are mirrored throughout other Chinese businesses.
Everything is so terribly short-term, nobody plans ahead by more than 24 hours and this causes great strain on the operation of the company. On the 30th September everyone was told that they would have a 7 day vacation in line with the National holiday, from the 1st to the 8th. So most staff made arrangements to travel to other cities to meet friends and family. Imagine my consternation when on the evening of the 4th I received a phone call asking me to work on the Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday! Apparently the person in charge had a change of heart and decided that everyone must go back to work for the rest of the week! Stuff what was previously said, if people are travelling then they must come back to work! I, of course, told them there was no chance of me working however after some persuasion I gave them a compromise; You pay me triple pay and I’ll think about it. This worked becasue they never did call me back and no more questions were asked!
The next week I spoke with some of my Chinese collegages and many had to rush back to Changchun from their home towns or cancel visits to see people, but they all agreed to do it. Nobody questioned this. This is because there is basically zero job security, they can be easily replaced and there are no trade unions let alone employment laws protecting their rights. In many ways this represents the very primitive kind of capitalism China has adopted, at its worst. So I have come to the not-so-shocking-conclusion that if I were to work long-term in China, it would only ever be for a foreign company.
This company don’t seem to get it that it is so easy for them to produce quality materials, they have the resources to do it, it’s just they don’t want to change. The management are so afraid of changing things, even if that means continuing to produce sub-stadard material. As I see it, the problem is that there is no business incentive for them to produce quality work.
The company I work for produces the national examinations for high school students as well as various other English language learning materials – including a newspaper. They have a captive market; students have to take the exams and will subscribe to their newspaper regardless of the quality of the end product. They don’t have to worry about competition much less accountability to any government standards body.
I guess that’s just China and one of the problems of ‘communism’ as long as everyone has a job (even if their job is meaningless) then all’s well and good. Why rock the boat?
When this place finally fully opens up to foreign companies so may of the Chinese companies will have to change their act or face insolvency.
Much of the content of the English texts is composed by fake foreigners (Chinese people signing the work with a foreign name like John Smith) is factually incorrect. They could get real foreigners to write these articles (rather than just edit) or even copy from real sources. Or who knows, maybe even write all their own materials?
Imagine westerners writing articles about Chinese culture (in Chinese) who have never actually been to China, then using these articles in educational materials!
It seems that often the cultural content of these articles appears normal to a Chinese person’s eyes, but it’s clearly not a right perception of culture and world view. It simply miseducates students about foreign cultures.
Another problem is a considerably inaccurate world view presented in the articles. At least 50% of the articles cover two countries (US & UK) alone, with half of the rest covering Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Ireland. And the rest of the world covering the rest! This gives the students a very skewed view of the world – and perpertuates those terrible stereotypes.
So much stuff is produced with no regard for quality, there is no standard followed regarding the usage of english and so it is almost impossible for me to tell them if their work is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. There is basic misconception that there is a right and a wrong way of doing things in English as if there is a ‘common’ English as there is in Chinese – 普通话
Things are almost always plagerised – which isn’t the real problem – that’s to be accepted, but if they plagersise they should at least do it well!!
Sadly, most copy from Chinese English sources (because they can’t understand enough english to be able to copy from a real English website!) so you get things that are already bad being copied and made even worse 🙁 – then it’s my job to try to make head or tail of things!!
Then there’s the attempts at direct translations from Chinese, which almost always fail. The thing is being able to simplyfy a translation without distorting the original meaning of the text is easier said than done. The idea of simplyfying something from scientific language into quite easy language, without destroying the idea of the writing whilst making sure the work still makes sense.This is a really high level thing to do, It is tough for a native speaker and I have only met one Chinese person in the place where I work that can do it well. Frankly speaking, I believe that most of the people producing the learning materials don’t have competance to be able to pass their own tests!
I fear that, in the not too distant future, a bastardised ‘chinglish’ dialect will evolve and this is being perpetuated by the learning materials the students have. And now I am a part of that system…