Coping with the rational chaos of Chinese higher education

Despite being Hong Kong Chinese myself, I experienced profound culture shock when I began working in Chinese higher education.

Foreign, and particularly Western, scholars often find certain aspects of Chinese higher education very disconcerting. I come from the region categorised as jingwai (the Chinese areas outside mainland China, which include Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macao) by the government of the People’s Republic. So I was not surprised by things such as the lack of Western-style toilets. My Chinese cultural literacy and language proficiency also made it easier for me to integrate. However, the culture shock I felt when I moved from Hong Kong to Beijing to take up a full-time university post in 2018 was very real and emotionally draining.

The major cause of that shock was what Benjamin Green, in a paper presented to a 2019 conference in Manchester on China and higher education, called “rational chaos”. This can

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