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Chinese Corner: They’re coming for Chinese schoolchildren’s brains

Chinese Corner is Jiayun Feng’s review of interesting nonfiction on the Chinese internet.


Chinese schools are embracing brainwave-detecting headbands

监控大脑
Monitor brains
By 龚菁琦 Gōng Jīngqí
July 12, 2019

In April, a series of anonymous photos made rounds on the Chinese internet because of their eerie and dystopian vibe. In the pictures, a room of primary school students wear odd-looking black electronic headbands during class, which were later found to be brainwave-reading headsets produced by a Boston-based and Harvard University-backed startup called BrainCo Inc. As the company explains on its website, the device is able to “detect brain activity” and “measure different brain states such as depth of focus, relaxation and meditation.” In order to increase the use of such technology in education, the firm also developed a portal called Focus EDU, which the company boasts as “the world’s first classroom portal for teachers to assess the effectiveness of their teaching methods in real time and make adjustments accordingly.”

Despite the ominous implications of the technology — many netizens raised concerns of student privacy — the photos turned out to be free and valuable publicity for BrainCo, which has since introduced the product to more Chinese schools and is expecting wider application in China.

In this feature story, journalist Gong Jingqi hones her focus on BrainCo’s cautious but steady progress in infiltrating Chinese education. People interviewed by her include a high school student who volunteered to try on the gadget in hopes of improving her school performance, parents who are very enthusiastic about having their children wear it, and some students who already cracked the code by “staring at cracks on walls.”

china rock

A history of rock and roll in China

1984——2019,中国乐队的35个夏天
1984-2019, 35 summers for Chinese bands
By 刘玮 Liú Wěi
July 16, 2019

Since girl group survival reality show Produce 101 创造101 became a massive hit in the summer of 2018, a slew of similar programs were produced and swept across Chinese television, which resulted in a revival of idol groups in China. This summer, the craze for such shows extended beyond the world of pop music and into the rock scene. The Big Band 乐队的夏天, a reality TV contest that features an extensive list of mildly popular and little-known bands, debuted in May and quickly earned a cult following that doesn’t look like it’ll slow any time soon.

For many, the show is their first introduction to the rock genre. But rock and roll is an ever-evolving form of music that has a long history in China, where the style has endured ups and downs in different political climates and cultural landscapes. In this essay, the author meticulously traces the trajectory of rock music’s evolution in China since its inception in 1984. Featured are a bunch of well-known bands that span decades, including China’s first rock-metal band Tang Dynasty 唐朝 (co-founded by our very own Kaiser Kuo); New Pants 新裤子, a Ramones-inspired punk act formed in 1996; and some relatively new faces in rock, such as CLICK#15 and 青年小伙子 YOUTH.

Deng Shiping

The whistleblower buried under a playground for 16 years

寻找邓世平
Looking for Deng Shiping
By 龚菁琦 Gōng Jīngqí
June 24, 2019

Missing for 16 years, Dèng Shìpíng 邓世平’s body was found underneath a playground at Xinhuang No. 1 Middle School in Hunan Province. Prior to his disappearance, Deng was a project supervisor responsible for the construction of the playground. In the middle of the project, he discovered that the school’s principal, Huáng Bǐngsōng 黄炳松, was corrupt, and filed a report to the local education authority. Soon after, he disappeared. Huang’s cousin, Dù Shǎopíng 杜少平, who was a builder involved in the project, confessed to murdering Deng.

zhang zixin

The mysterious couple and murder of a nine-year-old girl

千岛湖带走女童的陌生人
The strangers who took the girl away near Qiandao Lake
By 吴皓 Wú Hào
July 12, 2019

Last weekend, Zhāng Zǐxīn 章子欣, a 9-year-old girl whose disappearance gripped China all month, was found dead in the East China Sea after a week of searching. According to police, the child was drowned by a middle-aged couple, who approached Zhang by renting a flat from her family and winning the trust of the girl’s grandfather. The two committed suicide together after killing Zhang.

The news was one of the most sensational stories of the year and has incited a string of well-written pieces that try to report on the issue from every possible angle. Here is a selection:

Things I read and liked this week:

Jiayun Feng

Jiayun was born in Shanghai, where she spent her first 20 years and earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism at Fudan University. Interested in writing for a global audience, she attended the NYU Graduate School of Journalism for its Global & Joint Program Studies, which allowed her to pursue a journalism career along with her interest in international relations. She has previously interned for Sixth Tone and Shanghai Daily.

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