A few days ago I got a chance to visit a local high school class (actually called middle schools here). Of course, it turned out it wasn't just any high school - it was the best school in the greater Chongqing area - a school district that contains 8 million students and 10,000 schools according to the regional education superintendant.
And of course, being an official visit, it wasn't an ordinary class of students either. These were the brightest 16 and 17 year-olds I've ever met. They all spoke very good English - several had already gone to the US for exchange programs and every single one planned to study abroad (mostly to the US) after university in China.
We had a wide-ranging Q&A period and I found out a lot about them. The first girl I talked to wanted to be a female CEO for "just a multinational." Others wanted to be lawyers, engineers and environmentalists. In many ways, their dreams and ambitions were no different from a group of middle and upper-middle class kids in the States. And in some ways, they were better informed than their American peers. They could tell me the significance of China's membership in the World Trade Organization.
They're also the first generation of Chinese kids to grow up in an economically strong China. And it showed. Halfway through the session, another girl stood up and told me she wanted to study abroad so that she could tell the rest of the world that she was proud to be Chinese and that she comes from a country that's strong - and no longer weak. When she finished, the class burst into applause.
Another student told me that she had spent three weeks in Oregon on an exchange program. She said that Americans confused China and Taiwan and why did we focus so much attention on Taiwan?
It was a fascinating encounter. And I wonder what will happen when this generation of Chinese students travels abroad. They all said that they planned to return to China to "help China's economic development." But their nationalism may be tamed with a few years abroad. And they may be tempted with offers from multinationals who will surely consider them to be attractive recruits.