Thursday, September 07, 2006

New Oriental Vignette

Along the Fourth Ring Road, to the east of Zhongguancun Avenue, is an enterprise that some of my friends only half-jokingly referred to as the most successful enterprise in Zhongguancun: New Oriental English-language school. On an otherwise inauspicious day in May, 2004, some poverty-line migrants, as they often do, were selling pirated English-language teaching and testing materials on bed sheets in front of New Oriental. As I passed the school I saw a sudden movement -- one of migrants grabbed his blanket and ran down a nearby alleyway. The others quickly followed. One unlucky migrant was too slow: several dozen CD-ROMs and teaching books spilled on the ground. He did not stop to retrieve them. Next, a police car and van pulled up, out of which four police officers emerged. They looked around, picked up the pirated CD-ROMs and books, and put them in the van.

Wondering what would happen next, I stopped and stood in front of the school. The police officers looked around and milled about for a few minutes. Then they drove off. Moments later, a young man standing in front of the school went to the corner of the alleyway, stood on top of a street post, and motioned down the alley. Minutes later, the migrants returned to the front of New Oriental to continue plying their pirated wares.

While piracy is ubiquitous in Zhongguancun, I argue here and elsewhere that neither ubiquity nor criminality is piracy’s greatest significance. Instead, one could even view these education material-peddling migrants as promulgaters of pedagogy.

I thought this vignette might be relevant to write about in light of today’s happenings.

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