The Daily Show: Socialism Studies?

Correspondent Aasif Mandvi interrogates Chinese language students. (The Daily Show)

Correspondent Aasif Mandvi interrogates Chinese language students. (The Daily Show)

NEW YORK, June 7, 2010 — Responding to reports that community meetings have been heating up over Chinese language instruction in American schools—opponents believe it is tantamount to a "cultural invasion" by a Communist government and generally un-American—The Daily Show dispatched correspondent Aasif Mandvi to investigate. Hilarity ensues.

After interviewing some opponents of Chinese language programs, Mandvi heads to an Asia Society Confucius Classroom program to meet with "an army of tiny Maoists who had to be stopped."

"Look, I did a lot of stuff in middle school that I wearing parachute pants," said Mandvi, as he tried to persuade youngsters to change their ways.

The students stared blankly. "What are parachute pants?"

They also set the record straight: "We like learning Chinese," said one student. Another added, "I want to be an engineer and I might need to go to China, so being able to speak Chinese is very helpful."

In all seriousness, the 300 million or so Chinese students learning English, and the 100,000 Chinese students here in the United States, certainly seem to understand the value of being multilingual and globally competent. And while we do live in a world where English dominates, the situation is rapidly changing.

The rise of China is a fact of life and no matter whether you view China as a partner, a rival, or something less black-and-white, it's clear that the U.S.-China relationship is perhaps the single most important bilateral relationship in the world today for maintaining global prosperity and stability. Cooperation between the U.S. and China on issues like climate change is critical to our future, and helping our students learn to better understand and more effectively communicate with people in China goes a long way toward ensuring that the relationship maintains a cooperative aspect.

An eleven-year-old student was recently asked whether it would not just be easier if everyone in China learned English, instead of trying to learn Chinese. His response was far beyond his years: "It's good if they learn English, but it should be mutual. They can learn some English and we can learn some Chinese, and then we can communicate."

This young student clearly understands both the urgency of making America more globally competitive, and of making himself more globally competent. And don't ask him who the guy in that huge portrait in front of Tiananmen Square is: when he hears "Mao," he understands it as "small change" (also prounounced mao) in Chinese.

Reported by Chris Livaccari and Grace Norman