We’re getting back into the swing of things after our mini-vacation to Chengdu, with the girls back in school and me back teaching. When we got to school on Monday, all the kids in Maya’s class were in swim suits – it seems we missed the memo when we were gone! Her class gets to play in the kindergarten’s swimming pool each Monday. We didn’t bring a swim suit, but Maya had extra panties in her backpack, so she got to swim in her panties. Each student was also supposed to bring a floatie of some kind, and Maya didn’t have one, but the school had an extra, so she was set. She tells me it was a lot of fun, and that’s all she’d talk about when I picked her up. She had a melt-down, though, that she couldn’t bring the floatie home with her – toddler’s rules, you know:
If I want it, it's mine.
If I give it to you and change my mind later, it's mine.
If I can take it away from you, it's mine.
If I had it a little while ago, it's mine.
If it's mine, it will never belong to anybody else, no matter what.
If it looks just like mine, it is mine.
It looks like we’ll have to buy our own floaties. Zoe’s class gets to use the swimming pool on Wednesdays.
We haven’t had rain here lately, so it’s sprinkler season. The sprinklers were going in the park as we walked home from school today (Tuesday), and the girls begged to run through them. It was so hot I said, “Sure!” They had a great time, but it started to occur to me that I wasn’t sure where the water was coming from. Was it tap water? We can’t drink the tap water, but we do shower in it. Or was it lake water? The thought of lake water was disgusting, since we often see trash and dead fish in the water. And then there was the time I watched a man wash his socks in the lake. One of the moms from Maya’s class walked by and I asked her, and she said it was “bad water.” OK. So we walked home and went right into the shower. I guess there will be no more sprinkler hopping for us!
I taught my class today, and I noticed that during the breaks the students were putting their heads on their desks and napping. I asked them why they were so tired, and it turns out they are all studying for the national bar examination. The exam has a pass rate of only 10%. Can you imagine?! It is a very difficult test, obviously. But they also tell me that any college graduate can take the exam – you don’t have to have a law degree. They think the pass rate for law graduates is probably closer to 30%. Still, I find it extraordinary that the pass rate is so low. The lowest pass rate in the U.S. is probably California, which usually is about 50%. The Texas bar exam usually has a pass rate around 85%.
The students seemed pretty sanguine about it, and said that the exam got harder in 2002 as a reaction to poor quality lawyers. You have to pass the exam to practice law, and if you want to be a judge or prosecutor you also have to pass the exam. If you don’t pass, you can only work as a lawyer’s assistant. Judges used to take another easier exam, and they said there used to be a very big problem with the quality of judges. Most judges were retired military officers with little or no legal training. But since 2002, judges have to pass the national bar exam.
The exam is September 15, and about 600,000 people will take it. With a 10% pass rate, that means 60,000 new lawyers in a country with a population of 1.3 billion. Wow. In the U.S., it’s more like 40,000 new lawyers each year with a population of only 300 million. I asked the students if the bar exam was so hard because China wanted to keep the number of lawyers low, but they weren’t sure (or wouldn’t say). I asked if people in China thought there were too many lawyers, and they said no. There were too many lawyers in the cities, they thought, but in the rural areas there were serious shortages of lawyers.
The exam sounds like the bar exam in most American states – it covers 14 topics and lasts 2 days. The first day is multiple choice and the second day is essay. The students tell me the most important topics tested – as in most of the questions are in these areas – are criminal law, “civil law” (which sounds awfully broad, but turns out to be Contracts, Torts, Property, Family Law), administrative law, and civil procedure. They say there are a few questions on the topic of foreign constitutional law. The 14 topics covered by the bar exam are all required courses at Xiada (I asked what the pass rate was for Xiada students and they didn’t know, but said it was probably less than 50%).
The real topic for today’s class was confession law – we covered Miranda v. Arizona and the requirement that confessions be voluntary. The Chinese system is very different from the American system. For one thing, a criminal defendant in China is required to testify in court; if he refuses to testify, there is a legal presumption of guilt. As you know, in America the defendant has the 5th Amendment right not to testify, and the prosecutor cannot even comment on his failure to testify or suggest that his silence makes him look guilty.
The students were familiar with Miranda rights from watching American TV, but there is no such thing in China, of course. A defendant has no right to remain silent in the face of police questioning. The students told me repeatedly that a suspect is “obligated to answer questions.” I asked what would happen if someone simply refused to answer questions. They just repeated that a suspect is “obligated to answer questions.” But what can the police do if someone simply refuses, I asked? It was clear that people simply don’t refuse. I pushed the students on the point, and they said the police would force the person to talk. Force how? They finally said it – the police would use violence. And, they said, it was very common for the police to use violence to extract a confession.
Of course, such things can happen in the U.S., and it was a fairly common practice until the late 1960s when the Court got serious about confession abuses. The rule in the U.S. is that involuntary confessions cannot be admitted in court. The students tell me that is the same rule in China; but, they say, judges are unlikely to believe criminal defendants who say the police used force. That's a big problem in the U.S. as well -- as between the police version of the interrogation and the defendant's version of the interrogation, the judge is more likely to buy the police version.
So, all in all, it was an interesting class today. I continue to learn more than I teach, though. No way is Xiada getting it’s money’s worth with me!
The heat is still a problem for me, and I was drenched when I got to school this morning. When I finished teaching, and puttering around my office, it was high noon and the sun was simply blazing down. I decided to take the bus home – it would take longer, but I wouldn’t be walking in the heat for very long. I just had a short 10 minute walk from the law school to the nearest bus stop, about a 20 minute wait in the shade under the bus stop’s canopy, and then about a 30 minute ride around campus on trusty Bus 47 instead of a sweltering 45 minute walk through campus. I think I’ll be doing this more often, now that I’ve thought of it! It’s amazing how much better my mood was this afternoon when walking in the heat to the girls’ school, since it was only my second walk in the heat rather than my third. (There was a fourth walk on the way back from school – the bus would have been far too crowded at rush hour!).
It looks like the rest of the week will be busy – there’s an open house at the kindergarten tomorrow afternoon, Zoe’s class visits the university library Thursday morning, I teach English at both classes Thursday afternoon, and Friday evening Zoe’s class graduates from kindergarten (how exciting!). Her teacher has asked me to lead the children in singing some of the English songs we’ve learned. I’m also grading papers from last term (more about that later) and making up an exam for this term. It’s no different here than in the States – the end of a school year is busy, busy, busy for students AND teachers! I’ll keep you posted on all our rollicking good times.