New York Times columnist and culture scholar David Brooks had some thoughts this week about the difference between hardworking Chinese students and lazy American students. The Chinese, he wrote, see education as a moral enterprise, built around the cultivation of discipline and other internal virtues, while Westerners focus on learning about things and are hung up on “critical inquiry” and “sharing ideas.”
It’s true that there are deep cultural differences between the Chinese and Western attitudes toward education. But it wouldn’t be a David Brooks column if he didn’t try to reduce those complexities to a glib and shaky factoid:
American high school students tease nerds, while there is no such concept in the Chinese vocabulary.
Speaking of critical inquiry: Whenever you hear someone explain that a concept is so foreign to this or that culture that people cannot even use their language to describe it, it is safe to assume your passport has just been stamped for entry into the Land of Bullshit. There are multiple dictionary entries for “nerd” in Chinese, including terms for a dull and tasteless person (乏味的人, fáwèi de rén) and for someone excessively enthusiastic about computers (电脑迷, diànnǎomí).
The word for “nerd” in the sense Brooks means—”pedant” or “bookworm”—is “书呆子” (shūdāizi). If you’re too shiftlessly American to have an English-Chinese dictionary handy, you can literally type “nerd” into Google Translate and find it.