Here’s a question I pose for my white collar friends [in Shanghai]: what if I never graduated from middle school, and had become a migrant worker? Would you sit down for a cup of coffee with me at Starbucks? The answer, unequivocally, is that you wouldn’t.
As you might know, college students from China's big cities (Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, Wuhan...) apply to American colleges in a flood of high scores and intimidating talent, even socially. Typically, the quintessential undergraduate Chinese student I might meet at the University of Virginia might say, play Chopin and Debussy, have read Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey, eat twenty-dollar sushi dinners daily, and in general, spend money outrageously, yet he or she will be well-read on the the ancient revered Four Classics as well as Harry Potter.
There are those who dress fobbishly, but there are many who dress with both a kind-of-unique yet canned style borrowed from the latest trends in Shanghai or Tokyo or something. Personally, the kids from Wuhan come closest to my hipster sense of aesthetics, but the kids from Shanghai are far too materialistic, accentuate their class differences, and generally snub me. (And in my experience, Chinese parents from Shanghai are the prim-and-proper quantitative finance type who would only pursue an art for its social prestige and not for its own sake. But I am only stereotyping to represent the breadth and diversity of applicants.)
Yet despite all this progress, 900 million people in the rural provinces have been left in the dust. The opposite of affirmative action exists in China: not only are the rural primary and secondary schools of horrible quality, constantly understaffed and undersupplied, and rural students less likely to afford the piano lessons and the tutoring and art lessons that a kid in Shanghai might enjoy throughout his childhood -- when applying to college, a kid who somehow comes out on par with the those in the cities will still face discrimination on the sole fact that he comes from the provinces. Imagine that if China used the SAT, a promising kid from the provinces would need a score of 2250 to be placed over an average city resident with a score of 1850, despite the fact that the provinces' own averages are much lower.
In such a case, I wouldn't mind if our financial aid system granted some of these exceptional rural students a chance to enter the University, perhaps replacing just a handful (out of dozens) of the somewhat-conceited Shanghai students that the University might admit each year (yes just for Shanghai only, out of the thousands of students from China that apply to our school). Students from Shanghai, if rejected from our University, can go to some other college to make their future; the bright rural students that can't get admitted into college in their own country are stuck with nowhere else to go. Such a move would be Jeffersonian, after all.