Romance! Money! Intrigue! It's Model UN ... in China

The distinction between non-profit conferences and commercially-oriented conferences in China has also blurred. Certain conferences have even gone so far as to offer high school Model UN club faculty advisors kickbacks for requiring students to attend a particular conference. Given that students pay several thousand RMB (several hundred US dollars) for registration, both the teacher and the organizer can profit from this activity.

Dengyang Liu, a former MUN participant, complains, "There is no established norm [in this industry]...unlike in the [U.S.], where Model UN has been run by universities and students for a few decades."He continued, "Since the recent first MUN conference in China, only a few reliable government-led educational institutions have been able to muster sufficient academic and logistical resources to organize national conferences that adhere to high standards."

Recently, unofficial student-run grassroots conferences have begun to dominate the MUN scene. Dengyang explains, "High school students have quickly learned to link Model UN conferences with study-abroad educational consulting agencies to obtain financial support, given the similar demographic backgrounds of the participants." However, desirable academic resources, including well-trained chair members and access to college-level international relations curricula, remain scarce.

Part of Changing China

Money aside, some have concerns that MUN could be a poor educational model. Xiao Wu, an alumnus of Hangzhou's Foreign Language School and architect in training, said that when he chaired Fudan MUN conferences, delegates spent most of their time fighting for the opportunity to become a sponsor of a resolution so that they could be more likely to win an award at the session's close. As a result, there were several inadequate or even duplicated working papers and draft resolutions.

Since much of MUN consists of simulating political discussions, sensitive materials are subject to censorship. Topics specific to China would draw much more scrutiny than disputes such as the Iranian nuclear crisis. Even though student chairs enjoy some degree of autonomy for preparing the MUN topics, they must first obtain the approval of teachers from the hosting university or sometimes Communist Party representatives. Yancan thought that the degree of censorship varied depending on the venue's size and location. The government-affiliated MUNs would have the highest degree of sensitivity, followed by the ones hosted at PKU and Fudan. A particularly sensitive session, for example, involves a simulation of China's National Congress before the establishment of the Communist regime since debate about political reforms can easily allude to current controversies.

Unprofessional Relationships

Socializing has also becoming an increasingly significant component in MUN conferences in China. "(MUN) was the first time I could get to know people from different cities all across China," Max explains that MUN transformed his vision. Delegates fostered deep relationships with each other, some of which are not professional. Casual and often long-distance relationships became a prevalent spin-off product of Model UN conferences.

Jingyuan Qian also warns against some distasteful problems in terms of personal relationships at the MUN conferences. At one 2012 conference, "A male chair publicly announced to his committee that 'I am here to find someone,'" he recalls. According to a limited number of insiders' opinion, sexual harassment and possible problems of consent also exists in major MUN conferences, where chairs could pressure delegates in unwanted relationships. In the United States, students usually are under the custody of their faculty advisors or chaperones when they attend conferences, while in China, few schools have such a restriction.

Even though student chairs enjoy some degree of autonomy for preparing the MUN topics, they must first obtain the approval of teachers from the hosting university or sometimes Communist Party representatives.

The rapid development of Model United Nations in China in the past decade parallels the exposure of a younger generation to an unprecedented influx of Western culture and values. Chinese youth are becoming increasingly sophisticated in their interactions with the world. For many of them, MUN came at exactly the right time.

With its demand for English fluency and political awareness, its inherent values of democratic deliberation, and its global appeal, Model United Nations has emerged as a unique opportunity for outward-looking Chinese students to pursue in their curiosity. According to the 2011 Report on the Development of MUN in China, almost 40 percent of students that participate in MUN at the high school level sought to continue their education abroad. That is surely not a coincidence.


This post also appears at Tea Leaf Nation, an Atlantic partner site.

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Wendy Qian is a U.S.-based contributor to Tea Leaf Nation. She has also reported for the China Daily and China Digital Times.

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