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Little Soldiers

An American Boy, a Chinese School, and the Global Race to Achieve
Narrated by: Emily Woo Zeller
Length: 11 hrs and 30 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (140 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

In the spirit of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, Bringing Up Bébé, and The Smartest Kids in the World, a hard-hitting exploration of China's widely acclaimed yet insular education system - held up as a model of academic and behavioral excellence - that raises important questions for the future of American parenting and education.

When students in Shanghai rose to the top of international rankings in 2009, Americans feared that they were being "out-educated" by the rising super power. An American journalist of Chinese descent raising a young family in Shanghai, Lenora Chu noticed how well-behaved Chinese children were compared to her boisterous toddler. How did the Chinese create their academic superachievers? Would their little boy benefit from Chinese school?

Chu and her husband decided to enroll three-year-old Rainer in China's state-run public school system. The results were positive - her son quickly settled down, became fluent in Mandarin, and enjoyed his friends - but she also began to notice troubling new behaviors. Wondering what was happening behind closed classroom doors, she embarked on an exploratory journey, interviewing Chinese parents, teachers, and education professors and following students at all stages of their education.

What she discovered is a military-like education system driven by high-stakes testing, with teachers posting rankings in public, using bribes to reward students who comply, and shaming to isolate those who do not. At the same time, she uncovered a years-long desire by government to alleviate its students' crushing academic burden and make education friendlier for all. The more she learns, the more she wonders: Are Chinese children - and her son - paying too high a price for their obedience and the promise of future academic prowess? Is there a way to appropriate the excellence of the system but dispense with the bad? What, if anything, could Westerners learn from China's education journey?

Chu's eye-opening investigation challenges our assumptions and asks us to consider the true value and purpose of education.

©2017 Lenora Chu (P)2017 HarperCollins Publishers

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  • Jean
  • Santa Cruz, CA, United States
  • 10-09-17

An Interesting examination of Educational Systems

The author is born in Philadelphia and raised in Houston. She graduated from Columbia University with a degree in journalism. Her grandparents fled China during the Cultural Revolution and immigrated to the United States. Chu notes the irony that 50 years ago Mao conducted his anti-intellectual purge and now Shanghai schools top the world in math, reading, and science and the USA is only in the middle of the pack.

Chu and her husband live in Shanghai for his work at a news agency. They have a young son who goes to the local school. His skills in math and Chinese language excelled but Chu noted behavioral changes that lead her to examine the educational system in China and the USA.

The book is well written and researched. It is written in the journalistic style. The author noted that the Chinese schools give less attention to the poor students and spend time and resources on the high achievers. She stated the U.S. system is “No Child Left Behind”. She noted the Chinese schools are rote memorization then they allow them to explore more complex applications after they have achieved a certain level of understanding. The Chinese schools also taught obedience and self-discipline and squelched individualism and creativity from the beginning of school. I found the differences in educational techniques interesting and was wondering if there was a way to combine the best of the two systems to create a better school system. The conformity and lack of individualism and creativity really bothers me about the Chinese system. According to the author, China is in the process of changing its methods to allow for more creativity in the students.


The book is eleven and a half hours long. Emily Woo Zeller does an excellent job narrating the book. Zeller is a voice over artist and an Audie nominated audiobook narrator. She has also won numerous Earphone and SOVAS awards plus was voted Best Voice in 2013 and 2015 by Audiobook Magazine.

10 of 11 people found this review helpful

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Definitely sound insight

I’m a teacher in China, an American who teaches here, and have been here five years now. This book filled in a lot of what I couldn’t explain. I see so much of what is described here, and am glad to have the perspective of Lenora Chu’s to help give language to what I experience. Thanks for it~

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Sam
  • Weiser, ID, United States
  • 11-13-17

Accurate Portrayal of The Chinese system

I have lived in China for over 13 years now and what is depicted here offers insight into how much of Chinese society works, the good and the bad. My daughter is the same age as Rainy, so this book was particular poignant to me. Generally I agree with Lenora’s feelings on the positives and negatives of the Chinese system and this book made me more comfortable with perhaps “localizing” my daughter a bit more... with limits... “Audible 20 Review Sweepstakes Entry”

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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The story was well told and interesting!!!

I loved every chapter and learned so much about Chinese education. This book was great!!

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Informative Look into the Chinese Ed. System

Very interesting glimpse into the inner workings of Chinese education, starting with pre-school. The descriptions of "gifting" and the authoritarian training was appalling at first, but then Ms. Chu slowly introduced some real positives, including the character that her son was beginning to develop, and his understanding of how to negotiate the differences between American and Chinese culture. I found the book informative and thought-provoking.

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Still Missing It

Overall, the book paints a fairly accurate picture of China’s educational system and culture; however, the author (while Chinese by ethnic origin), still lacks a deep understanding of the culture. Examples she uses takes it from a perspective of North American cultural contexts, which (to be fair) reflects her own upbringing. The most obvious misnomer she illustrates is the Chinese word “jia you/加油" in her stories which she translate to "add oil" when a more accurate translation would be "add fuel", as a term to motivate someone. Much akin to English, if I ask someone for where the nearest gas station is, I'm referring to car fuel and not flatulence. Perhaps that was the point, and it's not her missing it, but rather I.

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  • Tim
  • Huntingdon, PA
  • 01-22-19

Excellent book!

The narrator does a great job with her voice changes and accents throughout the book to help provide an even more captivating experience to Lenora Chu's insightful understanding of education in China and internationally.

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Sensational!!!

Lenora Chu and Emily Woo Zeller combine to create a tour de force that has me pining for more! I'd recommend this book to everyone, literally everyone.

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amazing!

Just read it. I promise you wont be sorry! An amazing story for those wanting to learn about the Chinese education system!

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Dallas TX Homeschool Mom enlightened and on a mission to now incorporate Chinese style education to my young children.

This book has completely changed my views about test taking and many other things. I always knew in the back of my mind my kid was and is capable of so much more. God bless you Lenora for bringing such rich and valuable information to us. You are an amazing woman to bring your own experiences to us. Thanks for making this book so funny too! I loved the part about the piñata! ~Dallas TX Momma