Li wound up marrying an American, moved to the States and became a teacher. She was stunned. American high school students had great facilities but didn’t seem much interested in learning. They giggled in class and goofed around.
This contrast between the Chinese superstudent and the American slacker could be described with the usual tired stereotypes. The Chinese are robots who unimaginatively memorize facts to score well on tests. The Americans are spoiled brats who love TV but don’t know how to work. But Li wasn’t satisfied with those clichés. She has spent her career, first at Harvard and now at Brown, trying to understand how Asians and Westerners think about learning.
The simplest way to summarize her findings is that Westerners tend to define learning cognitively while Asians tend to define it morally. Westerners tend to see learning as something people do in order to understand and master the external world. Asians tend to see learning as an arduous process they undertake in order to cultivate virtues inside the self.