Pinyin (Simplified): yi ge xue zhang, ban ge lao shi
Translation: One senior is half a teacher.
N is a junior at USC, majoring in Communications. N is an international student from China, Anhui Province. When N was a high school student, he was in a soccer team on campus which is the community he refers to in this phrase.
N: “There’s this sort of tradition, more like a phrase. The phrase is ‘一个学长，半个老师’ (yi ge xue zhang, ban ge lao shi). It’s like, ‘a senior is equal half a teacher, or half a coach. It’s part of a tradition in my soccer team when a junior would just, like, make the freshmen do whatever they want them to do. That’s just a tradition, I guess.”
Is that like a criticism of experience?
N: “I think it’s because in China, the people who go to sports, they don’t need to have really good grades. They just go to high school or college with their sports, they just go to practice. They’re more like a street gang, like a clique. So, because they’re bad, they want to control the people who are new.”
This phrase is circulated throughout the students. It isn’t a proverb which relays some form of wisdom or life lesson to the listener and it is also not a joke, as there is no humor behind the reality of the statement. It observes a complex power dynamic and metaphorically summarizes it in a concise way, likely as a call to how unfair such a hierarchy is and an acknowledge about the inevitability of its insistence in the school system. It’s a stereotype of athletes at this school widely known and accepted by the students, a blason populaire of this community of soccer players. Such speech is usually created by an external audience, the students who are not in the soccer team themselves but are familiar with it. When asked why the juniors bully the lower classmen, the answer could be this phrase. It is a lighthearted observation of the corruption and power play at school and its unfair treatment of the students, so much so that N associates this phrase with his specific team. Simultaneously, it encourages no revolt against such a system, already knowing full well the impossibility of change that could come from speaking up. This acceptance adds to the stereotype, almost perpetuating its truth.