The International Debate Education Association (IDEA), in
association with Beijing Foreign Studies University (BFSU) has been
involved in teaching English-language debate for the past three years. For
the past two years, we have held workshops and tournaments in English.
Since last year’s tournament and workshop at BFSU, IDEA has initiated a
further move in debate education: Four—team British Parliamentary
Debate training ---- in Mandarin.
Chinese Mandarin debaters, who already have a long fine tradition of
debate, may find the new format hard to accept. Indeed, it is a pioneering
and challenging move to introduce Western-style debate in Mandarin
language. With this concern in mind, IDEA created a curriculum for
Four-team debating and three facilitators (He Jingkai, Li Xi, and Yang Ge)
prepared to teach a workshop on Four-team debate, also known as British
Parliamentary style (BP) debate. Prior to the workshop, the three of us
and others recorded a demonstration debate in Mandarin, The
demonstration debate was used to introduce the workshop, which was
followed by lectures and discussions of various topics ranging from rules
and roles to refutation to constructing arguments for the proposition and
Li Xi began the training by explaining rules and roles of four-team
debate while simultaneously playing the demonstration to the audience.
The topic “China should legalize the marriage between the same sexes.”
was a dashing one and the atmosphere was hilarious. The audience was
composed mostly of veteran Mandarin debaters, and it was their first time
to be engaged in this style of debate. Except for Tom Smithurst an
Australian, majoring in Law in Beijing University and a former BP
debater in Australia, all of the debaters were full of curiosity and surprise.
Tom took it a good opportunity to practice Chinese, as well as debate
The first day’s exposure to BP filled the audience with doubts. For
example, since every debater had 7 continuous minutes to speak, they
were worried they couldn’t make full 7 minutes (traditional Mandarin
debate involves free debating and each debater is assigned fewer minutes.)
Since the Prime Minister bore the right and responsibility to define the
motion for his own sake, the opposition seemed to lose the edge and
advantage. Mandarin debate does not have this rule. Some felt puzzled
about definition and policy-making. A few even suggested adjusting the
The following morning, He Jingkai described how to define a motion
and construct a case for the proposition. His vivid lecture involved a lot
of personal experience as a debater. The essence of four-team debate
began to dawn on the audience: it provides teams with the opportunity to
learn creative problem solving and think outside the box in the spirit of
democracy, humanism, respect to the individual rights and freedom. With
some exercises of practicing defining motions followed, they became
more excited about BP. Many interactive questions centered on how to
justify the value each team proposed.
With many doubts cleared away, my lecture on refutation became
easier. I introduced the methods of refutation, and I focused on evaluation
of a quality argument, how to connect evidence to a claim through logical
reasoning. This kind of logical reasoning is not considered so important
in our traditional Mandarin debate.
On the third day, my discussion of constructing argument for the
opposition and Li Xi’s talk about “Extension creation” went very
smoothly. She covered varieties of values and perspectives to analyze.
At the end of training we were happy to find debaters have been
prepared to try on a full debate of BP. We set the topic “Zoos should be
closed” and chose volunteers to engage in the debate. They showed great
confidence and enthusiasm in debating although with slight traces of
traditional debate. Tom was one of the 8 debaters. We had not been able
to imagine how superb he was to debate in Mandarin.
The training ended with Robert Trapp’s remarks. Robert Trapp, Kevin
Minch, and Elizabeth Humphrey announced a contest to find Chinese
names for them. The best suggestions were awarded prizes for their
good Chinese names. Robert Trapp becomes (Chi Ruobo) ? ? ? ,
Elizabeth Humphrey is (Han Yipei) ???, and Kevin Minch’s new name
is (Kai Minqi)???.
I felt highly impressed and encouraged by the audience in our
workshop. We formed new friendships with people who are definitely fast
and enthusiastic learners, open-and-democratic-minded young college
students, full of vitality and intelligence. It was such an amazing
experience for me, and I look forward to the IDEA-BFSU tournament in