About Our League
The NHSDLC is the largest foreign language debate league in the world.
We organise over 75 tournaments a year in cities all over China with 10,000 students competing. Our regionals vary in size from around one hundred students in smaller cities to more than 300 in the largest cities. The best students from each city qualify to compete at our yearly National Championship in Beijing; this year’s Championship had over 400 students participating, making it the largest ever in China. We compile the results of our regional, invitational, and national competitions into our China national debate rankings, the top tier of which are viewable here.
Debate in China
English-language competitive debate at the high school level is relatively new in China, having previously been limited to a very small number of private international schools. We strive to enable every interested school to start their own debate clubs, and every student to compete regardless of background. We provide free training sessions to schools all over China and free training materials online to students who wish to learn more about debating and improve their abilities.
All our debates are in Public Forum style, one of the most popular high school debating formats in the USA. Public Forum debates require both the ability to research and compose a case in advance and the ability to respond quickly to points made by the other side. This makes it an excellent test of both a student’s general academic ability and their capacity for intellectually demanding discussion in a classroom or tutorial setting.
In a Public Forum debate two teams debate opposite sides of a pre-prepared resolution, with sides and speaking order determined randomly. There is a constructive speech from each side of five minutes, prepared in advance, where students outline their main arguments, evidence and give a framework for analysing the debate. There are then rebuttal and summary speeches where teams respond to the other side’s case and attacks on their own arguments. Lastly there is a "Final Focus" speech where students discuss the debate in general and evaluate what the most important issues were. Between speeches there are crossfire sessions, where speakers ask and respond to questions.
All debates are conducted entirely in English adding the additional challenge of debating in a second language. Debating in any language is extremely challenging, and to do so in a second language requires a broad vocabulary, grammatical understanding and great fluency in improvisation.
Our topics are on matters of controversial public policy, generally with an international angle. For example recent topics have included abolition of the death penalty, the effect of economic globalisation on the poor, the elimination of standardized testing, and whether powerful countries have a responsibility to militarily intervene to prevent crimes against humanity. Students debate the same topic several times, encouraging deep and original research in order to succeed against similarly prepared opponents.
Debates are judged on the quality of argumentation, research and understanding displayed. While presentation and language skills are helpful in making argument’s clearer they do not determine the winner of a debate.
To judge debates we recruit English speaking professionals from a variety of backgrounds, typically academia and international business. We also import a number of expert debating judges and coaches from the debate teams or organizations at Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Penn, and Chicago every year for our National Championships and Summer Institute.
Participation is open to all ESL high school students in Mainland China. We make an active effort to reach out to schools and areas that have not traditionally had much international exposure. As such our students reflect a wide variety of social and economic strata, but are universally among the most academically gifted in their areas.
For example in the greater Beijing area there are approximately 400 High Schools, and the participants at our Beijing regional all represent the top ranked 30 public high schools. Similarly, in other cities many of our member schools are ranked as some of the best in their cities. Many of our students plan to pursue undergraduate or future studies abroad and are enrolled in “international departments,” programs inside their schools designed to prepare students to take exams like the SAT and AP, as opposed to the domestic Chinese university admission test.
We run regional tournaments in cities all across China on a seasonal basis, where students from the local schools compete against one another and the best of them earn a place at our National Championships.
At each regional tournament there are at minimum four rounds of debate for every participating student. There are four preliminary rounds, initially teams are paired randomly against teams from other schools then teams with similar records are power paired (e.g. a team with 3 wins will face another team with 3 wins).
Then, depending on tournament size, there are either Double-Octofinals (top 32 teams) or Octofinals (Top 16 teams). Placing is determined by number of wins in the preliminary rounds with ties broken via combined speaker scores. These are all single elimination rounds, so in order to progress a team must win every successive round. These are followed by Quarter-Finals, Semi-Finals and a Grand Final in front of an audience. A student who has reached Double or Single Octofinals will be at minimum in the top third of the debaters in their region, with each successive stage being twice as competitive.
We have a seperate Best Speaker award for the individual speaker with the highest number of combined speaker points in all preliminary rounds. Speaker points are determined separately from debate win/loss and are determined based on the overall quality of an individual student’s speech in terms of style, substance and structure.
Each year our season culminates in a National Championship in Beijing. In 2015 our National Championship had more than 400 students participating, who qualified by being the best from their respective regions. This made it the largest ever in China and one of the largest in the world.
The structure is similar to our regional tournaments but at a larger scale, with 7 preliminary rounds and elimination rounds starting from Triple-Octofinals (Top 64 teams). The results of this tournament are also then added into our national rankings.
Results from each of our tournaments go towards our national rankings. Score contributions from each tournament are determined by total wins in preliminary rounds and elimination round placement, with a multiplication factor based on the number of students, schools and regions represented. This is in order to reflect the increased difficulty of tournaments with larger populations or speakers who have travelled from further afield to compete.
Students are then ranked by their total scores from all tournaments they have attended. These results are continuously updated and displayed on our Chinese language website.
Comparison with American Tournament rankings:
Comparison with American Tournament rankings:
While it is difficult to directly compare ranks given the relative newness of debate in China and the fact it is a second language league, in general our results will be indicative of a similar level of academic achievement when compared to similar sized tournaments in the US. While an ESL debater would be at a disadvantage to first language teams in a head to head debate, the additional difficulty of composing speeches and doing research in one's second language indicates strong academic ability.
Many of our students have been very successful at American competitions. At Stanford in 2013 our students were the first foreign team to qualify for the national Tournament of Champions. Students have also reached elimination rounds in the Open category of Stanford, competing against American High School students; Top Speaker and 2nd best team in the international division at Harvard 2015; and elimination rounds in the Junior Varsity Division at Harvard.
A brief introduction to the team of debate and education experts that make up NHSDLC.