Since I’d rather do laundry and/or blog a bit before being forced to study for my first Chinese exam tomorrow, I thought I’d just write a few of the random thoughts that have been going through my head this past week or so.
To start, China is great. It’s definitely growing on me. I have days that I’m just like, “seriously, China? dude.” But then other days that I just really genuinely enjoy some of the things that have previously been a nuisance (like being served hot water on 90 degree days, or having small talk with the locals).
I think one of the best things about Alliance (the program I’m studying abroad with) is that they take advantage of the fact that you are currently living in China. And from the things that you learn, you start to see the connections to everyday life. Looking at my parents’ Chinese counterpart generation, I start to think about what they’ve been through, and how it must’ve affected the way they lived, and it must’ve affected the way they raised their children, and the way their children will raise their children. And slowly but surely, the culture and different ways of doing things start to really make sense.
The two classes I’m taking (in addition to Chinese language classes) are called “21st Century City” and “US-Sino Relations”. With only two lectures from the 21st Century City class and about four for my US-Sino class, I feel like I’ve already learned sooooo much about China. Considering that I’ve started from literally zero knowledge except for the really boring History of Chinese Thought class I took last semester, that isn’t surprising, but I definitely didn’t expect it to hit me so much in the face.
Let me explain. Last week in 21st Century City we watched the movie “To Live”. I don’t wanna go too far into it because I’m planning on doing a movie review as a part of my blogging “beat” (a component of being an Alliance student blogger – I get to update all of you about the lovely art and music scene here in Shanghai/China!), but it essentially follows an average Chinese family’s journey from the late 1940s to the early to late 1970s, which is pretty much what is considered the ever so tumultuous time that began the communist regime and eventually the Cultural Revolution. The movie followed their story of hope in the Communist regime, their loss of both wealth and family members, and eventual doubt of the party’s true ability. And then today, I just finished this book that my mom insisted I read, called “Red Azalea”; the true story of a woman growing up during the same time and the story of her life and the hardships she endured, from working as a peasant in a hard labor camp to realizing her disillusionment with the party (this book to also be a part of my blogging “beat”). And then yesterday, as a part of my US-Sino relations class, I did a presentation on the June 4th, 1989 incident in Tiananmen square, which was essentially peaceful protests asking for political reform. In a matter of weeks, the protestors grew from a few thousand to a million people, and was ultimately greeted with an extremely violent response from the government, killing between 700 and 2,300 people.
I don’t want to go into more detail until later, but I guess what I’m saying is this: Chinese people have endured a lot. And from what I can tell, all of the struggle they’ve endured is apparent in their culture. It’s apparent in the way they talk. It’s apparent in the way they act (who on earth is going to form a nice little queue when there’s a limited amount of food to be had?). It’s apparent in the way they eat, and even sleep. It’s apparent even in the way they approach love, dating, and socialization. It’s really SO easy for us (Westerners) to make judgments about their culture, but who are we to say anything about it? We haven’t lived it. We haven’t endured it. We haven’t been in a society that hides the past from us. We haven’t experienced the breadth of an oppressive government. We haven’t been excited, inspired, and trusting to a government and then ruefully let down. We just haven’t. So it’s easy to make judgements, generalizations, and stereotypes. But it’s not fair for us to do that. Because we don’t know. We literally don’t know a single thing about any of these things, and what’s more, we don’t care.
Those have been my thoughts these last few weeks. Hopefully it’s some food for thought, especially if you decide to continue to follow my journey here. I’m continuing to learn and every day I feel like I’m slowly but surely understanding a little bit more–both in language AND culture. I still don’t feel like I know enough yet to tell any of you guys about specific details yet, but be on the lookout for those (especially the book and movie review!).
In other news, that’s probably enough procrastination for now…. time to do homework and laundry… more updates soon!