A Teenskepchick In China
Last Thursday I arrived in China for my summer stay. I’m doing a language course until June 21st and then research for the rest of the summer. The trip so far, while short, has been full of ups and downs and a lot of “wtf!?” moments… especially when I was chatting with my Fudan University exchange partners.
My class was paired up with students from Fudan University so they could help us learn Chinese. I learned pretty quickly that we were very different from one another (ie: I asked the two of them “what is there to do at night?” and they began telling me where all the libraries in the city are). Because of my major/academics we started talking about the environment, economic development, the government and censorship, here are some interesting things that they said:
Both claimed that being religious is mandatory for ethical economic development. This really surprised me since religion was seriously supressed in China for quite a while. In a short period of time (40 years?) Christianity has become so popular that these students are now claiming it as a fundamental necessity for life. I told them how in Canada people generally are apathetic about what religion other people are and about their own religion and one said “This is probably why it no longer does well”. So I answered “well what is up with America then?” and they both just laughed. It is strange to me how one sided things often become in the Chinese mind. My hubby often tells stories that shows how easily persuaded into things the average Chinese person is… when I get home I’ll dig out the paper from the Asian Studies Journal that theorizes this is because communism has left a gap in people’s life and they are looking to fill it with almost any belief. Additionally, the paper claims, that many are so used to being told what to do that they become uncritical.
Since I arrived I’ve had a wicked throat ache (and, starting today, a runny nose) so I’ve been eating these Chinese throat lozenges like crazy. One saw me eating it and she gave me a green bottle of pills. I asked her what it was. She said it is for sore throats, but is all natural and made with ancient Chinese recipes so it is better. When I pushed her a little on this, asking what was in it and why it was better than the lozenges I had got prescribed at the pharmacy she didn’t have an answer aside from “this is an ancient way in China”. They tasted horrible, and worked much less.
Chinese Control of the Media
When we started talking about the government and censorship one got visibly uncomfortable and words became chosen very carefully. When I explained that in Canada and America we have so many different voices giving different opinions they were very critical of it. They said that too many voices will confuse uneducated people and will feed into ideology. When I asked the next logical question (so whose voice is the right one…) they didn’t say “the government” but rather “the one that best represents the culture”. The fear of information here doesn’t seem to be entirely one sided (and I plan on looking into this more). I had always thought the government feared people having too much information (which they do) but it also seems like some of the people fear having too much information. They are very very very dismissive of criticisms of things and don’t seem too interested chatting about these topics. It’s been really interesting playing with the internet here… seeing what is blocked, what isn’t, what searches will come up, comparing pages with a Chinese IP to pages with an American IP. In case you don’t know… facebook, BBC and twitter are all blocked – even URLs that simply have “facebook” or “twitter” in them seem to not work. Some google searches don’t seem to work and pirate bay is a big no-no.
Environment as a Global Issue
The really tragic topic for me was their lack of knowledge, ownership and interest in environmental issues. They were both 100% convinced that their government is putting a *lot* of money into the protection of the environment (and yes – I pointed out the link between media ownership and this information … they were dismissive) and doing much better than most other countries. They were of the opinion that America is by far the worst and doing the least (which might be true) but that Europe also isn’t all that great (which is not true). I asked them what they thought about China being one of the major polluters in the world and they said that China needs to develop and that environmental issues are a *global problem* not just for one country to worry about…
It’s been interesting so far! I’m looking forward to the conversations the next 3 months bring… but I’m also already ready to go home. My hotel has cockroaches, the window doesn’t shut so there are mosquitoes like crazy, I get a stomach ache every time I eat something and my course is so incredibly hard… I wake up at 7, go to school until 3 and then do homework until 7 or 8 pm. So after dinner and a shower I usually just have to go right to bed. And even after all that studying I am still doing really poorly in the course. Arrrg!