Monday, June 7, 2010

Blog entry for week 1 from Jared:

So I’ve caught a bit of a cold or something, which is often bound to happen on long trips, and passing up the normal evening activities, so it seems I have the time to sit down and type out a blog entry for week 1. Classes have certainly been interesting. The lecture format is very different here than compared with the U.S. While questions are welcomed, discussion and differing opinions, while not silenced, are not solicited either. This is simply a cultural difference, I do not believe that we are being short changed because of this or anything of the sort. On the contrary, it is educational to see academia carried out in another culture. So far we have discussed China/U.S. trade, the Taiwan issue, the prospect for democratic transformation in China, the need for China to grow a domestic consumer base to maintain strong economic growth, and Nationalism as it manifests itself in China. Before each lecture we have a discussion time with Dr. Sun about the previous day’s talk, and get to hash out more understanding with his help.

I was thinking the on Friday about Chinese academia and how culture and politics play a role. In our society we value frankness in educational matters, and are socially conditioned to offer up dissent when relevant. Things are quite different in China. Chinese “face” revolves around show’s of humility and the respect of personal honor and composure. Additionally, Beijing U. is monitored by the Communist party. Every significant protest and uprising, including what happened in Tienanmen began here. A lot of the faculty, also, while having studied in the U.S., do not have the same academic style in their background and have only recently been able to be more honest in their political opinions. I will give an example, several scholars now have made the statement that China really isn’t all that great (paraphrasing obviously) and is still backward in many ways. While in the U.S. we could accept a scholar’s statement to this effect as his general opinion, in China you can’t be so sure. It could be that they are indeed quite proud of China’s accomplishments and future prospects (most Chinese are), but are simply being modest. It therefore pays to actively listen and closely parse what the lecturers are saying to sift the truth of what they mean out of it. It means you retain more, and it means that we end up discussing lectures in our off time conversationally in order to get everyone’s perspectives.

In the city, we have done our fare share of exploring. I semi-intentionally got lost in a HuTong just to be able to really see and experience it. It was worth every minute spent trying to get back out and on my way again! I am not having any trouble with the culture. I do love China, the culture, and the people, so maybe this eases the transition from living in the West, or maybe it’s simply that I have been over here before. Beijing, is one of the cleanest cities I have ever been too, including Europe. I also have always felt safe here,
while I don’t think people should not be vigilant, I have never feared for my personal safety or for my property. Beijing worked hard before the Olympics to put on a great face for the world, and I really think they succeeded.

We have seen a few of the typical sites here in the city. Those are all well and good, but certainly do not constitute the best parts of non-class time. Those happen when you are out to look beyond the typical sites. As an example, we went to the Summer Palace on Friday. The opulence of the place, for a second huge palace for the Qing emperors, was really amazing. It was wonderful to see and I loved it, but after we toured the place, we went out walking in some of the gardens. They had a causeway there modeled after the famous one in Hangzhou it was pretty, and breezy (I personally think the people in Hangzhou did it better than the Qings but that’s tangential). We came across a pond that was cut off from the manmade lake by the causeway. There were a handful of Chinese natives there swimming in the lake. We joined the few on the shore, Dave went for a swim with the ones in the
water. While we enjoyed the breeze and the scenery, we attempted to communicate with the gentleman next to us. With our collective broken Chinese and his broken English (with hand gestures thrown in too for good measure) we talked some with him. Rather, we tried to communicate some with him. In between these attempts he would play American folk songs on a harmonica, or sing patriotic songs about Mao. The Summer
Palace was there, behind us, but all the other Westerners that were around touring, I think, were missing out on a bit of the real China a bit down the path. A quote from Machiavelli comes to mind, he says something to the effect of “Everyone sees what you appear to be but few see who you really are”. While this certainly has insidious connotations in the context of his writings, I see that it can be applied to a Westerner’s experience of China. You can see the shiny buildings, or imperial relics, but without stepping away from those experiences, you cannot really see what China is. (As an aside, I in no way mean to imply that I’m a China expert and the most perceptiveperson when it comes to its true nature, more of just something I’ve been musing about)

Pictures attached:
1. Dogs on the roof of a house in a Hutong near Ho Hai
3. Our harmonica playing friend
4. The Great Wall

No comments:

Post a Comment