Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Cultural Differences in Academia

From Jared:

I am trying to remember what I wrote in my last blog entry. The site where these are being posted is blocked in China so my apologies if I repeat myself. We have wrapped up the class portion of our trip to China. Overall I found the classes to be educational, in that they gave a picture of how the academia in this country thinks. Most of the information they have relayed I was already familiar with it, but how it was presented and spun was very interesting. I believe I made the argument in a previous entry that various cultures really aren’t that different. While I still believe this is the case, academia has highlighted where, at least our two cultures, differ. In Western academia, professors teach through discussion, Socratic Method, or direct lecturing where their opinions are made obvious. Here, classes are in direct lecture format and what the professors say is not always necessarily what they mean. I read an analysis of “Romance of the Three Kingdoms”, the book itself I’m still working through, that made the point that Chinese historians had made an art out of indirect criticism. If one knew history and literature, they could understand the writer’s allusions and what they truly meant. While our classes weren’t nearly this muddied, I think the primary educational value came from discerning what was “party line”, what was true, what they believed, and what was “face”.
My favorite sight visit came last Thursday when we visited a rural village about 2 hours outside of Beijing. It was nestled in the mountains, the air was fresh, the sky blue, and the temperature somewhere in the 70s. So very different from Beijing. We had a fantastic lunch consisting primarily of veggies, talked some with the democratically elected village leader, and then wandered the village. Set well back from the other lodgings and surrounded by terraced hillside, Alisha and I came across a small house. The elderly wife led us inside while her husband went off into the fields. It turned out that she was concerned with our health, we looked hot and tired to her, so she gave us some dried apples and cherries and had us sit and rest for a while. Her home consisted of three rooms, two of which were storage (for food, and other misc. things). She and her husband lived in the remaining room, with plastered interior walls, a bed/couch, table and chairs, and rudimentary kitchen all in one room. On the wall were some old pictures from a trip to Beijing and of the couple when they were younger and her husband was in the PLA.
They lived in what the west would consider abject poverty. There were no doors on the house meaning the winters would be bitterly cold, no indoor plumbing, or refrigeration. Yet, they were the happiest people I have met on this trip so far. Their joy brought me a lot of joy, their surrounding environment was so much better than that of the city as well. With this in mind, though, it makes me wonder why migrant labor is so prevalent in this country. My internship deals specifically with migrant laborers that have been injured in factories, far away from available medical care. Considering the situations rural workers are subject to in the cities, and seeing the just overall happiness of the village couple, it’s a contradiction. Maybe I will figure it out and maybe I won’t.
China seems full of contradictions. I don’t meant to be exclusivist, I suppose any developing society is one of contradictions, but this is the one I am in now so it is the one I “know the most about”. I am in a Communist country that has the most rampant capitalism one could imagine. Ads bombard you no matter where you look, and people are always trying to sell something. There is no word in Chinese for “individuality” their culture and religion teaches them to maintain a collective existence, and yet looking out for “self” seems to be the primary concern for most individuals. From what I am told, 1 in 8 people in Beijing is a millionaire, yet rural China has some of the lowest living standards in the world. 1,500 cars are being added to the Roads in Beijing alone each day, but I pass horse drawn carts in my neighborhood daily. Just to name a few contradictions. I’m not really sure where I want to go with that. Just something I’ve been pondering.

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