Did you change your mind about China after you actually visited the country?

Mudassir Ali
Feb 29, 2020 06:54 AM 0 Answers
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Mudassir Ali
- Feb 29, 2020 06:54 AM

Yes of course. China was a page written only from academic / historical perspective in my book, and I was happy to rewrite it. I spent 5 months in China, as I was in an exchange semester at Tsinghua University. Plenty of stories now fill this book, but for now lets stick to the question at hand.

All I knew about China I learned from sources like Wikipedia or in our history classes. I understood the concept of Zhōngguó, but I did not know anything about China from, let’s say, pre-1900 (there was this dude Confuzius who was.. Bhuddist?!). So in school we learned about the Japanese occupation, Nanjiing, Mao’s revolution, the great leap forward, 1-child-policy, the rise with Deng and up until around 2000, the smog, industry, communist party, the great firewall etc. So far so good, but what does it MEAN?

Before I went I had a long duscussion with two professors who approved my semester. One of the conditions was, in order to get full credits, to write a blog. How is China, what do I experience, everyday life of an exchange student? But the profs insisted I had to be extra careful to not write anything critical or the CP arrests me… While I didn’t believe this all, I still thought chinese were oppressed, people are not free, unhappy etc.

Now don’t get me wrong: China is not a ‘free’ country. You have no free speech, free access to information and the control is there. But then again I learned to understand the idea behind it. Controlling neo-imperialist influences on Chinese grounds until China is the economic giant it is now made absolutely sense (I don’t like it, but I understand the CP).

Yes the great firewall exists. You cannot search for the Tiannamen massacre or your connection is ‘down’ for 2 minutes (no arrests ;)). But you can get a VPN. Everybody can. There are bars offering VPN, and everybody knows it. I had a class where we critically assessed the chinese system, openly critized the CP in some regards, with a surveillance cam in the room (still no arrests).

People are happy, of course, and happy to meet you. I made many great friends and I had deep discussions. We touched politics as well. I remember well one discussion I had with two Hong Kong Han, one Singapuri Han and two ‘mainland’ Hans, about the concept of democracy. Now this was interesting! Whith this many levels of political freedom, in the end, we agreed on democracy as the ideal system however it will be difficult to implenet it right away onto China mainland. We talked about Taiwan, Hongkong.

And then I had funny experiences. The art of cheering with the glasses on even levels to show equal respect. From the ‘asian glow’ to be outdrunk by a 20 year old, 1.6m girl. The art of a drinking (read: chugging) beer from cristall glasses in the fanciest Bejing restaurant because we were invited by some rich fellas (now that’s a story). The art of guanxi. The art of mandarin caligraphy. The art of bargaining. The really weird art of hiking. The art of chopsticks.

I learned about Confuzius, Laozi, Zhu Xi, Qin Shi Huang… I saw the beautiful landscapes, some of it at least. I learned what it means when one has no siblings, the pressure from the family and it’s social effect, chinese version of friendships, push away bystanders while waiting in line, tried to resist the smog.

I had no idea what China was, really. And I still don’t, because the change is so fast. You’d need to live there to understand it. So I can’t wait to come back and see what changed in the last 4 years.

Mudassir Ali
- Feb 29, 2020 06:54 AM

studying Mandarin Chinese for 3 years and am currently living in China for a rather short period of time. I am staying Xi’an, China’s previous capital city, a huge metropolis with a population of almost 9 million people. Met lots of Chinese people, made friends with many of them, made friends with other foreigners in China, some of them who have been living here for years. I have talked with both kinds of people about Chinese daily life, Chinese modern history and how it has influenced Chinese modern culture, Chinese politics, etc. I have already been to other 3 cities here and I can honestly say I have changed my mind about China many times.

As other answers have already pointed out, the first things that you can notice when you are living here is: “well I’m actually surviving, and I might as well say I’m pretty damn comfortable.” Traveling is cheap, food is cheap, clothes are cheap, cellphones are cheap. Compared to where I live, the subway is so much better, and easy to understand as well even for someone who doesn’t actually know how to speak Mandarin. Traffic is bad… but easy! Just download the Ofo app, make a 200 yuan deposit and you are ready to ride any of those yellow bicycles that you can find everywhere. Problem solved, AND, I can guarantee you, riding a bicycle here can be LOTS of fun. There are so many historical places to see, majestic views to admire. So, yeah there are the high speed trains, so easy to find a job as a foreigner, usually Chinese people treat you very well (though it depends where you are). Woohoo all our previous misconceptions where all wrong! China is just another country with pros and cons, blablabla.

But. butbutbutbutbut. Before I continue this answer, I must mention a very important factor. I am white, I measure 6′2/190cm and have red hair and sometimes red beard. Continuing…

IF you start digging deeper and deeper into Chinese culture, you will start finding many elements that you hadn’t thought about before, and you start noticing how this culture, to be more specific social culture, is so different from the West.

First symptoms usually start appearing when you are walking in the street, and you notice people watching you, from time to time they will ask to take pictures with you, depending on how much contact with the outside world they have had with the outside world. You. Are. Different. You are an alien. Its the harsh truth, no matter how well you speak Chinese, how many Chinese people know you, how you treat everyone else, you will never be one of them. Just because of your facial features. Of course most of the people will ignore you, but when it comes to confined spaces where social interaction is more probable… forget it. Its not like they treat you in a bad way or anything, its just that you are not their equal. Some of them think they are more than you, some of them, MANY actually, think they are less. I’ve had people ignore me when I try talking to them, and other kinds of bad responses, but I’ve also had many people who were so excited to meet me.

This is where insecurity comes in. I have mostly met with college students because that is the environment where I’m currently staying and I can safely say it is a huge problem. So why are they are so insecure? (NOTE: when I use the term “the Chinese” I am not talking about all Chinese people, this is just a pattern of social behavior I have noticed with people from my age up to 30 years old as well, of course there are many exceptions.)

Let’s start from, in my opinion, the beginning of it all. The pressure to be successful. Since their childhood, even if their parents are kind and understanding, the Chinese society already begins inculcating the children with values of hard work and respect, which is not that bad simply stated. Nevertheless through time competition starts increasing exponentially. At the end of secondary school each and every teenager has to do the GaoKao, one of the toughest college entrance exams in the world. Depending on your score, you can get into the best universities in China. The idea that their exam score defines their future and success is incredibly strong. From the beginning they have to study hard to have a good score and be successful.

Huh? Hobbies? Most of them will probably answer that listening to music, playing video games or watching movies are what they do in their free time, because unless you are VERY good at something (eg: basketball) nobody cares about it, nobody gives it any value, as a matter of fact sometimes it is even negative, as it distracts you from your studies. Imagine a society in which everyone’s life goes around the same axis, that being success.(Note: I’m not saying that those are uninteresting hobbies, maybe some of them take it seriously, but due to the lack of time and resources people’s ability to develop other hobbies is very limited.)

Success. What do you think is success? In the West we have definitions for it like “happiness” and “fulfillment”. Their definition of success is: “HAVE MONEY, GET MARRIED, HAVE KIDS”. No kidding, that is the norm. Of course, there are many people that are able to defy this definition and I congratulate you if you are reading this because it must be extremely hard, really.

I’ve heard stories about teachers telling kids to quit doing something they really liked because it influenced their marks. Really, most of them don’t get any fucking rest in this sea of social pressure.

So, let’s say you get a good exam score and get into a decent university. Bad news: you don’t have any bloody life experience whatsoever, the only things you know how to do is study and play World of Warcraft (no offense, I love Wow).

So so so so many people I meet, girls and guys behave like they are 15 years old!! Of course I don’t blame them, they are just a product of their society. And of course there are so many others whom which I could have a normal, sometimes even intellectually stimulating conversation, but they are the minority IMO.

Moving on, another factor that causes this is that almost everyone is by themselves. Of course if you have family and friends that care about you its different. You could say that the situation is similar in the West, but only up to a certain extent. Due to the influences of the philosophy of Confucius and the fact that the amounts of people are so vastly large, people can only care for themselves. If it’s not your teacher, don’t you ever expect to have a mentor, who has faith in you, who can teach you lessons about life and make you believe in yourself. No. In here you don’t deserve anything, you gotta earn it. Before you get support, you’ve got to show that you deserve it, not the other way around. Just as anywhere else, it can be very cold, but I have a feeling that its more intense here. True friendships are much, much harder to find because in here friendships are usually built through convenience, not trust. On top of that, successful people don’t have any time for friendships.

Its interesting how so many important ancient common eastern values such as self introspection, calmness, inner peace are being lost in today’s competitive and cold society (IMO).

But well, who knows, I’ve just been here for a couple of months and maybe I’m wrong, this is just the opinion I have formulated until now. I will be editing this answer if my opinion changes in the future.

Of course China has so many incredible things, which were outlined very well in other answers, and this is just another perspective of what reality in China feels like

Mudassir Ali
- Feb 29, 2020 06:55 AM

Oh yes!

My concerns traveling to China were typical for first-time visit to a country.

Could I get around (not being fluent in any of the local languages)?
Would I find good food?
Would I get ripped off?
Would I be safe?
My concerns quickly evaporated.

Signs were well marked; many in English, but with a little effort it is possible to distinguish place names. The subway in Beijing was super affordable and announced every stop in multiple languages. Train stations and airports always had agents who spoke multiple languages (and signage to show where they were).

Food everywhere was delicious. I am not a picky eater, so I took whatever was offered. Street food was wonderful in Shanghai. Local cooking in Beijing tended towards spicy (some local boys thought it was really funny how RED I turned when eating it – the food was magically hot! – they took pictures with me).

If I got ripped off, I’ll never know. Everything was reasonably priced. Prices were usually marked. As far as I could tell I was paying what the locals paid.

I never felt unsafe anywhere in China.

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