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April 15, 2014 / windlessly

China Chronicles 4.15- A Day in Beijing

So in class today our teacher talked to us about the Cultural Revolution in China, the cultural and social reforms brought about by Mao Zedong from 1966-1976. It actually sounds like a pretty scary time: professors were imprisoned, books were burned, cultural buildings were ransacked, students were deported to the country side, and social order was sort of turned upside down, favoring farmers and urban workers and casting a negative light on intellectuals and the rich. Anything deemed to be traditional, cultural, or capitalist was destroyed by order of the government.

That was less than four decades ago. I’ve always been embarrassingly ignorant of world issues, but when I decided to come to Beijing to study abroad, I had no idea what society in China was really like. I still don’t think I have an accurate representation: it’s hard to glean any sort of conclusion from walking around, occasionally asking local people for directions, or listening to a tour guide’s overview of Beijing’s history in a museum. But I’m starting to realize now that the history of modern China isn’t really history. It’s still very much a part of people’s lives, and if not absolutely so, then it definitely impacted the course of their parents’ lives. 38 years into the past isn’t that long of a time. Life in the states and my own upbringing has been so incredibly stable that I often perceive the world to be slow-changing and fairly constant.

So in a way, I realize that the articles I’ve read online about the growing presence of China on the global stage is very much real. I don’t think I’ve had any real way to truly experience Chinese society, but that just makes me even more sad that I only have ten short weeks here. I feel like I would need a couple of years at least to get any real understanding of China as a country. But life goes on. People continue to live their daily lives out here, much like how my life in the states wasn’t impacted much by the shutting down of the US government either (except for a blown up Facebook news feed that day). I’m lucky to get to experience that small part of life here, at least. And Beijing is a very, very cool place to live and visit. It’s definitely growing and changing. The pollution, the cities, the food, the cultural norms, the people… all of it has been fascinating. And the thing that truly boggles my mind is that Beijing is still just a fraction of China. It would probably take years to visit every countryside and metropolitan area in all of China, all the places that carry 3,000+ years of history.

How do I feel, as a single American student studying abroad here for one quarter? I guess it’s like jumping off a boat for a swim and trying to understand the entire ocean during one brief experience in the water. I have a long way to go in terms of experiencing China for real. Has it been hard to adjust? Not particularly… being a Chinese-American, I grew up eating the Chinese food that is served in the dining halls, I talk to my parents in Mandarin all the time, and I’ve got to experience Asia already when I visited Taiwan. I also love meeting new people and experiencing new living conditions, so there’s no tangible hardships for me so far (only that I miss Stanford friends!). I guess that means I have plenty of time to not do my Chinese homework and to reflect on things like this. Going abroad for any amount of time, though, is definitely a worthwhile experience.

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2 Comments

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  1. textangel / Apr 22 2014 3:47 am

    Your stanford friends miss you, although some of them don’t admit it easily sometimes -zheng

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