Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Views of America, China, North Korea

I was at KIBC tonight, for game night. There were several folks from the US and a bunch of people from Mainland China, and a few local Hong Kongers, playing various games in different parts of the room, with different discussions.

Some random conversations.

A discussion I overhear about North Korea. A mainlander (Aaron from Chengdu) expressing concern about North Korea. Though in the US we take it for granted that China and North Korea are allies (they're both Communist, right?) he feels it necessary to explain that China and the US fought a war in the 1950s and China supported North Korea then, so China and North Korea are sort of like allies. That's it? The Korean War is the only tie? He said that a year ago, if you asked anyone if the US and North Korea were to get into a fight, which side China would choose, anyone would have said "North Korea". Now, China would support the US.

Not that he supports such a military solution. There's a lot of suffering in North Korea, and what would an attack solve? Maybe it's best to let this go, he suggests.

Later, I'm talking with another mainlander, Diana. She is an exchange student for one semester from Xiamen University, in Fujian, studying English and PR. She would like to study in the United States, but feels she needs to go back to Beijing to support her parents when they grow old--as the only child (with China's one child policy) it's her filial duty.

Xiamen University is apparently a very beautiful and clean university. She says other mainland students come to Hong Kong and say, "Wow, how beautiful and clean". She feels it's just like her home university. I didn't tell her how people at Pepperdine University see HKBU in comparison.

Xiamen is across the Taiwan Strait from Taiwan. She feels that Taiwan should be united with China, and inevitably, it will be. The way she phrases it is interesting: "Anyone who is truly Chinese sees that Taiwan should be part of China". Every now and then the army practices nearby, and she gets nervous, though. Will there be fighting? She hopes not.

She is amazed at the strength of the US, having only a 200 year history. She wonders what its secret is. Perhaps because it is welcoming to so many people from around the world? She wants China to be great too. She calls herself patriotic.

Diana also knows a surprising amount of US history. Apparently, in schools, they have to learn US history as part of world history. In US schools, we learn world history, but we get a vague idea about China, and that's it. Chinese students have to memorize all the states, the names of the presidents, and knew about the Civil War. They also learn about English history, German history, and cover the history of each of the continents.

These were in her textbook and she had to read about them all. Wow. The grade school students in China actually read their textbooks?! She compared the educational system in China to that of the US, and said that in China, there was a lot of lecture and people just had to learn what the teacher said, while in the US, students might be put in groups where they are supposed to learn by experience. In China, therefore, the teacher can give a lot of the reasons why, where in the US, the focus is more practical: on how. This is the reverse of the connection that is usually made in the US between experiential learning and lecture: lecture is viewed as rote learning, while experiential learning lets students discover why.

One thing to note in all of this: these Chinese students are very patriotic and Chinese-centered in their perspective. But they are not in favor of war, and they are not antagonistic against the US. They don't see the US as a natural enemy of China, and in fact they all express a desire to travel there. Temporarily, of course--their true home is in China and always will be.

When I was in grad school I had a roommate who was from mainland China, and when he first arrived he felt sure he would go back to China. By the end of the year, he wanted to stay in the US. He also learned about the Tiananmen square massacre, and changed his view of his government.

Of course these students don't have a say in the direction of Chinese politics. But the next generation of Chinese leaders will come from backgrounds like these, and have these perspectives. There are some in the US that see China as a potential military threat. It is true that they have a considerable investment in military (though nothing compared to the US). But culturally, they don't see the US as a rival militarily. Perhaps they feel that they should, by all rights, be the leaders of the world, and indeed, perhaps all peoples feel something of this. But they don't see an attack on the US as the way this will be achieved: rather, they seem generally against war, and seem bent on developing their country and achieving prosperity.


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