So, because academic summer exchanges are clearly my passion, I have just come back from a stint on the Study China program, where I was based at East China Normal University in Shanghai. And I thought I had better write a post to tell you all about it, and enlighten you on what’s going down in China.
But you see, Shanghai is a bit of a tough one to condense into a blog post. I’ve actually been sat here for the past five minutes, staring at an intimidatingly blank screen, and getting steadily more irritated with the little blinking cursor. STOP BLINKING.
My Chinese politics tutor [oh yeah, I had a Chinese politics tutor, swish] warned us of this geographical writers-block in our last lesson. He said something along the lines of :
“If you go to China for a few weeks you will struggle to describe what it’s like when you go home, if you go to China for over a year words will really fail you, and if you go to China for more than ten years you won’t even bother trying.”
Well I actually was only therefor three weeks, so that little surmise doesn’t exactly give me a get out of jail free card, but you get the gist. It’s a bloody complex country. With a population larger than the size of Europe, and with cultural and linguistic differences splintering regions into virtually separate countries, one of the main hot topics we debated whilst out there was why hasn’t China split into a series of smaller nations? Or at least, a loosely grouped federation? Someone from the north wouldn’t be able to communicate with someone from the south (even though they both speak Mandarin), and where do Hong Kong and Taiwan fit in? Oh, and don’t mention Tibet. And take the Chinese food we have back home, that’s Cantonese, you’ll only find it in a small region in the south.
See what I mean? Complex.
Any personal preconceptions I had of China was ashamedly limited; my previous brain time for the Chinese was reserved to acknowledging the fact they do good take-out, walk irritatingly slowly around campus, rock the peace pose, and were also going to take over the planet.
The likes of The Economist (because I definitely read The Economist…) is painting China to be one, big, hungry pubescent, whose rapidly growing appetite is gobbling up Africa and will/has ousted ‘The West’ from it’s comfy seat of global power [*que Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells]. One aspect which is interesting, is how China is having to adapt its communist ideology to justify its increasingly capitalist economic policy.
Sadly my experience out in ‘The Orient’ was limited to just seeing Shanghai, but thankfully that means this post can be reduced to describing my time out there, rather than constructing a geopolitical assessment of the whole of modern China [I can see you all breathe a sigh of relief].
As covered in the title of this post, Shanghai has expertly navigated itself away from it’s previous sleazy ‘Whore of the Orient’ rep of the 1930’s. Ever since, despite a slight blip during the post-war-yay-for-socialism-screw-the-world decades, it has truly become an international hub, linking a notoriously closed off China to the rest of the globe.
Now Babs covered a lot of what has to be said about Shanghai in our previous post – so I am going to fall back on that overly-quoted phrase which has got many a kid through blagging a school report ‘a picture says a thousand words’.
So roll the camera
And here I was hoping this blog post was going to be cathartic, and help ease my post-China blues. Nuh uh. Take me back now!