Part III – Higher Education
I have been up at the Beijing Science and Technology University for the past week meeting with students and professors to look at their work. As pretty much all of the reports are in Chinese it is rather difficult to review most of their work. The atmosphere on campus is not un-similar to that back home, but it is definitely more “high-schooly” with breaks for lunches, huge cafeterias and much less recreation – though there are a slew of basketball courts.
The most particular thing that hit me is the different attitude that students have compared to the older Chinese people. And, by older, I mean 8-15 years their elder. They are much more western, are more confident and do not stare at white people nearly as much. I suppose all of these things are good things, but there is still a much more hesitant and rigid behavior pattern compared to a western campus.
On my first day, at about 5:30, A recording started blaring from the loud speakers all over campus. When I asked what was being said, I was told that it was Hu Jintao speaking about the 60th anniversary of Chinese victory over Japanese Imperialism. For the past little while, the Chinese television channels have been dominated by fiction, non-fiction, and partly factual shows about China under Japanese rule. The most curious thing is that they strongly maintain that China was the largest contributor to the defeat of Japan and that glorious China had a little bit of help from the west, but not that much. Which, is of course, quite ridiculous. So, as this is too much nonsense to handle, a friend and I decided to go trolling. Trolling entails going on websites and blogs to work people up by posting comments to their articles. One such patriotic Chinese citizen writes articles at the China Daily (the Chinese Governments English Language Paper), we would post various comments under various pseudo-names and to say the least, it got them quite worked up.
The article and comments can be found here: http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/english/doc/2005-09/01/content_474286.htm
The point of this is that Chinese people have a real difficult time dealing with foreign criticism of their various practices and policies. I mentioned this in an earlier post but would like to develop more on the idea.
Obviously nationalism makes people put up a barrier against any foreign criticism being deemed legitimate, but in the end I believe that logical discussion can make someone change their mind. In a previous post, I had sent an email to a Chinese friend and she had replied saying that we had no right to criticize China, but after a further reply by a friend, she has agreed that she was wrong. I even sometimes find it difficult to let critcism of something I know is bad go unchecked when the subject is close to me. For example, when someone criticizes Israel, I often feel compelled to defend its various policies despite the fact that I know those policies are wrong. The point is that on many subjects I can argue both sides with a significant amount of knowledge and while I try to distance myself from emotional attachment to a subject that would interfere with rational discussion, sometimes I cannot help it. I know I am really brushing over this topic quickly, but it is just to say that there is still a large amount of rigidity in public opinion and behavior in China that will definitely impede social progress and the improvement of the Chinese society. A society that is most creative and innovative must be fundamentally open and if social thought restrictions are imposed, then they will inevitably lead to less a less creative and efficient population.
When those loud speakers start up everyday, they remind me that yes, this is still a state controlled society. Not so long ago, those very same speakers where inciting students to bang pots to disturb the birds and to destroy all things of historic China. Namely, it was over those lour speakers that the Cultural Revolution began. Until the masses realize the truth behind the mirage that is presented by the government, this country will never become the “Great Chinese Superpower” that is heralded as inevitable in all the western countries. In fact, this year, a newspaper journalist from Hong Kong was whisked away to jail when he revealed that he had been informed that his paper should not mark or mention the fifteen-year anniversary of the Tiananmen Massacre. At the entrance of the universities there is a large Mao Statue and I am really curious when they will be pulled down by angry mobs just as Lenin, Stalin, and the other dictators of the world have been.
On a lighter note, my buddy Matthew Finn is arriving tomorrow. He is flying with Air Canada and already, 10 hours before departure, his flight had been delayed 4 hours! You know, it is really hard to see why Air Canada does not do well. I think Robert Milton (Air Canada CEO) should be nominated for best CEO ever. Matt and I are off to south china next week for a couple weeks of traveling and sightseeing. We were going to go to Tibet but I have spent all my money on bars and woman and can’t afford to go anymore. Oh well, South China next week and Burma in December, not too bad. Tibet has too many tourists anyways. Will definitely go to Bhutan soon, the most intact ancient culture remaining in the world, but that is really expensive.