China Summer Fellow 2016
From an American perspective, conversations about race, ethnicity, and identity are increasingly common. However, in China, these conversations happen at very small scales. Almost the entire country shares the same ethnic heritage, and there is no adequate translation of “identity” be it personal or social. But at NYU Shanghai, there is a growing awareness of issues of social justice that I believe is moving the student body in a positive direction.
I spoke with a few friends about their experiences outside of China and how things changed when they returned home. Below, I have included important highlights from my conversations with three of them as well as paraphrasing of their original responses in Chinese.
Jack is an undergraduate student in New York who was raised in Inner Mongolia and later moved to Shanghai for high school. He believed that there is often a prejudice against students who study away or leave China, because much of the older generation views it as an attempt for young people to escape the Chinese gaokao–higher education entrance exam. But he finds that more and more young people see the advantage of going abroad, which he says it true from his personal experience. After only one year abroad, his understanding of himself and his personal identity has deepened, and when he thinks of himself in comparison to his Chinese peers, he finds that his mindset is more open and he thinks at larger scales than before.
Chris is a Shanghainese student at NYU Shanghai who spent the last year studying at NYU Tel Aviv. Chris feels that after returning to Shanghai, many Chinese think that his behavior and his actions don’t agree with what is expected of him, and if he doesn’t act according to Chinese standards, he might be accused of becoming too “Western” or too obsessed with Western culture. Speaking from his experience abroad, he thought that while at home he only represents his school and his family, but while in Tel Aviv, he represented all of China and his people.
July is a Hangzhounese student at NYU Shanghai who studied away in New York City and Madrid last year. When talking about the prejudice that Chinese students who study away face at home, she said that she often hears that she must be wealthy or not have good enough grades if she wants to study abroad. Other times she hears, why haven’t you brought back a foreign boyfriend after being away for so long? While abroad in Madrid, she felt like many people were unaware of Chinese culture and society, so she represented “China” and as a result she paid more attention to her behavior and actions.
Years ago, Chinese people who left China were looked down upon and persecuted. Over time they came to be highly respected, and now are so prominent in Chinese society that they are almost common-place. There are many misconceptions that the outside world has regarding China, and to be fair, China has many misconceptions about the outside world as well. But in a globalizing society, we see more and more connections being built across borders and divisive lines, and our perceptions of one another are changing in turn. The experiences of these three young people are just a few perspectives on this social change, but I feel that they show the impact that is already occurring.