Biggest news, I’m published again! Thanks to the efforts of my beloved fam, some of you may have already seen this, but the article I wrote for Yale is finally out in their China Hands Magazine. You can find it on page 27 of the first issue here, along with a bunch of other great essays!
Oddly, as long as this has been in the works, I don’t really have a huge reaction. It’s cool, but I guess since it’s been two months since I turned in the final draft it had kind of drifted from thought. It does however represent an actual concrete academic product. My first of Fulbright! That may take a while to sink in, but at this rate, if I can get another one more related to my research published in Chinese I’ll call it a success!
On that note, the Fulbright stuff continues. This week I went down to the Shenyang consulate to give one of the Thursday night lectures they do on American culture. May is Asian-American and Pacific Islander Heritage month, so when I heard the theme I thought it was a perfect opportunity to look more into Wong Chin Foo, who I learned about a couple years ago. I still have a lot of more content for this post, so I’ll make another just about him later in the week, be sure to watch for it! For now though, all you need to know is he was one of the first Chinese people to get U.S. citizenship (1874) and was a fairly significant civil rights leader.
In addition to that talk, I was also asked to give a smaller presentation to an audience of consulate officers about my research and my perceptions of Chinese academia in general. That one was much more nerve-wracking, as I couldn’t get rid of the sneaking suspicion that all the officers knew everything I was saying and they were just humoring me. Probably not true. So I talked about my perceptions of Chinese-North Korea relations, my research as it was (didn’t have much to say there other than an explanation, I’m working on it), and China-Russian relations.
I’ll sum up the bits you all might be interested in here. First of all, based on what I read last semester, when the Chinese government says it can’t control North Korea’s nuclear program, it’s true, despite what world leaders might say. The DPRK doesn’t really listen to them anymore, and while China is starting to apply some economic pressure as the liabilities are fast outweighing the benefits of having North Korea as a sort of shield, the top levels of the government still support the regime. One of the officers in attendance who studies the nuclear situation specifically said that the sanctions aren’t having much effect, and that from China’s perspective, even a nuclear DPRK is preferable to an unstable one, so take that as you will.
Then they asked me some questions about my life in China (as some where quite new to China or the region), the makeup of the international students at my schools etc. I also shared with them this trend I’ve noticed in class. Of course, each country teaches history from its own perspective. That’s to be expected. What I’ve noticed here though, is that my professors will sometimes go on these nationalistic tangents, such as the one about India’s slums and China’s lack thereof I mentioned that I mentioned in the April 2nd post. I’m not sure how organic these are and how much they’re done out of a need to maintain one’s sense of patriotism out of insecurity, or whether they’re required. Nothing I remember happening during my high school experience though.
Either way, I was still incredibly grateful for the opportunity to share my research and give both talks. My purpose here on Fulbright while representing America is to take what I learn back to the States, and to get to share that directly with government employees who are genuinely invested in China’s well being in hopes of helping them do their jobs better was amazing. Between that and sharing American culture with a Chinese audience, I’m racking up Fulbright accomplishments!
Last little Fulbright thing, I cut my stay in Shenyang short to come back to Harbin in time for HLJU’s “International Youth Forum” where I was invited to talk either on my experience in Harbin, or One Belt One Road. Given One Belt One Road was the topic of the above article and is somewhat related to my research, I’m sure you can guess which one I picked. Between that and the consulate talk, I managed to quote both Star Wars and Spiderman in formal presentations! Feels good, man.
I talked about how One Belt One Road is an example of China becoming a world power, doing something with its vast economic might, and that some of us in the West are quite happy to see it doing this. In my opinion China has the potential to take a more active international role, leading the way on climate change, and taking a more proactive stance on world stability. China though maintains that it doesn’t interfere with domestic politics, and that’s the excuse it’s used to abstain from actively participating in the North Korean nuclear crisis among many other issues around the world. I said though that in America we have the “with great power comes great responsibility” state of mind, and that since China is becoming a world power, it has to take on the responsibility of one. I really wanted to understand the Chinese students’ views on this, and while discussion during the event was somewhat limited, I did learn a lot. First of all, many Chinese people still consider China a developing country, pointing out that on many aspects (per-capita GDP and military) they can’t be compared to America. However, if America is the standard of “world power” for those things then we’re the only one, which is silly. And untrue. So I still get the vibe that China wants to be a world power when it suits it, but dodge the greater responsibility.
Also, as far as Chinese people are concerned, the “don’t interfere with domestic politics” only covers actively opposing regimes (like the U.S. has been known to do). I’d say though that the amount of investment China is making in other countries and the amount of infrastructure being built for OBOR will undoubtedly greatly influence the domestic politics of each country, and I’d like to see the Chinese government take more accountability for that, do it responsibility. The guy from Malawi mentioned this a bit when he spoke, that China needs to do this responsibly, and needs to not simply use these countries. I was really glad he backed me up on that, cus that is one of the accusations that’s been leveled against China’s development in Africa and OBOR in general, and I think it’s important that Chinese people hear that.
As for the other direction, connecting you all with Chinese culture, these are just somethings I’ve noticed. I got asked on the train to Shenyang what the differences between the U.S. and China are (I get it a lot). Chinese people seem to expect me to say how much better America is, but out of politeness I respond that they’re actually really similar, or that they’re incomparable. And I mostly mean it. The two ones that I was reminded of were that China is really really safe in terms of petty crime. I was walking to a bar after sunset the other day, under an underpass with a lot of cars, by a gas station, it kind of reminded me of downtown Oakland near Jack London Square, and I had a realization. It was, “Wow, I would feel so incredibly unsafe if I were in America right now.” (And I probably would be). In China though, no worries at all, and I’m going to miss that when I go back to the states. Of course, the food and water are much less safe here so it’s a tradeoff.
Speaking of tradeoffs, one of the crackpot observations I’ve had about China recently is the swap of upward mobility for social security. Surprisingly, the income gap is even bigger in America than it is in China, and at the same time, the social safety net is a lot more solid here as well, although if the net is all that’s keeping you from falling down, you’re not doing very well. By that token, there are a lot of people in China that while they have a stable life, it’s real real hard and probably something no American would want. I’m talking about all the farming/low level labor. And the thing is there’s next to no upward mobility for these people in China as far as I can tell, whereas while I think the American Dream is a bit of a sham it does have the odd exception.
Lastly, another odd experience I had on the train was when I told the woman sitting next to me that I was American and she goes, “I thought Americans were black?” Which was SO freaking hilarious. Usually it’s the other way around with my black friends having to explain that, “Yes, there are black people in America, not all of us are white.” The other thing is that more and more people have been telling me that I have a Beijing accent, not a northeastern accent. I do add more r’s to my speech than the average northeasterner, but when I take a step back and look at it, I’m not sure why, as the vast majority of my time in China has been spent here, with only 6 weeks in Beijing. I’ll have to do some more investigation.
Eh, musings. This post has been a bit overly positive (and long), partly because I’m still high on the dopamine at time of writing, partly to reassure myself yet again that I’m doing things out here. Thanks as always for your indulgence and support. Pictures! I mentioned that Dumpling had kittens in March. The cafe boss decided they’re finally big enough to see customers. And they’re sooooooooooooo cute! A little fluffy too, which I will blame the fuzziness of the photos on. Lastly, I had a former classmate point out to me that I text in English like a Chinese person, i.e. I separate sentences with commas rather than periods for far longer than is grammatically acceptable. So I apologize if that slips into my blog writing.