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25/05/2018

Dating China

Written by Saskia

Everything seemed to be better, back in the days. Avocados were just 1 euro, the Netherlands was actually able to qualify for the World Cup and even reach the final, and China seemed less scary. Today, you only hear troubling stories about the Chinese Dragon that buys up half of Africa and isn’t particularly fussy about human rights. But what do we really know about China?

In my case: not so much. When I was young, China meant Chinese takeaway food. I used to order it from the so-called “Chinese” (a place called Mister Shi). This “Chinese” food consisted of nasi (Indonesian), satay (Malaysian), babi pangang (originally Chinese, but the pile of meat served by Mister Shi certainly wasn’t), and frikandel speciaal (???). Isn’t it weird though, that we try to summarize a country with over a billion citizens – a country that is/will become the new world power – in one takeaway restaurant?

Nowadays, I know a bit more about China, but the country remains a mystery to me. Yet we’ve had contact with this ancient society for thousands of years. I recently read an article which told that the Romans already had contact with what is now the People’s Republic of China. In fact, we’ve known the United States for a much shorter time, yet that country feels – especially with Trump – like an annoying, drunken one-night stand we bump into at the Peperstraat (not that I have any personal experience with this, but perhaps I’m someone else’s USA). Is this perhaps because the Americans have presented themselves as a world power for decades, while China only recently stepped out of its underdog position?

China is booming – literally, since fireworks were invented there – and that worries “us.” China seems to be a scary country, especially with its censorship and control over people’s (online) behavior. But is China really that different from “us?” Facebook also knows a lot about who we are, and that’s more than just lovers of videos of Yodeling Walmart kids. In China, you at least know that the government is the one spying on you.

Anyhow, that’s a discussion for another time. What I’m trying to say is that we only seem to know one side of China. That’s probably because we see the country as a threat to the present world order, but we never took the time to get to know the country itself. Its cultures, its languages, its people. Why do we learn French, German and even Russian in high school, but not Mandarin? Or why do our history books only really discuss China from the moment when the Communists took power?

Not only Chinese cuisine, but especially China itself is incredibly complex. It’s time to get to know the country. An awkward first date, when we’ve already been stalking China on Facebook for ages, but have no idea what the country really is like. Our date can take place at the Grote Markt, while drinking an overpriced Radler. And if it’s still awkward, we can always get out of there and visit good old Mister Shi.

Want to know more about the subject? Come to the lecture “Understanding Modern China” by Lulu Wang on the 31st of May, organized by SIB-Groningen and GSP. For more information, go to www.sib-groningen.nl.

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