An anecdote, a call to action, and a poem that I like.
This week, the freshman arrived on campus (much to the excitement of Dan, my fellow PiAer, who has only gotten to teach one lesson so far). They were welcomed with open arms by upperclassmen, who volunteer in surprising numbers to help the freshmen move in. Then, they were sent off to boot camp.
All freshmen entering Chinese universities participate in a short boot camp designed to educate them on national security and communicate communist party ideology. Officers are selected from among the older students to teach marching and run drills. What was once a multi-week span of constant activity, though, seems to have relaxed somewhat in recent years. I am woken every morning at 6am to the sound of two thousand feet trotting together in unison. Call-and-response shouts do echo across the central courtyard at all hours of the day. But the training will be done next week, and freshmen do have free time to get to know campus and participate in basketball tournaments (pictured below).
I can’t draw any conclusions about these changes–I’m still realizing just how much I don’t understand. From my experience so far, though, I feel like I’ve met with a society that is welcoming and fairly open. There are taboos, things you don’t really talk about except with close friends, and many have to do with the way institutions are run (including the national government). But it seems like a difference of values more than a fear of a totalitarian regime.
Everyone you ask will tell you that China is changing faster than anyone can track. This is something like America in the 50s. And it’s not just the political and socioeconomic landscapes that are shifting, it’s everyday life, it’s people. This is not the image of China that you hold in your mind. Mao still hangs over the gate, but this is a new era, and it has been for a few decades. It’s time the US caught on to that idea.
Now, most of my ideas about what’s happening here are probably wrong, or at least not quite right. It’s just a first impression. It may be valuable, though, in that it shows what was most strikingly backward about my conception of this country.
Classes are going better. Students are settling in, I’m settling in, and I have time to actually plan my lessons. We have one more full week of classes before our week-long break for national holiday. I’ll have more news about my adventures by then.
A call to action: Go out and march today at the people’s climate march. There’s almost definitely one near you, so check the list of events here. Major action needs to be taken, now, if we are to hold on to any scrap of a normal life over the next decades and centuries. So go out and make your voices heard.
If you need inspiration, watch this:
Finally, a poem that I like quite a bit, about dreams and consciousness, and realization. I don’t know just what bearing it has on the rest of this post, but it seems somehow relevant.
“Prelude,” by Thomas Traströmer. Taken from 17 Poems/The Great Enigma (translated by Robin Fulton)
Next week (?): The stories we need to tell, the ones we need to listen to