Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Dinner last night

Beijing is warming up, finally. Its 15-20 degrees this week (though next week might go back down to 10 degress), so it looks like the jackets can go away and the sweatshirts can be used less often.

Yesterday 8 of us has dinner, which I want to talk about since it was interesting. There is Nico (chinese) who is very much aware of internet censorship but not of some other issues, then there is Kim (chinese) who has studied journalism but less aware of these issues and very much trustworthy of the government in most respects, then there is Dexter (chinese) who is quite western minded in knowing all the kind of stuff the government does but not caring that much. We also had me who reads about all kinds of stuff about all the bad and good things the crappy british and chinese governments are up to, then there is Leon (Chinese) who was sort of in the middle..maybe more like Dexter though, then there is Peter (Slovakian) who has not been reading that much stuff about these topics so was more quiet and 'learning'. The last 2 were Yuan and Susan, who are both Chinese and also in the 'listening and learning' mode.

The conversation was interesting because it covered censorship in China, Falun Gong, Single Child policy, cultural revolution and also the communist party (like membership fees etc). What was interesting was that from my point of view A was obvious, but from the chinese point of view (eg. Kim) B was obvious.. and then we were all talking about the middle line and discussing. So for example on the internet we all pretty much agreed, but some of us were not aware of the censorship. For Falun Gong, the conversation got most interesting since the chinese believed it was a religious sect that told its followers that suicide is a good thing. The chinese knew a lot about the case of someone setting themselves on fire in tiananmen square for example, but then also had friends who had (or still are, underground somewhat) in falun gong (now totally banned in China) and they said they knew about this 'command?' of suicide being a good thing and leading you to a better life, but just chose not to follow that 'command?'

I was under the belief that falun gong was just like meditation rather than so religious that it included instructions about death etc. My knowledgeis mostly based on western media and falun gong's protests on UK campuses against the Chinese government imprisoning Chinese practioners of falun gong. the chinese knowledge was mostly from chinese media and the few friends they knew (or friends of friends) involved in it.

Which of us is right, I have no idea. It does not bother me that much; but it is interesting how perspectives can be so different. I was though pretty adamant in creating the comparison between falun gong and islam. I don't believe every muslim wants to commit suicide, but a few fanatical and misguided people do (eg. 9/11) and so maybe falun gong is the same. Does this mean it should be banned in China though? Well the chinese know that some strange sects in USA are banned (the ones that got 60 students into a house to burn themselves up in a suicide pact if you remember) for example... and so we all used different comparisons.

The conversation was not as intense as it might sound but nonetheless it was very interesting. And the result was very much that, though AIESEC exchanges people to learn about other cultures, we don't facilitate as much discussion as we should -especially in China. Most Foreigners don't interact with young chinese people or ask them such frank questions.. or if they do, they might not get such frank replies. It's easy to live in a country and with chinese people but still not learn much about the culture or beliefs (especially if you cannot read what is in the chinese media!).

I try to talk to people more nowadays.. what did your parents tell you about the cultural revolution, for example. Interestingly, though many chinese are interested in the rest of the world, no-one ever really asks me any questions about the UK. Maybe they think they know it from the western movies, or think its 'perfect' or something. Sometimes i volunteer information (I think the UK government sucks, is ridiculously undemocratic and also checks every email we send) to encourage conversation, though i do stress that the country is a little democratic, and that most emails are read but nothing happens (unlike china where so many sites are blocked and people sending emails about rural unrest in China have been arrested).

So the lessons are.. know more about the country you are from, learn more about where you go and try to share and discuss more for yours, and others, benefit. I often hark back to the 'old times' (or so i read) where intellectuals would gather and discuss the issues of the day.. hmmm, now it seems more often than not, students just gather for a drink or a chat about the footy ;)


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