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Student Response: What does it mean to be Chinese?

November 3, 2010

I asked my students to do a freewrite, and then revise it for a second draft.  I was really impressed with some of their essays.  I give them several topics from which to choose because  it’s often difficult for them to understand what some of my prompts mean.  For example, they had no idea what to make of this question of identity: “how do you identify yourself?  As a Nanning person?  As a Cantonese person?  As an Asian person?  As a southern Chinese person?”  It really is a silly question now that I think about it, but more importantly it is based in the perspective of someone who lives in a diverse, metropolitan city where there are all different sorts of people all over the place.  In a place like Seattle, people draw on different bases of identity depending on the situation.  This phenomenon is not so applicable here though.

Anyway, one of the other questions was, “what does it mean to be Chinese? What does it mean to be from Southern China?“   Most students didn’t understand this question either, but a few of the ambitious ones replied with some interesting responses.  Here is the most interesting one. Notice that I left the students errors uncorrected. I believe this may give some idea of how tough it is to learn English, particularly from a Chinese perspective.

It means that you are in a large country with the largest population in the world. You have to learn how to deal with the problems caused by this. You have to tolerate being misunderstood by many Western people. It means that when you try to fight or argue with Japanese or South Korea, the government will shut your mouth up. When you hate the government or the party, you can’t do anything. You just keep complaining about this until you die. China is far from a developed country. The whole society is so complicated that sometimes you can’t understand it. As the country changing, you’re changing, your life is changing, every day and night. Also, when you are Chinese, you’re able to learn and understand the old and charming Chinese language. However, in my university, many students, including me, can’t study Chinese anymore because of the time conflict. As Chinese, you can always feel the warm love from your family and friends. I love this country, but not this government.

To be from Southern China means that you are not as strong as those in Northern China. You don’t have to wear a lot of cloth all day. You enjoy summer. China is a large country. The development isn’t balanced. To be in Guangxi, you and the cities may be poorer. Besides, you eat rice everyday, which George¹ is afraid of and oversensitive² about.

As Chinese, you will really enjoy the internet, You will find that all the creative and talented Chinese exist on the internet. You will learn the meaning of freedom of speech etc.

¹George is the name of another English teacher, who complains about the lack of unprocessed grains in China.

²Oversensitive is a vocabulary word that, as I take it, the student is using in a tongue-in-cheek manner.

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