Conversations in China

For the past few months, I’ve (Liz) been facilitating a weekly English conversation corner in the downtown business district. My students are all university-educated and in the business world – ranging from salespeople to scientists, technicians, managers, real estate developers, surgeons, and more. Every week we have a specific business-oriented topic to discuss, like ‘using computers’ or ‘attending a meeting.’ Then, we have a free hour to discuss whatever we like.

During this hour, the topic almost inevitably turns to cultural differences and opinions about a range of interesting topics. We’ve discussed discrimination in the workplace, gun control, capital punishment, presidential elections, freedom, terrorism, the United States’ reasons for interfering (or ‘meddling’ is more properly the Chinese word my students are accustomed to using!) in other countries’ matters, war, crime, Tibet, marriage, dating, amongst others. It’s been a rare and wonderful opportunity for me to hear many different opinions and ideas about a very broad range of subjects from a group of well-educated Chinese.

There have been a few particularly interesting moments. I plan to write more about these conversations as I have a bit more time to blog in the coming weeks. But for now, I’ll tell you about today’s conversation regarding Tibet. So, word has it that the French president is going to meet with the Dalai Lama. This has angered the Chinese government. My students think that the French president is recognizing the Dalai Lama as a legitimate leader of China, and therefore is insulting the true Chinese government. They also believe that the Dalai Lama himself incited his followers to violently attack the government last March, and they think he is a very bad person. Further, they believe that the Tibetans and the Dalai Lama have simply not responded to the reasonable and mild approach of the Chinese government in negotiating their differences, and are being stubborn, unappreciative, and somewhat ignorant.

I offered a few counterpoints, one of them being that some people believe that the Tibetans seek greater freedom. Since the Chinese government does not allow this, some believe the Tibetans have a right to seek better conditions. One of my students asked me, “Do you feel free here living in Nanjing? Nanjing is so safe, I would think you would feel free here. Safety is the first condition of true freedom.” It is true that Nanjing is a very safe city (very low crime, etc.), but I didn’t know how to say, ”Well, I don’t really feel free to answer that question straightforwardly; I wouldn’t in fact feel safe.” I answered by saying that for some, feeling safe does not define freedom, and many Americans feel this way. I then wrote out and explained the motto “Live Free or Die” to illustrate the idea. We had some good laughs saying it very intensely. It was a great conversation, and gave me a window into how some Chinese view Tibet.

After class I noticed that my blackboard had the following phrases written on it:

Live Free or Die

I decided to erase the board before I left, not wanting to attract any extra attention.


1 Response to “Conversations in China”

  1. 1 Chris Burgwald December 8, 2008 at 4:38 am

    You rabble-rouser, you! 🙂

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