China’s image abroad : first meeting

The Chinese New Year was just last week, which I had the chance to experience. I was invited to celebrate the dragon year by two people from Tiajin, in the Beijing Suburb. Xinyu Zhang, a Chinese exchange student, Di Wang, who was born in Beijing but lived in the US for 17 years, and other Chinese students had a celebration where we made and ate dumplings! It is always a good opportunity to promote the country, bring together western and Chinese culture, meet people from the “Middle Empire”, and discover more about the most populous country of the world, its traditions, and what it means to be Chinese today!

Since the opening of the country after Mao’s reign, China has impressively developed itself in many ways in only thirty years. This “new” China is good for people who want to travel. Western tourists can discover this powerful country and its historical culture! The “new” China is also a good thing for Chinese students, who want to study abroad! When I’ve asked Chinese students if they want to stay and live outside China, they reply that they are just here to acquire some experience, improved their English, and bring back home new knowledge and skills. They’re not tempted to stay far away from their family and their traditions.

The first thought for many people, including myself, about the Chinese living in a western country is that they are always together and don’t really want to integrate. We can see this in many cities like Paris, London, and New York since there is always a Chinese area (most often called “Chinatown”). This is actually a quick judgment, as Di has said to me that a lot of Chinese people try to stay together because of the culture shock and the importance of their traditions. It is also hard for them to learn a completely different language.

Chinese people are really proud and respectful about what their ancestors have left them. Spirits are very active in the Chinese culture and it’s an honour for them to keep a strong link with the family. One thing I have discovered when I’ve met Chinese students for the Spring Festival is that they are reserved people. They are always happy to share and teach you about their culture, food, and history. The Chinese students also enjoy learning about our lifestyle and what we think about them and their food! XinYu had given me some “art paper” with the prosperity symbol. I learned that if you put the symbol upside down on your door that doesn’t only mean “prosperity” but that “prosperity is arriving to you”. I carefully put the sign on my door and crossed my fingers…

In thirty years, China has opened its frontiers to globalization in the way that we can find many restaurants and shops where imported Chinese items are sold. Most of those shops are owned by Chinese who are living abroad, so globalization is a good way for food to travel and let western people discover it!  One of the bad parts of that globalization is that some people, without any knowledge of Asian food, try to open a “Chinese style take away” place and give a bad reputation to Asian cooking! Di and XinYu have told me there is a few Chinese restaurants in Dundee whose quality and taste do not compare with the traditional Chinese recipes.

Chinese people who can travel and study abroad are only from the big cities and the upper class. They are really impressed with the European lifestyle which seems to be more peaceful, calm, and quiet, even in big places like London and New York. They all describe Chinese cities to be very busy, noisy, stressful and sometimes messy! When I ask the Chinese about the very different lifestyles in China, they are all unanimous in saying: “If you travel in China, you can’t ignore the countryside! You can’t discover China only through Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong! China is more than big busy cities and you can find everything you want.”

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