Coming to China was for me a real leap in the unknown. I had no idea what to expect before my arrival, but at the end this semester was a complete discovery and I am very glad I had to opportunity to spend some time in China.
China is the most populated country on earth, the chinese population represents almost 20% of the world population and still, in the Western world we know almost nothing about China expect for clichés and stereotypes. Living in China is really about discovering a whole new world. I would even say that in the Western world, Europe and America, we tend to think that our way of life and thinking is the “right way”, the “most common way”. But it’s not! Discovering China made me realize that we are not the center of the world, we are not even the most numerous! China has a huge history, with a strong culture and society that developped itself away from the Western influence,with its own values and norms. Sure, its governement and policies towards the rest of the world can be discussed, but I think we should be more respectfull and less judgemental with this huge and impressive country and population without forgetting that 2 human beings out of 10 are actually chinese.
One of the things that surprised me the most was the impression to be a stranger as a white person. In the subway, in the street, everywhere people will stare at me. One day, when I was walking in the street with chinese friends in a small city south of Shanghai, two children stared at me and said “stranger, stranger!!” in chinese. I was really shoked! The truth is that China has opened to the rest of the world just recently, chinese people aren’t used to see foreigners in their country, especially away from Shanghai which is more an international city. I don’t think we can qualifie this attitude as racism, it’s more curiosity and astonishment. The chinese are actually very nice to foreigners : in my neighbourhood, my boyfriend and I were welcomed warmly with big smiles, same in my internships company. It is still a strange feeling for me, since I have never been confronted to this impression of being a “stranger”, I can now understand how uncomfortable it feels.
Another thing which is amazing to whitness in Shanghai is how fast the country and the economy are growing. Since 20 years, China has a growth of almost 20% every year. Building continues to grow from the ground like trees everywhere! The city is in always getting bigger and higher, there is still a lot of construction sites. Thanks to the incredible growth, a part of the population is now very wealthy. Those chinese wealthy families have a very lavish lifestyle and like to show it! Fancy clothes, fancy cars… everything is measurless. But on the other hand, most of the population remains poor. The gap between the richest and the poorest is still important in China, even if the middle class is growing very fast.
I was surprised by the censorship as well. I knew Facebook and Google were unauthorized in China, but I guess I actually didn’t realize I would have to give up Gmail, Google maps, Whatsapp, Instagram ect… Though it is easy for foreigners to get a VPN to avoid this limitation. My vision of this censorship changes when I was in China. Indeed, the information censorship may deprive the liberty of information of the population, but having no access to Google or Youtube, the Chinese developped their own network and platform, their Google equivalent is Baidu, Youtube is Youku, Facebook is QQ, Whatsapp is Wechat… I guess this protectionism encouraged the chinese to create their networks, more adapted to the Chinese, without succumbing to the american Google. In France, maybe if Youtube was restraint, a better job would have been done about Dailymotion…. (nb: I am not, in anyway, encouraging censorship).
I am very glad I discovered China, this year abroad was amazing, an opportunity to discover new countries, cultures, population.. I feel very lucky and thankful. I will never forget this Chinese experience. Maybe I'll come back one day, there are still many things I'd like to see in China!