Why China? That’s a question I’ve gotten a lot in the past few months.
Many people decide to further their Chinese language by studying abroad in China.
So why take Chinese in the first place? That’s a better place to start. As Maarten Troost says in his hilarious book Lost on Planet China (one of the many pieces of literature that have made me question my life choices) “Chinese is the great wall of languages”. I think the chinese language can be summed up in this one comic
Chinese is scary. Troost goes on for about 5 pages explaining that Chinese is the great wall of languages because it is designed to keep foreigners out… and it does a very good job. Although I can’t blame Troost for feeling this way- trying to learn Chinese by reading “Chinese for dummies”, he does make some very good points.
1. Every word is a character, or multiple characters. Now I was under the naive impression that each character was just a little traditional chinese drawing depicting the word. FALSE. The characters look nothing like the word that they’re supposed to represent, and in all cases, the characters not only represent meaning, they also represent how to pronounce the word. To make it even better there are tens of thousands of characters and in order to be literate you need to know at least 3-4 thousand.
2. If I haven’t lost you yet, it gets better! TONES! there are four tones in the Chinese language: high pitched monotone, rising intonation, lower pitched, and falling intonation (I know I’m butchering explaining this but bear with me). So if you use the wrong tone it is a completely different word.
学习中文很难！ (Chinese is hard)
So WHY put myself through this in the first place?
I decided to take Chinese to further my cultural learning experience in China. Which takes us full circle. Why China?
I have always been interested in China. It was always China and Egypt actually. I think it was their ancient cultures that fascinated me. My mom can attest to me sitting in the living room as a child reading our encyclopedia collection… more like looking at all of the pictures, but still! I was born to be in the Elliott School (of International Affairs at George Washington University with a minor in sociocultural anthropology).
The easy explanation is that China is where the world is heading. They have the number two economy in the word, are our number two trading partners (I sense a pattern here..) and (shocker) we don’t always see eye to eye. BUT I am not, believe it or not, a political science major (I know right?-weird). While the politics of China fascinate me, it’s not the politics but the political culture that interests me. I want to know the thoughts of the every day Chinese person. How do you rationalize a culture of communism with a desire for capitalism? Do the Chinese WANT democracy? I can only get the answers to these questions by actually going to China and asking people.
I wanted to go somewhere different. Somewhere hard. I’m fully anticipating how hard China will be. I don’t know anyone on my program and I’ve never even been to Asia before! The food (which I am VERY excited for) will probably begin to annoy my stomach at some point. My nine credit Chinese class will probably be hard… CHINA will be hard. But isn’t that why I should go?
ps: Thanks Penny and Wendy for the book recommendation. I’ve never laughed so hard/been so scared to go to a country.
Also, my apologies to the GW Chinese department should you ever find this.