I was given a pile of swag that the students receive when they arrive – a pin badge, stickers, notebooks, magazines, a flask, wash bag, etc. I’d seen most of this stuff before, but it was interesting to take a closer look.
One complaint that I’ve heard from a few foreign teachers is that we are almost totally airbrushed out of existence in the camp’s promotional materials. The Chinese teachers are treated like stars, with full-page pictures, biographies and endless group photos printed in the magazine. Some of them start to believe the hype and behave like mini-celebs. On the other hand, foreign teachers barely appear in any written materials and are mostly absent from the camp video that is produced each week and shown at the end of camp party. The picture above, about an inch tall, is the only image of me, and one of the few of any foreign teacher in the camp magazine.
I’ll be honest, I don’t want my photograph published. Not at all. But it would be nice to feel that you were considered important enough to appear alongside the Chinese staff.
As well as full-page bios of the Chinese teachers, the notebook includes some suggested reading – quotations from various texts. Most are typical ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul’, never give up, always be true to yourself platitudes. But one stood out as a particularly bizarre choice for 12-14 year olds. I found the full text on the internet, and you can see part of it in the picture above.
If there’s one thing that Chinese teenagers don’t need more of, it’s this kind of extreme nationalist, black and white, us versus them, victim complex nonsense. They get more than enough of it on the internet, in the media, at home and at school. At the camp, which is billed as being a place where students can learn to appreciate foreign cultures, this kind of rabble rousing stupidity seems totally out-of-place.
Apparently, the poem was written by a university student under the pen name ‘A Silent, Silent Chinese’ and became a viral internet hit. It illustrates the patterns of thinking that make it so hard to speak to some (but, by no means, all) Chinese people about the types of issues that it raises.
First is the us and them attitude. An attitude which joins together all 1.3 billion Chinese people into a united family that, while possibly disagreeing about some issues, is more-or-less united, harmonious and able to speak with one voice. And places them in opposition with everyone else – the rest of humanity – who should be treated with at best, suspicion, and at worst, contempt. Of course, not everyone thinks like this – but it’s the kind of mindset that the poem promotes.
Another problem with the poem and it’s worldview is the way it won’t leave the past behind. I remember speaking to an intelligent university student who asked me what I thought about the execution of a British man who was convicted of drug smuggling in China. I said I disagree with the death penalty in all circumstances. He told me that he believed the man should have been executed because the British had trafficked opium into China. But that ended over a century ago! The past can never be left in the past in this kind of mindset.
I’d say the poem’s inclusion is not dissimilar to a British language school including a BNP tract in its recommended reading list. And it adds to the hard-to-shake-off feeling that foreign teachers, and non-Chinese people in general, are in some way looked down upon or treated with suspicion at these camps.