Dilemma for Chinese culture to be comprehended by foreign students

February 27, 2014 5:00 pm0 commentsViews: 11

Three weeks ago, on the evening of January 31st, the Chinese Culture Association (CCA) hosted China Night, celebrating the Chinese New Year in lunar calendar with more than 200 students from MHC and the Five Colleges. Among them, the most noticeable was the large group of Chinese students: more than half of MHC’s Chinese students body showed up, according to CCA’s statistics. Some were performing on the stage in traditional dances, skit, and fashion show etc.; the others were savoring the cultural feast of authentic Chinese food; all smiled with overflowed joyfulness and pride. Hosting China Night on the eve of Chinese New Year, a day of family reunion, the CCA endeavored to bond Chinese students together and present a homelike celebration for the homesickers.

CCA was always the heart of Chinese students, not only on the China Night, but also in daily life. Chinese students hang out with CCA on movie nights, fall outings, and other various activities. In fall, my first-year friends and I went to the Meet&Greeting hosted by CCA, sharing fun personal stories and MHC experience intimately with other CCA members. Many went to the board members election. Fei Wang’16, the secretary of CCA expressed the voice of many Chinese students in CCA: “I naturally find a sense of self-aligning or reliance here, and thus hoped to be active and contribute to the largest extend to MHC’s Chinese community as a board member in CCA.” The Chinese bond not only existed in this small campus, but also was represented to the broader Chinese community. In 2013, a disasters shocked Chinese all around the world: the Ms. 7.0 earthquake in Ya’an, a city in China, caused 196 people dead, 24 missing, at least 11,826 injured with more than 968 seriously injured. Chinese citizens both inside the country and abroad shared the huge pain, and all offered as much help as possible. CCA immediately called its members to voluntarily donate their personal belongings to sell on campus, attracting lots of students and raised considerable amount of money. “At the moment when I donate the money we raised, I felt I represented the Chinese body in MHC, which, though small, can have a voice, and make a real contribution to China,” said Boyuan Ni’15, one of the co-chair of CCA.

However, despite of the tight bond among Chinese students, a sense of loneliness still haunted them for hardly being understood. Longing for being accepted and embraced by the US, CCA had strived to jump out of the cultural exclusiveness and promote Chinese culture to the general student body. Recently, CCA has pleased Chinese lovers with its bi-week Chinese movie screening featuring movies that reflect Chinese culture and social situations, including Farewell My Concubine and A World Without Thieves etc. CCA also embraced more and more board members who were from countries other than China but had impressive zeal to Chinese culture. “CCA was a great experience for me. I’ve been in CCA since my first semester in MHC. From the friends here I learned authentic Chinese culture. I always invite my American friends to CCA’s events which are really cool!” claimed Kaitlyn Chambers’15, the only board member from USA. Kaitlyn had studied Chinese since high school, and she was currently taking Chinese language and Chinese theater classes in MHC. “Learning about different culture hugely broadened my perspective. I feel blessed to understand our difference, and appreciate what we have in common.” Now, more and more people are showing an appreciation in Chinese culture. In the China night, there were dragon dance and Kung Fu performed by foreigners in South Hadley and Spring Field local teams. Among the audience were also people all over the world. “Seeing so many foreigners came to see the China Night, I was so gratifying and proud, knowing that I was not only enjoying the cultural legacy myself, but succeeded presenting to people from other countries,” said Boyuan Ni’15.

But Boyuan and the CCA were all suffering frustrations when running CCA. The primary one was the ideological dilemma: how make sense of Chinese authentic culture to foreigners? CCA’s primary standard for the cultural nights was the “authenticity”: they neither accept shows that compromised or distorted Chinese culture nor provide American Chinese cuisines. But the feedback by foreign audience was disappointing: people felt confused and exclude in the celebrations. Because of cultural gap, they were not able to understand or share the joy with Chinese students. “The Chinese culture we were presenting was based on many Chinese historical facts, people’s values, and foundational philosophies that were natural to Chinese students but foreign to students from other countries.” Boyuan signed. The script for the skit in China Night once confused the scrip writer’s American friend because in the story, a poor Chinese mother devoted money she saved her whole life to send her son study abroad and the son, who didn’t succeed in US society, took pains to please his mother even risking to lie. “Why the poor mother would rather put all of her money on her son’s college? And why the son always followed his mother’s opinion instead of being independent?” Americans would ask. This skit was based on the idea of Xiao, an idea of filial piety raised by Confucius and practiced by all the Chinese people. In China, it was taken for granted that family came the first, then personal pursuit; and children were supposed to obey to their parents. But in US, few could emphasize with this lifelong principle rooted in Chinese’s hearts. “We can change the style of shows and the flavor of Chinese cuisine to cater foreign audience, but we can’t change the spirits of Chinese culture, which is hard to be comprehend but inevitable.” said Boyuan.

What should be on the stage of China Night? What will, instead of only be seen, but truly be understood and even appreciated by students out of China? How can we really build a bridge between Chinese students and the western world? The question is still left to the CCA and every culture carrier to be solved.