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与中国留学生争论中国 结局耐人寻味


chinasmack 2012-02-09 14:30:58

cnstudents

在国外生活的的人应读一下海伦·高发表于《大西洋月刊》的一篇文章:《文明的冲突:一个在美国的中国留学生的困惑》。这篇文章讨论了在美国所感受到的对中国的敌意和居高临下的态度,常常让那些刚来到这个国家的中国留学生心生抵触。

我是怀着兴趣和内疚心情,读了这篇文章……因为,我曾经也攻击他们的国家,让中国留学生很不好受。

2004年,我交了第一个来自于中国大陆的朋友。在认识珍之前,我认识的在中国出生的人要么已成为第一代加拿大公民,要么也是落地移民在加拿大生活多年。相比之下,珍是一个刚刚来到的留学生,她的心还在四川,她一心想着拿到国外的工程学位后回国,为家人争光。

因为是彼此朋友的朋友,我们算是有点交情。那是在多伦多的一个周末,我们走在一起街上只有我们俩,因为再没有别人愿意冒着零下25度的严寒,只是为了几个鲜蛋挞。旅店外呼啸的暴风雪,让我们无法入睡。很快成为要好的旅伴后,我们开始分享各自家乡的故事。

珍告诉我,她的童年充满了来自父母和大家庭的爱。她讲了她的学校、她的朋友、她疼爱的男友,讲到她到美丽的九寨沟去旅游,也讲到她妈妈做的热辣辣的麻辣烫。她说她思念成都,想念这个有千万人口的城市的喧嚣。相比之下,我们这个大学城显得实在太小了。她自嘲道,当时申请加拿大的大学时,自己非常不情愿离开,所以连学校在哪里都不了解。她想在中国上大学,她说,但父母坚持要拿出积蓄让她到国外开阔视野。

对于十多岁的我来讲,珍的故事听起来不对。她描述的中国和我印象中的中国是不一样的,虽说我并没有这个国家的第一手材料或亲身经历。对我而言,中国,那个我的祖辈三代之前逃离的地方,在大量的有关文化大革命的回忆录以及讨论“三T”(译者注:指西藏、台湾和天安门)的文章中,是一个动乱的地方。我想,按理说,珍应该是渴望着离开中国,下定决心再也不回去。因为是独生子女,她的童年肯定是饱受孤独,严重的污染伤害着她的肺,承受着学业上的压力和来自于其他十多亿人的竞争。然而,她却听起来……很幸福。

那天晚上,我抛出了我对中国所有的偏见,试图让她和我争论类似天安门事件的的话题,虽说我对这些也是一知半解。她听到我这些对她的国家自以为是的指责,显得越来越激动。“中国不是这样的!”她对着我喊。她对我说,出国后,她更了解中国,但是她出生和成长的国家没有这么糟。“你为什么需要我恨中国呢?”她问。

是啊,为什么?再说,我是想让她恨吗?为什么我要试着去冒犯一个人呢?是不是我一直在强求她看到光明,我的光明?我是想要把她从我认为蒙蔽了她的童年的的迷雾中解脱出来吗?

珍那个简单的问题一直萦绕在我的耳边,我感觉我有必要向来自大陆的中国朋友提出“中国的问题”。2007年,我的一位来自上海的室友回应了我的批评,她对她的国家的忠心拥护更激起了我的回应。我确认,我当时提出了“人权”、“台湾”和“小皇帝”的问题。我们谁也没有说服谁,那天晚上我们是背对着背睡的觉。

当时,我不理解为什么中国学生因为我的言论而感到生气,我认为我说的是公平的。但是,在《大西洋月刊》上,海伦·高讲述了她和珍同样的感受。她也一样,“难以将西方媒体中所描述奥威尔式(译者注:指严格统治下而失去人性的社会)的中国和我认识的中国联系起来”,并且发现自己“出于本能地站在中国的一方,许多留美的中国学生都熟悉这种感觉”。

我在加拿大遇到的另一位中国朋友说,他“一点都不民族主义”,只是在面对那些认为非白即黑的人时,觉得必须要捍卫自己的国家。“只有那些无知的井底之蛙才会否定中国,认为中国很丑陋,”他说,“有时候我也认为中国糟糕。我们发展得太快了,这带来了非常多的问题,但我还是决定回去。我们是有缺陷,但我们并不讨厌。”

一位美国朋友争论道,高的文章中提到的“问题”并不限于在美国的中国学生。“从杰弗逊执笔起草《独立宣言》的那一刻起,我就把有关美国所犯罪恶的所有谎言排斥在外了,”他说。在像《与卡戴珊姐妹同行》的节目中,在关于伊拉克战争的问题上可以看出,在海外的美国人会经常指责他们国家做出的决定,无论他们个人是拥护或是反对这些决定。作为一个在世界舞台上强势存在的国家的公民来讲,面对他人对你的国家的看法是难以避免的。

至于我自己,我去除了那些毛时代如何如何的印象,决定亲自观察这个国家。具有讽刺意义的是,我已经在中国定居,而我的朋友珍却还在加拿大生活和工作。我们都已经远离了多伦多旅馆那个激烈争论的寒冷夜晚。今天,她对她的祖国越发不满,而我,在我的父母、亲戚和朋友面前却在为中国辩护,他们只能通过国外媒体来感受中国。

当你把头伸出井外后,你会惊讶于你的改变。

你曾经因为对一个人的国家的批判言论而刺痛过他(她)吗?你曾经在亲身经历过后对一个地方的否定看法有所改变吗?

Clashing over China with Chinese Students Abroad

by on Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Diaspora readers should take a look at Helen Gao’s “Clash of Civilizations: The Confusion of Being a Chinese Student in America,” published in The Atlantic. The article discusses the conflicted feelings of newly arrived Chinese students in the U.S. who are often unprepared for their host country’s hostile and condescending opinions on China.

I read the article with interest and a twinge of guilt… because once upon a time, I was one of those people giving Chinese students a hard time about the place they come from.

***

In 2004, I made my first friend from the People’s Republic of China. Prior to Jen, those I knew who’d been born on Chinese soil had become first-generation Canadians or were landed immigrants who’d been in the country for years. In comparison, Jen was a truly fresh-off-the-plane international student, a foreigner with her heart in Sichuan and her mind set on earning her foreign engineering degree and returning to China to make her family proud.

We were in Toronto one weekend, two vaguely-acquainted friends-of-friends who’d ended up alone together simply because no one else wanted to travel in -25°C weather for fresh egg tarts. The howling snow storm outside the hostel kept us awake that night, and with the new intimacy of travel partners, we started sharing stories of where we came from.

Jen told me about a childhood in China filled with love from her parents and extended family. She told me stories about school, her friends, her doting boyfriend, trips to beautiful Jiuzaigou, her mother’s hot and spicy malatang. She missed Chengdu, she said, and often longed for the bustle of that city of 10 million, such a contrast to our small university town. She laughed at how little she knew about her destination when applying for Canadian universities, an ignorance brought on by a strong reluctance to leave. She had wanted to go to university in China, she said, but her parents insisted on trading their savings for her broadened horizons.

To my teenage ears, Jen’s stories didn’t sound right. Her China certainly wasn’t the China I’d already formed a strong opinion on despite having no firsthand knowledge or experience of the country. China, to me, was the place my ancestors had escaped from three generations ago, a violent mess of a place I’d read about in countless Cultural Revolution memoirs and articles discussing the Three T’s. Jen should have been eager to leave China, determined never to return, I thought. Her childhood must surely have been plagued by the loneliness of being an only child, bad pollution hurting her lungs, academic pressure and the stress of competing with a billion others. Instead, she sounded… happy.

That night, I brought up all my prejudices against China, and tried to goad Jen into discussing certain topics like Tiananmen Square despite my own shaky knowledge of events. She grew increasingly agitated as she listened to my self-righteous rants against the place she called home. “China isn’t like that!” she cried. She told me she was learning more about China by being overseas, but she couldn’t see how the country in which she was born and raised could be so bad. “Why do you need me to hate China?” she asked.

Why, exactly, did I? Why was I trying to offend another? Was I trying to bully her into seeing the light, my light? Did I want to liberate her from the fog of propaganda that I assumed blinded her childhood?

Jen’s simple question rang in my ears every time I felt the need to bring up “China’s problems” with new mainland Chinese friends. In 2007, I had a roommate from Shanghai, who responded to my criticisms with a fierce loyalty to her country that only spurred me on. I’m sure “human rights,” “Taiwan” and “Little Emperors” were thrown in there somewhere. Neither of us were swayed by the other, and we went to bed with our backs to each other that night.

Back then, I didn’t understand why Chinese students would get offended by my remarks, which I thought were fair. But in her Atlantic article, Helen Gao repeats Jen’s sentiments – she, too, “had difficulty connecting the Orwellian China described in western media to the one I recognized,” and thus found herself “wrestling with an instinctive compulsion to take China’s side, a feeling not unfamiliar to many Chinese students in the States.”

Another Chinese friend I met in Canada says he’s “not nationalistic at all,” and only feels compelled to defend his country when baited by those who think in black-and-white. “Only a very ignorant frog in a well would deny China has an ugly side,” he said. “Sometimes I think China sucks. We’re developing too fast, and there are too many problems because of that, but I decided to come back. We’re flawed, not evil.”

***

An American friend argues that the “problem” discussed in Gao’s article is definitely not limited to Chinese students in the U.S. “I get the crap kicked out of me all the time for every sin committed by the United States since Jefferson set his pen to paper and began writing the Declaration of Independence,” he says. Americans abroad are often taken to task for their country’s decisions whether the individuals in question personally agree with those decisions or not, from the war in Iraq to shows like Keeping Up with the Kardashians. Dealing with outsiders’ strong opinions about your country is an unavoidable consequence of being a citizen of a country with a heavy presence on the world stage.

As for myself, I shoved aside all those Mao-era yadda-yadda memoirs of China and decided to see the country for myself. Ironically, I am the one who has settled in China, while my friend Jen is still living and working in Canada. We’ve come a long way from that cold night in a Toronto hostel when she was struggling against my negative views. Today, she’s quite critical of her home country, while I tend to defend China to my parents, relatives, and friends who’ve only been able to experience China through foreign media.

It’s amazing how popping your head out of the well can change you.

Have you ever goaded someone into a critical discussion of his/her country? Have you ever had a negative opinion of a place that was changed after experiencing it?

Christine writes about being an ethnically Chinese foreigner in China at Shanghai Shiok!

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