SPECIAL NOTE: THIS IS CHINA…my 6th book. So why bother to write a book about China? Land of my ancestors? After spending and living in mainland China for 7 years as a visiting professor …I am privileged to experience China first hand…like sitting in the front row of a stage drama. The world is hungry for enlightenment about this once mysterious country, shrouded in secrecy. I want to take you on an exciting journey…through my American lenses! This is taken from my new book, Chapter 2…to be published early next year. I hope to whet your appetite for more. Steve November 29, 2017
So why do I bother to write a book about China? The land of my ancestors?
After living and spending seven full, fertile, and fulfilling years in China (2008-2014) as a visiting professor at Xiamen University (XMU, 2008-2010), an elite university, and a foreign expert at Xiamen University Tan Kah Kee College (TKK, 2010-2014), a renowned private college in Fujian Province, I returned home to America August 10, 2015. I did not return home to a small town in Puyallup (not far from Seattle), Washington State, to hibernate like a polar bear, or to rot away in a cocoon, but to focus on expanding my new book tentatively titled This is China, which I started writing during my final months at the Zhangzhou campus in China. Xiamen University has 3 campuses and Zhangzhou is the second oldest of the three, when I was there. In mainland China, any institution of higher learning that is associated with or designated as the 211 Project and the 985 Project by the Chinese government is considered an ivy-league school, directly administered by the Chinese Ministry of Education. In one simple word, that means Xiamen University is getting a lot of attention, support and finance from the central government to make it rich, famous and prestigious as one of the elite schools in China. That means it can afford to hire the most qualified, renowned scholars and teachers in the nation—a few foreign experts, and offer the latest facilities and amenities to implement their academic goals. That means only the best students can and may enroll in this school. Matter-of-factly, according to the Chinese government statistics, less than seven percent of all colleges and universities are considered elite schools in mainland China. This is China.
As a patriotic American, I am not ashamed to admit that many of my fellow Americans are not genuinely interested in the history nor the traditions and culture of modern China. It seems the whole world at the moment is trying to learn Chinese, one of the most difficult languages in the world today. In China it is described as Potunghua or ordinary language, not Mandarin. It is taught mainly via the Confucius Institutes (like the German Goethe Institute) located mainly in some major universities around the world. Some say most Americans are too preoccupied with other more crucial things in life…that America is the most powerful nation on planet earth and what can China offer us? Or what can we Americans benefit from China?…We have everything we need under the sun! We are the most powerful nation in the world!
I was in a barber shop in my hometown in America the other day, and the beautiful
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lady who cut my hair confessed, without any apology, that she disliked Chinese foods (she did not understand why) and that she heard a thing or two about China and that she had no time for China. She knew I am Chinese American. “I have been cutting hair for the past 17 years and I am a proud mother of 3 children, the oldest will be 16 pretty soon,” she told me. I told her to move to China (the new land of opportunities…land of milk and honey) so she could compete with all the young men—99.99 percent of barbers or hairdressers in China are men—who are busy making tons of money just cutting hair. “Remember China has 4 times more people than the United States of America,” I tried to sell her China. “About 1.39 billion people at the moment, compared to about 319 millions in USA.” She smiled. A young, stylish white woman. I almost promised to bring her a few morsels of my Chinese cooking to change her mind about authentic Chinese foods.
One holiday I had a college student with me from China—he was here to explore the University of California, Berkeley campus for possible graduate studies, and we were invited to a local junior high school. He was shocked that a few students could not show him China on the world map.
And recently while parking my car at a hotel near the SeaTac International Airport, south of Seattle, to catch a flight to Los Angeles, I talked briefly in the hotel lobby to a gentleman (looked like an open-minded, liberal thinker and a businessman in his 40s) who was a guest at the hotel about what he thought about modern China. “China? What China! I am too busy minding my own life and business.” With that the white gentleman closed the door to any further dialogue between us. He ended our chitchat abruptly. That was the beginning and the end of our conversation. Informal encounters of indifference or pure disinterestedness about modern China continue to amaze and disturb me as an American citizen myself, despite international news on TV often about China’s technological innovation or economic expansion around the globe.
In some strange ways, many Americans are abysmally ignorant of the fact China has always considered itself the center of the universe as reflected in the Chinese world map—what we would call Pacific-centered map, with the Pacific Ocean, not Atlantic, in the center—that adorns many campuses across China or in the name Zhong Guo. This is the map that would greet many junior and high school students as they enter the main lobby or hall of their schools. I doubt any one of them would have seen the common Rand McNally classic world map in America and other western countries, where China is located in the Far East. Zhong Guo, in Chinese, literally means Middle Kingdom, a name that is used in and for a country called China. And why Zhong Guo? Because it is a nation that, situated at the center of the planet earth (in the eyes of the
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Chinese and in their Pacific-centered maps), unabashedly expected foreign powers or foreign barbarians or devils (Chinese references to outsiders or foreigners) to kowtow to their Emperor with homage and gifts. China had everything, the ancient emperors would remind them, and wanted nothing from these barbarians, bringing exotic gifts of appeasement or bribery. China has every reason to be arrogant and self-centered because of its innovations and world renowned inventions, way ahead of any nation under the sun in the last few millenniums. Today, Zhong Guo is prominently on display in the center on all the Chinese world maps. And because of China’s increasing presence in the world, economically and technologically, the academia has proclaimed the 21st century as the Pacific Century since the inception of the new millennium. This is China.
In recent decades, China was known to exist in the FAR EAST in some books and maps, and in international diplomatic circles; now the new world Asia-Pacific map features the presence of modern China—an emerging economic superpower or the new dragon—in the center of the world. This is true especially since the death of Chairman Mao Zedong, the founder and father of modern China—1949-1977. And what we see on this new map—the Pacific-centered map—is the presence of the Americas and mainland China on the opposite sides of the vast Pacific Ocean; yes it was trumpeted once all roads led to Rome, now many are converging on China’s major eastern coastal flourishing and bustling cities of Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou. This is the new normal for the world. Modern China is no longer in the Far East but in the center of our consciousness and international world trade and businesses. Now everyone seems interested and vying to taste the huge economic pie that exists within modern China. And with President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative (2013), China’s tentacles of influence are reaching out to the four corners of the planet earth, far beyond Eurasia.
This is China is about my personal experiences and perspectives of modern China, the new post-Mao China of Deng Xiaoping, who, following the pragmatic wisdom of another world statesman, the former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore, opened up China to new scientific innovations and injection of large doses of western
fresh blood and ideals, thus ushering in a new era of unprecedented economic development, and expansion since the early 80s to overtake Japan as the second economic power in the world, next to the United States; many outstanding economists today predict China will overtake USA soon, not later. Ironically, China continues to deny any interest in ‘colonizing’ the rest of the world. This is China..
When writing this book, I am reminded of my favorite poem I learned to recite when I
was a senior in high school in Malaya. We were introduced to many English poems
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(Malaya was under the British then) and the one about The Blind Men and An Elephant will always stay with me. Each blind man is able to feel or touch one part of the elephant, not the whole elephant. And if anyone thinks he knows the whole elephant, he is being presumptuous and deadly wrong. This is China is only one small, minute part of the whole elephant, modern China. If you want to know the totality of modern China or the whole truth, if it is possible, you have to live in China for an extended period of time.
My ancestors hailed from China. I was born and grew up in Malaya. I was privileged to pursue advanced education in America with a scholarship and a travel grant from a foundation. I was privileged to be invited to work and teach in China for 7 years. I was a guest of China. I saw, learned, touched, experienced China first hand, like sitting in the front row seats of a stage drama, more intimate than reading a book. I was there.
China is about the size of the United States of America, but China has a long history, with many ups and downs, older and longer than USA. For some people it could take one’s whole life time to get to know China, from A to Z.
I have a simple purpose writing this book. I want to share with you what I have seen and experienced while living and working in China. I want you to embark on an exciting journey with me and experience China, vicariously, as if you were there yourself.
I am writing this book, This is China, because I want my American friends and many others—those provincial in their outlook on life and the world—to know something about modern China as it continues, openly, to spread its economic and technological influences across oceans and continents.
I hope my book, This is China, will whet your appetite to know more about the modern China and its impact on the world stage.