Breaking stereotypes: China

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Editor’s Note: This piece is part of a series exploring how BYU students break stereotypes about foreign cities on BYU study abroad programs. A previous story covered Jerusalem.

China has increased its popularity in the world, but some people still have an old-fashioned view on the country. Two BYU students tell their experience.

One of the first things most people think about when they hear “China” is crowded. According to the United Nations website, China is the most populated country in the world with approximately 1,360,720,000 people, and the great majority of these people lives close to the coastal area. BYU has 10 programs in China — eight study abroad programs, one internship program and one option of direct enrollment.

Eric Seamons, a junior studying Chinese, went on the Nanjing Study Abroad last fall and said he expected China to be crowded and polluted, but with lots of history.

“China is one of the dirtiest places I have been to, but it has such a wonderful culture that you get over it,” Seamons said. “Also, China has some of the best smells but some of the worst too.”

Seamons also pointed out differences in the transportation system compared to Utah. Cars are not as common as they are in the United States. The Chinese prefer taking the subway or using their bikes and motopeds.

However, even with few cars on the streets, Seamons said China is one of the most polluted places in the world. According to research he did for one of his classes, China started getting more polluted in the Mao era because of the rapid growth. He also found out why many Chinese wear masks to go out.

“There is a particle that is toxic for our bodies, so the masks keep them out because of an air filter,” Seamons said.

Sometimes at night people cannot see the stars, and Seamons said he got a sore throat when he was there.

Michael Morrise, a junior studying Chinese and who served a mission in Taiwan, said the last two weeks they were there were among the most polluted days in the last decade.

American Chinese food is very popular in the United States, but China offers a more wide variety of dishes, and it is cheaper to eat food out than to shop at a grocery store and cook at home. Some of the dishes available are steam buns filled with meat or vegetables called ‘baozi,’ roasted duck (a specialty in Nanjing) and very thick noodles. The fortune cookies served in Chinese restaurants in the U.S. do not exist there.

Another stereotype many Americans have is that Chinese people eat bugs, but Seamons said that is not common.

“The only time I ate (bugs) was in Beijing, where they had a market with really weird foods like lamb’s testicles, tarantulas, scorpions and snakes,” Seamons said.

BYU student Michael Morrise meets a Chinese girl while on a study abroad. (Photo courtesy Michael Morrise)

Seamons said Nanjing is a unique place in Chinese history because it was the capital of China for 10 dynasties. Chinese art is famous for having a lot of sceneries; many tapestries and porcelain objects are available in stores for tourists. He also said some parts of China lost some tradition because they were destroyed by the communist government.

Morrise said one of the best places he visited was the Palace of Heaven. This site is not very popular amongst tourists, but it is iconic of Beijing.

“It is like a pagoda; it is one of the coolest tourist sites in Beijing, and I’ve never heard about it before I went there,” Morrise said.

The communist government controls what people see on the Internet through a firewall that is sometimes called the “Great Firewall of China,” so Facebook, Twitter and Google are blocked. Although people are not allowed to speak out against the government, Morrise said he met some people on the streets who expressed their desires to have a capitalist, democratic country.

Seamons said he believes China is on its way to becoming capitalist because most of the businesses are not controlled by the government anymore.

One thing that is controlled is religion. Other than in Hong Kong, Mormons are not allowed to proselyte. If Chinese people come to a religious meeting, people who are part of the meeting would have to not let them in.

“We cannot give Book of Mormons out; we can let people in only if we are not going to talk about Church doctrine,” Seamons said.

Morrise said he was surprised with the Chinese people he met.

“Many Americans, when they think about Chinese people, they think about them as being brainwashed, and they are not,” Morrise said. “They are quiet and stay in the status quo because if they say something, they could get in trouble.”

Seamons said the Chinese are very helpful and are always willing to help people. They don’t get irritated like people in large American cities. They take time to help people who are lost and need instructions. Another thing he found out about was courtesy when going out with friends and paying.

“In America you usually pay for yourself, but in China it is not common,” Seamons said. “In traditional China, you basically pay if you invite.”

Seamons said some Chinese he met really appreciate American culture like some American movies, songs and sports, especially basketball.

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