The 2008 Summer Olympics will punctuate three decades of development and test China's global legitimacy. They've already transformed the way millions of people think and live. Seattleite and Fulbright researcher Daniel Beekman brings you Beijing.
June 30, 2008 3:27 PM
Posted by Daniel Beekman
Ethnic unrest at home and politically-charged protest abroad awakened in many Chinese people - young Chinese people, particularly - strong feelings including outrage, disillusionment, patriotism, confusion and pride.
It's been quite the Olympic spring: street violence in Lhasa, drama surrounding torch relay legs in London and Paris, 'human flesh search engines' online, student-led 'anti-CNN' and 'anti-Carrefour' movements in Beijing and Shanghai.
China's devastating May 12 earthquake, powerful as it was, failed to reach Seattle. After all, the quake hit thousands of miles away.
Those conflicts which erupted over Tibet and Beijing's 2008 Games, however, reverberated arcross the Pacific Ocean and stirred Puget Sound.
Pro-China rallies organized by Chinese and Chinese-American students at the University of Washington attracted international attention, as did the Dalai Lama's stay in Seattle. A group of students demanded their school limit the Tibetan leader's address to apolitical topics.
(Note: Click here to view a Seattle Times online video of protests against the Dalai Lama at UW April 14.)
According to the New York Times, there were more than 42,000 students from mainland China studying in the United States last year, an increase from fewer than 20,000 in 2003.
On the Pacific Rim, boasting healthy economic ties to China and a significant Chinese-immigrant population, Seattle straddles a cultural fault-line...one seperating/joining 'east' and 'west.'
Fang Fang, a Beijing native who goes by Flora overseas, knows that fault-line well. She's a first-year MBA student at the UW in Seattle, an outdoor enthusiast and a proud Chinese citizen - sorry she'll miss Beijing's first-ever Olympic Games.
Like her friends and former classmates back home, Fang has found Beijing's troubled spring hard to swallow. Unlike them, Fang wakes up every day in America. Negotiating the differences between Chinese and American society? According to Fang, challenging and rewarding.
I recently interviewed Fang about Beijing, Seattle and the 2008 Games.
How about you introduce yourself?
My Chinese name is Fang Fang. It's very simple. I like it, because I never confuse my surname and first name when filling out English forms. I turned 25 last weekend and celebrated my birthday with several friends from school on a hike.
I'm now a first-year Master's in Business Administration student at the Michael G. Foster School of Business, University of Washington. Prior to my MBA study, I worked as a tax consultant at PricewaterhouseCooper's Beijing office for two years. I did my undergrad at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing - double-majored in English and finance.
My hobbies include traveling, reading, watching movies and appreciating drama.
When, why and how did you end up at the University of Washington?
I applied to four MBA programs in 2006. All of them were on the West Coast except the University of Toronto. My mom has been to the East Coast and she doesn't like the big environment there. I researched programs based on different business school rankings and locked onto several West Coast schools. Many family friends in the United States strongly recommended the city of Seattle, and spoke highly of its beautiful landscape.
What were your initial impressions of the UW? Of Seattle? Of the U.S.?
The UW campus is awesome! It's so fun to run into squirrels and raccoons from time to time! I love the people here! Before coming to the U.S., some people warned me that I had better prepare myself - because the American people are very aggressive, quite opposite to the mild Chinese. However, I was surprised to find that the people here were super nice, including my classmates and strangers. No wonder Hollywood likes 'hero' movies. The heroic spirit is deeply rooted in American culture.
I've been to some European countries. I admire the rich history and well-preserved historical heritage there. I was a bit disappointed upon my arrival in the U.S. when it was not as clean, organized and deep with history as Europe. That said, I'm still in love with the breath-taking natural beauty in the Pacific Northwest. I have a group of friends who are enthusiastic about outdoor activities. I enjoy every adventure with them.
Fang Fang (far right) enjoys hikes in the Pacific Northwest - pictured here with friends on Mt. Ellinor.
How is Seattle different from Beijing? How is the UW different from your Chinese university?
The two cities are very different - in size, in population, in history, in culture, in geographic characteristics, in weather, in urban blue-prints, in lifestyle, in transportation infrastructure, and in economic and political functions etc.
The most impressive observation upon my arrival in Seattle? As Beijingers, we were educated from childhood that it was very important to save every drop of water. The lack of water is always a serious problem in Beijing. The government has invested a lot to build canals for water transportation from other provinces to support the capital. However, Seattle seems like a blessed city with regard to its water resources!
How are Chinese and American students different?
Differences...American students are positive and humorous. Chinese students are conservative and modest. Beijing students are talkative and good at pointing out your mistakes in a humorous way. Creativity is encouraged everywhere in the education system in the U.S. Generally speaking, American students are more creative than Chinese students. Chinese students focus more on the results while American students focus more on value created. Chinese students emphasize more on teamwork, while American students emphasize more on leadership.
My American classmates have shown a strong interest in sustainability and 'green' concepts, while in very few occassions Chinese students pay attention to these topics. It will take some time for Chinese students to catch up with our American peers in this regard.
American students are active in volunteer opportunities in the community, while there isn't such a widely held social awareness in China. As a Beijinger, I participated in many volunteer activities until high school. Our tie with the local communities loosened as we grew up.
American students are allergic to various types of food, while Chinese students are less vulnerable in terms of eating.
Similarities...prior to my MBA studies, one of the stereotypes I had for American students was that grades were not important to them. They would spend less time on study compared to Chinese students. However, I was very surprised to find that my American classmates were very diligent in their MBA study! No pain no gain. It holds for both the American students and the Chinese students.
What are a few common misperceptions about China in Seattle? What are a few common misperceptions about the U.S. in Beijing?
My American friends are too polite to tell me anything bad about China. My observations so far...different understandings regarding Taiwan and Tibet, and differences regarding human rights in China.
The top misperceptions about the U.S. in Beijing...that it's not safe in the U.S. because everybody can own a gun, that campus shootings happen frequently, that there is a 'China threat' theory in the U.S., that clothes and electronic products sold in the U.S. are not as fancy and cute as in China - that there are fewer choices.
What would you like to teach people in Seattle about China?
Don't just see what happened on the news. It's much easier to understand a different country and a different culture by seeing it yourself. It's exciting to experience a country (China) with a two-digit GDP growth rate per year.
How has Beijing changed since you were young?
It's changed A LOT! It's been modernized 100 times over since I was born. The living standard has been greatly improved every year.
I still remember the night when thte city was awarded the 2008 Olympic Games. It was the happiest and craziest night I've ever seen in Beijing. I looked down from my apartment building (about 10 minutes by foot from Tian'anmen Square), and saw people pour into the Square, waving the national flag, blowing trumpets and congratulating strangers on the street.
Since 2001, the government has invested a huge amount of money to upgrade the city's infrastructure and improve the environment. Beijing is a much more clean, beautiful, convenient and high-tech city than it was seven years ago. In addition, the government has been encouraging all Beijing citizens to learn English, facilitating better communication with foreign visitors during the Olympic Games. At the same time, there have also been many actions taken to improve the queuing problems in Beijing. People are now getting used to waiting in lines at bus/train stops!
What are some of the advantages for Beijing people of the 2008 Olympics Games? What are some of the disadvantages?
Beijing people are very proud that the 2008 Olympic Games will be held in Beijing. It will be China's debut in front of the world. People are willing to devote 100 percent enthusiasm to this big event. If not for this great opportunity, it would have taken much longer for Beijing to achieve what it has, in terms of what the city looks like and how people behave today. We appreciate the support from other cities in China, because we know that the central governmnet must have spent a big portion of the financial budget in Beijing in the past seven years.
I'm a big fan of traditional architecture and art, less so of modern buildings. I know that the Olympic stadiums are amazingly high-tech, but I doubt they fit well in the architectural heritage of Beijing. Besides, I wish that the money we've spent could be more sustainable.
How do you feel about the 2008 Olympic Games? Will you attend?
Of course I'm excited about the Olympics! I cannot make it home this summer because I need to get some internship experience in the U.S. I'm kind of sad because it looks like a once in a lifetime thing. I'm a big sports fan and I followed previous Olympic Games closely. Finally it happens at home but I'm far away! Everything has its tradeoffs. I hope missing the Olympics is worthwhile. I'd love to watch the Games on TV in my spare time.
Will the Olympics be a success?
Unfortunately, 2008 doesn't seem like a smooth year for China. Fingers crossed for the Olympics to be successful. It would be unbearable for Chinese people if anything goes wrong with the Games. The 2000 Sydney Games were my favorite so far. I hope China will do a good job as well.
Which of this year's events will most affect the 2008 Olympic Games: March’s Tibetan riots/protests, April's opposition to the Olympic torch relay in Paris or Sichuan’s recent earthquake?
All of them shadowed the 2008 Games, but on different levels. The positive side is that they bring the Chinese people together and spread the love not only all over China, but also all over the world. Although I'm not in China now, I can imagine that the Chinese people are more determined than ever to give the world the best in the Beijing Olympic Games.
Are you plugged into the UW's Chinese/Chinese-American student community?
I was all booked up with MBA studies this year. I'm planning to spend more time with the UW's Chinese/Chinese-American student community next year.
How have you experienced tensions between China and other nations over the Olympic Games, including the United States?
I've already been away from China for 9 months, and missed a lot of TV programs about how the Chinese Olympic teams are preparing. I'm guess China aims to beat the U.S. in Beijing and win first place in the gold medal rankings!
How and how often do you communicate with your family back in China? With your friends?
I'm a MSN and Skype user. We communicate every day. Frankly speaking, I don’t feel too far away from home.
How long will you stay in Seattle? In the United States?
I plan to look for a job in Seattle after my graduation in 2009. I really like the city and the people here. Not sure about long-term.
What are your long-term professional and personal plans?
My career goal post graduation is to secure a job in the corporate finance field. I like working in multi-national companies and taking on challenging projects, but I also value time with my family and my friends. If I can afford to, I want to travel to as many places as possible when I'm still young.
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