Globalization hit us in front of the Grand Opera House in Lviv when I was approached by a young Chinese student, who wanted to borrow my mobile phone. The battery of his own had gone flat and he anxiously needed to contact his date – who wouldn’t turn up.He was very talkative and told us the story of his 22 year life:
He was born as an illegal child in Nanyang, Henan Province. His mother had to hide her pregnancy because her first child had been a girl and her relatives were starting to look down on her as she hadn’t provided a son to keep up the family line. By the time Jing turned 7 his parents had made enough money with their chicken farm (presently breeding 10.000 chicken) to pay the fine and have him legalized.
Since Jing is 12 he has been living in boarding school dormitories, working his way through his learning schedule. This means: lessons from 7am until 9pm with only a few short breaks for meals. No sports, no games, no leisure time.
In his opinion this is the reason why so many Chinese wear glasses. Their eye sight is ruined by constant reading from an early age on.Naturally, I had to ask him why he had come to Lviv.
He told me that he had been a good student, so one day at noon, his teacher had told him he was selected for a prestigious scholarship for abroad. He could choose between five countries: Russia, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Serbia and Ukraine. The decision was expected at 6pm the same day. Only Jing’s problem was that he had lessons all afternoon, so there was practically no time. Also, geography was his weakest subject. About Russia he had heard that there were a lot of skin heads who didn’t like Asians – so Russia was out. Of all the other countries he only knew Ukraine – so the decision was made. He now slightly regrets that Ukrainian language and literature is his main subject, because there are not so many business contacts between China and Ukraine. Which consequently means, he will earn much less money back in China where he is aiming to get a government job. The Russian language would have offered him a better choice of jobs.I asked him about corruption at the university, because we had heard that it was a wide-spread practice to bribe teachers in order to pass exams. He was a little bit offended – thinking I suspected him of cheating. No – he had passed all his exams without ‘blackmailing’ – because he knew all the answers. This was also possible, even in Ukraine! Actually, his learning schedule here was so relaxed compared to Chinese standards and he had so much free time at hand, that he took up German as well – which seemed to be an easy language, given the fact that he knew English already (which he spoke really well!)
It was only when I asked what he thought of the intellectual level of teaching at the University in Lviv, that he began to flounder and didn’t seem to understand what I meant. I tried several times to put the question differently until he pulled out a little Chinese-German dictionary and found the word ‘intellectual’. Maybe the Chinese translation was bad – but he didn’t seem to have heard this word before. Frightened, I thought to myself: is this really happening? Do I really need to experience all the clichés to be proved right?
And I began to wonder whether my picture of China – that solely relies on ordinary media coverage – is not so far from reality, after all. A prospect I find rather disturbing.