By Matt Cutugno
Indio, CA, USA
I’ll be leaving for China in a few days, travelling to a province that I’ve never been to before. I’ll be working at a private foreign language school, teaching English. During my previous trips to Zhōngguó, I’ve never felt less than welcomed. My students have invariably been willing and eager to learn, and many Chinese are genuinely curious about Americans, and friendly toward them. One of the challenges for any Měiguórén is to convince the Chinese that we are not what they might expect given the impression our globally popular culture makes. Many Americans are not fans of fast food, the NBA, or Dancing with the Stars.
Taizhou is a city on the coast of Zhejiang province, facing the East China Sea and the Pacific Ocean. Located 190 miles south of Shanghai, this mountainous area was historically relatively inaccessible. I’m looking forward to exploring both its topographies and its people. And naturally, it’s a great opportunity to use my slowly improving Mandarin.
I was planning on teaching in Beijing, but then the “100-day crackdown” happened. Under the “100-day crackdown” any foreigner found in Beijing to be working without proper papers would be unceremoniously escorted to the airport and sent home. It is my understanding that locals were encouraged to report those suspected of disobeying Chinese law.
This all speaks to a larger issue, and that is the rising tension throughout China between foreigners and natives. Nowadays, there are more westerners than ever before, and while Chinese are welcoming enough, they have become more suspicious of the motives of strangers. Do we want to take jobs from them? Do we desire their women? Is our goal to make them more like us?
It’s a far cry from the Cuban Missile Crisis, but it’s not a good time for U.S./Sino relations. That’s too bad because both great countries can learn from each other. Historically and culturally, we have more things in common than we now acknowledge and appreciate.
In my opinion, one of the precipitators of tension is the U.S. State Department, which seems to have a mania for offering help where none is asked for. For example, we recently came to the “rescue” of Chen Guangcheng, a blind dissident lawyer who had been under house arrest in China. We intervened diplomatically, pressured China, and now Mr. Chen and his entire family have been brought to the U.S.
Guangcheng himself will be living in an apartment at New York University where he will serve as a fellow at the School of Law. It’s interesting to note that Mr. Chen is a self-taught lawyer with no formal law degree and does not speak English. I predict law school will be difficult. Our interest in him seems to be based on “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” school of logic. I don’t see the value of such diplomacy, and neither do the Chinese.
So in a few days, I will be another foreigner in Taizhou. I’ll be meeting people, working, and probably answering both innocent questions about American reality television and pointed ones about why we interfere trivially in another country’s affairs.
While in Zhejiang Province, I also hope to visit the mile-long Linhai Jiangnan Ancient Great Wall, the only Great Wall in southern China.
That will be irony, when what is needed between the U.S. and China are bridges.