Truthfully before our first week of class I did not know much about Chinese history or culture so everything we were able to cover was interesting and brand new. I have always admired other cultures, especially China’s in particular because they are one of the most powerful countries with perhaps the strongest economy. There are iconic landmarks such as the Great Wall and the Forbidden City which, like the country itself, contain a remarkable amount of history.
In the United States there is a melting pot of so many different cultures that you are able to learn about other people’s backgrounds that might be different than your own. In order to really dive into another country’s culture, I believe you need to go to that nation and meet the people. Before learning about China’s culture, I already knew they were a communist country, but being from the West I was always taught that communism is bad and will always fail. So an aspect of Chinese culture that was surprising or illuminating in the first week of class was that China has emerged as one of the strongest nations in the world with soon to be the largest economy while maintaining a socialistic approach to government. The founding father of the People’s Republic of China, Mao Zedong, would be surprised to see how many prosperous individuals China has today. The communist leader would see that there is an obvious difference in social classes thanks to the steadily embracive tenets of capitalism. Capitalism has enabled some people in China to become very rich and prosperous, when in the past wealth would be distributed from the elite, people who are better off than others, by the government to the people. This approach to business can be seen as a similarity to the culture of the U.S.
On another note, one of the biggest cultural differences that I noticed between the U.S. and China was the public bathrooms. While in the West we are used to privacy while using stalls and toilet paper when using the bathroom, in some public restrooms in China it is common to not have the privacy of a stall nor the comfort of using toilet paper. Instead Chinese people will use what appears to be something similar to a hand-held shower head as a substitute for toilet paper. While the Chinese toilets seems bizarre to Americans, there is scientific evidence that it is a much healthier and cleaner way of using the restroom. People in China have much less gastrointestinal problems such as hemorrhoids and they believe it is cleaner not to touch a toilet where countless people have sat before them. This aspect of China’s collectivist society will pose some challenges for me, not to mention the busy subway. While ancient plumbing will be different than the western style toilets I am accustom to, it is a small price to play for living in a historical city with many ancient buildings and spaces. To flourish in this ancient capital, I will have to suspend my western expectations and learn how to cope with the challenges this brings.