Sunday, October 5, 2008

Fear and Loathing in Central China

Most of the classes I teach are Spoken English, so a pretty common tactic I’ve been using is to take an easy question, and then have random students answer it and explain themselves. After getting bored with hearing people explain what their favorite Chinese province is, I switched mid-week to asking about their least favorite province.

I assumed this was something people in most large countries are ready to go off about- I personally have in my pocket at all times a map with states I dislike colored in red. The great thing about that map is that I didn’t even have to make it myself; there were tons of them for free in newspapers and on the internet back in November 2004.

A lot of answers from the students were to be expected: the province next door, the one with all those jerks right over there, that one where everyone drives really poorly in that direction, etc. A few answers surprised me, though:

-One girl said Taiwan, which might win for “most unintentional comedy.” I was about to correct her and remind her that I said ‘province,’ not ‘sovereign nation which has been fully independent and managing its own affairs for 60 years,’ but a bunch of that was likely new vocabulary words and the class was about to end.

-Later, someone volunteered Xizang province. Most people outside of China refer to Xizang as Tibet. I may have to figure out if this is a common sentiment here, because if so I think we might be able to arrange for someone else to take the country off their hands. We could set the bar really high, like maybe you would have to be a Nobel Peace Prize winner. Oh, and it would help if you were revered by Tibetans and had a lifetime of experience in Tibetan issues and maybe Tibetan Buddhist studies, too. Wish I knew if such a person existed.

-Xinjiang came up a few minutes later. Again, if it’s just hanging out in the PRC bothering everyone then maybe there’s an ethnic group in Xinjiang that would maybe like to have their own country where they aren’t constantly repressed? I don’t know, just a thought.

-Inner Mongolia rounded out the conquered territory trio. If only there was an Outer Mongolia that was already independent that we could just reunite Inner Mongolia with! Ah, what a world it would be.

Sometimes this cuts both ways. Anyone watching the news last spring noticed that even after 60 years of occupation, Tibetans are still willing to risk their lives to fly the forbidden Tibetan flag and protest in the streets. A few months later, mere weeks before the Olympics, an attack in Xinjiang left a number of Han policemen dead. Some people stick with words instead of violence: at a restaurant here in Wuhan a waiter from one ethnic group or another went off about how ‘awful’ the Han Chinese are in English while we were talking. I’m willing to bet that he has a pocket map with most of the PRC colored in red.


  1. Hilarious, man. Only you would ask your class what their least favorite province is, what do you ask to follow that up, their favorite political party?

  2. you should ask who their favorite basketball player is & see how many say Yao Ming, then who their least favorite is & see how many say... um, Yao Ming

  3. then ask them whether they think their gymnasts were too young to compete in the Olympics.