Reflections of a waiguoren
Today we share an essay by Carter McKay-Epp. This was published in the Goshen College Record last week.
Writing an article while on location during SST gives me a rare opportunity.
I have the opportunity to share a portion of my experience in China so far to an audience back in Goshen. However, I’ve learned so much here that it is hard to decide what I should share. Yet considering what words come to mind when Americans think of China – communism, pandas, “Made in” – I realize just how little we as Americans understand about the world’s number two economy.
Being here, moreover, I’ve also realized how little China understands about Americans. China is difficult to understand because of its long standing isolationism. Dating back thousands of years, China has been cut off from much of the rest of the world. Vast mountain ranges (the tallest in the world) cut China off from its western neighbors, while ocean cuts off China from neighbors to the east.
Even today, physical boundaries contribute to China’s continued isolation as immigrating and travel are often only possible through plane flights. Information wise, China is also estranged from much of the world. China’s bans on Facebook and anything owned by Google are well known, and limit much of the country’s interaction with citizens of other countries. Even inside China, there is little ethnic diversity. China is over 91 percent Han Chinese and the other over 50 ethnic groups which make up the remaining eight percent are located mostly in western China (Tibet), and in the far north (Inner Mongolia). The result is a largely culturally and ethnically uniform country, the likes of which I’ve never seen before.
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