When You Leave China, Don’t Lose Face for Your Country

2017-01-02 13:51:12

An influx of young, twenty-somethings from China arrive in the UK to study, and for many it may have been their first time leaving home. Last year alone, in the UK there were 87,895 Chinese undergraduate and postgraduate students - a 5% increase from the previous year.

Having a Western university education is a prerequisite for many aspirational middle-class children in China to get ahead in the world of work. It’s viewed as prestigious and as one of the best in the world, and offers social capital. The opportunity to meet people across the world, attend talks from the world’s best researchers broadens their outlook and is moulding this new generation of China.

From an outsider’s perspective, Chinese students tend to stick together like glue – speaking Mandarin, going to karaoke, eating Chinese food. This is most often the stereotype, but what are the experiences of the tens of thousands that come to this foreign and rainy country, Britain? We posed this question on a competition run on our sister WeChat channel, UK Zone and we received a good mix of interesting responses. The winner, Ash, a second year student at The University of Nottingham tells us:

Once you leave, you represent the whole nation of 1.3 billion people:

My parents kept telling me about my behaviour: do everything properly; don’t “lose face” of your country. I was scared, was terrified even, for not being polite enough and humiliating myself in front of the posh British people. So when I finally got here and prepared for every possible situation, it turned out to be very different from what I believed. I can eat with spoon if I want in the university hall - no-one would judge you even if you bring your own chopsticks. Not only can I walk super-fast, but also run if I’m going to be late for the lecture — everyone does that okay? As for talking, I can speak freely with my bizarre Chinese accent since I’ve found out I’m not the only one with a funny accent — salute the northerners!

The perception of Britain is largely derived from classic dramas and literature, it is made up of the outdated and romantic; it is a land of well-to-do stiff English people who have afternoon tea and speak with a posh accent.

Ash tells us she first associated the word posh when she thought of British people.

[They are] so elegant, always, superior, and constantly luminous in front of the public. It was like in Pride and Prejudice where Mr. Darcy led his stylish and proud way up to the upper class. That was exactly what I thought life was like in the UK. I had to be extra cautious since I thought I was going to meet people like Mr. Darcy and his aunt Lady Catherine. I thought I was supposed to eat like a lady — learn how to use knife and folk, walk like a lady - never in a hurry, and talk… well, couldn’t really do that, but I was trying.

Runners-up from the competition also submitted entries of their UK experience.

British weather is notorious across the world for being awful.

One day, it started to rain when I was shopping with my friend. We were told that raining here is usually intermittent and stops sooner than we know, so we decided to take shelter in a bookstore nearby. We were browsing in the kids’ section: the first 20 minutes had passed, we finished 6 world maps; another 20 minutes had passed, we finished several fairy tale books… One hour had passed and there was no sign of rain stopping, hungry and tired, we decided to buy an umbrella and go to Chinatown to have dinner.

When we walked on the street happily carrying our newly-purchased umbrella, the rain stopped.

Why are British people so formal?

I was totally astonished when the first British friend I talked to reached out for a handshake… until later I found out it’s just a common way of greeting new friends in the UK. Back then I assumed it was some funny stereotype they had over Chinese, and I thought, even for us Chinese millennials a handshake would be too formal for everyday life. Guess the British ppl are old-fashioned in some way after all.



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