A Tsinghua class on Taiwan

I’m back in Beijing after a spot of travelling, returning to a neglected blog and an overflowing tankard of new Chinese words to cram. As I begin to sip at the meniscus (oooh, get you with your fancy metaphor), here are two posts from classes I audited in China’s top two universities, where students are glugging diligently at their own studies.


On a wednesday afternoon, international relations students at Tsinghua take diplomacy class with teacher He (for it is he). A friend suggested I listen in on one of these, as in the past, teacher He has “shown pictures of him wearing a slightly risque Japanese robe, an animated depiction of China as a rooster eating Japan as a caterpillar, and him standing with a bunch of African girls in their native dress”. He sounds interesting.

No ‘slightly risque’ pictures this time, but a lot of holiday snaps. Teacher He clicked through pictures of his various trips to Taiwan, eating local snacks and admiring the view of the sea, while introducing various basic facts. There was even  a picture of him as a kid. And one of the Dalai Lama’s recent trip to Taiwan – the first time I have seen a public image of this personae-non-grata in China outside of ethnically Tibetan areas.

But most of the slides were packed with statistics, and I now get what Chinese friends mean by the ‘powerpoint’ style of teaching in Chinese universities – Tony often complains about this tendency to batter students with slides and facts without going into much detail on any one aspect. After this time spent in just such a class, I don’t doubt it.

As to what He was saying (the teacher, not God*), none of the content struck me as surprising or controversial – more boring than anything else. Here are a couple of the interesting moments I’ll pick out (NB at my Chinese level, a lot of the vocabulary was over my head and I was probably frowning in incomprehension at the most interesting bits):

  • teacher He tells the class how we must “love and respect” Taiwan for both their ancient culture and achievements, and their modern “economy, democracy, and system of law”. He delivers this as if the norm for his students would be not respecting Taiwan.
  • He relates an anectode when talking with a Taiwan resident, who tells him “I’m Taiwanese, you’re Chinese”. His response: “are we not both Chinese?” The way he says this – as a parent would to a child - gets a short laugh from the front of class.

While I’m listening to this, my attention is distracted by an intermittant tapping noise to my right. I look over. A grumpy-looking girl sitting next to me right at the back of class has her laptop open, and is online keeping up two QQ conversations (like MSN chat), writing a long email, and starting the homework essay teacher He set at the start of class:

Oh, and if you’re wondering what a giant missile is doing on the projection screen, Teacher He is about to explain the military build up of Chinese missiles aimed at Taiwan should a conflict arise. His next slide?

Not a blink from any of the Chinese students as this slide pops up, while my US friend and I exchange a raised eyebrow or two. This projection of a Chinese military strike, the class was assured, was made in Taiwan.

*apologies for excessive punning and any pronoun confusion

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