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Chinese are like people everywhere

By David G. Hennessey | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2012-03-09 09:43

China Daily website is inviting foreigner readers to share your China Story! and here are some points that we hope will help contributors:

Chinese citizens are like most people, different in many ways and yet similar. They also represent every viewpoint, and yet we as Americans tend to label them all as "those Chinese".

For instance, upon arriving in Tianjin for my first year to teach, I went through the usual cultural shock. In order to combat this and to get outside myself I wandered onto the empty campus where I was to teach and sat next to a lake, pondering on what I should do. Of course it was not long before a couple of young men approached and spoke to me in broken English. They wanted to know who I was, where I came from and such things. Obviously my western look had stood out among so many Chinese.

David G. Hennessey [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]

I answered where I was from and that I had just arrived on their native soil. In reply their eyes lit up and they immediately offered to show me around. For the next day or so I was escorted around the city of Tianjin and saw many wonderful sights. One of the boys even took me to his home for a family dinner during their national celebration. I was in heaven. For that week I was the guest or concern of these two boys.

That was my introduction to China. As a result I imagined that all or most Chinese people were kind, considerate, obliging and respectful to new foreigners. And my view has remained such to some extent.

The next event that profoundly affected me was to be invited during the 60th Anniversary of the New China to Beijing, to the Great Hall of the People, to meet with some very distinguished dignitaries from the Chinese government. We had a wonderful dinner, a great speech and I felt like I was rubbing shoulders with royalty as I wandered around the spacious hall, taking in the sites and feeling totally amazed at the warm reception the Chinese people were giving to me, along with others. I could barely contain my heart-felt love and warmth for the Chinese people.

Soon thereafter, some things began to change. While riding bicycles along a street, two students and I witnessed a large cement truck turn a crowded street corner and run over a man on a bicycle. The truck stopped as soon as he hit the man, but he stopped with his tire right on top of him, while the man lay underneath screaming for help. His bicycle was also under the other tire. I was shocked and started to run towards the man when I suddenly stopped. I recalled hearing that if a foreigner helped someone in trouble and the person died the foreigner might be held responsible. I also thought of how I would explain to the police what had happened? My Chinese language only included a few basic words. I noticed the quickly gathering crowd of onlookers who surrounded the man, and watched, but not one person lifted a finger to help. My two friends called the police on their mobile phones while I waited for someone to help him. No one did. Within 12-15 minutes a police car came, but still no one helped this man. By then he was either unconscious or dead.

My two friends sat down and I tried to help them feel better. They were upset and said this is what Chinese people do now. They explained that because of lawsuits many people are afraid to help people in trouble. I understood why they said this, but it didn't make me feel better. And I wondered how such a caring society who treated me so warmly and wonderful could also have a dark side where fear and reprisal governed their actions. It was a huge contrast.

I still have a great love for the Chinese people. They, for the most part, are warm and friendly, and allow me, a foreigner, to live amongst them. They laugh with me, joke with me, cry with me and love with me. They treat me well and I feel like I am a true friend and brother to many. I also understand that they and their country-men, like me and mine, have challenges and things that need to be changed. None of us are perfect. Yet, I can overlook the negative things I see as they overlook the negative things they see in me or my country, and we can be equal in our desire to grow, to raise good families, to contribute where we can to a world of diversity. And together, if we all try really hard, we can improve our relationships for a brighter future.

The author is from the US and has been living in China for the past three years. He taught for two years at Tianjin University in Tianjin, China and now teaches in the Guangdong University of Foreign Studies in Guangzhou. He is the author of two young adult books and is working on more.

The opinions expressed do not represent the views of the China Daily website.

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