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Taiwan United States and China and how I almost got killed


ask_weasal
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Today I told my students to jot down three things they dislike about America. One major issue that kept coming up was Taiwan. usually my students are not interested in talking about anything they just sit there like stone statues. So....me being the man I am I decided to spice things up. I said....Taiwan should be it's own seperate country. In all honesty I don't care where Taiwan goes. It won't put food in my future children's mouths.I just did this to create a spark. The students just went hysterical and one started crying and preaching. I asked her why did she think China should have Taiwan. She said......Because Taiwan is Chinese! and I am Chinese!!! I told her to give me another reason other than the fact that she's Chinese. She said the other is because of history which she wrongly assumed(and most wrongly assume I know nothing about) I knew nothing about. She said it was a culture thing that I could never understand.

1)One thing that I find very difficult being a teacher in China is that students are not willing to open up and talk about sensitive issues. Another thing is that I always get the " You don't understand our culture so shut your mouth"

I mean this is the reason why I am here to try and understand. Why not explain the reason to me? I have all the time in the world this is why we are here aren't we? It seems like we are always limited to our devices to telling stories of dating women/men, drinking and joking in which perpetuates a bland stereotype of the naive foriegner. Information is power...and it is something that I have difficulty getting from Chinese people. Whenever I want to know something sensitive about China I have to go read a book or ask a foriegner.

2) In China I sense a huge impact of nationalism. I think it's to a point where it is just too much and it becomes something else. I remember there was one instance I read about in an article about a 1989 incident that happend in Nanjing dealing with Africans. suppsosidly some Africans that went to the university were demonstrating unfavorable behavior...i.e...dating more than one girl, loud music, rumors of rape. A fight between a Chinese security guard and a black man escaleted because of a new rule that stated blacks should sign in their chinese female guest and that these guest were only allowed to be in the lobby. A rumor got around that A Chinese was killed. It quickly escaleted into a mass riot and protest and Chinese from all over Nanjing ran the Africans out of the university towards the train station. Signs of "black devils" and "We want a pure culture" were displayed.

It seems that this is a trend in China especially when it comes to Japan(I know the history of that too)

I tried to get them to understand that this is a problem between governments. This is not a people problem. Most students have the wrong opinon about Americans as being some kind of imperialistic country. The fact is that the government is imperialistic not the people. Most Americans probaly couldn't point to Taiwan on the map if it didn't have the name placed on it. People don't care really. The Chinese got Hong Kong back but in the end does getting Hong Kong or Macao or any other place put food in your mouth? Does it fatten the average Chinese person's wallet?

Two years ago I had a Chinese girlfriend and I was job hunting in Dalian. At one of the schools that I was applying for the boss was a Taiwanese woman. Immediatly there was a strong feeling of uncomfortableness between the two. the Taiwanese woman told me that my girlfriend should wait outside which I thought was very strange at the time. This is when it is made into a people problem because of government minipulation and propagizing from all governments.

Slavery, South African Apartheid or the new problem of Immigration is a problem of the people. It effects ordinary people's (especially the poor) wallets and living conditions. The Taiwan problem doesn't. Why are the people so adament about whether they will get it back or not? It won't benefit them or us as ordinary folks at all.

Most don't seem to agree with this theory, mostly because of nationalistic pride which is very very strong in China. I think that this pride should be lessened to a small degree so that people can talk about it without attempting to kill each other over it.

In conclusion my point is don't let the government control your thinking and desires. You yourself should control what you think. When you get angry make sure you know why you are angry because I don't see this Taiwan thing benefitting any ordinary Chinese, American, Japanese or Taiwanese. It's only the rich people that win in the end if we keep this up.

Randall

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Moving to the correct forum.

Frankly your job as (I presume) an English teacher is to improve their English, not encourage discussion of 'sensitive topics'. They wouldn't do that in any other class, why expect them to do it in yours?

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Are you sure that you understand?

Here's a quick quiz.

To which nation and people do the contents of the Palace Museum in Taipei belong? Why?

What country's flag flies over Taiwan?

What country's flag was displayed on the jackets and planes of the Flying Tigers?

For which countries were the Flying Tigers flying?

Is it now as clear as mud which country is on Taiwan?

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I tried to get them to understand that this is a problem between governments. This is not a people problem.
I agree, Randall, but I think if as a teacher you address a class, you'll have a lot of trouble having sensible discussions, as you might be misinterpreted as the American who comes to China to missionize (would that be misinterpreted, in fact?).

But I experienced that when talking to friends, one on one, they would voluntarily tell me that they probably would have no problem at all befriending Japanese (or whichever other country we spoke about), that in fact it was just the government that they had a problem with.

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I think the general issue to be aware of is that the classroom in Western academia is a space in which people can intelligently discuss and analyze sensitive or controversial issues with complete freedom. This is just not the case in China. In China, the realm in which people discuss anything controversial is in private, or behind closed doors. It has sometimes amazed me how eloquently students can discuss complicated issues like Taiwan/Japanese history in their second language, but it will only happen in private.

Also, I think the Socratic method of teaching, in which the teacher questions the students and hones the logic of their arguments, simply is doomed to failure in China. Instead, the teacher is more seen in a Confucian light: a wise and learned scholar for the students to emulate, with little direct questioning. Both systems have their drawbacks.

Personally, as an English teacher, I try to avoid the sensitive issues in class, especially Taiwan. If you teach writing, you can always use other controversial issues as catalysts to form solid writing skills.

I think I understand your frustration Randall, minus the racism. I love discussing politics, literature, sociology…etc, so I was extremely disappointed and disillusioned when I first started teaching in China and these topics seemed to have no appeal. If you need “intellectual stimulation” to not go crazy, the trick is, I think, to shift all your focus towards EFL. I think reading books about problems in the classroom, language theory…etc, can really help. If you can see your teaching mainly from the student’s point of view of “how is this improving my English ability”, then I think teaching will become less frustrating.

Anyway, I hope that helps.

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Also, I think the Socratic method of teaching, in which the teacher questions the students and hones the logic of their arguments, simply is doomed to failure in China.
I've seen it work. Hehe. :wink:

As for "sensitive" topic, gougou is right. You can't expect your students to open up to you like that in public. What if there are spies?! :twisted:

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I've seen it work. Hehe.

Well, maybe with a class that has a very high degree of English competence and some prior experience with foreign teaching methods and a teacher better than me :oops: , then perhaps I could see it working out. :D

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I agree with Roddy. No offense, but it is unprofessional for a teacher to be blatantly biased on such a controversial issue in front of his/her students. In the classroom, your role is to educate, not to gain cultural/political insight from the students. It is no different in the "west". If you're seeking constructive discussions/insights about chinese culture and politics, your chinese colleagues or this forum are much more appropriate venues for you to pursue. I'm sure that everyone here will be more than happy to answer any of your inquiries.

Man, I need to post less and read more. What I wrote was already stated above heh.

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If you really wanted to impress your bosses, you should create a lesson plan allowing your students to express in English why Taiwan is an integral part of China :mrgreen:

In China, you tend to expect your teacher to be right all the time. So a teacher going off on how Taiwan should be independent would be a big shock. It really won't have helped your students view of you.

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If you want to start a lively debate among the students, you shouldn't take a stand first but just be the faciliator.

Moreover, the stand that you take is even more deviated from what US government stands for -- technically Taiwan is a part of China.

Third, the stand that you take is even deviated from what Taiwan stands -- which now is embroiled in the controversy on the "One China Principle" between the adminstrative and the legislative branches.

So what the students perceive from you is that on this issue, you are an "extremist".

And a teacher shouldn't be an extremist.

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a teacher shouldn't be an extremist

But pupils shouldn't start to cry when they hear a predictable viewpoint.

Most people I spoke with in Beijing know the true status of Taiwan (it comes up in conversation as that's where my partner is from) and just give a wry smile when they see stuff like "Taiwan province" in the newspapers. The Chinese government controls and applies censorship just for the sake of it; it should realise that its population is more indifferent than they think :)

Even my Taiwanese partner doesn't really care.

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Even my Taiwanese partner doesn't really care.

But that's the thing, Taiwan has an independence movement, there's no corresponding movement in China to give Taiwan independence.

Westerners like to think that anti Japanese feelings, and the Taiwan issue are just fuelled by Communist propaganda, but people really do feel that strongly. There are overseas Chinese who feel just as strongly about those issues, and they haven't been exposed to the government line.

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Pupils cry on various reasons. And I guess they are most likely Middle or High School kids who are very emotional. They may cry after watching soap opera.

IMO teachers should not talk politics (not history) with Middle or High School students. Because most likely the teachers have already taken a stand on the issue and the information (also likely biased) that he acquires is more than what those pupils have got.

If anyone wants to talk politics, he should discuss with a college student or an adult.

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Listen....

This is an oral English language class. Our goal is to teach them how to speak but most of the time if you are to assist in the English language you have to give them some kind of motivation. My school gives me a 200 page small black and white oral English book that seems like its about 20 years old with that ol' A and B dialougue.....The students despise this and there was many a times where I have tried to teach them out of this book with no avail. If I want to get any copies of something I have to pay for it out of my own pocket. What devices are we left with?

A board..

An Eraser..

And intellectual stimuli..

I've always noticed that foriegners learn curse, words of feeling and argument words very quickly.

I've always thought that when you learn how to argue in a language it is the quickest way to learn the language.

In this class on Taiwan I didn't take sides. I don't care that Taiwan should be independent and I also don't care that Taiwan should be apart of China and that's how most Americans feel. My point was that this is not a problem that ordinary people should toil over or catch feelings over because nothing will be gained in the long run. Of course the problem with Japan is a People and Gorvernment problem.

In the opinon of the students, the students believe that Americans like myself agree that Taiwan should be independant when most don't care. I said what i said because I was playing devil's advocate and it back-fired. I am supposed to be a cultural expert and in my culture thats how we learn sometimes by arguing constructively. I do agree that perhaps I was wrong in this approach. I never considered my self a professional teacher this is simply trial and error over here in China. I refuse to call myself a teacher....on the certificate we are called Foriegn Experts(which I am not either). Those of us who think we are foriegn teachers lets not fool ourselves because we will be quickly reminded that we are not when we head back to or respective countries. Now if you want to say Randall...you should be teaching them how to speak....most of them will fall asleep.....you know what most students want to hear and talk about....girlfriends/handsome people/jokes/and how great China is. I mean thats basically the limitations of our topics. Movies...ha my school doesn't even have these type of facilities....History...History is politics so history is bad. So i guess I'll stick to Tom Cruise for now on. I am absolutely going nuts because I am unable to speak a smigit of something intellectual because it always floats into that topic of politics. Well i had fun with it that day and I learned a lot.

Randall

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Ask_weasal:

I apologize because I was misled by adrianlondon when she mentioned that the pupils were crying.

Of course, I have no objection against you discussing politics with college students (but I also agree with another poster that classroom is not the proper arena).

I guess that some students cried because most likely they could not express their ideas thoroughly in the debate owing to their limited English proficiency. Maybe you should try talking with them in Mandarin on this subject.

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Playing devil's advocate about Taiwan in a college class is only marginally less daft than doing so in a middle school class. There are any number of topics actually relevant to student's lives (one child policy, the job market, rules on dating / relationships for college students, responsibilities towards elderly parents) where you can set up debates which will work as well as can be expected in the kind of class you describe. Jumping in on Taiwan, even in desperation, is not likely to succeed.

But frankly, teaching oral English to that kind of class is thankless at best. Do as much as you can and enjoy the rest of your time here. That's about as much as you can do.

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I had bad experiences talking with Chinese about Taiwan, they are too sensitive about. I prefer not to talk about it any more. I think they too (Taiwanese, in their majority) also want to rejoin China but on their terms or (probably) want to see China changed first.

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In my first job, I was thrown into 9 classrooms of 63 students. The Dean of the English Dept. only gave me this useful piece of advice, "The students are shy. Get them to open their mouths." The students weren’t sorted by ability, so some were close to fluent, while others had no communicative skills whatsoever. We had no access to a copier. No DVD’s. We had to buy our own stereos and tapes. We used the provocatively titled book Oral Workshop: Reproduction, which prepares the kids to speak fluent 1940’s American slang. Classes were once a week, two hours long. Hehe.

http://www.dangdang.com/product_detail/product_detail.asp?product_id=8707922

Don’t worry Randall! You’re not alone!

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