It has become a recurring headline in the news that China is the fastest growing country in the world, a country that is the creditor to most of the world’s debt — especially America’s. One question seems to linger in the minds of most: what are they doing different or better than us? If there was one simple answer to this question, it would be the way Chinese people live their lives, the way they dedicate their lives to being better students and workers than the rest of the word.
I have been teaching English to Chinese students for the past two years; and, during this time, I have come to realize one shocking trend: nearly every Chinese person defines their life not by the person they are, but by the job and title they have obtained. Most of the students will spend their days at the office and their evenings at home studying something that will improve their work performance. The idea of fun for fun’s sake is something they do not seem to understand or accept as an option.
The saddest thing about this mentality is the fact that it not only affects the adults but also the children. I have taught many adult students who tell me their children — as young as 6 years old — take extra classes on the weekends in order to better their chances at getting into a high-end university in the future and thus positioning themselves for a better career as adults. At the end of a lesson with a fifteen-year-old Chinese student I was asked a question by him that made me realize the reality of the situation, “Am I a bad person for wanting to play with my friends on the weekends?” I told him of course not, you are still young, you should be enjoying these moments and having fun before you grow up and the option is no longer there.. He seemed shocked by my response, but also very happy, as if he would now be allowed to have fun with friends without all the guilt he had once felt.
In another lesson with a manager of a Chinese company, I was told that he did not like foreigners working for his company. When I asked why he gave me the answer that the foreign employees are too concerned with having fun on the weekends — going to clubs, meeting new people, enjoying life — rather than spending the time to prepare for next week’s work. In his mind, work was something that didn’t stay in the office when you went home for the day, but rather something that you should concentrate on twenty four hours a day, seven days a week.
Maybe China is growing faster than other countries, maybe they have more intelligent students and harder workers — but at what cost? When we are lying there taking our last few breaths before we leave this world forever are we really going to think about our studies and jobs or about the truly meaningful and unique moments we lived outside of these areas of life? For most, studies and jobs are things we do in order to give us the opportunity to enjoy the truly important things in our life. However, in China it seems the idea is being implanted in the minds of its citizens that their studies and jobs are what define them, and spending time doing things just for fun is a complete waste.
I think many would share the opinion that they would rather die a person who enjoyed their life to the fullest and appreciated the beauty of all the little things we do for entertainment and pleasure, rather than a successful student and employee who never truly lived at all.
By Justin Vandersloot