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Welcome the new year with new resolve

By Thorsten Pattberg | China Daily | Updated: 2015-02-21 11:11

As Western media outlets continue to badger China, Chinese people are quietly proving them wrong

Everyone who has come into contact with China must probably be musing about the Spring Festival now, because it is that time of the year when more than 1 billion trips are made across the country for family reunions. Many foreigners living and working in China celebrate two "New Years" - one on Jan 1 and the other either later that month or in February.

I have completed a full zodiac circle in China. I arrived in China in 2003, the Year of the Sheep, without knowing anything about the Chinese zodiac and the importance some people attach to it. In my country, Germany, we were taught little about the East, except that it was an adversary of the West. So it was only after arriving in China that I heard the Year of the Sheep was a "weak year" full of bad luck.

Talking about the Year of the Sheep, let us digress a bit and travel to Fudan University where I majored in Russian. The university is a silent superstar, one that has no parallel in Europe. Its unofficial campus is perhaps bigger than a Parisian suburb and houses tens of thousands of students, teachers and other university employees. Life, when I first reached Fudan University, was cheap - and although my monthly stipend of $80 got me 80 meals - twice as many as the street malatang (spicy hotpot) or chaomian (fried noodles) - I still lost 7 kilograms in the first year from over-work and exhaustion. China was still not that significant as a world power.

Perhaps that's why when former US vice-president Dick Cheney spoke at the American Center, he generously promised China a back-row seat in world history. And not surprisingly, none of us imagined that China would replace the mighty US as the world's largest trading power after just one turn of the zodiac.

During the same year, some so-called China experts launched a massive anti-China campaign. It was (and still is sometimes) difficult to read many of the Western newspapers or watch Western news channels without feeling alarmed by the negativity and contempt they portray.

Not surprisingly then, a zodiac circle ago the German community in Shanghai still behaved like colonialists. Professors and businessmen who spoke favorably about China were ostracized. The German weekly newspaper Die Zeit still used Chinese names in reverse to ensure "proper" European order. And overall, the German media censored most Chinese cultural terms to keep their language clean and "pure".

In contrast, the way many Chinese students approached foreign languages at Fudan University in 2003 was mind-blowing. They were unbelievably hardworking, and masters at memorizing lessons and rote learning. After just two semesters, many Chinese students managed to commit the Concise Oxford Dictionary to their memory, could read German high literature such as Die Physiker, and recite from Russian textbooks fluently. "You are here to study, not to work," the Fudan University president once told us. That meant our lifestyle had to be spartan.

Chinese students have on several occasions proved that they are superior to most Europeans when it comes to test scores, although they may not necessarily be as creative, aggressive or assertive.

So, while some Western media outlets have been making fun of China and its people for the past many years, the latter have largely ignored their barbs and, instead, concentrated their energy on rejuvenating the Chinese nation.

The author is a German writer, linguist and cultural critic. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.


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