Blogs // Rob Williams

How far back do you go?

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I went to a presentation from one of my students not too long ago. It was about the perceptions. Where does the western mythology about China come from and is it justified? Clearly not.  But what was interesting was the view put forward that all many people really know about China dates from the Cultural Revolution. We know Mao, Tiananmen Square 1989 and the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics.  We lap up the notion that China has become the factory of the world, that China’s growth is to be both admired and mistrusted. 

But what happened before the People’s Republic? Have we heard of what is sometimes called ‘the hundred years of humiliation’ when large parts of China were effectively controlled by foreign powers? Do we know what actually happened at the Boxer Rebellion? Do we know about what happened in Nanking? Do we know about how opium became so popular and what the West’s role in this might have been?

Is it not surprising then that mistrust can exist on both sides?
For me this was not only a lesson in history, but also a lesson in the importance of history and in cultural understanding. In the relatively short-termist West, we may go back to the Second World War when we think of past events that still have resonance today. In China, my student told me, resonance goes back much further. Something we need to bear in mind when we consider the reactions to western reporting and to the west’s apparent desire to set up not only factories, but also to export its value system abroad.

Rob Williams

Rob is a principal lecturer in the Department of Modern and Applied Languages at the University of Westminster in London, where he runs an MA in International Liaison and Communication. He has visited China on a number of occasions and has worked with students from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs among others on the MA. He is also President of the ICC International Language Association, an NGO dedicated to enhancing the teaching and learning of languages to adults and in professional environments. His passions are travel, talking to people from everywhere in the world and making music.