The MEET Market 相亲会

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Recently I had the privilege of joining our lovely tour guide, Cici, for one of her tours through Beijing’s Temple of Heaven (see our sister company, UTEC http://chinavisiontour.com/).

As we strolled around the Temple of Heaven Park, I did not expect an encounter with a ‘Meet Market’. I found out later that some Chinese people call it a 相亲会, a gathering of parents of prospective spouses.

“Look over there,” said Cici, pointing to a large crowd of a hundred or more elderly Chinese people mingling among the trees of the Temple of Heaven Park. “What do you think those people are doing over there?”

“They’re discussing something,” replied one of our tour guests.

“What are they discussing?” asked Cici.

Everyone shrugged and glanced at each other for clues.

Cici ended our suspense: “They are trying to find spouses for their children. But their children probably don’t know that their parents are here. It’s so embarrassing!”

As we wandered among the rows of elderly men and women, all sitting silently and hopefully, we glanced down at their hand-written lists. Each piece of paper contained their child’s credentials: their date of birth, home town, weight, education, occupation. Some also included the requirements of their future son or daughter-in-law: not too short, not too tall, not too thin, not too fat, must work for the government, etc. Interestingly, very few parents included a photograph of their son or daughter. Obviously that was less important. I tried not to look too closely in case someone gained false hope. One lady flagged me down and asked if I wanted a boy. Another man shouted out to get my attention, and continued to shout as I quickened my pace.

The air in this market seemed thick with anticipation. This particular generation of Chinese parents gave birth to the ‘Little Emperors’, children born under the one child policy. Now in their thirties, many of them are working too hard or enjoying life too much to want to settle down and start their own families. The desperation of their parents is written on their faces.

In Ancient China the Emperors would travel to the Temple of Heaven to ask the God of Heaven to grant them an abundant harvest. And now, in Modern China, countless parents travel daily to this same Temple of Heaven Park also in search of an abundant harvest: this time a marriage partner for their one child and, ultimately, the continuation of their family line.

Without cultural understanding, your Chinese could be useless.

Many students of Chinese recognise that learning Chinese is hard, but they are willing to put in the effort to conquer the mountain that is becoming proficient in Chinese. However, if your aim for learning Chinese is to become accepted as part of the community, your study needs to go beyond just learning how to communicate, instead extending into understanding Chinese culture, why people say what they say, do what they do, and think what they think.

Danger of ignoring culture

If you only focus on the practical side of communication, and don’t take the time to learn the culture, then the communication you do have may end up being laden with frustration, and misunderstandings. You only have to spend a little time reading the blogs of expats to get a feel for how common these misunderstandings are.

Here at our Chinese language school in Wudaokou, it is one of our goals to support all our students as they not only learn the language, and become proficient in it, but also gradually develop a fuller understanding and love of Chinese culture.

Cultural understanding includes the basics of knowing when the festivals are, and what they celebrate, but it goes far beyond that and at its greatest extent includes how 5000 years of history influences their understanding of themselves, and in turn their opinions and behaviour.

So how to learn culture?

So how to learn culture? The best way is to live here, learn the language, make friends, and interact with your Chinese friends as much as you can. Over time you will build up your understanding. But we can also be deliberate about acquiring an understanding of the culture. We can learn culture through seeking to make observations about the society around, and backing this up by discussing our observations about the differences and similarities with Chinese people.

For those who are not fortunate to live in China then reading books and watching films is obviously a good first step.

Our blog: making studying Chinese just that bit easier

Taking all this into account, our aim for this blog is to make your life as a student of Chinese just that bit easier. We continuously check the latest blogs, read the latest books, test out the newest apps and attend the conferences on language learning so that you don’t have to. Anything that we find that will help you in your understanding of Chinese language, Chinese cultural we will share. On top of this we will seek to provide anything else that helps our language students as they live in China and study the language, whether that is advice on balancing your time for most effective study, or sharing about the practicalities of renting a flat in China.

Thanks for reading, look out for new articles on a weekly basis, and let us know what you think.

Study Chinese at our school in Wudaokou www.1on1mandarin.com

 

 

 

Learning from Chinese history

In the west have the phrase: those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. A near Chinese equivalent is 温故而知新 (wēn gù ér zhī xīn) which approximately means that by Reviewing the old we can understand the new.

As mentioned in a previous post, then becoming an effective communicator in Chinese requires developing an understanding of Chinese culture. Our present day communication is always understood within the framework of our past experience. Developing a clear understanding of Chinese history, particularly the history that every Chinese is taught at school is a key step in developing the understanding of what makes up the Chinese sense of self, their values and priorities.

Since attending Chinese school from age 5 is not an option for us, then Laszlo Montgomery’s Chinese history podcasts are a good resource for getting us up to speed. He has already recorded over 100+ podcasts on the history of china, so this is not the resource to go if you are wanting a real quick overview. But for those students who have already done a bit of reading on china, these podcasts add the detail that you might have glossed over, and are able to include the really interesting snippets of history.