Date of this Version
August 14, 2008 in The China Beat http://www.thechinabeat.org/
“We are very proud to be Chinese!”
“We welcome everyone to come to China!”
Judging from recent interviews on Beijing streets that have been broadcast in recent days by American TV and radio journalists, these two phrases and others like them have topped the list of essential greetings in the city-wide cram courses in Olympics English that have proven so popular over the past year or so. A bit hackneyed, perhaps, but telling in the striking combination of hospitality and nationalism that has characterized Chinese self-presentation from the opening ceremonies to the China-US men’s basketball match-up.
The current craze for English in China, where seven-year olds study the language daily and charismatic English teachers, as reported in the New Yorker, achieve the status of rock stars, reflects both these impulses. To speak a foreigner’s language, even if it is only a few phrases, is to show due respect to a friend come from afar. But it’s also a sign of increasing confidence and worldliness of outlook, a reflection not so much of China’s opening to the world (speaking of hackneyed phrases) as of the world, at long last, opening to China.