Confessions of a Chinese Nationalist

As more and more Chinese students are seeking alternatives to the stressful gaokao (college entrance exam), some are making their way to foreign universities where they find their original values subverted by culture shock. Zilong Gong, a Chinese student at Hampshire College, discusses his personal transformation during his three years in the United States, via Huffington Post:

I took people’s criticism of China very personally. Like a conditioned reflex, I would jump on any critiques of China, and rush to defend whatever the Chinese government did. Seventeen years of patriotic education showed its value by providing me with all kinds of slogans. If someone mentioned human rights issues in China, I would immediately fire back: “You Western hypocrites, stop pointing fingers and promoting your ideology. That’s our internal affair.” Or, I would tell people that my goal in life is to make China rich and powerful, the 21st century superpower.

[...] But slowly and painfully, I came to understand a few things through living and studying in the U.S.

[...] I realized that before I am a Chinese, I am a human being. And before I am a human being, I am just another one of the millions of sentient beings. If I am able to love China, then I should be able to love all cultures and nations in the world. And if I can love humanity, then there is no reason why I shouldn’t care about all sentient beings on earth with the same humility and compassion. So, a new identity and mission emerged from the rubbles of unexamined nationalism.

This inner transformation is one of the reasons why I came to a liberal arts college in the U.S. in the first place. Through questioning and being questioned, through critique and self-reflection, we let go of the comfort of the familiar chains and learn to embrace the foreignness of a new freedom of mind and character. Such transformation is by no means uncommon among international students in the U.S., or American students who study abroad. This is the power of education, of travel, and of critical thinking.

See more on overseas Chinese students via CDT.