Throughout my last days in China, I’ve begun to ponder: What is China, really? Having never traveled to anywhere in Asia before and having had very little contact with Asian cultures, I really had no idea what to expect when I got here. All of the images rolling around in my head came strictly from preconceived notions of China that I’ve gathered throughout the years from family, friends, movies, and the internet.
As we traveled from Shanghai to Qingdao to Beijing, I can honestly say that here in Beijing is the first time I have really felt like I was in China! Due to having such a limited vision of the country and its people in the first place, there were multiple times that I forgot what country I was even in. Shanghai, to
me, was like New York by day and Vegas by night, and Qingdao, a coastal seaport city, was like any resort town with beaches and seafood. Beijing has been the first city where we’ve been able to see a plethora of “Chinese-looking” structures, as it is home to the Forbidden City, a huge compound of palaces for the emperors of the Qing and Ming dynasties, as well as other historical temples and palaces. In fact, our presenter today – David Kay, founder of start-up business incubator Yuanfen Flow – spoke to this as well, stating that while Shanghai feels like any major metropolitan city, Beijing really has remained quite historical.
Amidst the tall buildings and crazy traffic, there are immense city-like palaces and tons of green space. While much of the authenticity of China has been torn down, Beijing is fortunate to keep and retain a large portion of this important part of the culture. Whereas I can see Shanghai as more of the financial, economic hub of China, Beijing is truly the cultural, historical, and political center.
As your perceptions of the world tend to mirror those of the people around you, so do mine – and I don’t come from a family of world travelers. I am the first. So when I was leaving for China, my family began to express their concerns. They seemed to be more worried for me to be in China than in Rio! That is when I realized just how little they knew about China (or maybe about Brazil!) Their main concerns were crime and safety issues, as well as worries of me being surrounded by an unfamiliar culture and language for the first time, as I’ve always studied the language extensively before visiting another country.
While I came into China with similar fears, I have now spent time in three major Chinese cities and have dined and shopped, polished my negotiating skills, visited various businesses, and met with fellow MBA students from Peking University. Still, however, I’m not convinced that I understand China completely, but we’ve heard from some of our presenters that have years of experience here that even then you really never “know” China. It’s such a huge, multi-dimensional, multi-faceted entity with so many different shades that I’m beginning to think you can never know it completely.
What is China? It is an ancient civilization, a cultural sphere, a great nation of nations, and a rising power, all wrapped up in one. It is truly one of the most profound, fascinating places on Earth. But will China become the world’s greatest superpower? Stay tuned to find out our opinions on this very question as we examine and analyze its strengths, weaknesses, threats, and opportunities.