Participant Observation

Jason Renner
October 19, 2017
My trip to the water-town of Tongli

***I've had trouble uploading my blog posts, so this post refers to the time around the second to last week of September***

With two weeks of classes in the book, I’m beginning to have a whole new perspective of Shanghai. I really enjoy the classes I’m taking, and I’ve already noticed how they are further enriching my experience here so far.

       A big reason why I decided to study abroad in China was because I was interested in studying the economic and political rise of China. Since I am a Political Science major and am interested in global political affairs, it made sense for me to come to the very nation that is widely being studied and discussed by the top professors and researchers in the field. I chose to enroll in courses at Fudan University that would help me learn more about this widely studied phenomenon. The classes I take include International Relations from an East Asian Perspective, Doing Business in China and Political Economy. So far, the classes have been very informational and thought provoking, explaining how China has developed into a global superpower. Going even further, my classes have also discussed to some extent areas where the Chinese lag in terms of progress. As I learn these things, my eyes have been opened more to the society around me, allowing me to observe first-hand what I’m learning in the classroom.

       For example, since the 1980’s China has averaged a GDP growth rate of over 10%. For comparison’s sake, the U.S. in that same period has averaged GDP growth rate of about 2%. The Chinese economy has been expanding at a fast yet sustained rate, and has thus prompted a lot of research about how China has been able to maintain such consistent growth. However, despite strong economic performance, China is dealing with many issues that derive from their single-minded policy of promoting economic growth at all costs. Based off assigned homework readings, I’ve learned that China is quickly losing its arable land due to its attempt to urbanize and industrialize state-wide. Along with losing valuable land to cultivate agriculture, China is quickly deteriorating its environment, polluting some of its major water sources in West China because of attempts to industrialize the country-side. Despite all the positive talk about China’s ability to sustain positive economic growth, there are serious issues that lie below the surface of their economic policy that will have to be addressed sooner or later.

       With these issues in mind, I become more conscious of the things that surround me in Shanghai. Generally, most of the people I meet are very content with their lives. China’s economic boom has resulted in higher GDP per capita, making the average citizen much richer than they used to be, so who can really complain? But after having more thoughtful conversations with a few English-speaking Shanghainese (the term for locals), I’ve discovered that the older generations are somewhat discontent with the China they now find themselves in.

A predominant feature of modern Shanghai (and most of urban China) is that mostly everyone is on their smartphone ALL the time. As people walk on the streets, use the metro or even have dinner with one another, it is common to find every individual with their phone out. China has found a way to truly digitalize their urban societies, making it possible to do almost everything online. A great example of that is the smartphone application called WeChat. WeChat is a popular app in China used by everyone that has a smartphone. For tech-savvy Americans, WeChat, at least to me, resembles a combination of the services that the apps Groupme, Snapchat, Venmo, Apple-Pay and Skype provide. When an app is so versatile that it can combine the features of 5+ American apps into one, it makes sense why the Chinese use it for everything from talking or texting to paying for goods and services. This is the very society that the older generation finds foreign and dislikes.

I notice around me that people are very impersonal since they are always on their phone. Furthermore, the Shanghai society seems very money-driven without consideration for how that money is made. Value isn’t put on quality service or interaction because no service or interaction needs to take place when each party is on their phone. Distaste of this particular style of culture is common around older Chinese, but it is especially common with Chinese who grew up in China but immigrated to America and have returned. The Shanghai and China they see now no longer resembles the one they grew up in, and this is a sad fact for many. Despite strong economic progress, there are many social issues that still plague China.

On a lighter note, I’ve also had fun and explored Shanghai in between my thought-provoking observations and lessons on China, making numerous Chinese friends in the process. An activity that I’ve really picked up since being here is playing ping pong. I play leisurely at home in Coopersburg, PA, and I mostly play with my close friends. So when deciding to study in China, I made sure to bring my own personal ping pong paddle. Lately I’ve spent a lot of time at Fudan University’s recreation center, where they have a room with over 15 ping pong tables. I’ve played some very good competition, and I’ve developed a reputation with some of the better players as “that American”! I’ve always enjoyed sports because they transcend cultural and language barriers. I don’t need to speak Chinese well when I can just walk over to another student and point to myself and an open table, which I’ve used to make a few friends. The other day, one of the students I played gave me a compliment when he said, “by American standards, you are very good, but by Chinese standards, you are awful”. I thought this was incredibly funny.

Well even though I’ve just typed a little under 1000 words, that’s still not enough to encapsulate my experience so far. But that’s the beauty of a blog, I’ll get to write more later.

More Blogs From This Author

View All Blogs

Jason Renner

<p>I love storytelling because of the unique narrative style that each author has, be it through prose or poetry. In a time where understanding each other is of the utmost importance, you can usually learn the most about a person through their work and writing. I value my own distinctive voice, and I hope to share my experiences and convey the knowledge and wisdom I gain from my time abroad through a blog or another platform.</p>

2017 Fall
Home University:
Washington and Lee University
Political Science
Explore Blogs