Whither Chinese Identity?
Walking around what looked like a more metropolitan area of Beijing one day, I came across an old man sandwiched between a Bentley showroom and a shopping center boasting two huge advertisements for Burberry. He was standing on a sidewalk outside a restaurant, weighing eggs using a simple weight attached to a stick, making a simple living in an increasingly complex, modern city.
That same night, Kat, Suzanne and I were walking down a narrow alleyway in what seemed like a particularly touristy and trendy hutong, one of the city's traditional neighborhoods, when we came across two men playing xiang qi, an ancient Chinese game similar to chess, which the latter is actually based on. It struck me that a group of older Chinese men were enjoying the ancient game while in the midst of what appeared to be a renovated hutong filled mostly with foreign tourists.
I look forward to delving even more into this idea of a Chinese identity once I get the chance to visit a suburban neighborhood on the outskirts of Beijing, where houses are built in the "American" style, but decorated with Chinese accents. Beijing today is certainly a complicated picture to paint and, to quote Dr. Janice Swab, a biology professor who has lived in China on four separate occasions, we "skirt the fringes of real understanding."
What is the Chinese identity? I don't think anyone knows, and I'm not sure anyone is going to find out any time soon. This relationship between old and new is the biggest thing that struck me in my first week in Beijing. It isn't exactly a novel insight into Chinese culture and identity, but the two experiences outlined here demonstrate what may constitute a sort of Chinese identity crisis - a country that is simultaneously moving away from and looking back toward its past.