Friday, April 13, 2012

Consoling humour

The torture of last weekend's abominably pointless language testing marathon was slightly alleviated by a couple of moments of thigh-slapping hilarity. Our chortles, though, were not as hearty as they might have been, more the product of embarrassed discomfiture than pure mirth.

I think I have probably spoken before (though I can't recall where) of how limited most Chinese people's knowledge of history seems to be - even their own, but even more so of 'Western' history. For example, they seem to know next-to-nothing about World War II in Europe. This lack of a basic historical framework nurtures a broader ignorance of cultural sensitivities...

One candidate had listened to a portion of the speech Barack Obama made on a visit to Berlin a few months before he was elected President in 2008. He made references to it being the 60th anniversary of the Berlin airlift, an event of which our candidate - and, I would guess, about 98% of the Chinese people - was entirely unaware. When I tried to help the chap by prompting with one or two questions about WHO it was that the Allies might have been helping the Germans against after the War, he eagerly guessed: "Those Jews?"

How we cringed!

Earlier in the day, another candidate had been treated to an Obama anecdote (gawd, it was all Obama that day: we poor examiners got thoroughly sick of it!) about how his mother had woken him up in the middle of the night to give him extra lessons when he was a young boy, and how, if he ever whinged about it, she would reprove him by saying, "You know, this is no picnic for me either, buster."

Or, as our candidate recounted it: 
"This is not a picnic, you little bastard!"

I wonder if the saintly Mrs Obama ever did chastise her son in those terms. I bet she did, once in a while.


John said...

If you think about it I suppose you can't blame them for all of their ignorance. I mean, how many people in the "west" know about what was going on in the Far East at the time (which started even before 1938/9). I do agree that they're all still shockingly isolated and happy that way as far as I understand it but what are you going to do? Expand ties and trade and have seats on international bodies? Oh wait...

Froog said...

Yes, I suppose most countries' schools focus very heavily on their own country's history, and even the 'international' perspective tends to be narrowly centred on one's own region or hemisphere. And most kids ignore or forget most of what they're taught anyway. Not many people take as much of an interest in history as I do.

However, we do pick up a basic background knowledge of major events through popular culture, particularly cinema. WWII in the Far East, though not as heavily covered as the war in Europe, is reasonably well known to most folks in Europe and North America, I would think. We grew up with A Town Like Alice and Bridge On The River Kwai, and then saw Empire of the Sun and The Last Emperor and the recent movies about the Rape of Nanking. I would hope most people in the West are aware that China suffered invasion, occupation, and atrocities at the hands of the Japanese. Well, maybe not. It might be a depressing proposition to put to the test.

But I do find it shocking that there is such a limited awareness of - or comprehension of, or interest in - the Nazi Holocaust here. People have seen Schindler's List, but often appear not really to have understood what it was about.