I first became aware of the existence of China when I was about four years old and looked at my toy dinosaurs (I had many) and noticed that the words “made in China” were stamped onto all of their plastic bellies. I took this to mean that all dinosaurs came from China, and although I knew that dinosaurs were extinct, I still thought it was unfair that China got all of them. Once I understood that only the plastic toys, and not the dinosaurs themselves, were from China, my impression of that country was a place where huge, dark factories churned out children’s toys by the millions. Although my view got slightly more nuanced, this was pretty much how I understood China throughout my childhood.
Obviously, I now understand that China is much more than a place where toys are manufactured. I like to think that I read the newspaper thoroughly enough to stay reasonably well informed, so I end up reading about China pretty often. My understanding of China as a place is still pretty sketchy, though. I don’t think you can really know a place unless you actually visit (and even then, you have to immerse yourself) but I like the idea we talked about on the first day of visiting China from Fredericksburg. Hopefully, by the end of the semester, I can have some idea of how a Chinese person would see their country, and in a more general sense, how they would see the world around them.