I recently visited China for the first time. Here are some of my impressions.
My main motivation for visiting China was to see a place that was as different from the West as possible, but also had a significant, ancient civilization. In many ways, China did not disappoint. Its history, despite the Silk Road, is largely independent of the West. But it involves millennia of economic and cultural development.
Today, though, China seems a mix – of capitalism and communism. The flashy new China of Shanghai strikes one as capitalistic. But the authoritarian state that strictly controls information is communistic. China also seems a mix of West and East. The people dress as westerners in much of the country, yet the culture differs from the West in oh so many ways. There are a range of things that one comes upon daily that seem alien. For example, interactive norms such as queuing and matters of personal space struck me as quite different in China.
The diversity of the country was striking. That there are different dialects of Chinese – Mandarin and Cantonese – is of course well known. But there are also significant differences within these dialects that are very interesting. For example, I was surprised to learn that the Mandarin spoken in Shanghai is quite different than that spoken in Beijing, and that the Shanghai version is similar to Japanese, allowing Shanghai speakers to understand significant amounts of Japanese (while the Beijing version does not permit this).