3. Settling In
Just as opportunities for getting to China are diverse, so are the experiences of people who travel there. Few say that living in China is easy, and most people report wide swings between exhilaration and frustration. Most leave feeling their lives have been enriched by what they have learned, both about China and themselves, and many continue to return year after year. To reduce the richness and variety of life in China to a single picture would be unfair. But returning "veterans" have a fund of anecdotes and insights, and certain patterns do emerge. Their experiences can help prepare you.
ARRIVING IN CHINA
An experienced travel agent in the United States can acquaint you with the many ways of entering China, and the China guidebooks listed in Chapter 2 describe the various options. You may also want to consult the China National Tourist Office in New York (212-867-0271). There are now direct flights from many parts of the world, especially Tokyo and Hong Kong, to numerous cities in China, including Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, Xiamen, Guilin, and Chengdu. Some travelers prefer to stop in Hong Kong or Tokyo for a day or two of rest before proceeding to their destination in China, and some even arrive by ship or the trans-Siberian railway. In Hong Kong, the China Travel Service can supply information, tickets, and even last-minute visas. Addresses and telephone numbers for China Travel Service's two Hong Kong locations are provided on p. 11. The China International Travel Service (CITS), which serves non-Chinese visitors exclusively, has an office in
South Sea Centre
Sixth Floor, Tower Two
Telephone: (852) 721-5317
Representatives of host institutions often meet senior faculty, teachers, and researchers at the airport. If you are worried about getting to your new residence on your own, ask to be met. But the sheer volume of academic travelers to China has placed such a strain on host organizations that they may not have the personnel. Students are not ordinarily met, although some programs sponsored by U.S. universities will arrange to meet you.
If you want to be met, be sure to tell them so, and communicate your travel plans to your hosts clearly and early on. You can telephone or fax from Hong Kong if final plans are made there or you can fax from the United States. If possible, try to avoid a weekend arrival. Most units are open on Saturday morning, but Saturday afternoons and Sundays are typically days of rest and offices will be closed. If your flight is delayed en route, try to fax the unit so staff do not make unnecessary trips to the airport. Airports are usually located a considerable distance from the city, and making the trek is time-consuming. Try also to notify all the organizations involved in hosting you. For example, if you are to be associated with a unit in the interior that has a parent organization in Beijing or Shanghai, do not assume that the two organizations will communicate with each other. Specify which unit should meet you, however. Otherwise both may make the trip. One scholar suggests taking a taxi to a predetermined hotel where your hosts can meet you. This saves everyone time and effort.
You will have to proceed through customs on your own. Hosts are not allowed to enter the baggage claim or customs area.
The baggage claim and customs process is often hectic. Sometimes several flights arrive at once, and baggage carousels in many places are inadequate for the volume of traffic, even with the recent expansion of many international terminals.
If no one is to meet you at the airport, your first adventure will begin. Bring the telephone number of your unit so you can call if you arrive during working hours. Many airports have China Travel Service booths with English-speaking personnel who can help you call or even assist in getting you to your destination. If you cannot reach your work unit, you will need to change money at one of the foreign exchange booths in the airport and hire a taxi.
Taxis have recently proliferated, as the Chinese say, "like bamboo shoots after a spring rain" and most airports will have a line of waiting
cabs. Regulations require the taxis to line up at a designated stand and for customers to form a line. But more aggressive drivers often assemble where passengers are exiting from customs, promising cheap fares and good cars. You would be wise to refuse their offers. Sometimes their cars are not properly registered and fares can be exorbitant. One researchers says, "never, unless you are very desperate, go in a vehicle with anyone who approaches you in a train station or airport. Either the vehicle will turn out to be a kidney-jarring wreck, or you will be badly overcharged, or both."
Insist that you want to paidui—line up—outside. Taxis charge different rates depending on the quality of the car, and the rate is posted along the rear windows. Mercedes, Volvos, and other upscale cars are more expensive than older models that have been around for a while. If the driver is not using a meter, be sure to negotiate a price in advance.
If you will be staying in the city where you have just arrived, you can communicate better if you have the name and address of your destination written in Chinese. The driver will be able to find it. If not, ask for assistance from someone who speaks English. Few taxi drivers have more than a rudimentary command of English. Look around to see if there is a minibus from a joint-venture Western hotel. If you go to one of those hotels, English-speaking staff will help arrange for you to get where you want to go. If there are no minibuses and all communications fail, the taxi driver will probably take you to one of the joint-venture hotels with an English-speaking staff who can give instructions to the driver or help with other arrangements. If you must make your own arrangements for travel to a final destination, someone at the hotel can direct you to the nearest office of the China Travel Service—which might be in the hotel.
One American researcher who spoke no Chinese arrived in a remote city with no taxis and no one to meet him. He took a bus, got off when he saw a hotel, and walked into the lobby to find his Chinese hosts waiting for him there!
THE TENOR OF LIFE IN CHINA
THE WORK UNIT
Every foreigner who lives and works in China is assigned to a work unit, which in Chinese is called a danwei. For the foreign visitor, as well as most Chinese, the danwei is the organization through which most official activities are filtered. Whether it be a factory, research institute, or university, the work unit is a microcosm of Chinese society, with its own political hierarchy, networks of personal and professional relationships, services, and, in most cases, living quarters.
It is primarily through the work unit that the Chinese government
exerts its influence on the life of the individual, because, in addition to work, the danwei also provides many of the necessities of daily life, including housing and dining halls, and permission to marry, to bear a single child, and to travel. The work unit also entitles its members to state-supported medical care and issues the identification card that marks the bearer as a working member of Chinese society. The unit acts as a go-between contact between its own members and members of other organizations. Lateral relations among danwei, even those engaged in similar activities, are cumbersome. Each unit is a more-or-less autonomous compartment.
Temporary movement in and out of the danwei is common for Chinese intellectuals and administrators. Until recently, an individual assigned to a work unit remained there for his entire working life. Now, many people are leaving danwei to join newly formed research institutes, joint-venture companies, or to strike out on their own, although permanent exit from a work unit often requires considerable negotiation.
The nature of the work unit is changing, however, and travelers will witness the remarkable transition currently under way. One of those changes is the growing commercialization of academic institutions. While universities and research institutes still rely on government funds, they are being called on to become more self-sufficient economically by starting money-making ventures. Most university students are still supported by the state, but the trend is shifting. More students are paying their own way, and state funds are largely concentrated on those in critical disciplines or on promising students with severe financial constraints.
Departments within universities—both academic and administrative—are being asked to raise funds as a way of both increasing faculty income and providing money for university-wide operation and expansion. Faculty members are encouraged to generate new sources of income. Many money-making activities within universities and research institutes are academically related. Some departments are holding international conferences and charging registration fees to foreign participants in addition to living expenses. Others are conducting training courses for people outside the university. Southern universities are organizing educational tours to Hong Kong. Computer science departments are assisting in the computerization of businesses and writing programs for them. Some departments are offering preparatory courses for students planning to take graduate-level exams. History departments are training archivists and working to put classical texts on computers. Funds generated are shared among faculty, departments, and university-level administrative units.
Relations within the danwei are invariably complex, particularly
within universities and research institutes. Older staff members may carry scars from the various political campaigns that swept China from 1957 until the death of Mao in 1976 and often pitted colleague against colleague and friend against friend. During the most tragic of those movements, the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), Chinese universities and research institutes were torn apart, and senior, Western-educated intellectuals in particular were subject to prolonged abuse. Despite the passage of time and the infusion of new staff and students, persecutors and persecuted, enemies and friends, continue to live and work side by side.
The effect of the Tiananmen Square incident of 1989 was less divisive. Many faculty and administrators supported the students who demonstrated, and others were sympathetic. Although most universities have returned to normal, activities at Peking University, as of this writing, continue to be closely scrutinized.
The complexities and strains within a work unit will be invisible at first. Over time, as you make Chinese friends, you will learn that the surface cordiality among coworkers may mask larger tensions —not only the remnants of previous political campaigns but also the result of new competition for scarce resources. There may be two candidates for promotion and only one space available, for instance. Or several faculty might have invitations to study abroad when the department can spare only one. Pressure to make money for the university is creating new strains. Some faculty who might want to befriend you may have been criticized in the past for becoming too close to foreigners.
The presence of a foreigner, even if temporary, can create further imbalances, both in interpersonal relations and over such scarce resources as office space and assistants who may be reassigned to you. More important, the Chinese members of the danwei who associate most closely with a foreigner become both more visible and more vulnerable to criticism by their superiors and colleagues. You will want to be discreet with Chinese hosts and friends. Never flaunt close friendships and do not discuss your relationship with Chinese friends to others. It is also wise to avoid writing letters that detail relationships or conversations with Chinese friends. To do so would betray their confidence and risk intervention by their superiors.
You, too, will become a member of this highly structured society, and you can accomplish little without learning to work within its boundaries. Membership in a danwei will make life simpler and more secure. Many of the basic arrangements for daily life will be made for you. But foreigners may also feel confined and deprived of a measure of freedom when they realize how dependent they must be. Most need to break out now and then—whether for a bike ride or walk through the back alleys of the city, a visit to friends who have nothing to do with
their work unit, a hike through the woods, a picnic at the Ming tombs or some other scenic spot, a shopping spree, a splurge at a joint-venture hotel, or late night dancing at the local disco.
THE FOREIGN AFFAIRS OFFICE
Figuring out how a unit is organized, who has formal authority and who has actual power, and how to couch your requests will take time. The first introduction most new arrivals have to their work units is through the waishi banshichu—literally "the office for outside business," but usually referred to simply as the foreign affairs office or waiban. The foreign affairs office exists in virtually all organizations and administrative units that have contact with foreigners. For students, the waiban office is usually called the liuxuesheng bangongshi, the "office for overseeing foreign students," or liuban for short.
The foreign affairs office looms large in the lives of foreigners. It provides the mechanism whereby you can work within the unit without becoming fully integrated into it. The responsibility of the waiban is to make living arrangements and to serve as a liaison with other units and with different departments within the unit itself. Formal introductions to people you wish to meet in other units will often be made not directly by you but by the waiban. If anything goes awry during your visit, if you are sick, hurt, or robbed, the waiban will be called on to help.
Foreign affairs officials sometimes have training in a foreign language (usually English), but few have spent any significant time abroad and most are not scholars. Their task is complicated by the fact that they are dealing with people from all over the world and from many different cultures. What they know about U.S. culture is likely to be influenced by what they read in the Chinese press and by their experience with other Americans who came before you. If your institution has hosted many Americans in the past, the waiban is likely to understand that Americans are diverse, with different tastes and personalities and different capacities to adapt. If you are one of the first Americans at your institution, the waiban official's initial perception of you is likely to be colored by his experience with the last American he hosted. If the last American did not like Chinese food and complained about the plumbing, the foreign affairs office may fear that your attitude will be much the same. As such, you are, unwittingly, a representative of all Americans. It will take time for both of you to understand who the other really is.
Your status, linguistic capabilities, prior contacts with the danwei and outside networks, as well as the unit's own history and style of dealing with foreigners, all influence your relations with the foreign affairs office. A major factor affecting how you are treated is the number of other foreigners under the care of the office. Busy foreign affairs per-
sonnel may have been told little about you or why you are coming to China, and thus may not be certain at first of your status. The result of so many people coming in through the ''open door," one scholar points out, is that "China seems to find it difficult at this stage to discriminate among her visitors with respect to their usefulness, seniority, etc. As a consequence, allocations of all kinds seem to be made literally on a first-come, first-served basis."
The waiban will be interested in determining your status, because the extent of services provided is also a function of where the foreigner falls in the hierarchy. A distinguished scholar will be accorded more help than a student. An American student in a university crowded with students from all over the world can expect less help and even, at times, a lack of cooperation from overburdened officials.
What students lack in comfort and attention, however, they are compensated for by a relative degree of freedom to make their own arrangements. Students can make their own travel plans, for example, and thus they can determine the style and schedule of their trips far more easily than the honored foreign guest who tours with an entourage or is met along the way with interpreters, guides, formal banquets, and photo sessions. Ironically, without the mediating influence of the waiban, students also have the opportunity to understand how the bureaucracy works for the Chinese, because they often come face to face with it. Such experiences, although often frustrating, also provide insights into Chinese society that are not always so easily glimpsed by those sheltered by status.
Advice on how to deal with the foreign affairs office is difficult because the office varies so much from unit to unit. Recent descriptions from academics in China portray foreign affairs personnel ranging from saints to devils. Some China veterans try to ignore the foreign affairs officials as much as possible and to work through academic colleagues who are likely to be more understanding of and sympathetic to their academic goals. Others argue that functionaries must be courted. One graduate student laments that he heeded warnings to avoid the foreign affairs office: "It has been my experience this year that if you get to know them well and have requests which are within their power to grant, they will be granted. This is not unlike bureaucrats and administrators in the West."
He goes on to point out, however, that help from Chinese bureaucrats often hinges on personal relations. Of one particularly powerful official, he says, "If he does not like you, he will use every means to prevent you from achieving your goals."
The traits that may help you win your waiban's cooperation include good cheer in the face of adversity, respect and understanding for the limitations of particular offices, and the ability to offer criticism con-
structively—which means, among other things, that when frustrated you should not slander the socialist system or Chinese culture but rather focus on the particular problems at hand.
With the increased autonomy of Chinese universities, many are in the process of reorganization and, in some places, new names are being given to the offices for managing foreigners. A few foreign researchers have reported delays in getting set up because they could not determine who was responsible for them. If you are having trouble deciding where to turn, ask another foreigner in your unit with a status similar to your own.
The waiban's tasks are not confined to foreign guests. The office also handles the unit's external relationships, including arranging for its Chinese members to go abroad, receiving delegations, and negotiating exchange programs. With the recent call for danwei to begin earning money themselves rather than relying exclusively on funding from the state, universities and research institutes are also looking for ways to make money. In some parts of China, waiban are being assigned new roles. Because of their ties with foreigners and with other work units, waiban are particularly well placed to organize money-making activities, and scholars in China report instances of waiban officials disappearing for long periods to organize such endeavors. Scholars and students have come to recognize that their presence is often seen, quite frankly, as a means of making money. But the situation is different in every danwei, and among foreign affairs personnel as well. Many have proved exceedingly helpful to American teachers, researchers, and students.
Interactions are almost always restrained when Chinese and Americans first meet, even when friendships later develop. Meet your own waiban with an open mind and no preconceived notions. Allow time to see how your relationship is likely to evolve. Then you can decide whether your waiban can become an ally or whether to turn to others for help.
THE QUALITY OF LIFE
Every work unit is a minisociety with its own personality—its traditions, folklore, factions, history, and style of working with foreigners. The flavor of daily life differs among danwei. The city in which you live, the size and personality of the foreign community there, the nature of the waiban, and your institution's relations with other organizations will all affect your life. A small, less prestigious teacher's college may be either more defensive and rigid with its foreign guests or more welcoming and open than a large key university. A research institute that has never hosted foreign guests may be eager to establish new ties or, alternatively, suspicious and hesitant at first. Generalizations about daily life can only be made with caution.
Nonetheless, themes do emerge from reports and conversations with
foreigners who have lived in China for any length of time. One frequent observation is the lack of privacy in China. As one American comments, "Some things are difficult to get used to—the absolute lack of privacy is one. There are people hovering about me from 6:30 a.m. until I retire. They are all well-intentioned, trying to make me comfortable and trying to help. But it's hard to adjust to and in many ways sets up a barrier between me and the society I am studying. I am gradually finding ways to get around this, but the key here is patience."
There is, says another, a "different concept of privacy in China—people walking into one's room freely, inspecting personal items, reading mail, asking questions. An adjustment is needed." The boundaries in China between acceptable questions and embarrassing intrusions are different from those in the West, and you will face all sorts of questions that Americans generally consider taboo: about how old you are and how much money you make, about how much your clothes cost and where you have been that day or plan to go tomorrow.
On the other hand, Chinese colleagues and friends—especially the older generation—will rarely take the initiative to delve into questions about your personal life beyond a polite concern for health and family matters, nor will they volunteer details about theirs. Some foreigners have learned only by accident, for example, that a longstanding Chinese friend is divorced, married, or about to get married. As one senior scholar observed, "It often took a genuine effort to establish a dialogue that moved beyond the superficial aspects of daily life, especially with my older Chinese colleagues."
One researcher who travels frequently to China carries pictures of his family, his house, and the town where he lives and shows them to new acquaintances as a way of making friends. Lively exchanges usually ensue. Topics of common intellectual interest can also be the source of lengthy and fascinating conversation, and can open windows on Chinese society that mere observation cannot.
Younger people are sometimes far more open. American students can expect a great deal of curiosity about U.S. life (from rock stars to sex and romance), and they may, in turn, learn about Chinese family life, courting behavior, and marriage expectations. Often the most intense encounters occur when you are traveling, for many people talk more frankly with people they will never see again.
The nature of the danwei system allows little separation between one's personal and professional life, especially for those who live on the campuses of their work units. Your apartment may double as your office, and you may find that visiting hours are open-ended. Not even the hotel dweller in a far corner of the city is immune to frequent visits from anxious colleagues, especially in the first few weeks when hosts may be concerned about how quickly you are adapting to a new envi-
ronment. Indeed, hosts are right to worry: many foreigners develop colds or feel otherwise out of sorts initially, and many report frustration over how long the process of settling in and buckling down to work can take.
Although first meetings with Chinese colleagues may be very formal, once a relationship is established, friends and colleagues feel free to stop by, without phoning ahead (because most scholars do not have telephones), simply to visit. Or they may make vague plans to meet, leaving you bound to your room for hours waiting for a friend or student who promised to stop by "sometime in the afternoon." Sometimes Chinese colleagues and friends will appear without notice at times when they are least expected—early on a Sunday morning, for instance. The only time you can be relatively sure of time to yourself is during the xiuxi or rest period, from noon until 1:30 or 2 p.m.—and even that is changing.
In China, your housing belongs to the danwei. One teacher in southern China whose apartment had a small spare bedroom was informed that the university would be renting the room to short-term foreign visitors as a way to make some extra money. Only persistent negotiations on her part finally convinced her hosts that both her privacy, and conceivably her safety, would be compromised should the spare bedroom be converted to a hotel room.
Despite the concerns of some foreigners, rooms are rarely searched and people are rarely followed. As one researcher declares, "Nobody is following you—you're not worth the effort." The exceptions are generally cases when the political activities of the foreign guest become cause for Chinese government concern. When cleaning people at one dormitory reported that a student had scrawled "Down with Deng Xiaoping" on the wall of his room, university security officials were called in to inspect not only his room but the rooms of others as well. Researchers with close ties to dissidents have been followed. And one researcher who stepped beyond the bounds of what Chinese officials considered acceptable behavior for someone in her status reports "both my activities and those of my visitors and guests are monitored, recorded, and sometimes submitted to the police for review. . . . Warnings and cartoon stories about foreign spies cover the walls and display stands at police stations, and other lingering fears about even casual contact with foreigners clearly still abound." If you are ever involved in political activities and rouse Chinese government suspicions, even nonpolitical Chinese friends could be called to task. Unless they clearly indicate otherwise, they will be less subject to scrutiny if you stop seeing them, at least temporarily.
What Chinese officials regard as appropriate behavior on your part depends on your status in China. Suspicion of a foreigner's activities is
most easily aroused when the outsider steps out of the bounds of the category in which he or she originally has been placed.
Foreigners who behave in a manner inappropriate to their status (particularly journalists reporting on tourist visas or journalism teachers who publish in U.S. newspapers) risk reprimand (or, in rare cases, expulsion). A Ph.D. candidate subject to the two-week-per-semester limit on fieldwork who makes private arrangements to carry out fieldwork for longer periods risks being declared an "unwelcome scholar" for not going through official channels. Those who travel to China to carry out serious work of any kind must have the sanction of officialdom at some level.
At a recent briefing for Fulbright lecturers about to depart for China, "patience, politeness, and perseverance" were taken as the watchwords for getting by in China. Indeed, the word "patience" comes up repeatedly when Americans offer advice. "Patience is the most valuable trait to take to China," says one. Says another: ''Be sensitive to Chinese personality traits; they are much more patient than we, and a quick temper will get you nowhere. Never take yourself, or the Chinese, too seriously; they are extremely modest, a trait we Americans should learn to practice more assiduously."
A combination of patience, politeness, and perseverance can help Chinese colleagues and friends understand and respect your need to balance privacy with friendship and collegial interaction. The Chinese recognize vast differences between their own culture and that of the United States, but they often do not know exactly what those differences are. You can explain. You do not have to answer questions that you regard as personal. Most Chinese will appreciate a friendly explanation that in the United States such questions are ordinarily raised only among family and close friends. Most want to understand Western values. Some Americans assert their right to privacy by establishing hard and fast visiting hours and posting them on their doors, with a polite explanation that they need time to work or be with their families. In one university, the results were so successful that Chinese professors began posting similar signs.
Foreigners often face conflicts between the personal difficulty of living with far less space and luxury than they are accustomed to in the United States and the knowledge that their living conditions are usually vastly better than those of their Chinese friends and colleagues. Despite rapid construction in many parts of China, most organizations remain constrained by a severe shortage of space. Few of your Chinese colleagues enjoy the luxury of a private office— or any office at all—and their living quarters are often cramped. On the one hand, foreigners are embarrassed at being given housing and office privileges so clearly superior to their Chinese counterparts. Researchers feel vaguely guilty to
realize, for instance, that their office had once accommodated six or eight of their colleagues, who had to move out to free up space. Some scholars working in the countryside discover that special quarters —with showers, kitchens, and personnel to staff the establishment—have been constructed just for their use. Such luxurious accommodations place them far above the living standard of their Chinese neighbors.
On the other hand, researchers and teachers have been equally dismayed at the condition of their apartments, dormitories, laboratories, and classrooms, which are not generally heated or well-maintained and are sometimes downright unsafe. One scientist, for example, discovered asbestos materials filtering through the heating system, and others have complained about inadequate fire escapes in dormitories and hotels. Only after visiting a Chinese home, or understanding the daily working conditions of colleagues, or seeing a Chinese student dormitory, do many foreigners finally understand what a privileged position they enjoy.
The shortage of space, and the fact that many members of the danwei live on campus, are the main reasons that professional business is often conducted in the room or apartment of the foreign guest. The foreign visitor's room may be the only available space to hold language tutorials, conduct financial negotiations, arrange for travel, and so on.
The Chinese concept of friendship is powerful, and nothing has been more moving about the "opening up" of China than the renewal of friendships between Chinese and Americans that had been severed for 30 years. But Chinese friendships are often slower to develop than those made in the United States. Making Chinese friends can be a long and painstaking process, and friendships usually result only from conscious acts of will on both sides. But once a friendship forms, you can expect it to last for life.
The opening up of China to Western science, technology, and business has at times been coupled with equally strong admonitions against Chinese citizens becoming "tainted" by Western values. The official press periodically inveighs against "peaceful evolution" and Chinese friends will tell you about the policy of being open on the outside while maintaining tight political control within. Many Chinese delegated to work with foreigners are warned by their superiors that neiwai youbie—there is a difference between what you can share with insiders versus outsiders.
Opportunities for friendship and informal contact are far greater now than in the early stages of academic exchanges. However, many Chinese are still wary of contact with foreigners, and residues of earlier restrictions, including the registration of visitors at many student dor-
mitories, remain, although the number of people cleared to have contact with foreigners has grown. In general, friendships are easier with people who have official reason to be in contact with you—colleagues and students, in particular.
But one dissertation-level student doing research at a Chinese academy reports that a professor who was offering informal guidance was warned by his superiors to minimize contact. Meeting with her, he was told, was part of "foreign affairs" and therefore had to be officially reported. Faculty elsewhere not specifically designated to engage in "foreign affairs" may be under similar constraints, which is one of the reasons so many American graduate students and researchers are disappointed that they interact so rarely with potential colleagues in their units.
Less formally, it is possible to find good excuses to make Chinese friends. If getting to know the Chinese people is one of your goals, be sure to ask your Chinese and American friends in the United States to give you the names, addresses and telephone numbers of friends they think you would like to meet. Be prepared to treat them to meals, and do not be insulted if you cannot be invited to their homes. Contacts are still sensitive, and home visits by foreigners, however discreet, are usually public events. Many researchers, on the other hand, are often invited to friends' homes.
The waxing and waning of Chinese politics will affect how often and whether you will be able to meet your Chinese friends. Many temporarily severed their contacts with foreigners after the Tiananmen Square incident of 1989, only to resume them when the situation eased. Longtime residents in China learn to read the subtle changes that indicate a political tightening—as when guests are required to register again, or university gates swing closed, or your old friend at the library suddenly becomes distant and requests for materials are refused. Protecting your Chinese friends means never pushing to see them when they tell you it would be "inconvenient." They stand to lose far more than you by risking contact during times of political tension.
One of the first words foreigners in China learn is guanxi, a traditional concept meaning relationship or connections. To get anything done in China, you must have guanxi. In a society of scarcity and strict institutional control, getting what you want—a good doctor, a scarce consumer item, the right job, acceptable housing, a chance to travel abroad—depends on having good guanxi. Thus, Chinese cultivate guanxi. The use of guanxi (who owes you a favor, or who thinks you might be of use in the future) is just as important as the formal lines of authority. For example, if you have offered help to your Chinese friends, they will almost surely feel obligated to draw on their own
guanxi to repay the debt; others might help you with the anticipation that you may repay them in the future—in the form of help to study abroad, more immediate access to scarce resources, practice with English, or some other form of entry into the Western world.
In Teaching China's Lost Generation: Foreign Experts in the People's Republic of China, Tani Barlow and Donald Lowe describe the rich network of human relationships they both inherited—as a result of Donald Lowe's family connections in Shanghai—and developed, as foreign experts at Shanghai Teacher's University from 1981 to 1982.
The term guanxi describes social connections based on concrete, reciprocal exchange of favors and goods among family members and others. In a sense, guanxi is the way people organize relationships outside the jia (family), transforming strangers into kin by extending them favors and incurring obligations. All pseudo-family ties are cemented by this process. And ideally all relations between people should have a familist[ic] overtone. A Chinese doctor usually does not try to intimidate patients through a show of professionalism. Patients play on the familist[ic] ties between parent and child, making the doctor a parent through guanxi, usually giving the latter food or gifts. In return, the doctor is expected to treat the patient's entire being, including feelings and fears which Western doctors tend to consider "psychological" and hence not a part of their responsibility. This kind of relationship cannot develop unless both sides accept the obligation to give and receive concrete favors as tokens of the guanxi.
Barlow and Lowe then describe how guanxi works in practice:
If you have no previous guanxi (perhaps you have neglected to give the clerk at your local grocery a piece of candy or new year calendar), your chances of getting what you want are pretty slim. When mothballs come on the market once a year, there is a frenzy of guanxi reaffirmations. People give cigarettes, generally in exchange for good cuts of meat. . . . The more powerful the recipient, the more expensive the gift. 1
With both the growing commercialization in China and the desire of so many young people to study in the United States, Americans are seen as a particularly good source of guanxi. We are often perceived as having the "connections" in the United States that can make study there possible. Some Chinese, knowing how guanxi works in their own country, hope that American acquaintances have guanxi with a consular official who can be persuaded to give them a visa. Because Americans are perceived as generally rich and good at doing business (and because certain advantages accrue to joint-venture enterprises with foreigners),
Tani E. Barlow and Donald M. Lowe. Teaching China's Lost Generation: Foreign Experts in the People's Republic of China, pp. 104-105. San Francisco: China Books and Periodicals, Inc. Reprinted with permission.
they are also seen as potentially helpful in fostering money-making enterprises.
Americans confronting the distinction between friendship and guanxi for the first time are often distressed when a relationship they believed was friendship turns out to be one of guanxi. While Chinese friendships naturally involve a measure of guanxi, there is a real distinction between the two. Your closest and best Chinese friends will be loathe to call on your guanxi. Among very good friends, the ties of guanxi are so natural that they are hardly noticed. Many Americans who have formed close friendships with bright and promising students or colleagues likely to thrive in a U.S. academic environment are enthusiastic about helping their friends with the procedures. But nearly every American who has spent time in China has faced situations where "friendship" was being sought almost exclusively for the purpose of guanxi, and many feel used when they discover this. With limited time and resources, many Americans have to decide whom to help—usually close friends and particularly bright and worthy students or colleagues —and whom they will have to refuse. Difficult though it might be, you may be put in a position of having to explain that your limited time and resources make it impossible for you to help. Your guanxi is limited.
Between pure friendship and opportunistic guanxi is a notion of reciprocity more like the concept of social obligation in the United States. Anyone who steps beyond the confines of his or her formal authority to ease your way in China assumes that you will find a way to repay them. But social obligations are not necessarily as simple as your inviting friends to dinner in return for a similar invitation from the Chinese hosts, and you may wonder how to respond to such hospitality. As one senior scholar points out:
When a friend insists on inviting you to a restaurant for dinner—inevitable, because so many people do not have big enough apartments to hold a dinner—along with a few other people, the evening may well cost him his month's salary (as well as a couple of hours spent holding the table until his guests arrive). A return banquet doesn't begin to make this up to him, so what do you do?
Hosting a return banquet, or a meal in a joint-venture hotel, only partially repays your obligation. Your friend might also ask for your help in getting him or his relatives to the United States.
Senior professors and researchers, teachers, and students will be expected to participate in ritual activities that still govern professional and social encounters in China. Ritual is a polite way of getting
to know you while still maintaining a distance, and it helps to clarify the participants' ranks in the social hierarchy. How and by whom you are greeted at the airport, the order in which officials enter a room, and the seating patterns at a welcoming banquet all place hosts and guests in their proper place in the hierarchy. Foreigners are expected to at least attempt to play by the rules, and you can learn a great deal in the process as well. It is important to know what to expect and the meaning of ritualistic signals.
Almost every major occasion in China (be it a welcome, departure, banquet, or formal meeting) opens with an exchange of name cards followed by tea and a superficial exchange of pleasantries. Arrivals and departures are treated with great care. The host unit will, if at all possible, send a representative of suitable stature to the airport or train station to greet or see off an official guest. Many Chinese train stations have special lounges set aside for the rituals associated with meeting and departing—and to shield privileged travelers from the noise and bustle outside as they sip their tea.
Banquets are another form of Chinese ritual, and both distinguished foreign guests and young students can expect to be treated to a welcoming banquet. Student banquets are usually held in the university dining hall where dishes are more plentiful and better than ordinary fare. Distinguished guests will be hosted in the special rooms or screened portions of rooms in well-known Chinese restaurants or some older Chinese hotels.
The welcoming banquet often provides newcomers their first opportunity to witness the structure of authority in the danwei. The host is always the highest-ranking person present and is almost always seated facing the door; the most honored guest sits to the right and the second-ranking host sits directly opposite or at a corresponding position if more than one table is used. Interpreters are situated for practical rather than ritually correct reasons. Banquets usually begin with a cold plate and end with a soup and a simple dessert, usually fresh fruit. They are punctuated with toasts, which for students may be sweet Chinese soda (qishui) and in rural areas is likely to include a devastatingly powerful local liquor akin to China's fiery maotai.
However, beer and Western-style red and white wines are increasingly being served in the larger cities by establishments accustomed to foreign tastes. Except in the countryside (see the section on fieldwork), those who do not drink alcoholic beverages can toast with soda, and women will be expected to consume far less than men. Many Chinese women, even in large cities, do not drink, and Chinese will not press American women to drink, either.
Those who do not (or cannot) eat some of the exotic delicacies served at banquets can move them politely around their plate. Chinese who
have hosted Americans in the past will understand you do not appreciate such dishes as much as they do. It is correct to use a toothpick (covering your mouth with a hand) after dinner, but not to fiddle with your chopsticks (which are supposed to rest, together, at the edge of your plate). Your hosts will use their serving chopsticks to place food on your plate, which you should refuse, cheerfully insisting that you can help yourself, after the first couple of times.
You can expect a great deal of bantering and good will at a welcoming banquet. Your host will signal when the meal is over by standing up and wishing you good-bye. There is little lingering after the meal, and inexperienced Americans often find the evening ending abruptly and early.
If you have any dietary restrictions, especially if you do not eat pork or seafood or are a vegetarian, it is best to inform your hosts in advance. Banquet dishes are heavy on meat and fish, and you may wait in vain for the vegetables. Anyone with allergies to nuts should know that peanut and sesame oils are commonly used in cooking. Your hosts could lose face if you do not eat, and most hosts are happy to accommodate your requests.
Researchers whose work takes them to several sites will invariably be treated to a welcoming banquet at each one, even if the visit is only for a day. Many researchers agree with the assessment of one who found "this way of doing research stultifying and lifeless, not to mention emotionally and physically draining. . . . And yet, this is the form which governs the Chinese model of the research trip. . . . The banquet, despite its highly ritualized form, does lead to a more relaxed atmosphere in which a more genuine connection can be made. Dour officials, reciting facts from memory, unwind to become genial hosts who are quite happy to make unofficial asides on what they just spent most of the morning dishing out to the visitor."
A return banquet at the end of your stay is the best way to express appreciation. To ensure that you depart with warm feelings and a good impression, ask a Chinese friend or assistant to help plan the event. Your favorite restaurant may not be the favorite of your Chinese hosts or the most ritually correct place to hold your farewell dinner.
The cost of your banquet will vary according to where you are (countryside, town, or big city), your status, and the status of those you are hosting. Students hosting their teacher at a local restaurant will pay far less than a senior professor hosting high-status guests. It is possible to find good restaurants charging Y50 per person, but the price will be considerably higher for a high-status banquet. One senior researcher recently paid $1,000 to host the high-ranking officials he had interviewed. Student researchers at smaller institutions may look into banquet facilities at the institute—they may be much cheaper than outside
but still quite acceptable. Get advice from your adviser or someone in the foreign affairs office.
Be sure, when making arrangements, to find out what kind of drinks are included, and remember that most alcoholic beverages are not included in the price of the banquet. Wine, beer, and soft drinks are usually served, and you will want to consider whether to serve maotai. Remember to arrange for transportation for your guests and to pay for the drivers' meals, which will add to the cost. Open the dinner with a short toast of gratitude and expectations of continuing friendship, be sure to serve your guests with your serving chopsticks, encourage them to eat more, and relax as everyone settles in to their ritual roles and the enjoyment of the food.
While it is always a plus when a foreigner understands the rituals well, attitude is more important than superficial correctness. The banquet table is not the place to discuss unpleasant business or to remind your hosts of the glitches in their arrangements. In fact, the banquet can be used to smooth ruffled feelings and get your plans back on track. One researcher who had experienced more stalling than cooperation from his unit, which had never hosted a U.S. scholar, received his welcoming banquet several months after his arrival in Beijing. He made a point of being polite and positive on this public occasion. "My unit was very concerned that I would let my frustration show at my long-delayed welcoming banquet, and they were pleased to no end when I behaved like someone who understands China and can be a good guest."
Steven Butler describes using a banquet to bolster the standing of the local officials responsible for the day-to-day implementation of his work with a visiting official from their parent organization in Beijing. After demonstrating through relaxed, genial behavior how well everyone got along and toasting the importance of individual cooperation, he reports:
The cadre from the Academy left for Peking [Beijing] feeling that he had been well entertained, that my project was proceeding well, that local cadres had been doing an excellent job helping me out, and, most important, that his own work arranging my field research had been successful. The local cadres, in turn, were pleased because I had made them look very good in the eyes of someone whom they regarded as influential. It is by taking advantage of opportunities like this that the researcher can find ways to reduce the heavy burden which he places on almost everyone with whom he comes into contact.2
Anne F. Thurston and Burton Pasternak, eds. The Social Sciences and Fieldwork in China: Views From the Field, p. 121. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, Inc., for the American Association for the Advancement of Science. 1983. Reprinted with permission.
Stick to safe subjects during the meal—the locality and its customs, Chinese food, your travels or plans for travel in China, and the food—and be profuse in your thanks for the help your hosts have given.
Ritual life in China is by no means confined to banquets. It is just as important to try to observe some of the proprieties on less grand occasions. When a Chinese guest comes to your dorm or hotel room, for instance, be sure to pour tea or coffee, or a soft drink on a hot day, no matter how short the visit or how loud the protests. If you offer your friends a choice of beverages, they may refuse them all. Insist that they have something. Having tins of cookies, fruit, or candies on hand for unexpected visits is always a good idea. When making appointments with Chinese friends or officials and teachers, avoid the rest period. It has been said that 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. are ideal times to schedule meetings. Remember that punctuality is essential.
Take a small gift if you are invited to a Chinese home. The guidelines presented earlier (see the section on gifts in Chapter 2) can give you some ideas. Giving gifts to individuals in front of others outside the family setting is considered impolite; either save it for a more private time, or give a gift that can be put easily into a pocket or bag. Do not press an individual to accept a gift when he or she seems genuinely embarrassed or frightened, but keep in mind that it is good form in China to refuse any offer, no matter how attractive, three times. Always give your Chinese friends a fourth chance to accept or decline whatever it is that you are attempting to give them. If you have a driver while you are in China, periodic gifts of cigarettes or music tapes will be appreciated.
One of the great advantages of the current openness in China is that you can ask Chinese friends for advice and help in negotiating the labyrinth of behavioral expectations. And most Americans agree that although the Chinese appreciate sincere attempts to respect Chinese culture by emulating some of the modes of behavior that ease potentially awkward situations, there is no need to lose your own identity in the process. As Scott Seligman observes:
It's important to emphasize that no Chinese seriously expects a foreigner to behave appropriately in all of these situations. Allowances will be made for you whether you want them or not, and you will never be held to very stringent standards. But a small gesture which indicates an awareness of Chinese expectations will go a long way toward complimenting your host. Even in China, it is viewed as the most sincere form of flattery.3
Scott Seligman, "A Shirtsleeves Guide To Corporate Etiquette." The China Business Review, January-February 1983, p. 13. Reprinted with permission of the China Business Forum.
LEGALITY AND ETHICS
Foreign residents are expected not only to respect China's customs but also to conduct themselves in accordance with its regulations and laws. Since regulations are not publicized, are often local, and change frequently, even the most conscientious foreigner has difficulty knowing what they are. Appendix D contains the rules and regulations governing foreign students in China. Several situations sometimes faced by foreign scholars are not covered in these documents:
Visas. Make certain your visa is up to date. If, for instance, you enter on a three- or six-month tourist visa, the Public Security Bureau may extend it for a month. Beyond that, you must leave China (most people go to Hong Kong) to have it renewed. Remember, also, that your behavior in China is expected to be in keeping with your visa status and that stepping too far beyond the boundaries will be frowned upon.
Travel permits. Some parts of China are still officially closed to foreigners, and special permission must be obtained to visit them. Make certain before you set out on a trip that the areas you plan to visit are open. If not, ask for help from your danwei to arrange the necessary permissions.
Off-limits areas. Some areas are also off-limits to foreigners, especially military installations. Warning signs are usually posted, in both Chinese and English, at the crossroads where entry is prohibited, but some foreigners miss the signs and have been caught inside prohibited areas. If you have made an honest mistake, the authorities will usually recognize this and let you off the hook. You are likely to suffer only inconvenience and embarrassment. But individuals who have deliberately ignored the signs have been expelled or made to write confessions.
Changing money. One of the first English phrases Americans along the tourist routes hear is, "Hello, change money?" The black market value of dollars is ordinarily considerably higher than the official rate of exchange, and black market money-changing is pervasive. Some restaurants and stores in south China charge different prices depending on the currency with which one pays. The practice of changing money on the black market is still illegal, and when officials recently caught one longtime foreign resident changing money, they stamped the crime on her identification card, which must be shown for many routine transactions.
Registering with the Public Security Bureau. Foreigners are required to register with the Public Security Bureau wherever they are. Ordinarily, your work unit does this for you, and by registering in any hotel you are also registering with Public Security. If you stay over
night at the home of a relative or friend, however, you are expected to take the initiative to register. If you do not, the local residence committee will quickly learn of your presence and you will be asked to register. Permission can be denied if the Public Security Bureau thinks your accommodations are not appropriate for foreigners.
Taking cultural relics out of the country. Sale of antiques is strictly controlled in China, and written permission must be obtained to take cultural relics out. In the past, few antiques were available for sale, but the recent commercialization of China is changing that. If your travels present an opportunity to buy, keep the receipt and make certain the sale also includes permission to take your acquisitions out.
Neibu (internal) materials. Much information in China, including high-quality maps, is considered neibu, or classified. Many scholars nonetheless are given such materials, and a few scholars have had difficulty when their possession of such materials became known. On rare occasions, suspected neibu material is temporarily confiscated for official review (and on even rarer occasions the scholar has been detained as well). If you have not received permission to take such material out of the country and your luggage is inspected when you leave, the material can be confiscated. Even non-neibu materials may be questioned if your luggage is inspected. If you are carrying non-neibu materials, one scholar recommends getting a letter with an official seal attesting that all copies are legitimate.
The problem of neibu materials raises larger ethical issues for U.S. researchers. Individual Chinese sometimes put themselves at risk by sharing information with and voicing personal opinions to U.S. academics. When this information is important to your research project, not to note it runs the risk of vitiating scholarship. Publishing it may violate ethical norms of protecting one's informants. How to balance the two concerns remains a problem for some researchers that is not easily solved.
Teachers also sometimes confront the dilemma of balancing Chinese sensitivities to the content of their courses with their own standards of academic freedom and the unhindered exchange of ideas. Many labor over decisions of when to present material that challenges or offends their hosts and when to compromise or pull back. Most American teachers report considerably more academic freedom than they had expected, but occasional incidents occur—as when a teacher showing videotapes of the Clinton-Bush presidential debates was asked to edit out the section dealing with U.S.-China relations.
Taxes. American teachers remain exempt from Chinese taxes for three years and become subject to taxation thereafter. If you are planning a long-term stay in China, acquaint yourself with the law and the tax agreement between China and the United States.
Religious activities. While many religious organizations sponsor programs in China, religious proselytizing is prohibited.
Romance between Chinese and foreigners. Romance at the undergraduate level in China, even between Chinese, is ordinarily frowned on, and teachers and student class monitors often intervene when they observe the blossoming of romance. Mores, however, are changing rapidly, particularly in the cities, and reports of student behavior from American teachers interviewed for this book differed widely. Romance is inevitably complicated when an American is involved; Americans who have married Chinese in China have invariably reported bureaucratic interference and delays. Casual dating, particularly by young Chinese women, is still not widely accepted, though the situation is changing in the more Westernized cities. Many young Chinese women are likely to assume that a marriage is in the making after a few public dates with an American. Americans need to be sensitive to the cultural differences when dating Chinese.
Conversely, the periodic campaigns against ''spiritual pollution" and pornography from the West have portrayed Westerners as prone to loose morals. Some Chinese men view American women as more suibian —casual—in their sexual relations, and misunderstandings have resulted. Similarly, some American men have suspected Chinese women of pursuing them romantically as a means of getting to the United States and obtaining a green card.
Finally, several couples in mixed marriages—American husband and Chinese wife—report considerable discrimination against the Chinese wife. One couple suggests keeping openly affectionate public behavior to a minimum.
The brighter side, however, is that romances between Chinese and Americans do blossom, that Chinese and Americans do, despite the bureaucratic obstacles, get married. Nevertheless, Americans on the verge of romance need to be particularly sensitive to the cultural and bureaucratic differences.
Only on extremely rare occasions have Americans been jailed in China. The more likely route when an American's behavior becomes unacceptable to Chinese authorities is temporary detention followed by immediate expulsion. If you should ever be detained for any reason, try to contact the U.S. Embassy or the closest U.S. consulate immediately —or have a friend do so. The Consular Convention between the United States and China provides that Chinese authorities must notify the U.S. Embassy within 48 hours of an apprehension of an American.
For an excellent article on the different concepts of guilt, procedure, and trial in China and the United States as they were revealed in the prosecution of an American who was imprisoned for causing a hotel
fire in which ten people died, see Stanley B. Lubman and Gregory Wajnowsci, "Criminal Justice and the Foreigner," in The China Business Review, November-December 1985.
Americans should also be warned that theft in China is much more common now than several years ago, and numerous people, particularly students who ride buses frequently, report having their pockets picked. Women also report mild forms of sexual molestation on crowded buses. Thefts of computers from dormitory rooms are also on the rise. Make certain, particularly in crowds, to keep your money and passport close to your person (definitely not in a backpack). Many people with small laptop computers advise locking them in a suitcase when leaving the room for any length of time and suggest that the fewer people who know you have such equipment, the safer it is.
THE FOREIGN COMMUNITY
The foreign community in China has grown dramatically in recent years, especially in Beijing and major coastal cities. Academics will find not only diplomats and journalists in many large cities but foreign businesspeople, too. Some Americans, particularly students intent on immersing themselves in Chinese society, eschew contact with other foreigners. Others, particularly those with little Chinese, turn to foreigners for friendship, support, and exchange of information about a wide variety of topics. Contact with the business community can provide an insight into China's far-reaching economic changes that the academic community has little opportunity to experience firsthand. Although "Western-style" activities are becoming more common in China, many universities are located far from the center of town, and "getting into the city" is a major excursion usually reserved for weekends. And such diversions are usually expensive, requiring a cash outlay that many students and teachers cannot afford. It is still possible to feel isolated and cut off from the outside world.
Many U.S. students, teachers, and researchers live in foreign enclaves —foreign student dormitories, special residences for foreign faculty, hotels, or the huge Friendship Hotel in Beijing, built in the 1950s for Soviet foreign experts. The foreign community in these places provides friendship and support when contact with Chinese is limited. Many welcome the opportunity to live with people from all over the world and like the more Western ambiance of the enclaves. Some find the challenge of living among so many nationalities equally as great as the challenge of adjusting to Chinese culture. In fact, some of the most disruptive clashes occur not between foreigners and Chinese but among foreigners who live in close quarters without clearly defined rules to guide their interpersonal relations.
Thus, living in a foreign enclave provides a different set of challenges. On the one hand, because information in China is scarce, for-
eigners learn to seek it out, and new information passes rapidly throughout the foreign community—just as it does among the Chinese, through what they call "back alley news." Such information is an important way of keeping abreast of change and one of the facets of life in China that make it so interesting. But not all such information is accurate. China is a place of rumors, too, and passing "information" so quickly by word of mouth often amounts only to gossip.
Many people in China report wide swings in mood, from exhilaration to depression—the high, for instance, when an interview you hoped to have finally comes through and the low when a request for material is denied. The long, cold winter months tend to be the most difficult, particularly when holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas are celebrated alone without the usual family festivities. These moods can be contagious within foreign enclaves, and the worst periods in China are when the "blues" seem to hit everyone at the same time. There is no easy way to escape the down times. Nearly everyone experiences them. But when the mood pervades the foreign community, short-term escape may be in order. The fact is that there is much to do in China, and much of it is free or very inexpensive—long visits to local markets or historic sites or parks, curling up with a good novel, a determined effort to meet with Chinese friends, walks through a city's little alleyways, a long distance telephone call home, a Chinese massage or facial or a new regimen of ginseng, or an afternoon in the lobby of one of the Western hotels. For the young and young at heart, there are discos and karaoke bars. What is most important to remember is that the ups and downs are part of the experience, and many people return home to recognize that in the process they have learned a great deal not only about China but about themselves. And many people have struggled through a difficult situation only to reach a breakthrough that becomes one of the most rewarding experiences—whether professional or personal—of their lives.
Housing in China will depend on your status and the type of program you are in.
Students are almost always assigned to a campus dormitory reserved for foreigners. Most colleges and universities do not allow Chinese and foreign students to room together (the Johns Hopkins-Nanjing Center is an exception, which is one of its attractions to U.S. students). The definite trend in the larger schools is to segregate foreign students in separate dormitories.
How much students pay out of pocket is determined by the kind of program in which they enroll. Most U.S.-sponsored language programs
charge a flat tuition, room, and board fee that covers all the essentials including meals; other programs include only partial payment to the Chinese organization for these services. Graduate students and undergraduates who make their own arrangements with a Chinese institution of higher learning will pay all expenses directly to that institution. In addition, there are a variety of agreements between Chinese and U.S. institutions for student exchanges that include remission of tuition or room-and-board costs. See Appendix D, "Regulations Concerning the Admission of Foreign Students in Chinese Schools, 1986."
Chinese schools have separate dining halls for foreign students. However, foreign students may, if they wish, have meals in the canteens for Chinese students. They should observe the regulations of the dining halls and canteens and maintain order in them. Chinese schools provide dormitories for their foreign students. In general, two students share one room. No special accommodations are available for married couples or for a student's family members. In some schools, if space permits, students can occupy a room alone—if they pay for the unused bed. Room rates vary from school to school but they generally range from $5 to $10 a day for a single room with public bath. Some schools require lump-sum payments at the beginning of the semester, but timing is often negotiable.
Teachers, whether Fulbright lecturers, "foreign experts," or "foreign teachers," will have housing provided, usually free of charge, by their work unit. In some cases, housing is on campus—either in rooms or apartments on campus or, in Beijing, in the Friendship Hotel. As noted earlier, the regulations governing foreign experts state that the housing provided by the hiring party will also include furniture, bedding, a bathroom, a television set, a refrigerator, and facilities for heating and air conditioning, although the quality and condition of these amenities vary considerably.
Researchers, whether dissertation-level students or more advanced scholars, are considered guests and must pay for their housing from their own funds. If your research affiliation is with a university, it is often possible, with a little negotiating, to find housing on campus. Each campus often has several possibilities—foreign student housing for the single graduate student, foreign teachers' or foreign experts' housing for the more senior researcher or any researcher traveling with family, and, in some places now, guest houses or even hotels. Some have lived in apartment buildings housing Chinese faculty.
The prices of these options vary widely, not only among the accommodations but also within any accommodation according to your status, how you have been introduced to the place, and how well you or your Chinese friend or host may be negotiating on your behalf. Some good negotiators have been able to reduce the cost of their housing by
15 to 20 percent by pointing to longstanding "friendships" or arguing that the length of their stay—anything more than two weeks—justified a reduced rate. Some people have relied on their academic adviser to negotiate reductions of up to 50 percent. Researchers on a shoestring have persuaded university officials to house them in cheaper student dormitories. The budgets of younger scholars in particular dictate looking into several possibilities and negotiating for reasonable accommodations at reasonable prices. Be prepared to stay a week or two in more expensive accommodations until long-range housing can be arranged.
The researcher affiliated with an institute that does not have housing for foreigners faces a more complicated set of choices. As one recent researcher writes, "Finding a reasonably comfortable, clean, quiet, secure place to live, with adequate and functional plumbing, located a manageable distance from one's workplace is a chronic problem in China—for everyone."
Many Chinese research institutes have arrangements with one or two local hotels to house their foreign guests, where they get a special rate. But if you find the hotel too far from your work, too noisy or expensive, you may want to find a place on your own. This can take time. Someone in your research institute, or other Chinese friends, might be able to suggest a place. So might other foreigners who have lived in the city longer than you. Inquire widely and be prepared to spend some time investigating. Inexpensive housing for foreigners is in short supply almost everywhere in China.
Finally, one scholar points out that housing and other costs can become very expensive when your research institution has made formal arrangements for you to visit a similar institute in another city. She writes that if a formal request goes from one unit to another, her institute required that she "be placed in an international hotel, be assigned (for a fat fee) an academy car and driver, etc., and pay the host unit one-half again the total cost of all things arranged by them." This is obviously extraordinarily expensive and other institutes operate under different rules, but if informal arrangements would get you the same access to the scholars you hope to meet or the research materials you want to peruse, economics may suggest going the informal route.
Researchers who travel or work in the countryside have been housed in a variety of accommodations—from dormitories to moderately priced hotels. In recent years, many work units have begun charging flat daily sums for research in rural areas which include housing, food, transportation and overhead. Some field scientists report paying between $200 and $300 a day, but others are able to work much less expensively. Choice of accommodations is limited in the countryside and the researcher is more dependent on his hosts. Persistent reminders to your hosts that your budget is limited will help keep down costs.
Below are descriptions, by category, of the physical set-up of student dormitories, campus apartments, and a range of hotels.
If your physical accommodations are important to you, you would be wise to inquire about what type of dormitory space is available for the study programs you are considering. Some Americans prefer to duplicate as closely as possible a Chinese student lifestyle. (Chinese students, however, live six to eight to a room, while foreign students generally live two to a room.) Others are more comfortable in more modern facilities. New dormitories for foreign students have been constructed on many university campuses that host large numbers of foreign students, and some represent quite a departure from the earlier buildings. A few even have air conditioning, private bathrooms, and 24-hour heating.
On campuses where new construction has not taken place, dormitories are remarkably uniform in their outward appearance and furnishings. Almost all are gray, cement edifices with communal shower rooms, communal bathrooms with Asian-style squat toilets, laundry rooms equipped with washing machines, washboards and clotheslines, a television lounge, and a reading or reception room. In many dormitories, boiled water for drinking may be fetched from a boiler room. Hot water for laundry or showers is usually available only a few hours each day, often right after the dinner hour. Not all older dormitories are heated, and those that are usually have heat for a few hours in the morning and again in the evening. When the heat is on, the rooms are quite comfortable, but hallways and communal rooms can be cold and dark in the winter. Many people suggest putting up polyethylene sheeting as storm windows. Electricity can be erratic, especially in the evenings. Room sizes vary. Some (for example, in the Shaoyuan Lou Guesthouse at Peking University) are small (3 meters x 4.5 meters); others are quite large, even by Western standards.
Regardless of size, however, rooms are typically furnished with a bed and desk for each occupant and at least one bookcase and wardrobe. Rooms are spartan: whitewashed cement walls, gray cement floors, and a stark fluorescent light overhead. Newcomers are routinely issued a thermos for storing potable water, mosquito netting, a padded cotton quilt, woolen blanket, two sheets, and a washbasin. With imagination and effort, rooms can be decorated and arranged to suit individual tastes, and you might want to bring a bright cotton bedspread or a few posters and trinkets from home to brighten up your surroundings. Plants are very inexpensive, and free markets are filled with inexpensive kitsch, some of which is worth bringing home for the beginnings of a longer-term China collection.
The dormitory community on most campuses includes foreigners of
many nationalities, teachers (Chinese and sometimes foreign), and Chinese caretakers (shifu), all living together. The shifu answer telephones, clean the hallways and common rooms, distribute newspapers and mail, and generally watch over dormitory residents and their guests. In many dormitories, Chinese visitors are required to register. Mail comes in twice each day and is generally placed on a hall table or in mailboxes designated by nationality. Most dormitories have only one or two telephones for incoming and outgoing calls, and residents are notified of calls by loudspeaker or a knock on their door. Some of the dorms that have been built recently have better telephone facilities. The Shaoyuan Guesthouse at Beida, for example, has a telephone on each floor, and the apartment suites have their own telephones.
A student housed at a dormitory for both Chinese and foreigners describes her living conditions:
Foreign students. . .are housed in a 12 story building which also houses Chinese students, some faculty, departmental offices and the dining halls. Female foreigners are on the 8th floor, male on the 9th, and for all the rumors I heard about puritanical strictness, there was mingling between floors. On the 9th floor there is a rather barren lounge area with a TV. Each room has a radiator and mine was pleasantly warm all winter long. Each floor has one phone, and the connection is always dreadful; 2-3 shower stalls which provide hot water for showers from about 9:30 in the morning to 9:30 at night. If one wants hot water for any other purpose, it must be obtained from the shower. One small kitchen—4 gas burners and a sink in a very small, very dirty unventilated room. Even if one doesn't cook, one generally boils one's own drinking water. A washroom with ample sink space for various sorts of washing, and space to hang clothes to dry. A cesuo [bathroom] with 2 squatting and one sitting toilet. Smells bad, but usually functions.
Foreign students can eat at the foreign student dining hall for a few yuan a day, or they can eat at the Chinese students' canteen for even less. Some institutions allow students (Chinese and foreign) to eat in the teachers' dining hall, which may be a bit more expensive than the student dining halls but may have better food. The latter are crowded and lively; some have no tables or chairs, and students are responsible for bringing their own bowls and utensils. Most students complain that the food is monotonous and sometimes greasy and cold. Chinese and foreign students alike devise ways to cook in their rooms using hot plates (which are usually forbidden) with ingredients from local stores and markets, where there is plenty to choose from and prices are cheap. With the burgeoning of small, privately owned restaurants, most neighborhoods have at least a few good, inexpensive places for eating out.
The main complaint of students in dormitories is noise. Late-night parties are common in many foreign student residences, and no formal
rules govern foreign student dorm life. Nor is there a student organization to make such rules. Many dormitories are now renting rooms to short-term nonstudent guests, and serious students complain about their late-night, noisy returns. Programs run by U.S. universities and supervised by U.S. faculty provide a means for more structure, with group meetings to formulate mutually acceptable rules. Former students suggest that the Golden Rule is still the best way to live harmoniously with many different students from many different countries.
Some married students have reported great difficulty arranging to live together, and many schools will not bend the rules to let them do so. One couple reports having to move to a higher priced hostel on campus in order to live together. Students bringing their spouses should check with their host institution in advance about the regulations and what alternative arrangements can be made.
Campus housing, and people's reactions to it, is diverse. For a description of the variations, several representative occupants speak for themselves:
Housing excellent, though we were compelled to fight for such necessities as laundry facilities, heat in November, and a decent phone. . . Furniture excellent. We had two bedrooms and a big living room, a modern kitchen (with oven) and a full bathroom. One problem—no double bed.
Our first reaction to the flat was "You mean we're going to live here?" It was hot and dirty and nothing was clean or ready. . .but our nesting instincts started to come out and we worked at making things better. The best way to describe the housing is that it is small but adequate and you learn to adjust. Even though the carpeting is considered a luxury. . .it has been the most frustrating part of trying to keep the apartment clean. Everything sticks to it and the dirt is almost impossible to remove—especially with a Chinese broom! [Some people recommend bringing rug cleaner from the United States.]
The unit consists of one large room (20 ft x 15 ft), a small room (13x10), a medium sized bathroom, and a small entrance hallway. The unit is carpeted, air-conditioned and well-heated in winter. It is not new but reasonably clean; bathroom is grubby. When we first moved in there were some roaches, but now just about gone.
Housing adequate by Chinese standards, but not by ours. "Bathroom" is a shower stall with a toilet in it. Cooking is difficult but not impossible—kitchen has a 2-burner "stove" at knee height, a piano-bench-sized table about mid-thigh height, and a hip-high sink-the only sink we have. Flat has an entrance hall, off of which open the living-room, kitchen, "bathroom," bedroom and office/workroom. Flat is "cozy'' for two—crowded for more than that. Building is roach-infested, although we have managed to keep our flat pretty clear of them—combination of Combat and
Chinese "magic white powder." Some flats have roaches in the refrigerators! They live under the door gaskets. Heating is on only from Nov. 15 to March 15 and there may be some chilly weeks before heat goes on and after it goes off.
Overall, the most common housing problems include poor and leaky plumbing, insufficient heat, a lack of hot water, inadequate storage space, poor lighting, erratic electricity, and difficulty cleaning. Roaches are common, but most people manage to control them after a while. Insect spray is available in the Western supermarkets in large cities, but some people recommend bringing a supply of roach killer or "cockroach hotels" from the United States. Mice are not unknown, but they ordinarily seem to occupy the lower floors.
Cooking was another commonly mentioned problem. Most people, even those with kitchens, adopt a multipronged strategy, doing some cooking in their apartment and eating other meals in the campus dining hall (where the most common complaint is that the food becomes monotonous) or nearby privately owned restaurants. Some hire an ayi (recent reports indicate that a privately hired ayi from the countryside is generally Y2 to 3 an hour) to come in and cook occasionally, and sometimes a group of three to five people hire an ayi to cook for them as a group. Some people have formed "eating clubs" and pay their dining hall chef extra (Y10 per person) to cook a special meal once a week. "Eating clubs" also make weekly excursions to local restaurants, which are always more fun with more people because you can order more dishes to share. Some people find that the food in small restaurants is too oily or salty. Experimentation may be necessary before you find a few favorites.
Hotel accommodations in China range from the very expensive joint-venture hotels (some of which have five-star ratings), offering Western amenities and service at Western prices, to very modest establishments that house Chinese travelers as well as foreign guests. In most cases, if Chinese hosts make arrangements, they will place you in medium-priced lodging, usually at one of the older Chinese hotels. As mentioned earlier, the problem, particularly for graduate students and young faculty on limited budgets, is to find an acceptable hotel at a reasonable price. Many Chinese hotels have recently been renovated, and prices are going up fast. One scholar in Beijing describes the fruits of his search for a reasonable hotel:
At Y80 a night, the Jiangsu offered considerable savings over the cheapest tourist places. The hotel was built only a couple of years ago and already shows signs of considerable wear, but the owners had aimed high and the accommodations are fairly comfortable. The rooms are small, but the beds and hot water are excellent. The rooms contain the standard ameni-
ties: bathroom (not very clean), telephone, television. The staff was very courteous and helpful, a pleasant surprise, and the hotel tries to provide nice touches here and there (complimentary copies of Beijing Ribao are delivered daily). The restaurant also was surprisingly good and inexpensive (Y10-15 for dinner). In addition, there are several excellent getihu [privately owned] restaurants in the street directly opposite the hotel. . . and a variety of decent, but slightly more expensive, restaurants can be found farther south.
Typical suites in Chinese hotels include one or two rooms, a private bath, very small closet or wardrobe, bureau, desk, telephone, and color television. The amount and type of furniture in each room is fixed by regulations, which allow for little maneuvering within the system. Most long-term residents find ways to decorate their room with plants, prints, and extra furniture purchased outside. Aficionados learn to frequent the local antique stores where good quality wooden furniture can be purchased relatively inexpensively, although prices, as for everything, are going up.
Kitchen facilities are rarely provided in hotels, but refrigerators are becoming more common, and all hotels have a dining room. Some offer both Chinese and Western food. Hotel fare at the more modest establishments is usually relatively inexpensive (about Y10 to Y15 per person for a simple lunch and Y30 for a dinner with several dishes), and eventually, like dormitory food, it becomes monotonous. (The fancy joint-venture hotels usually have several restaurants offering different national specialties at Western prices.) A few people have mentioned that some hotels require their guests to pay for three meals a day in their own restaurants—a matter most people would want to negotiate in the interest of taking advantage of the better neighborhood restaurants or those in other hotels. And everyone occasionally wants to buy food from the market and find creative ways to eat "at home."
Some hotel residents have lunch at their work unit for a few mao per meal, eating only breakfast and dinner at the more expensive hotel restaurant. Some units strongly advise their foreign guests against eating in the canteen—sometimes to maintain the separation between foreigners and danwei personnel, but sometimes because the quality of canteen food is not good. One researcher who insisted on principle that he be allowed to take lunch at the workplace was told repeatedly by colleagues that the food was not up to minimal standards of cleanliness. When he finally won the right to eat at work, he became violently ill. In larger cities, some people find ways to bring their lunch to their work unit by taking advantage of the bread, peanut butter, cheese, and other "delicacies" available in Friendship Stores or joint-venture hotels; others return to their hotel for lunch and rest or to prepare for the afternoon's activities.
Hotel life in China can also become monotonous, and the sense of isolation on the part of long-term hotel guests is probably stronger than for those who live in foreign communities. The same advice about overcoming the sense of isolation and the inevitable "downs" in China offered previously on pages 68-69 thus applies even more strongly to the long-term hotel resident.
The problem of privacy may also be greater in inexpensive hotels. Most floors have a service desk on each floor staffed by fuwuyuan (service personnel). Keys are usually kept there, and service personnel are generally very attentive to the comings and goings of hotel guests and their visitors. If you do much work in your room, you may also have to negotiate when the fuwuyuan come to clean, since some hotels send five or six people to visit the room every day, each with a different task—from cleaning the bathroom to watering the plants. One person reported a week of negotiations before the routine was worked out. On the positive side, getting to know hotel personnel and understanding how the hotel functions as a workplace offers another interesting perspective on Chinese life.
ARRANGEMENTS FOR ACCOMPANYING SPOUSES AND CHILDREN
Chinese regulations prohibit undergraduate students from bringing spouses and children to China (although some manage to do so anyway). Dissertation-level students, researchers, and teachers may be accompanied by their families if prior permission has been received from the host institution. Not all institutions may agree, however; some have problems providing accommodations for families because of acute housing shortages, and some places charge extra for family housing and food.
Not all cities have adequate pediatric care (see pages 12-16). Some host institutions are concerned about finding proper schooling for children. For these reasons, host institutions may be reluctant to accommodate families. Nonetheless, most people who come with families work out satisfactory arrangements, and many find that having children breaks the ice when meeting Chinese. One couple with a blond-haired toddler report groups gathering around them every time they went out, and requests to have pictures taken with the child were frequent (which, fun at first, became tiresome after a while).
Couples with children ordinarily are given apartments with an extra bedroom, although in at least one instance the apartment assigned to a single parent and child had only one bedroom, a living room, and a bathroom.
Researchers with families and tight budgets living in dormitories face the greatest challenge. One researcher accompanied by her husband and two children describes their living situation:
Our living conditions. . .were quite spartan. The four of us lived in a single room in the old foreign students dorm, with a gas ring and bathroom down the hall. As we were on the third floor, we frequently had water stoppages due to the low water pressure in Nanjing. There was a communal washing machine available, but it was frequently on the fritz. . . . We had to haul hot water up three flights to wash diapers and children. After the first few months. . .we were able to get a second room as a study. The biggest problem for us was our 6-month-old son who was just learning to crawl. The rotting wooden floors were uncleanable and it seemed impossible to find for him a place that was reasonably clean. We finally enclosed him within a structure we made of numerous hempen mattresses and their bench-like supports.
Several parents interviewed in China expressed concerns about the difficulty of keeping floors clean while children are still crawling. People living outside Beijing recommended bringing a gallon of chlorine bleach from the United States as a cleaner and disinfectant. Parents with small children also pointed out that plastic bicycle seats for children are not available, and many preferred those to the less sturdy bamboo constructions commonly used in China. They suggested bringing a bicycle seat and a child's helmet from the States if children will ride with you. Cotton swabs and disposable wipes are also difficult to obtain outside the most Westernized cities.
Schooling options for families with children are varied and include a limited number of international schools in several large cities, Chinese schools, and home schooling. Many people with preschool children hire an ayi, at least part time. With continuing economic decentralization in China, capable ayis are relatively easy to find, although people urge you to rely on the recommendation of a good friend. An American doctor in Beijing suggests obtaining a health certificate guaranteeing that the ayi does not have tuberculosis, which is fairly common in China. In addition to helping care for your child (and for additional money), people have relied on an ayi to wash diapers, do housekeeping, cook, and market.
Many people with nursery- or kindergarten-aged children put them in Chinese schools, with great success. The family described above put their four-year-old daughter in a full-time nursery school:
It was difficult for her at first, as she was one of two foreign children, but she quickly adjusted and learned quite fluent Nanjing dialect by the end of the year. Her teachers were extremely solicitous and caring of her. We paid Chinese rates for this child care and it was an almost unbelievable bargain.
Indeed, the reported experiences of virtually everyone whose children attended Chinese nursery school and kindergarten were positive. However, one couple who brought their children with them to live several years ago suggests that parents give strict instructions to their children's preschool not to give them any medications or vaccinations without prior parental approval. There had been a serious health incident at the school when the wrong medication was mistakenly given to a large number of children. While the parents believed this was an isolated incident, they suggested that other American parents give similar instructions to the school against administering medicine or shots.
At the elementary school level, a few big cities, such as Beijing, Shanghai, Shenyang, Tianjin, and Guangzhou, have international schools. Beijing now has a Montessori school. Tuition at most of the international schools is expensive, but reports on school quality are overwhelmingly positive. Children seem to have few problems with academic readjustment when they return to U.S. schools. The International School of Beijing is a coeducational day school for English-speaking expatriate children in kindergarten through twelfth grades. It operates in a four-story building in the Lido (Holiday Inn) Hotel complex located in the northeastern suburbs of Beijing. (The school is accredited in the United States only through the eighth grade, and is currently seeking full accreditation for the high school.) Tuition is $8,100 a year per child. Fulbright faculty are given stipends to send their children to international schools. One parent whose son attends the International School of Beijing at the Lido Center writes "It is an excellent school, even better than American schools." Writes another:
Our daughter attends the Beijing International School [and] is in the 9th grade. We have been quite satisfied with the school and [our daughter] has enjoyed it very much. She has made very good friends on an international scale-Denmark, Norway, India, Iraq, etc. The curriculum is similar to U.S. high schools and the faculty seem to be mostly very good. There are some limitations in the upper school as to classes available. The languages offered are Chinese and French. The classes are small. . .and there are 18 students in her class. I have heard very good comments about the lower and middle schools, also.
Space is limited. If you are interested in the school, you should submit an application as early as possible before your proposed arrival in China. For further information, write:
Mr. David Eaton
The International School of Beijing
Jiang Tai Road
People's Republic of China
The Montessori School is located at the Lufthansa Center in downtown Beijing. Courses are in English, but there are many Chinese teachers, and children also learn Chinese. There are 160 children from 70 to 80 countries, including China.
The U.S. Consulate General in Shenyang has established the American Academy, which is located in the consulate compound. The curriculum consists of an accredited correspondence course administered by an American teacher. The school operates only if there are sufficient students and an available teacher.
The U.S. Consulate General in Shanghai also runs a U.S. school in one of the consulate's buildings for prekindergarten through ninth grade. In 1993, the tuition was US$9,750 per year, with an additional $750 transportation fee. The school is located at 155 Jianguo Road, Shanghai. The telephone number is 21-252-1687.
The American School of Guangzhou is located on the fourth floor of the Office Tower in the Garden Hotel. The school accommodates children of kindergarten age to the eighth grade. Tuition for the school year is US$8,200.
In Tianjin, MTI has established an international school. Further information on these schools can be obtained from the appropriate American consulate.
One difficulty with the international schools is that they are often a considerable distance from one's residence. Traffic in China's cities is becoming increasingly congested, so children sometimes spend more than two hours each day commuting back and forth, and often special rides have to be arranged at additional expense.
Parents who have placed their children in Chinese elementary schools have also been pleased. Writes one Fulbright lecturer in answer to a question about schooling:
Excellent! Our seven-year old daughter was welcomed into the first grade of the local elementary school, where she was fully integrated into the school program. She was treated wonderfully by students and teachers alike and within four months was fully conversant and feeling "at home" in school.
Both of our two children attend local schools. One goes to an elementary school, the other attends a local middle school. Initially, they had a difficult time in adjusting. Now they are getting along quite nicely and their Chinese has improved significantly (starting almost from ground zero).
If you come with young kids, by all means send them to a Chinese school. The Chinese kids are real friendly, and in a month, after a few days of crying, your child will be conversant. In a year they'll be bilingual!
Your Chinese host institution can assist you in finding appropriate Chinese schools.
Beyond elementary school, if children cannot attend the International School in Beijing, parents rely on several options. In Beijing, one father sent his son to the Beijing Language Institute.
My second son, 16, has been going to Beijing Language Institute. There are about 1,500 foreign students studying Chinese at the Institute from some 50 countries. It is about a 20-minute bike ride from where we live. He has done well thus far and covered two years of college level Chinese in about 4 months. The tuition is about $1,500 a year.
Some families opt for a combination of Chinese middle school and college-preparatory correspondence courses or home study, and some rely exclusively on either correspondence courses or home study. The books Home Style Teaching: A Handbook for Parents and Teachers, by Raymond and Dorothy Moore, and Homeschooling for Excellence, by David and Micki Colfax, are recommended by people involved in homeschooling in China. Other children have taken correspondence courses through the University of Nebraska School of Continuing Education, the American School in Chicago, and the University of Wisconsin extension. Many parents hire Chinese (and even French) tutors for the children, and some parents have tutored their children themselves in coordination with their children's teachers in the United States.
THE ACADEMIC CALENDAR
The academic year in China is broken in two by the Spring Festival or Lunar New Year (chunjie), a celebration that symbolically marks the end of winter. The month-long holiday after chunjie, which usually falls during the last week of January or the first of February, marks the end of the academic term that begins in late August or early September. The second term begins around the end of February—depending on the date of chunjie—and runs through late June.
The pace in most work units slows considerably during these holidays because staff often travel to visit relatives or sightsee. Many foreigners enjoy celebrating these holidays with Chinese friends and colleagues, where gatherings involve the making of traditional Chinese New Year's dumplings. If your research plans require meetings with specific scholars or continuation of work during one of these holidays, be sure to make arrangements as far in advance as possible, recognizing that your plans could force your coworkers to give up their vacation time.
Foreigners are given time off to observe Chinese holidays, and many institutions schedule trips or other activities during semester breaks.
This is a time many Americans take off, often traveling south to warmer climates. Shorter holidays, such as National Day (October 1) and May Day (May 1), may offer opportunities for two or three days of travel. Foreigners are not entitled to time off for their own national or religious holidays, but many units arrange for celebrations of Christmas, Hanukkah, and other holidays. Americans have reported great success throwing Halloween, Christmas, and Easter-egg parties —and even celebrations of Thanksgiving without turkey—and inviting Chinese students, colleagues, and friends. These are good occasions for friendships to develop.