Portrait of Shanghai: a student’s perspective

Shanghai’s population recently breached 20 million and there is every indication it will continue accelerated growth in the near future. The glamor of city lights and the promise of prosperity has attracted people of every type to the city.  To know the city begins by getting to know its people, and I had some amazing opportunities to sit down and talk with many people in Shanghai. I am so thankful to God for bringing me in contact with these few.

The following posts will highlight some of the people in an effort to paint a portrait of Shanghai. Due to considerations for privacy and frankly, because I often forget to whip out my archaic 3MP camera, many of these people will not have a face associated with their names. 


Sandy is currently studying for finals in her last year at Fudan University. A brilliant student and an extremely amicable girl, she’s one of those girls that has big dimples when she smiles. Sandy is already accepted at a graduate program  at another university and on a fast track to become a Chinese diplomat.

She was an exchange student in America a while ago where she was curious about the faith and had learned about Christ at Harvest fellowship gatherings. However, due to her aspirations to work for the government, she has distanced herself from the christian faith. She seems like a very loyal friend and has agreed to take some time to meet with David and I. Taking time off from studying at a prestigious university to meet with a friend is no small feat, and is greatly appreciated. We meet her at the library, where else would you expect a grade-A student? Her english is nearly flawless and she brings us around to several locations that a student might typically be at.

We have lunch right across the Fudan University at a student “center”. Our conversation goes in many directions and we touch on the government’s response to the issue of migrant children. Sandy has written an extensive paper on this subject and is very knowledgeable. She mentions that the government is very aware of the real issues facing different demographic groups but not enough is done to truly fix the problem. There are grumblings among the people against the government but censorship keeps these voices from being vocalized.

She says that the government has constructed a socio-economic plan towards a “Harmonious Society” aimed at bettering the life of all citizens. However, in an attempt to keep the peace and the “harmony”, dissenting voices are censored, whether that be shutting down websites or print media. In fact, “harmonious” has now become a euphemism for “censorship”. She mentions a website that was recently harmonized this year bullog.cn. I found out first hand later that websites such as youtube, flickr, blogspot, wordpress were all examples of sites that were harmonized as well.
It’s interesting because everything she was talking about is quite similar to what you’ll read on the wiki, and I’m pretty sure wiki is harmonized. It tells me that students in China are not oblivious to the situation and while dissent is not typically outspoken, it lies in many students minds.
It’s not to say that the government doesn’t try. It does and some areas benefit from governmental programs more than others, but across the board, citizens are not sure what they will get. Perhaps it is her experience abroad that allows her to be able to be an objective observer. At any rate, she has amazing clarity in her vision for a better future for China.
The conversation then shifts to what is most desired in life. As we share about one another’s life goals we soon discover that her diplomatic aspirations were first her family’s goal for her. It is an extremely respected position and would bring both family and country great honor. At this point though she’s not sure if she’ll like it, but she’s got the determination and brains to try.

She outlines what a typical junior diplomat will do. After courses and a program in China, if she gets hired by the Foreign Affairs she’ll be sent to a Linguistics program for ~1 year to learn a new language. She’ll be sent to a developing country for 3-5 years before a promotion will allow her to travel to the more advanced countries we’d like to visit if we were diplomats.

At this point a slight shade of lament appears on her face as she tells us that her friends give her great joy and she’s not sure that being away that many years is for her. Regardless, honor to the family is very much part of her fiber. As long as her parents are alive she will try to reciprocate to them what they have provided for her.

David points out that family is a crucial component of Christ’s teachings as evident in God the Father and God the Son. I point out that at some point in history someone in her family made a critical decision that has led her to where she is today. I so wanted to go a step further and tell her that serving the Lord, master of the universe, would bring her family now and her family to come greater than honor than she could imagine. But I stop short. If this was sowing, God would do the growing, and the harvest will come in God’s time.

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