• Emily Rose Seeber

What to talk about on an overnight train: China Trip 2017 Part 1


Last week I took twenty five students on a twelve hour overnight train from Beijing to Xi'an with another three members of staff. We were in bunks of four to a cabin and the walls between each cabin were pretty thin. The hidden benefit of this experience was the exceptionally stimulating conversations I had with some of the students in the corridor. Otherwise it would have been a pretty horrendous experience (especially as we had arranged that the naughtiest students were in the cabins adjacent to the staff cabin).

A four berth cabin on the overnight train from Beijing to Xi'an

Students enjoying the cabin lifestyle on the overnight train

I spent about three hours having a 'deep meaningful conversation' (which the students term a DMC) in the corridor with a couple of boys. Other students dropped in and out throughout, but we rotated through a number of fascinating topics and I thought I would list as many as I can remember here.

  • The difference between feminism and egalitarianism

  • Why feminism might be different in China, Morocco and the UK

  • Is the term feminism is still meaningful and should 'gender egalitarian' be used instead?

  • The rise of Donald Trump and what can our experiences in China teach us about this phenomenon

  • Education in the US vs UK vs China including the Texas textbook monopoly and the student campus riots

  • The increasing personality cult of Xi Jinping and the link to the Mao era

  • The relationship between the individual and the community in modern China

  • The tension between liberalism and democracy

  • How long should political terms be?

  • Does the Chinese government achieve more because they have a one party state?

  • What was the point of the cultural revolution

  • Communism as a religion

  • Russian communism vs Chinese communism

  • How to control your population

  • The state of nature and Hobbes vs Locke

  • How to end a totalitarian regime and birth an anarchist state, or a state of nature

  • The history of propaganda in China

  • Why does China want control of Tibet?

  • Why is Chinese food relatively monotonous to an English palate?

  • How multiculturalism effects society in the UK

So we discussed some big questions. And I think discussing these kinds of ideas is why we take students to China in the first place. So they can have a totally different perspective on some big ideas and articulate themselves on complex topics.

A Chinese propaganda poster showing the ballet 'The Red Detachment of Women' which was performed for Nixon in 1972

It made the train ride go incredibly quickly, and the I found that students were starting more DMCs with me over the next six days, as we floated along the Huangpu river, visited the Propaganda Poster Art Museum, or walked around the Marriage Market. In particular they were interested in their relative freedom, which they hadn't anticipated being so infringed for their Chinese counterparts. And they had some interesting discussions with their partner students at our Shanghai link school as well.

China is so culturally and politically distinct from the UK that the overnight train is almost worth the crappy night's sleep. It provides the blank canvas and the extended periods of time for the 'deep meaningful conversations' which make China such a great place to visit.

All credit to the China Trip 2017 students for their willing participation, insightful comments and willingness to learn and think and share.

#broadercurriculum #travel

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© 2017 by Emily Rose Seeber.