“The Yangtze River runs through 12 provinces and municipalities where local people observe various cultural customs and this river connects them together. He said the same was true to the River Thames, which connects the whole of England though it runs only 340 kilometers”.
Zhang Donghui, volunteer Chinese teacher at Alderbrook Primary School in London, U.K.
As volunteer teachers in England, we not only teach Chinese but also help local schools establish and strengthen contacts with Chinese schools.
In April this year, I visited an A-level English class at the Bruntwood Elementary School with a delegation from north China’s Tianjin Municipality. The teacher and students were busy preparing for a coming examination. A picture of China’s Yangtze River was on display in the front of the classroom. I thought it might have been specially placed there for our visit or it might have been just a coincidence. The teacher told us the students were instructed to describe a story or a scene; that day’s subject was describing the Thames from any vantage point. The point could be near the school or in the downtown area where the famous tourist attractions — Big Ben, the Parliament buildings and the London Eye — are located. The teacher explained that all the students were top students so they should not confine their writings to scenery description but should also reflect on history and culture.
The teacher said he picked the picture of the Yangtze River because he thought it was as important to the Chinese people as the Thames was to the English people. He even asked me if it were true that the Yangtze was considered as a mother river in China. I told him it was true. Then he said the Yangtze River runs through 12 provinces and municipalities where local people observe various cultural customs and this river connects them together. He said the same was true to the River Thames, which connects the whole of England though it runs only 340 kilometers. He hoped such a comparison could enlighten his students and expand their horizon with open mind and critical thinking.
Encouraged by the school principal, an Afro-British girl shyly asked me what the younger generation in China thought of the Yangtze River. She said that she had never considered the Thames so significant but the older generation looked upon it as the symbol of England’s spirit.
I told her that the Yangtze River is respected not only in the sense of geography, but more in the sense of history and spirit. The culture it carries is as magnificent as its enormous expanse of roaring waves. The Yangtze River gave birth to numerous cultural treasures of the Chinese nation, and historic relics can be seen along both its banks. The river is and will always be a mother river to Chinese people, whether old or young. Her surprised expression told me she could not be convinced in such a short time because of the cultural differences. But I know this is just why our work really counts.
We stayed in the class for a little more than 10 minutes. But I was impressed by the teacher’s enlightening method and the students’ strong interest in foreign cultures, which, as far as I am concerned, is what our Chinese schools should learn from. In the eyes of the British teacher and students, I can see their admiration for the cohesiveness of the Chinese nation and I feel proud of being Chinese.
Ever since then, I have often stopped to look at the Thames, trying to feel its significance as the English people do.
Published in Confucius Institute Magazine
Number 4. Volume IV. September 2009.
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