This semester I am privileged to teach a class on "Western Culture." It's a fun class, but difficult because I am expected to cover in one week, material that could easily take a whole semester on its own.
But the last few weeks, our subject was "Jewish Culture and the Old Testament." I was very excited about this topic as it was information I was very committed to, and we had fun with the information. I was struck by how little the students knew about this (read, nothing) so I decided to do something to expand their horizons. .
Confession...I love "Fiddler On The Roof" I have the soundtrack on my ipod, have memorized the movie, we even saw the play in London at the Savoy Theater....
So in my desire to give them a deeper knowledge of this material, I immediately thought of this movie. Chinese students LOVE English movies, so I decided to go for it. From Tyve's opening line about "not knowing why they do something, just that its tradition", the students were hooked. They laughed in the right parts, and were surprised by others. So far we have gotten as far as the attack on the Jews at Motels wedding...but one thing that struck me was this.
The students were drawn to this movie, because they understand the message the movie is giving. The world changes, and we no longer do something just because we are told. There is more to life than tradition, and we need to be prepared to seek out the why, rather than accept it blindly.
This is something my students struggle with on a daily basis. They look at the life their Grandparents and Parents live, and wonder why. They question why the school has certain rules, and why they have to follow them. They want to understand when something does not make sense, yet they are being told, "Tradition, tradition." Chinese students are taught to stand when they answer a teacher, and I tell them they don't have to. They ask me why, and I respond with the same question. They don't know why they do something, but they want to.
Just as the characters in the movie were forced to change, kicking and screaming, my students are learning how to balance the why, while at the same time show respect for the tradition. I can tell its hard for them, they want more than this life, yet don't know how to balance the past with their rapidly changing future.
I don't envy their job. China is changing so fast its hard to keep up. Yet I trust them; there are some amazing young people stepping up. The China of 1949, is not the China of today. Frankly, the China of 2009 is not the China of today.