Smart Answers to “Dull Questions”
Lately the Confucius Institute at the University of Milan is hosting an essay competition with “Telling Images of China” as its theme. When conducting an interview with Prof. Alessandra Lavagnino, Director of the Institute, our reporter looked over some of the essays. Most of the writers are college students majoring in Chinese language that have experience of studying in China. The followers of Marco Polo have travelled all over China and know a great deal about Chinese society. They have the same vision of presenting a real China to Italians who have not visited the country, through activities such as the “Chinese Culture Year in Italy”.
First place winner Sylvia Pizzolla is a student from the University of Milan. She stated that China is a beautiful old country comprised of 56 ethnic groups, each of which has its own unique features. Men and women, old and young, all convene during the Water Splashing Festival to give blessings by splashing water over each other. Chinese language, script and pronunciation are fascinating but also hard to learn, they are key to understanding Chinese culture.
The 3rd place winner Martha Farina graduated in Chinese language department of the University of Milan and she gave an essay entitled “To Answer Dull Questions Smartly”. “Our high school teachers teach us the history of Europe, America and even Africa, but they have no stomach for the history of Asia. Unexpectedly, I fell in love with China at first sight,” she wrote. “With the rapid development of the Chinese economy, China is exerting an increasing influence upon the world. The year of 2008 saw a successful Olympic Games in Beijing. Now, more and more Italians are beginning to show interest in China. They want to have newspapers articles, materials, documentaries and films related to China. We have more reports on China, most of which are very far from the truth. Why? I think one important reason is that our reporters know nothing about Chinese language and culture. So there are some misunderstandings, in other words, dull questions have appeared. For instance, someone asked me: ‘You are learning Chinese language, so can you write Chinese characters?’ I know Chinese characters are unique and hard to learn. However: how I can master Chinese language if I don’t learn Chinese characters? There is another question: ‘Have you ever eaten dog meat? I heard that Chinese people eat dog meat. Do Chinese people really eat with chopsticks?’ Dog meat is an ingredient in Korean dishes, but our people always take it as a Chinese dish. They have no idea of traditional Chinese food and some Italians assume that Chinese people eat only unusual animals such as dog, cat and pigeon in addition to rice. What’s more ridiculous is that a large number of Italians don't even know the differences between Chinese and Japanese culture.” “I think the questions can also serve as ‘market research’, through which we have found that Italians have no idea of Chinese culture.” “The Chinese Culture Year has provided a good opportunity for Italians to learn something about Chinese culture…They can then give smart answers to their own dull questions.”
At present, there are nearly 10 Confucius Institutes established in universities in Rome, Milan, Bologna and Venice with more than 10,000 Chinese learners. With increasing contact between China and Italy in the field culture, locals are taking greater interest in Chinese culture. Chinese courses are available in universities and some primary and secondary schools. Some Italian friends have just returned from their trip to China. They told reporters that the country they saw with their own eyes is totally different from the one in their imagination. An old saying goes: It's better to see once than to hear a hundred times. Only through communication can mutual understanding be deepened. Chinese Culture Year recently opened in Italy and will cover the whole country, playing an important role in promoting Chinese culture and strengthening mutual understanding between the two countries’ peoples.