China, The Dragon that Breathes New Perspectives

ArtsEtc intern Racquel Griffith in China, circa January 2017, on scholarship.

ArtsEtc intern Racquel Griffith: touching the dragon with one hand while still grasping The Broken Trident with the other.  Photo Copyright  © 2017.


I THINK pretty much all of us are guilty of one thing–comparison. Whether we compare our lives to others, or something simple like that pack of Eclipse crackers to those Sodabix on the shelf, we tell ourselves that one is greater than the next. We can’t possibly have the same level of love for both: we need to choose and recognize one as better than the other. If you’re like me, you’ve probably also done this with places you've visited.  I know I have, with South Africa, Canada, South Korea, St Martin.... 

What I’ve come to realize, though, is that even in the places we fall in love with, there is someone in that place longing to be somewhere else. There is someone envying you and your country, all the while you’re envying theirs. But for every one thing I admired in another country, there were two or three things in mine that, if asked, I would never trade. 

Right now, my life in China has been a gamechanger when it comes to perspective. Living in China pushed me to stop comparing in the general sense of "one thing is better than the next" and start valuing specific attributes about the place itself. So now when people ask me, "Do you like China better than Barbados?" it always feels like such a bizarre, unanswerable question. There are things about China I love, and there are things about Barbados I love. There are also things about both I do not love. For me, the cultures are so different that I couldn’t even judge them based on a question like that. It sounds something like "Do you like shoes better than chocolates?" Yeah, sorry, whaaat? Lol.

If there is one thing that I’ve come to love about China it is how important of a role the arts and history play in its society. China makes sure its people never forget their history, and they make sure the artist is highly valued for keeping that history and culture alive. Regardless of how much economic progress China makes, their cultural progress is kept close, which cannot be said for many countries today. At a time when US President Donald Trump is proposing the elimination of arts and humanities endowments, a country that actually values the arts simply cannot be overlooked. 

Coming from a place like Barbados where enough value isn’t placed on the arts makes China’s value of it feel surreal to me. I've been seeing museums come to life in a modern way, grabbing children’s attention; visiting bookstores in which the layout and inner structure are absolutely captivating; walking and seeing art not just in stores but in the architecture of buildings; seeing artists everywhere you go in so many different forms. Those are the moments I live for. So, of course, there are times when I compare; but not to say that one is better than the next, rather to hold their differences separate, understanding that my country of birth and the country I've come to are two completely different spaces with two completely different ways of life. It’s OK to see things in other places and wish them for your own, because we all want our home countries to be their best.

I long for the day that the arts and sports in my country are not held to be of lesser value than the sciences, math and IT. I long for us to document more, write more, sing more, dance more, value cricket and art more. I also wish things for China–that it will be freer: freer in its media, in its politics, in some of its laws. That it will be more inclusive so my skin won’t feel like a red flag saying, "Stare at me, please." And even with that, I’ve come to understand why things in China are the way they are, just like I’ve come to understand why things in Barbados are the way they are. I stopped comparing them with other places to critique them, and started comparing to see what was present and what was lacking in order to isolate these qualities, study them. I've tried to keep open-minded and non-judgmental in order to understand and appreciate. Within the heart of the dragon I've learnt that comparison isn’t a bad thing, it’s just how you do it and what you choose to learn from it. 

Racquel, an ArtsEtc intern, is currently a master's student at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, China. She is the recipient of a Chinese Government Scholarship through Barbados and is an avid traveller. Her passions include culture, politics, education, and literature.