‘They wear stupid hats and have stupid little moustaches’

DSC_2634 90% of the time my students are just 13-14 year old students no different to those at home. Sometimes, however, hints of the political context they live in appear in my classes. The other day I was teaching my students about Remembrance Day. I told them a story about Jews in Holland during WWII. Halfway through explaining that Hitler used Jews as a scapegoat for the political and economic problems in Germany after WWI one of my students piped up. ‘But the Jews, they did something bad’. ‘The Jewish people, they took all the money and all the business, that’s why the Germans had no money’.When I asked who the Jewish people are a boy called Adolf (and yes, he did pick that name himself) piped up, and said ‘They wear stupid hats and have stupid little moustaches’. Of course, in my view Jewish people were blameless victims of genocide and was familiar with the concept of Jewish people as mean capitalist businessmen only as a stereotype. However, from a Marxist point of view Jewish people were the definition of the enemy and from a Chinese communist perspective the students had been taught to see them as ‘capitalist roaders’.

Trade City

It’s very hard to explain what Tianjin is like, especially because using phrases like ‘a bewildering mix of new and old’ sounds like a line from a very cringey guidebook or a stuck-up gap year kid’s blog…

Saturday, I went on a 3 mile walk from where I live, along the river, up to the central train station. On the walk we walked past the main food market, the basic design and energy of which probably hasn’t changed for centuries, given this port city’s long history of trade. Next we walked past the former colonial concession areas, given to European countries after the second opium war, complete with embassies and churches. The war forcefully opened China up to foreign trade in 1860. The last European concession was abolished the same year communist revolution took place (1949). Although home grown, it used ideas imported from a German philosopher. Memories of this revolution stood in the middle of the colonial area in the form of a civil war memorial. Finally, the 21st century, with China’s mass trade with the rest of the world and the growth of Tianjin to the 4th biggest city in China was echoed in the final leg of the walk, nearing the centre of town, covered in sparkly skyscrapers.