English Corner

Please read this recent article on the “English Corner.” This is a famous corner of this Beijing university where people meet every Friday night from about 7:00 pm to midnight. In the past when I have taken students there I found it difficult to get them out because they were surrounded by layers of Chinese trying to ask them what they think about Fortune 500 firms, GE’s strategy, American government and things that they thought every American should know. By all accounts, it was an exciting experience for students, even the ones that dragged their feet and thought it would be a waste of their valuable American perspective time.

What is the practical and symbolic value of an English Corner in Beijing or a Hyde Park in London? Can you think of an example of an equivalent venue in California or the US? Do you have any interest in experiencing the English Corner while in China, and what would you hope to get out of that experience in return for the effort to connect with the Chinese that you will be expected to put in while you are there?

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43 Responses to English Corner

  1. Chris Carr says:

    While in Beijing several weeks ago I visited English Corner. While there I noticed a young woman, a business student, who was standing in front of a white board. On the white board she had listed several questions (one was along the lines of “discuss an event in your life that changed you in a positive way”). She had a job interview the next day with a firm and she was there not so much to practice her English, but to brainstorm with others students and vistors like me re: how she might/could/should answer such a question in a job intereview. She had also done her pre-job interview reconn and learned that this would likely be a question she would be asked during the interview. Never before had I seen such intensity in a young student or even a seasoned adult for that matter re: preparing for a job interview in business. I was also struck by her humilty in putting herself out there in front of a group of strangers just to solicit help and ideas for how she might handle such a question if it came up in her interview. Now that takes a strong person who is comfortable in his/her own skin! It was something I will never forget, and ties into much of what Thomas Friedman has written about, particulary when he talks about the work ethic of students in India. By the way, all of this took place as another young man stood up in another part of the corner and passionately recited Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech in near perfect English, to the delight of the entire crowd.

  2. Robert F. Laarman says:

    Can someone tell me where I can find this English corner ? My wife and I are going there in a couple of months and wish to go there !

    Thanks, regards

    Annelies & Rob Laarman
    The Netherlands

  3. Chris Carr says:

    Hi Robert.

    Sure. It’s at Remnim University in Beijing. Not sure which “gate” at the university you go to. I think it’s either the NW or NE but not sure — ask around. It’s every Friday night. Show up at roughly 8:00 pm, and it can last anywhere from 10 pm to midnight, depending on the weather and time of year.

    Enjoy it.

    Cheers.

  4. Peter Wu says:

    Hi Robert,
    It is at Renmin University’s East Gate, and the Chinese name is “Ying Yu Jiao”, 英語角
    which is exactly the translation of English Corner.

  5. Simeon says:

    I’ve been to Ren Min University’s “English Corner” before and had good experiences and bad experiences. It’s an interesting cultural and social phenomenon that arose out of the simple need to speak and practice English. If it is clear that you are a native English speaker, one can easily attract 5, if not 20 people to engage you in conversation.

    The subject of conversation is a myriad of topics including interests, hometown location, culture differences, religious beliefs, governmental politics and ideologies. Usually, their knowledge of English and American culture will surprise you. What they know about the United States comes from many sources, including: textbooks, teachers, friends, TV shows, movies, literature, novels, music, and news.

    On a social level, English Corner is also used to meet new people and form new networks with people you wouldn’t otherwise come in contact with on a day-to-day basis. Friendships, business relationships, academic study partners and even dating relationships result from English Corner. As an interesting aside, English Corner, in addition to its academic purposes, is known among students as an informal dating club. Since conversation is generally open to talk about anything, students take advantage of the opportunity to pick up on other students that they have an interest in.

    Overall, I had a lot of fun at English Corner, learning about Chinese culture and ideals in exchange for my own ideals. One should not expect to argue about whether communism is the right form of government for China or about human rights violations. Just relax and ask more neutral questions rather than lecture, and you will find your time at Renmin’s English Corner to be much more pleasant. :>

  6. Dan N says:

    The nearest equivalent that I can think of in the U.S. would be coffee shops like Caffe Trieste in San Francisco, the coffee house where the Beat movement writers like Kerouac and Ginsberg used to meet. And though I’m not aware of any, there must be thriving culture clubs at some of our universities where students and citizens gather to practice their Italian, Russian, Mandarin, etc. and immerse themselves in another culture if only for an evening.

    That said, on the whole you won’t find this kind of enthusiasm for foreign culture, ideology, language among American students. I think that Americans tend to be arrogant about our position in the world. We tend to bask in the admiration of others without reciprocation. We think we’ve got it all figured out and have nothing to learn from others. It’s really a shame…

    I am an introvert so the thought of socializing with a flood of Chinese students seeking my views on American history and politics sounds exhausting. But this trip isn’t about staying in our comfort zones, is it…

    This post surprises me. I am shocked that the CCP allows this kind of “democracy incubator” to exist, especially at a university in Beijing. Everything that we are reading suggests that leadership is scared to death of another Tiananmen Square and this kind of movement would greatly concern me if I were a Party member. What am I missing? Why let pro-democracy students regularly meet to practice their soapbox speeches? Isn’t this how the events of ’89 started?

    I’m guessing that the best way to answer these questions is to go and see for myself what is happening. For this reason, I can’t wait to visit English Corner. I can’t wait to ask those I meet whether they view their actions as threatening to the Party. Perhaps we/I should take this opportunity to finally commit The Gettysburg Address to memory. Wouldn’t it be fun/meaningful if a group of us were able to lead our Chinese counterparts in a reciting of this American “cornerstone”?

  7. Chris Bruns says:

    The blog’s link to the article about English Corner was incredible to read. I had no idea this existed in China and it is amazing that all of these student think so highly of America and some of our accomplishments. I believe that the practical value of English corner is that there are some very important values and ideas that the US was founded on and has developed, and if people want to hold and live some of the beliefs that we do, they should be allowed to discuss and learn about them. It is fascinating to me the idea of quoting Lincoln and discussing US history, especially with so many of the US citizens that have no grasp of our nation’s history. Nothing comes to my mind of an adequate equivalent of English Corner in the US, however I believe that it would be great if I spent more time discussing other countries’ backgrounds and what ideas can be adopted here. I believe that it would be a great opportunity to visit English Corner and keep in contact with any individuals I met there. While traveling abroad I have met and had great conversation with others that I keep in contact with today, and exchanging ideas is one of my favorite parts of seeing a new place with new people.

  8. David Hart says:

    The article really shows an interesting side to university students in China. The irony of students citing the American Declaration of Independence on the campus founded by the Communist party in China really shows the diversity of thought among Chinese students.

    If many of these students will become business leaders and public officials in China in the future, it will be interesting to see how Chinese policy evolves through the years. Perhaps as time goes on, policy will slowly change and people will have more of a voice in certain areas.

    I am not familiar with an equivilent place in the US. Perhaps, like the above comment mentions, there are university or community clubs or groups that promote this type of dialogue and experience. The first place I would think to go if I wanted to have such conversations would be online. Of course this would not be nearly as powerful an experience as having face to face interactions with foreigners.

    This experience sounds like it will be very memorable and beneficial. We can all learn a lot from each other. The Chinese have a lot they can teach us, and we can teach them. These kinds of environments of open dialogue really can allow people to better understand those of other cultures.

  9. David Hart says:

    I meant to say Gettysburg Address in the previous post. Although it would not surprise me (based on this article) if some of the students on the square also were able to quote from the Declaration of Independence.

  10. Katie Moeller says:

    I have been to Speakers Corner in Hyde Park. It was a great experience but I was just a participant hearing what others had to say. I was not going to stand up on a soapbox and spout off my thoughts or take some stance on an issue. I had never heard of English Corner prior to this article. I think the part that interests me the most about it is that the Chinese use it as a means to practice their English. You don’t see Americans getting together to practice some other language in a public space. I think it shows the importance the Chinese place on learning and understanding how to speak English. It’s also sad to say that they are able to recite Lincoln’s address and there’s no way I could do that. Another example of how poor my knowledge is when it comes to history. The non-Americans appreciate our language and history more than we do.

    I can’t think of a place similar to this in the United States. I think of protests but that maybe aligns more with Speakers Corner rather than an opportunity to practice English. I would have an interest in visiting English Corner. First, I would like to be an observer of the interactions so I could learn and see what happens. Second, I would like to have some discussions with the Chinese to understand what their personal benefit is for being at the English Corner. Third, I would like their opinion on the benefit of interacting with Americans at the English Corner. A visit here would provide interesting perspectives and a great learning opportunity for all of us.

  11. Amanda Podesta says:

    I don’t think that Americans need an equivalent to London’s Speakers’ Corner or Beijing’s English Corner as Yanks are so encouraged to exercise their free speech. America’s Speaker’s Corners are bars, IM chat-rooms, workplaces, dinner tables, gyms, etc. It is a part of our implicit worldview that it is our right to be heard (as opposed to England, where a traditional upbringing is still very much about “being seen but not heard” and taboo topics still include: money, religion, and politics. In fact, Brits are often indignant about how Americans vulgarly trade salary figures like baseball stats). The Speaker’s Corner is an outlet for catharsis … just as I imagine the English Corner in Beijing is.

  12. Cassie Bettencourt says:

    I had no idea what “English Corner” was going to be about before reading this post and the linked article, but I was pleasantly surprised as I read on. Renmin University’s English Corner sounds like such a fascinating place! I feel like it is practically impossible to get American university students to gather on a Friday night on campus to discuss politics, history, and culture, let alone another country’s. I was so impressed reading that this is exactly what some Chinese students do at English Corner. One thing that struck me is that we clearly take certain aspects of our history and politics for granted. I feel guilty that they have memorized and reflected on the Gettysburg Address and I have not read (nor really thought about it, sadly) it since fifth grade history class.

    The practical value of English Corner is clear–it’s a great place for the students to practice speaking English. It is also practical for understanding particular history/political questions. However, the symbolic nature of English Corner is much more powerful. The idea that these students are the future of China and their ideals and understanding of America are in line with ours. The idea that they are even gathering to express this is also impressive. They are embodying American ideals through this act. I’m not sure if an actual equivalent exists in America or California but Golden Gate Park in San Francisco came to mind as a place where people can gather and express themselves. I would definitely be interested and checking out English Corner while in China.

  13. Brady Haug says:

    I love the concept of the English Corner. It appears to be an interesting mix of a free speech and language venue. I am continually surprised when I read about the American knowledge of Chinese students. Many of my classmates and I have discussed how we knew so little about what actually occurred in Tiananmen Square, prior to watching the Tank Man video, as compared to some Chinese students knowledge of American history. I would have been just as shocked as the author to encounter Chinese students reading Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

    The fact that anyone can jump up on the soap box and practice their English and say what they feel is a great construction. It reminded me of an art exhibit that I saw while I was studying abroad in London, England. It was a new exhibit that took place in Trafalgar Square, roughly a mile from Buckingham Palace, where anyone could sign up to create their own live piece of work. In the middle of this central square, there is a raised cement platform that is roughly twenty feet high. A randomly selected group of people we allotted hour long segments, where they were allowed to get on top of the platform and perform their work. When I walked out of the tube station, I was surprised to see someone dressed as Ben Franklin reading assorted American documents. I thought it was an interesting idea that shares aspects of the meetings at Renmin University in Beijing. It would have been a fun experience to visit the English Corner in Hyde Park, had I known about it. I really am looking forward to meeting locals in the cities we visit and listening to their insight on US-China relations.

  14. Tim Easton says:

    The English Corner is a great sign for the future of China. The fact that China’s youth are engaging in these discussions is a very promising sign for change. I found it interesting that Remnim University is the alma matter of the Chinese Communist Party. I am just guessing, but there have to be some children of party members that attend Remnim University. It would be interesting to get their opinion on English Corner, and if they ever attend the discussions. As others have said, I would agree that the closest American equivalent is a coffee shop or bar. We express our opinions more openly and do not need a set location, or time, to talk about our views. I would like to visit the English Corner while we are in Beijing even though I will need to brush up on my U.S. history before getting there.

  15. Jessica Shayler says:

    I do not believe that anyone will argue with me when I state that America is an individualistic nation. I feel that individualism, not the need for free speech, is why America does not have an English Corner equivalent. I also feel that individualism is precisely why America should have an English Corner equivalent. Globalization is a reality and individualism in America puts us at a disadvantage compared to nations like China.

    I feel the practical implications of English Corner in China (apart from the obvious language practice) is the opportunity to learn and discuss other influential nations around the world. This knowledge at the tip of their minds could enable these future leaders to understand the world and its players in a way that we don’t and to further the success of their nation at the expense of others.

    That is unless we get our act together and take our heads out of our you-know-what’s.

    I am just as guilty as anyone of global ignorance, so I know a visit to English Corner will make me extremely uncomfortable. But, as my mother is fond of saying, “No pain no gain.”

  16. Ben Raymond says:

    I was quite pleasantly surprised to learn of the English Corner and how highly the participants regard the United States. It sounds like an excellent place for students to exercise freedoms and gain knowledge that they might not always have access to. I’m impressed at how dedicated the Chinese students are to learning the language and the culture of the United States.

    I’ve definitely never been apart of or even heard of a similar event in the United States outside of a classroom where another country is such a focus for participants. Even language clubs that I have seen tend to focus on just the language of the country, not the business and politics. I think Americans hold our own country in such high regard that we don’t feel the necessity of learning so much about another country, especially on our own time. If it wasn’t for this class I would surely not be researching China as thoroughly as I am, which is unfortunate.

    I think experiencing the English Corner would be very interesting. It sounds like I should brush up on my U.S. history and memorize a few famous speeches beforehand. I would enjoy asking Chinese students questions similar to the ones they will probably be asking us. While being careful not to offend anyone I would love to know their views on China’s future in business and politics and how they see the China-US relationship evolving.

  17. Sarah Weinzapfel says:

    I had never heard of English Corner before this article. I think the entire concept of it is fascinating. The idea of a group of American college students getting together to practice the language of another country seems so weird to me. I don’t think that’s arrogant of me it’s just not really apart of our culture. It’s a concept that I’ve never even considered before.

    I can’t think of an equivalent place in America. I can’t imagine there being one considering we are so encouraged to speak freely all the time. America is like one big English Corner. I would definitely like to experience English Corner for myself. And by experience, I mean see it for myself, not get up on any soapboxes. Although, if I were to go there today I think I would be a little embarrassed. I don’t know the answers to or even have much of an opinion on the example topics above. Not only do I not know too much about their country, I’m pretty horrible with the history of my own.

    I think it amazing to know that there are Chinese citizens that don’t hate us and our country much less spend time learning about and discussing our policies, history, and culture. I also think it’s pretty ironic that this sort of activity occurs in a school that was started by the Communist party. I’ll have to brush up on some popular American topics before we go, but I am excited to visit this corner of free speech.

  18. Robbin Forsyth says:

    The practical value of the English Corner seems to be in providing an open forum for the students to practice their English, critical thinking and discussion of current events.
    I think the symbolic value is that the CCP allows the future leaders of the country to have a space to explore non Chinese political ideals. An optimist might say that the CCP is testing a long term plan to make these students the vanguard of a transition towards a more democratic government. Too much?
    I don’t have a direct correlation to an American English Corner. I have been to some interesting spoken work events and poetry slams that are interactive. In San Jose there is a coffee house near SJSU that is the spot of some interesting student discussions on weekday evenings. They seem to range more about science, technology, art and design more than politics. For political discussions the Unitarian Church in Santa Cruz is always a good place but the crowd is usually much older than college age.
    I do want to experience the English Corner while in Beijing I’d like to learn more about how the USA is viewed by the students. While doing my undergrad I worked on a project with students from a design school in shanghai. I’ve been fortunate to keep in touch with a couple of them. To get there perspective on design ideas and see the projects they’re working on is always interesting. I’d also like to make some student connections in other disciplines for future perspective on business and other topics.

  19. Kristine Spencer says:

    I had never heard of either of these places before reading this article. It’s great that the students and people have a place where they feel that they can express their thoughts and have intellectual debates. It would be interesting to watch the events on English Corner, but I would be too intimidated to stand on a soap box and recite the Gettysburg Address (not that I even have it memorized). I also applaud that these places can hold regular civilized and informative debates without tempers flaring or things getting out of hand. In the US it can be common for these types of debates to get too personal, which usually leads things to get heated. The practical significance of this is that the discourse in China seems to be more open than us outsiders realize. Contrary to other blog posts and readings about China’s feelings about the US, there are people who support the US and these people to people relationships might not be as damaged as some think. This would be a great place to connect and mend relationships and perceptions. The symbolic significance is that people are inspired around the world by freedom and our unique history, even in a country like China where the media is controlled. Even if people don’t agree with our current politics or policies, most people respect how our forefathers shaped our nation and developed our constitution with such groundbreaking freedoms for the time (press, speech, religion, etc.). I agree that this is a positive sign for China’s future and potential progress toward democracy.

    I also agree with previous posts that a coffee shop is probably the closest equivalent. But my friend was just telling me this morning how at his local Starbucks, there is a man who is always trying to talk politics with people. I think that because politics is usually a more sensitive subject in the US, a lot of people wouldn’t appreciate a stranger in a coffee shop trying to talk politics when they are trying to grab their morning latte. If we had our own English Corner, this could possibly help to facilitate political discussion as more of an intellectual debate, and less of a polarized yelling match like on news “debate” shows.

  20. Jessie Wilkie says:

    The idea of the English Corner is definitely hip. When we’re in Beijing, I’d love to visit Renmin University and see this English Corner. I don’t know what our itinerary holds for us, but I’m hoping that we’re in Beijing on a Friday night. I would love to experience this and hangout with Chinese students. Maybe even grab some tea or drinks with them.

    English Corner is symbolic as a hip place where young people can voice their opinion. It is a symbol of progression. This symbolism might be misleading, however, because the site might have a more ominous practical use. The government might be allowing for free speech at English Corner in order to give the students an outlet so that they don’t protest the government in other ways. So perhaps, Daniel J. Ikenson was safer than he thought he was when he talking. Speaking of Ikenson, how standard American to be upstaged by foreigners who can recite the Gettysburg Address.

    I feel like everyone everywhere in the United States and California experience more free speech than in China. Since there is more free speech in America, people don’t need a central location or a special place to speak their minds freely. But when people do want to make a point they often go to poignant and symbolic places (i.e. the national mall).

  21. Jason Jay Sharma says:

    I feel two very strong feelings about English Corner–proud and ashamed. Proud because the Chinese students at Renmin University are diligently learning and discussing all about the U.S. and it’s past, present, and future. Ashamed because I guarantee you all those students are more aware all these aspects of the U.S. than the general American population.

    I’ve always enjoyed history, and that includes U.S. history, but like Daniel Ikenson, I couldn’t recite some of America’s most famous speeches verbatim. Do I wish I had this ability?–No not really. Knowing them won’t really help me forge a better future, necessarily, but could it be the prerogative of the students at Renmin University to learn and study such things in hopes to achieve what America already has? Yes, why not. To be a successful nation, wouldn’t it make sense to study (arguably) the most successful nation? Then again, maybe these students are really just trying to learn the best American English, so they are practicing famous speeches.

    I don’t think a place like English Corner exists in America, but I sure wish it did. It would be nice to have an open arena to just strike up a conversation about issues facing our country and the world–the big picture topics. However, one thing is very different, and Ikenson mentions it almost in passing. Reciting something like the Gettysburg Address in public in China sounds as if it could alarm officials. In America, we have free speech and we use it not only speaking out loud, but in all the mediums the Chinese may be restricted in doing so (i.e. TV, online, newspapers, etc.). While it might be great to have one place to be so open, I prefer to be open anywhere I choose.

    I am looking forward to visiting English Corner! My only concern is that I will be asked questions I will not have the answers to (and the Chinese students asking will expect me to). There’s that ignorance, again. I’m excited to interact with a group so enthralled by America and hopefully they’ll enjoy speaking with me enough to want to stay in touch, as well.

  22. Randy Camat says:

    Prior to reading this post, I never heard of the English Corner or any event that openly discussed politics, history, economics, and culture in China. I had this perspective that nothing like this existed because it would have the potential to generate social unrest. I was surprised to find out that the English Corner was held at Renmin University, a university founded by the Communist party. After much thought, it does make sense to have an outlet of this kind for the youth to vent out their frustrations/views on politics, economics, etc. This type of event actually purges anything built up that would otherwise cause serious damage and social unrest if kept suppressed. I was also impressed with the Chinese students’ knowledge of everything about the US. It was very comforting to know that China’s youth actually knows and studies the US government structure, after all they are going to be the future of China. To be honest, they definitely know more than I do, which is embarrassing. Visiting the English Corner will definitely be an enlightening experience and one that I did not plan on, but would greatly appreciate.

  23. Ashley Ogden says:

    I am definitely interested in visiting English Corner at Renmin University in Beijing. It would be very interesting to meet with the business managers and government officials of China’s future. Their knowledge of American politics and history seems to be amazing. Like the author, I can’t even recite the Gettysburg address, so it is astonishing that these Chinese students can. Perhaps I should brush up on my own country’s history a little before we venture into English Corner. It is a little surprising that a student cited, “America is our model”. It will be very interesting to see how the future of China looks when the students from Renmin are in charge of their country. I agree with Amanda’s post earlier that since America is build on the right of free speech, there is not one famous place equivalent to Speaker’s Corner or English Corner. If someone in the US wanted to practice up on their foreign language skills, they could probably find a study group or something similar to do so.

  24. ‘You don’t realize what you have until it’s gone’ (or appreciate it as much as those who do not have it). This article points out that there are Chinese students who know the Gettysburg Address and understand its significance better than the average American, who may take free speech for granted. This ‘English corner’ is incredible to me. That there are students that regularly go to these Friday night meetings to practice their English, share their views, and learn about America shows me that Chinese youth are hungry for both learning and freedom. It is my understanding that their universities do not push the students in the same ways that American universities do in terms of critical thinking, imagination, and problem solving. However, it seems to me that these students well surpass the average American student in terms of knowledge of global politics and in demanding civil liberties, based on the perspective of the author.

    I wonder what these students will mean for the future of China? If this is the alma mater of the communist party, and they are discussing America as a model of government, then the course of China’s future should be very different from today. I would like to visit this English corner. As unprepared as I feel in discussing political matters with these students, I would love to meet Chinese citizen that I could potentially connect with and relate to. I would love to hear first hand their views on the world and about their lives in china. There is only so much you can learn from books and blogs; I think a real life connection would be wonderful.

  25. Tyler Sereno says:

    I had no idea that the Chinese people were so fond of the United States. It was very interesting to learn about the experience of visiting the English Corner in Beijing. I think these Chinese students may know more about United States history than I do. There is no way I could recite the Gettysburg Address. I believe a place like the English Corner symbolizes the need for change in China. The Chinese people are realizing this need and they look up to the United States for what they have accomplished throughout history. I can’t think of an equivalent venue in the United States. It would be crazy to see a place at a college in the United States where students openly discussed China’s history with great enthusiasm.

    I think it would be interesting to visit the English Corner when we go on our trip after reading the article. However, I might feel quite foolish if I were asked a question about the United States history that I could not answer. I might consider brushing up on our country’s history before we go to China.

  26. Tara Millard says:

    The English Corner sounds intriguing and I would love to have a chance to spend some of our time on the trip there. Yet, I think it may require some brushing up on my knowledge of history and politics.

    The fact that these students spend hours discussing foreign politics and history in a foreign language makes me feel a “bit” behind in education. While I have managed to learn and retain elementary words and phrases in a foreign language, these students have mastered historical speeches and are aware of current political issues. I am not sure if I am alone in feeling embarrassed by the diversity of thought and discussion at the English Corner.

    The closest thing to the English corner could be found at specific eclectic coffee shops amidst California. Although these coffee shops often bring diverse crowds and impromptu discussions, a University setting seems appropriate. Perhaps Cal poly should be a pioneer in starting an “English Corner” in the United States. Its better late then never.

    I believe a few hours of our trip would be wisely spent at the English Corner. While the Chinese students may believe they are learning something from us, I believe it would be quite the opposite. These students’ passion for American history and politics may be enough to change some of our world view. If students in a distant and foreign country have more pride and knowledge of the United States then we do then there is a serious issue. If we cannot master the past and the present of our own country how can we expect to compete in the up and coming global economy?

  27. j hurley says:

    English Corner sounds like a cool place to visit. It would be interesting to see how these students currently view the United States. However, if the questions are anything like the one from the article, I think they may have more knowledge on the subjects than I do. I have never been to a similar gathering in the U.S. and would like to experience one. It would be just as rewarding to get some direct information on how China’s up and comings view American and it’s current practices.

  28. Matt Streiter says:

    I was shocked on how much emphasis and interest there is on American history and culture in these interactions with the college students. The fact that they recited and some even memorized the Gettysburg Address when some people in our own country don’t even know the meaning of the speech is amazing. In this context I feel the Chinese-American relationship is very one sided. The Chinese seem to be fascinated and legitimately interested in our nation’s history while most Americans won’t even approach a Chinese citizen and ask about their country’s politics and how they feel about it. The English Corner is relevant because it gives a venue for the Chinese to learn and express information and ideas about the American culture.

    Tying this blog into the one about Fallows, this is a great demonstration of the power of the U.S. and influence they have on other countries. Just looking forward, if China’s future consists of people trying to be so multicultural, what is that going to say about that same generation here? Perhaps U.S. companies are going to be seeking out these bicultural kids to be their executives….

  29. Kyle R. says:

    I never would have expected such a place in China…especially at such a high ranking university. It makes me feel more comfortable about going to China, primarily because there are students our age who are enthralled about our country’s culture, policy, and history. This is similar to our own interest in China. I would enjoy being able to visit English Corner when we are in Beijing. I think it would be a great opportunity to network with young Chinese who will most likely be very successful someday. It would be nice to interact with these students, mainly because they share the same ideas and ambitions that we do. However, for me it would be very humbling, especially because I don’t have as much memorized as they appear to have. I would almost feel ashamed of how little I would know. I live in this United States and without refreshing my exposure to U.S. history, they might know more than me.

  30. JP Salazar says:

    The English Corner seems like a very interesting place to visit. The first thing that struck me while reading this article had to be a kind of melancholy feeling. It doesn’t surprise me that these students, half a world away, probably know more about US history and policy that most Americans. It was very telling that these students were taking turns reciting the Gettysburg Address, but most people in the US only know the first six words, if that (not to mention that most people don’t even know that “score” is a measurement of time).
    I think it would be very interesting to experience this place first hand. It would be a good channel to begin to understand the fascination that many people in China seem to show for American culture. I would love to have the chance to interact with other young thinkers that have grown from a situation so much different than my own. These are the people that will be shaping the future of Chinese policy. I would feel honored to be able to share my own ideas with them. I have always believed that “truth” can only be found through sharing ideas. By understanding different viewpoints we can begin to determine which way of thinking works best for ourselves in our own situation. But without being exposed to new ideas, people can become locked in to a way of thinking and miss out on opportunities for change.
    A place like the English Corner seems like the perfect forum for sharing new ideas. But, it is more than that. It is a community of people who share the desire to discuss and debate. It is a place where young people can come and feel safe. It is an important in that it is a group that people can identify with. This might be its most important role. It is a gathering of like-minded people that lets them all know that they are not alone. There are people that have the same desires and fears as they do.

  31. J Vail says:

    Wow, I can’t believe how Ikenson felt, because I felt proud just reading his recounted story. I am definitely looking forward to the English Corner now. There is both a large practical and symbolic value from having such a location. Practically, Chinese students are not only learning English, but American government, probably to the extent that I know it. I feel like this type of discourse would be important for American students who don’t try to learn about other cultures as much as they try to learn about us.

    Symbolically, I think it shows again that a lot of the fear in China is misplaced and we have just as much to learn from them as they do from us. I think that I need to re-evaluate my opinion of our own government, as it is arrogant to take it for granted as much as I have. Sadly, I don’t know of any places like this in the United States, it was never really my scene, but regardless I think any place with as much acclaim as the English Corner would have more notoriety here.

  32. Chris F. says:

    I would be interested in visiting English Corner because I believe it would be a fascinating experience to get the perspective of those living in another country about how they view the U.S. and vice versa. It is good that there are students taking their own initiative to learn about a country that is half a world away yet plays such a pivotal role in shaping the world we live in (the United States). I cannot say for certain if there are people here in America who would try to understand the Chinese as they know us (but maybe we are the ambassadors for that change).

    I would have to agree with those who say that the closes place in America to an English Corner would be a coffee shop you would see in a big city. Or maybe perhaps the area around and on the UC Berkeley campus (I have heard many enlightening speeches on those grounds, not necessarily from students – the homeless). I guess it is because we have our 1st Amendment right to freedom of speech, assembly and religion that we really take it for granted. Ironic how the university built with the interest of Communist ideals has a place that allows many American values to flourish that are normally repressed from the mainstream Chinese society. After reading the article, I have to admit that my own knowledge about American history is a bit rusty. Better brush up on it if I expect to have an intelligent conversation about my own country with a Chinese student!

  33. Omar Pradhan says:

    It seems to me that the practical and symbolic value of an English Corner in Beijing and elsewhere is that it’s a physical space that facilitates cross-cultural exchange and understanding. When such places are utilized, as the article details, to grow awareness and understanding of our various differences and similarities, especially as it relates to values, these spaces and the memories that form within can go a long way toward short circuiting propaganda that otherwise might negatively sway attitudes toward “outsiders.” I would say that our US educational institutions of higher learning serve an equivalent role…same with the Peace Corp…and perhaps even Facebook (to the extent that folks have international friends). As far as whether I have an interest in experiencing and participating in English Corner, the answer is YES; I hope to explore the full range of motivations and fears we share in common…we have many looming global challenges to face and building multi-cultural trust, one person at a time, is critical to any hope of success. One final thought… I am reminded of a favorite quote by Henry Adams (US Author, Historian 1838-1918): “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” I would say each one of us, when we are abroad, are teaching other cultures about our own. To the extent that we leave a favorable impression through English Corner dialogue or karaoke bonding or any other number of cross-cultural exchanges, we are setting in motion a powerful current of empathy, trust, understanding, etc…and we know not where our influence will stop.

  34. Kevin K. says:

    Eight p.m. on a Friday night and Chinese college students are gathering to speak about U.S. History, economics, and other educational topics? Reciting the entirety of Lincoln’s Gettysburg address? Good luck finding that happening at the majority of American universities. I’m am astounded by this post and article. The dedication and actual desire to learn and improve is just amazing. While most college students would be packing the bars on a Friday night, these Chinese students are reciting Abraham Lincoln — in English no less.

    Judging from this article the students really do enjoy this meeting, and love learning about the US (their “model”). I think this would be a really interesting experience to visit as an American, just to converse in English and to get a firsthand impression of how China’s growing educated community feels about our country and have them explain any questions me may have about their’s.

  35. Vladimir says:

    My first thought was: This won’t be fair. I haven’t recited the Gettysburg Address since fifth grade, I haven’t studied US history for over 15 years, and I don’t follow politics very closely. Although English Corner contains a pool of people that probably doesn’t represent China’s youth, I think young Americans generally pay less attention to their country’s government or history and more to individual opportunities. This is mainly because America is developed, rather than developing. I haven’t heard anyone in the US say that another country is his/her model, as a student at English Corner said about America. We don’t see significant changes in our country as Chinese students see in theirs, so we are more interested in what affects us directly. Focusing on personal goals is more practical for students entering the workforce than discussing history or current political events, unless they are relevant to their field. I am looking forward to visiting English Corner to learn how the students see America and its relationship with China. Why do they see America as their model? English Corner gives students an opportunity to speak freely and advance their understanding of America. I would say the closest thing to an English Corner in California would be clubs on college campuses (Often polarized discussion clubs such as Young Democrats or Young Republicans).

  36. Daniel Fleek says:

    The English Corner in Renmin’s campus shows that Chinese people like and are fond of America. First off, I was surprised that on a Friday night there were that many Chinese students who wanted to exchange and share their views. The fact that they were sharing and comparing views on America and memorizing the Gettysburg Address was astounding. Besides in the classroom, I don’t think I would run into that many American students discussing another countries culture and history. However, I think a good place to learn about another cultures history would be at a museum. I went to the Bowers museum during Christmas break when they had the terra cotta warriors displayed. I was amazed at how much the tour guide (who my mom is) had to explain to me about the history and culture behind China’s technologically advanced dynasties including the Qin, the Han, and the Tang. By just looking at all the artifacts that were on display, I realized how advanced technologically China was even before Jesus was born. I have a lot of interest in going to the English Corner in China especially since they like Americans. I hope to be able to share my opinions about the US as well as learn about their opinions on China’s political and current affairs.

  37. Grant says:

    I never would have guessed that there would be such interest in American History and our roots. I just assumed the Chinese just wanted the American Dream. It is encouraging to hear that there are some who want to attain the roots of our country’s success, not just the fruit.
    If given the opportunity to go to the English Corner, I think that would be a highlight. I would love to engage with the students there to share and hear insights.
    I am not aware of any such types of meetings elsewhere. If they exist, it sounds like an even worthy of attending. Any opportunity to broaden our worldviews is worth the time it takes.

  38. Charles Dornbush says:

    It is remarkable and also somewhat embarrassing that Chinese students know our history better than we do. Most of their questions on American policy I don’t think I could give very thoughtful answers to. I am very surprised that our history and ideals are taught and even celebrated at Chinese universities. I think going to English Corner would be an intriguing and valuable experience. If we do decide to go, I think we should all try be prepared for the complex questions and ready to ask them questions about China as well.

  39. Jeffrey Brown says:

    The practical & symbolic value appears to be embodied by a desire to know as much about the American culture as possible. While being enrolled in this program and planning to go on this trip to learn more about China is somewhat comparable to English Corner, it is by no means equal. I believe I will get out of this experience what I put into it, and if I put forth the effort I can make this experience comparable to English Corner.

    I am actually excited to partake in English Corner but am nervous at the same time that they will know more than I do. I feel I need to study and/or memorize the Gettysburg Address before I go! It is interesting that out of the hundreds of years of U.S. history they have made this part of it so iconic to our culture.

  40. Keith Cody says:

    In the UK, if you need a soap box, you go to Hyde Park. You could say that everywhere in America is the English Corner, or speakers corner – Freedom Speech is the first amendment after all. Everywhere you go, someone is talking about something, gathering signatures, asking for donations, etc.

    To me, English Corner represents something else; it’s a desire to know more about America. I cannot think of anything similar. Unfortunately, David Chappelle’s Ask a Black Dude might be the closest thing.

    I find it most fascinating that the open dialog is conducted in English. I wonder if this is to get around censorship and other oppressive law, or just a cultural quirk of the area. We read about Chinese citizen’s lack of freedoms. I wonder how true it is and how much is stereo type. Is there a Chinese Corner someplace at the university.

    I would love to experience English Corner. During this trip, I’m hoping for as many opportunities for cultural exchange as possible.

  41. Fred S. says:

    It is ironic that the campus that holds the English Corner was built by the CCP and that its many participants are children of famous Chinese leaders. It is ironic because the students of the English Corner give so much interest and praise to the United State’s system. They say, “America is very good. America is our model.” It shows that the U.S. government, through its many flaws, is a well-regarded system. It is especially marveled by countries like China that are enjoying new freedoms and great economic growth. It is a system that is built for freedom.

    It will be interesting to see the systems of China develop as these kids become the managers and leaders of the country. Soon English Corners will exist like they do in California and the rest of America… everywhere! I can’t wait to visit the English Corner, get to know my peers in another country, and here their current views on China and the United States.

  42. Georgia says:

    This sounds interesting- I would definitely need to brush up on some history though! It’s a little sad to hear that Chinese students get together on a Friday night to discuss history and politics, I’m not so sure a lot of American students do the same, especially so in-depth about another country. I don’t know if it’s against the rules of an English corner but I would definitely have some questions to ask them. It would be great to discuss how they felt about America and about their own country.

  43. Ashley Tyra says:

    Reading about English Corner is inspiring. I had no idea such a place existed in China. It is amazing that Chinese students know speeches given by American leaders better than US citizens do. English Corner is a great example of freedom of speech in a place where Americans believe it doesn’t exist at all.

    There is a place with similar inspirations to this in Berkeley, California. The “Free Speech Monument” located in Sproul Plaza bears the inscription, “This soil and the air space extending above it shall not be a part of any nation and shall not be subject to any entity’s jurisdiction.”

    I would love to visit English Corner while we are in China. So far it is one of the things I am most intrigued by, and I would love to experience it myself.

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