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First Person: A Canadian 7-year-old’s thoughts on growing up in China


Chinese primary school students receiving marching lessons as part of their military training.

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A youngster on a Nanchong street models an officer’s hat.

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August 22, 2005
-by Jeanette Hanson

Nanchong, China — Last week, my daughter Claire’s primary school hosted a group of substitute teachers — or perhaps “squadron” is a more precise term.

It was military training week for the primary school students (at least for the older children—Claire’s grade one classmates only had two days’ worth of training).

I visited Claire’s homeroom teacher the week before and explained that our beliefs encouraged other ways of showing love and support for one’s country. I assured her that Claire wouldn’t just play while she was at home, but that she would do some other “serve the people” kinds of activities. Claire’s teacher had no problem with that at all. Claire’s tutor thinks that military training puts the emphasis more on “training” than on “military”, offering an opportunity to “toughen up” coddled children with no siblings.

I interviewed Claire after some discussions about why she wasn’t with her classmates out on the playground.

How does it feel to be a Canadian living in China? Do you ever feel different in any way?

Yeah. I feel different from other Canadians because I’m supposed to be in Canada. For school we get breaks after lunch and in Canada you have to go to school right after you are done eating. I know Mandarin characters and pinyin but Canadians don’t know that. In Canada they don’t have a place on the blackboard to say what class you are having. I’m different from people in China because I have curly hair. Sometimes my friends get jealous because they don’t have curly hair. My classmates always get 100% on tests and I don’t because I speak English and because I’m Canadian. I feel different because my teacher doesn’t make me stay late after school when I get a bad mark— like one time I got 89 and I didn’t have to stay, but some classmates who got 80- something had to stay.

Today you are staying at home because your classmates are taking military training. Why are you staying home?

Because mom wouldn’t let me go to school. Also because I know a better way to love my country.

Which is your country?

I’m a bridge. I don’t have a country. Sometimes I’m in Canada, sometimes in China, sometimes in other places.

What does it mean to you to be a bridge?

It means that I can help people in Canada who don’t understand much about China. I can also help people understand more about Canada when I’m in China.

What is a better way to love your country?

To love the people inside your country and not to fight other people in other countries.

What are some ways that you can do this?

I can help people, like giving my seat on the bus to someone who needs a seat, or if someone drops something and they didn’t notice it then I could pick it up and give it to them, even if it is a stranger.

What have you been doing these last two days?

I have been trying to think how you can make your country cleaner, figure out what to do with garbage. I have been trying to help people that need you. I gave my seat up on the bus. Yesterday, we collected toys from around our house and from my bag of dolls and packed them up for the children at the orphanage. We packed school supplies for the students in the orphanage that go to school. I helped my dad wrap up copies of his thesis to give to people in Canada. It is something about forgiving and it is some stuff about China, too. My dad wrote in his thesis about me and Kate. He said he hopes me and Kate will read this when they are bigger.

Some people say that China is an enemy. Some people in Canada and the US say we should be scared of China. What do you say about that?

I don’t think it’s scary. I think China is sort of big. There are some robbers here, but most of the houses have security doors so the robbers can’t get in. There are lots of people from the US and Canada that live here. They don’t think that this is a scary place.

What can you say to people in Canada to help them understand China a little bit?

I don’t know much about China, either. I know my classmates. I know my teachers. I had a wonderful teacher in kindergarten named Teacher Zhang. I love her very much.

Todd and Jeanette Hanson, Mennonite Church Canada Witness workers in China, frequently reflect on their experience and ministry. Their two children Claire (7) and Kate (3) often add new perspectives to the family’s experience.


Classmates ham it up for the photographer.

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Claire also wrote for her teachers about her activities these last two days. This is a translation of what she wrote:

Loving the Motherland
- by Claire Hanson

What does it mean to love your country?

I think that it means to love the people in your country. Yesterday I helped my mom get school supplies ready to give to the children in the orphanage. I also helped my dad package books to send to other schools. I played with my little sister.

I think that people are all one family. We should all help each other. In the whole world we are also one family. Today I realized that I am like a bridge. I have two home countries, one is Canada, and one is China. If a Canadian asked me if I could fight against China, I have to say “no” because I know that if I fight against China I will be fighting against my classmates Yang Yirui and Yao Yao, my teachers, and even Teacher Zhang. If a Chinese person asked me if I could fight against Canada, I have to say “no” because I know my grandmas, grandpas, uncles and aunts live there.

Today I helped my mom write something that I hope will help Canadian children to understand China a little better. These are two good ways of loving your country.