In the evenings and on weekends in Shanghai, people gather and dance at a spot in a busy retail district, surrounded by throngs of shoppers. On Saturdays, a weekly “blind date fair” in a city park draws an enthusiastic crowd of participants, even though they are not seeking dates for themselves.
Dancing on Nanjing Road in Shanghai.
What do these events reveal about Chinese culture and social changes occurring there today?
That’s one of many questions students on the ACM Shanghai: Perspectives on Contemporary China program will explore this fall with Knox College professor Weihong Du, who will lead the program as visiting faculty director.
Du will teach a course on Chinese Popular Culture, one of the electives students can choose as part of their curriculum, and she plans to weave the students’ academic work into their daily experience in Shanghai.
“The course is geared to what’s happening right now in China and how we interpret things we see around us every day,” she said. “The first weeks will be about food culture, street culture, how people spend their leisure time, how they use public spaces, and how people express themselves in physical and digital spaces. Students will then be more prepared about what to expect, and how people interact with each other, what kind of cultural expression we have in China.”
Weekly themes and frequent field trips will cover a wide range of topics, such as media and the internet, celebrity culture, commercialization in China, pop music, movies, and the dating scene.
Speaking on the social phenomena surrounding dating, Du said, “Dating has become an exciting spectacle in China, and it’s also become a business. I’m planning to take the students to Nanjing, a couple of hours away from Shanghai by fast train, to be in the live TV audience for a very popular dating show called You Are the One.”
Another class excursion will be to the blind date fair in Zhongshan Park, organized by parents eager to help their adult offspring find suitable matches. “Ideally, the children — the people who are dating — should be there,” Du noted. “But no one goes except the parents, who take their child’s bio and materials to show to other parents. It’s a unique scene, and it really shows the kind of social factors that come into play in the Chinese dating culture.”
Fall 2015 Shanghai program students with their Chinese roommates and Visiting Faculty Director Liang Ding from Macalester College (2nd from left).
One of the main assignments in the course will be an in-depth online blog, in which students will use different forms of electronic media to both report and reflect on their activities in China.
The weekly posts will focus on each student’s interests while tying into the themes of the course, and the blogging activity is intended to give students insights into how their experiences enrich and challenge their understanding of Chinese culture.
“I’m hoping the information and the activities that the students are exposed to with me will allow them to better engage with their new setting in Shanghai,” said Du, “and through that gain a deeper understanding of what they are seeing and experiencing.”