A university student in Harbin turns on dorm attendant in culture war against Thanksgiving

Beijing (AsiaNews) – The student at the Harbin Institute of Technology who complained about the act of kindness of a dorm attendant really hit a moral and social low.

Last Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, the attendant, a woman, prepared a box of chocolates with a note saying: “Thank you for the support of you guys for Dormitory 17”.

Afterwards a student left three comments on the internet, one after the other, saying: “As an official representative, you publicly celebrate a ‘foreign festivity’. Don’t you think about what this does?” “The tutors and the dormitory should immediately suspend this activity.” “Otherwise I shall be forced to report it to university authorities!”

I can imagine this student: A scientist, full of anger, perhaps even a red face. He is undoubtedly a young man, but look at his language: it is out-dated. These comments include a charge, a threat, and prepackaged formulas: “I shall be forced to report it to university authorities!”

Such words come from his everyday life; by the time he wrote this sentence, his heart was surely filled with a great sense of security. People feel strong anger at this “complaint”; most of the comments on the Observer website are critical of this student.

This is because “complaint” and “gratitude” are two opposite feelings. Every individual should be grateful; otherwise, it is hard to continue living, or one lives only in an “inhuman” way.

Let’s look at the dorm attendant and the good student from a prestigious university.

This woman certainly doesn’t know the origins of Thanksgiving Day, and she certainly loves our country. When she prepared those treats, she was actually touched by the word “gratitude”. This is a beautiful word that can be used to express thanks.

She said she was grateful for the support from the kids for Dorm 17. This shows that she thinks she has some responsibility towards Dorm 17. She is probably not an “acculturated” person, but she still sees the simple sense of justice in a human being.

As usual, the response from the university was disappointing. On its Weibo profile, the university states that the attendant and the student who reported the case are both good-hearted. This is undoubtedly the result of a sense of compromise. In truth, they fail to be really “fair”.

According to what was reported by Phoenix, a student administration official said that “in principle, universities do not promote the Thanksgiving Day celebration. So the student is certainly not wrong and we must agree with him.”

The university’s response – which emphasises that “religious activities on campus are strictly prohibited” – is an attitude that gives precedence to concepts without trying to understand that Thanksgiving Day is not a religious holiday at all. The dorm attendant was not carrying out a “religious activity”.

The university’s response also suggests something else: The student’s “complaint” is reasonable (in any case good-hearted), and must be accepted. This is a culture that is spreading in universities, and the student who wanted to “report” the attendant is encouraged by this culture (in any case, he is not wrong).

This case immediately caused a stir. Many people were surprised and angry, because this act touched the feelings of the public. Just because it is a “foreign celebration” must it be “reported”? How about New Year’s Day (1st January), Women’s Day, Children’s Day, and Workers’ Day? All of the are foreign celebrations. Should we ban them all?

We grew up with and were consoled by a number of “celebrations”. Some originate in China, like the Dragon Festival, the Lantern Festival, the Mid-Autumn Festival; others have become popular in the last two centuries, such as 1st January, Children’s Day, Women’s Day, Workers’ Day.

Over the past 40 years we have assimilated several “Western festivities,” even considering them an integral part of our life. With respect to Children’s or Women’s celebrations, no one gives more importance to the word “international”.

As for Thanksgiving, many Chinese do not know its precise origin. According to various sources, also found on the internet, it is a popular celebration in Canada and the United States (in Europe it is not celebrated very much).

At the beginning it was an occasion for migrants to thank heaven and the Indians for helping them during difficult times, which is why the festival is “very agricultural”: mainly turkey and pumpkin are eaten.

Deep down, this holiday goes well with the values of Chinese people, as their life has been quite hard throughout their long history. The Chinese do not strictly respect Thanksgiving traditions, so they do not eat turkey or pumpkin, but they do focus on its spirit. Gratitude is perhaps one of the feelings that the Chinese need most.

The emoticons created for Thanksgiving have a strong aesthetic quality, typical of middle-aged people, and are a bit annoying, but compared to the student who reported the case of the lady attendant, these middle-aged symbols are quite nice.

The Harbin Institute of Technology (including its Shenzhen branch) is one of the best universities in northeastern China, but the reaction to the event by that student and the university is truly worrying.

According to media reports, in 2018 the average grade for enrollment in Harbin exceeded that of the main campus. As a city Shenzhen is more attractive than Harbin, this is certainly a factor not to be underestimated, but the fact that the branch has overtaken the centre is rather surprising.

Perhaps many parents and students think that the new campus represents openness and tolerance, more opportunities, whilst the old one continues to remain immersed in a conservative and closed atmosphere.

The radical interpretation by that student shows this kind of attitude: an inward-looking person, who opens his eyes wide and is constantly looking for friend and foe in order to get rid of the foe with fewer and fewer beautiful things in his heart.

If you boycott Christmas because it has some “religious elements”, Valentine’s Day because it touches feelings between men and women, and Thanksgiving because it is “Western”, you eventually find that there are fewer and fewer things to boycott, and less important things will remain. Boycotting itself will be left, a mindset whose consequence leads to greater narrowmindedness.

All of this is really a troubling fact. What is most precious in a bright young man is a kind and open heart rather than a constant pursuit of enemies.

Instead of the word “bring back” (反映 fanying) the young man wrote “react” (反应 fanying) (the two words in Chinese have the same pronunciation, but today’s young people often can’t spell).

Perhaps it was a typo, but it somehow reflects the person’s nature. If someone loses an open mind and the ability to think, they end up being like an animal that “reacts” by instinct, and no longer possesses the feelings and the ability to express (“reflect”) that characterise human beings.

A Chinese priest who lives in Germany once said: “During Chinese New Year, state television always broadcasts greetings from other countries around the world. For example, the Eiffel Tower in Paris always lights up red, and so does the Empire State Building in New York.

And yet, some of our media encourage us not to celebrate Western festivities, but they want others to celebrate ours. In doing so, aren’t they contradicting our traditional virtue of reciprocity, muddling our image as a ‘country of ceremonies’?


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