Wednesday, April 9, 2014

I taught about Easter, in China

“哈利路亚 基督复活。” Hallelujah, Christ has risen. Image source.

Easter is coming soon, and the school where I work has been encouraging us teachers to do some lessons about it. (English school for adults in China.) Because you know, we teach English but we also want to teach about culture in western countries. Students are really interested in that.

So you know, some teachers are doing egg decorating and Easter egg hunts and making cute little rabbits, which should be really fun. I'm interested to see what kind of creative things the students do with those. But ... you haven't really taught about Easter if you haven't talked about the religious part.

How, though? I've heard stories about persecution in China, and foreigners being kicked out for talking about Jesus. On the other hand, Christianity is among the government-approved religions in China (they are Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Protestantism, and Catholicism). I've been to several churches here, and almost all have been packed. (And also full of security cameras.)

So the rules about religion are inconsistent. Perhaps the best explanation is the Chinese government doesn't want Chinese culture to be taken over by western culture- so foreign Christians trying to convert Chinese are highly suspicious, while a church with Chinese leaders is not. (And actually, there are some churches where ONLY foreigners are allowed- the government doesn't want them influencing Chinese people.)

Or maybe it's more complicated than that.

Anyway, back to my story. I did a class about Easter a few days ago. I showed the students some pictures of Easter-related traditions- some were religious (like Ash Wednesday) and some were not religious (like Easter baskets). They started asking me about why do we celebrate Easter, and what is Good Friday, etc, and I'm not going to just tell them the answers- I think students learn better when they find the answers themselves.

So I told them to pick one of the traditions and use their phones or the school computers to go online and find some information about it. And then come back in 15 minutes and explain it to the class. In English.

That was pretty fun. The only downside was that they were mostly finding information on Chinese sites, so that wasn't helping them practice their English. If I do a class like that again- where they have to research on the computers- maybe I should make some changes to deal with that problem. (And then when they used English sites, they would just copy down phrases like "commemorate the resurrection of Christ" and I doubt that they even know what those words mean. So yeah. Definitely gotta make some changes to the lesson plan so they use more English- English that they can actually understand.)

But overall, I liked the class. The students learned about Easter, and I didn't teach them anything religious.

I really don't know how paranoid I should be about talking about religion with my students. During the class, I was thinking, "Oh geez, everyone is baidu-ing [Chinese equivalent to googling] Easter... that's gonna look suspicious, we're gonna get our internet connection shut off." Probably a little too paranoid.

In an American school, there would certainly be no problem with what I did. It was clearly education and clearly not forcing religious ideas on students. But what if the Chinese government doesn't see it that way?

(Though I will point out, the only people I've heard say we're not supposed to talk about religion in China are Christians.)

But man, we're supposed to do classes on Easter this month. Easter is a Christian holiday. You can't just not say that. That's not good education.

1 comment:

  1. If you are still looking at these comments, it's probably just fine to talk about Christianity, especially in light of a holiday like this which is significant to many English speaking cultures. I taught at a Normal University a few years back, and it was not an issue at all.