Mandarin Studies As Depicted By Science Fiction
Two of my biggest hobbies are watching science fiction and learning Mandarin. There are some very interesting patterns emerging in the world, which affects the latter of these two hobbies and can be seen in the first.
Learning Mandarin is an epic journey. One of my favorite songs is a cheesy Swedish pop song that I am listening right now. The tune is about a guy confessing his love for a girl and the chorus roughly translates into: I am your destiny calling. Right now I am sitting in my flat in Beijing, China, and I am absolutely in awe of this place. I feel like China is undergoing an immense paradigm shift. Like a force of destiny is somehow at work which will transform the city and the country in a very short time period.
In Blade Runner, a science fiction movie made in 1982, the future is depicted. In the movie Harrison Ford speaks Mandarin with a street vendor. The scriptwriters imagined a future where China was much more involved with the world than was the case the 1980’s. Since then their prophecy has come true. Today China is probably the world’s second most powerful nation, only eclipsed by The United States. The English language is the standard mode of communication almost everywhere today but popular culture has, since the 1980’s, anticipated a shift in this matter.
One thing that captures my attention about this trend is the shift within the genre. In 1982 we are talking science fiction, and even in 2002 and 2003 the genre was still science fiction. One of the top 10 most expensive TV series from these years is called Firefly. It is a story about a far-flung future in which people live in space and there is a massive element of Mandarin and Chinese culture. The décor is commonly influenced by eastern elements such as lanterns and Chinese patters with dragons and other similar objects. The dialogue is partially in Chinese, every swearword is in Mandarin and people use Chinese terms of affection when addressing each other. There is even a reference to future history. Sung Yu, is envisioned as a warrior poet that lived in the early 2000’s and was somehow involved in a major war on the planet know as earth that was.
In 2009 something very interesting happens to how western popular culture envisions China and the future. But, let us first discuss the science fiction epic Independence Day, the archetypical American movie. There are more American flags and references to American success in that film than any other that I have ever seen and in the end it is the technological prowess of America that saves the entire world from being eaten by slimy alien invaders. Today America is a superpower. American dominance is in many ways dependent on it military might, and more specifically on its ability to wage war anywhere in the world. That ability is dependent on one thing: unrivaled air superiority. When the President and Will Smith blows the Alien ships to smithereens they do so in the comfort of F-22 Raptors.
In 2009 China’s position in the world had changed. There has been no better symbol to date of what China will become in the future than the way China successfully navigated the economic downturn. The period starting in 2008 really showed the world what China’s manufacturing capability means: economies everywhere were sick but China’s grew by a healthy 10 percent despite this. This did not escape Hollywood’s attention. In the film 2011, a disaster movie it is not The United States that saves the day. It is China, and more specifically, and also literally explained in the movie, it is China’s potential as a manufacturer. In the Chinese Himalayas 10 or so massive Arks are constructed which eventually saves a small proportion of humanity from really big waves.
If you can see this in Hollywood produced films, it is not surprise that you can see it in China. Living in China in the beginning of this century is like living in New York at the turn of the last. There are massive wheels turning and you can sense it in the air. China is here to stay, and so is the Mandarin language.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rui Ming works for a Mandarin academy that is a great option for those that want to learn Chinese. If you are interested in more information about learning Chinese in China, please consult the website of BeijingGatewayAcademy.