Overseas student cycled in China to learn about aspirations of common Chinese
Photos: thepaper.cn
Joerg Hoefer, a German student studying in China, spent nearly 100 days to ride over 5,800 kilometers on bike from China's furthest north to south. On the road, he kept asking the Chinese people he met the same question—what was their Chinese dream. Based on what people told him, the young Germany finished his graduation dissertation titled Ordinary People's Chinese Dreams.

Hoefer, who is better known among his friends in the country by his Chinese name Yue Kaihan, has just graduated from the Zhejiang University with a M.A. in China Studies this year.

“(Our) school has been very supportive for China Studies students to go out of classrooms and do field trips to get to know the real China,” Lu Yuan, a teacher with the program at the Zhejiang University, told thepaper.cn, a Chinese Internet news portal, on Monday. According to Lu, Hoefer's studies mainly focus on perceptions of ordinary Chinese people about “Chinese Dream”. Lu indicated the university had funded Hoefer's initiative.

Hoefer first came to China in 2011 to engage in a year-long Chinese language program. Then driven by his deep interest in the Chinese culture, he enrolled into the Master's program at Zhejiang University in 2015.

It's reported by thepaper.cn the China Studies Program began to recruit overseas students from 2010 and now it has enrolled over 350 overseas students from over 50 countries. The master's degree program provides courses taught in English about Chinese society, politics, economy, history and other related subjects, in a bid for international students to emerge into China's culture and society while doing China studies.
According to Lu Yuan, students involved in the program are encouraged to engage with common Chinese people from all walks of lives including peasants, migrant workers and urbanites to find out challenges and problems the society is confronting and provide solutions. “So, except for essential classroom sessions, we would arrange (for students) to do field trips and their grades would be decided by presentations of their research results.”

Hoefer first heard the phrase “Chinese Dream” in 2013. Although it was since trotted over by Chinese media, the 28-year-old Germany always wondered what the common people’s “dream” actually was. So, he decided to embark on the pilgrimage to ask people of different ages, social classes across the country. He had chosen to travel on bike because this is the most natural and environmental friendly way while allowing him intimacy and flexibility to make random interviews.

And in order to make time for the tour, Hoefer finished all his classroom sessions in one year. Two months before he took to the road, Hoefer had exercised and prepared himself by cycling from Hangzhou to Shanghai.

He also carefully designed his riding route to cross 12 Chinese provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities with the starting point being Beiji Village, known as China's northernmost place in Mohe, a county in Northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, and the finishing line being Sanya, the southernmost city on Hainan Island in Southeast China.

Along the way, Hoefer would stop for big cities like Beijing and Wuhan, historical sites including Shaolin Temple and Yin Dynasty Ruins besides countless small towns of spectacular local colors.

On May 1, 2016, the backpacker carrying his folding bicycle, got on board a train from Hangzhou to Harbin where he then took bus to the Beiji Village.

He had packed two suits of clothes for change, a tent, spare tyre, inflator, and strips of cloth besides electronic gadgets including mobile phone, tablet PC, charge pal, and camera.

Before starting off, Hoefer registered a WeChat public account to write traveler's notes. “If I happened to arrive in the city where you live, feel free to contact me. I would be happy to learn more about your city, and your stories and sleep on your couch at night,” he posted on the day he took off.

He would jot down stories about people who left him deep impressions. For example, on the 57th day of his trip, Hoefer arrived Chenjiagou, a village in Central China's Henan province where Tai Chi, a Chinese martial art, originated. A Tai Chi teacher surnamed Li provided Hoefer free accommodation. In their conversation, Hoefer was surprised to know that Li works full-time as a solar energy engineer.
Hoefer paid close attention to China's rural-urban differences. He found out people living in rural places aspire to lead more well-off and quiet lives while Chinese urbanites hope they could do things they really like.

He noticed that young and elderly Chinese tend to have different concerns. Older people are less materialist and care more about social equality and stability. On the other hand, young Chinese usually put their focus of attention on issues like education, career development, their own hobbies and getting fitness.

What are your Chinese dreams? This is the question he would keep asking along his way from the country's furthest north to south. And he believes he got sincere answers. A restaurant owner in the Beiji Village said her dream was to help the elderly improve their living conditions and relieve the burdens of younger generations; a worker in Yangshuo, a county in Guangxi, an autonomous region in South China, hopes to lead a more well-off life, while a college student in Changchun, the capital city of Northeast China's Jilin province, wishes to make contributions to his motherland.

Hoefer said that for common people, Chinese dreams are all about more practical aspects of lives like wealth, happiness, personal values and families although in more official definition, Chinese dream implies national rejuvenation. Even though common people are not quite sure how their realistic wishes could be realized, they know it is only through a country's revival, individuals' happiness could be achieved. 

The article is based on a thepaper.cn report. 

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