A Chinese-Lebanese Tale: My Experience as a PhD Candidate in Beijing

My first contact with Chinese culture occurred during my childhood. Through Chinese Martial Arts movies my passion for this fascinating country was definitively triggered. Nevertheless, back then, I was far from imagining that I would actually have the chance to come live and study in China and explore its captivating mysteries.

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However, due to my profound interest in the Chinese civilization, I always wanted to know more about the “Middle Kingdom”. Moreover, what increased my enthusiasm was the fact that this beautiful country had an ancient history that stretched back for millennia, pretty much in the same fashion as the history of my own country did with its Phoenician roots that can be traced back to the Bronze Age.

As a result, I always wanted to get involved more and more with this marvelous culture, and I started practicing Chinese Martial Arts for years and reading about Chinese philosophy and history until I took the big decision of learning mandarin as well. Very soon, the entire paradigm of my existence started to evolve around China and all its cultural aspects. This also influenced my family as we often gathered over a fragrant pot of Chinese green tea in our free time relaxing and discussing while listening to some traditional Chinese music.

This cultural influence was really fascinating, but I realized that the last thing I wanted was to have a virtual or imprecise vision about China. This made me really want to know the country for real so I could completely dive into its reality without any detours. Only this way I could sculpt a real personal and valuable experience.

I have chosen in life the legal profession with all the stress and hard work that inevitably tagged along with it. I had pursued a BA and a Masters in Private Law followed by an M.Phil. in International and Domestic Business Law. Having passed successfully the entrance exam at the Bar association of Beirut followed three years later by the qualification exam to practice as a lawyer, I really wanted to bridge my profession with my passion. So I decided to look for a way to do that.

As my Chinese was progressing, I decided to take the HSK II exam encouraged by my Chinese teacher in Lebanon. I was really glad to pass it with high distinction making her proud of me. But it was when I collected my results that I heard about the possibility of applying for a scholarship to study in China.

I recognized that my Chinese level wasn’t sufficient to follow a degree taught in Mandarin. However, after searching well, I found out that it was possible for me to choose English as a medium of language. I didn’t hesitate; I really wanted to achieve a true experience in China rather than a limited touristic one. So I decided to apply for a scholarship from the Chinese Government through the Chinese Scholarship Council (CSC) via the Chinese Embassy in Lebanon. After, following all the necessary procedures, I was truly enchanted by the outcome. I had the great honor to be awarded the prestigious full scholarship from the CSC to pursue my PhD studies at the University of my first choice, the prominent China University of Political Science and Law in Beijing, the famous Zhong Guo Zheng Fa Daxue 中国政法大学. I had finally realized my dream to come live and study in China

  • Arrival and Expectations, Settling down and Adaptation

Upon my arrival, I soon realized that my adaptation wasn’t going to be an easy process. Although I had basic language skills, my mandarin level was barely sufficient to solve my immediate problems. However, I had anticipated the difficulties since I didn’t want to build any expectations based on the snags that I was forcibly going to encounter during my integration in this very new environment for me. I was lucky to be aware that I wasn’t to mix my passion for the culture of China with the actual process of adapting effectively to living in a huge City like Beijing.

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However, my first contact with people here was quite pleasant. Having arrived a week earlier than the registration time, I didn’t have to struggle much thanks to the British coordinator who is in charge of the liaison between new foreign students and the University, and who had kindly paved the way for a quick and comfortable transition.

What followed was the need to carry out the necessary procedures in order to setup myself for living in Beijing; buying a phone number with a plan, registering at the university, moving to my room, registering my place of living, carrying the medical exam required for my resident permit, filing for the permit per se, opening a bank account, etc…

All the above wasn’t easy at all despite the fact that I was somehow familiar with varied administrative procedures due to my profession. At first, it wasn’t easy for me to locate all the new destinations that I had to reach for completing the above. But soon this stressful scouting task evolved into a quite enjoyable exploration adventure the more I got acquainted with the map of Beijing and its very convenient public transportation system. Needless to say, the university administration also provided precious assistance in this regard as well.

Once I had settled down I was able to have a proper first impression of the reality. I could definitely identify the Chinese charm that I was looking for, but much more exploration remained to be done. The capital was such a huge and dynamic city and there was much more to it than meets the eye. I realized that I could probably understand the country more and more from my studies to come.

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  • Living and studying at the University  

Life at the university was and remains a very interesting experience. Despite the fact that I got more used to the professional life, there was a very enjoyable side for becoming a student again. I had the ongoing chance to make great friends, Chinese as well as foreign from all over the world who shared the same passion as me.

As a PhD candidate I had to register for a certain number of courses that I had to complete along with my dissertation, but I wanted to learn more about the legal system in China so I didn’t hesitate to take more domestic law courses particularly those who were relevant to my profession.

The contact with the Professors was very enriching, and with the coursework and lectures delivered by them, combined with thorough research, I was able to get a considerable insight on the legal and economic system. I started to see the true dimensions of the country and the staggering and ongoing progress made on all tiers since the reform and opening up policy in the late 70ies.

Being personally more driven towards Business, Investment and Economic Law, I decided to follow this path and I registered successfully my thesis proposal with a topic related to this field hoping to have the chance and the honor to contribute academically to this amazing progress as I believe that there is still a lot to be done in this regard. As far as I could comprehend it, the fact that China is reaching the pole position as one of the top economic powers in the world could not go without tremendous economic and financial risks. At this stage of critical importance China could rewrite the entire concept of economic growth if previous errors that occurred in other countries and led to global economic crises could be avoided on the legal and policy level.

 

  • Daily life and development of the Chinese Experience

Back to the cultural experience, and concerning daily life interactions, it goes without saying that improving my mandarin remains crucial to me. In fact, as much as my research efforts allow it, I really enjoy taking more language courses and practicing as much as possible with my Chinese friends and local people in general.

In this regard I always try to use the Beijing accent to please my interlocutor and I am often happily surprised by the tremendous interest people would show as soon as I engage in a conversation with them. This is my best incentive to never give up and keep learning mandarin no matter how much effort and time it could take me to achieve an honorable level, after all, the Chinese proverb goes: Bù néng yīkǒu chī chéng gè pàngzi-不能一口吃成胖子; (You can’t get fat on one just one mouthful.)

Speaking of a mouthful, living in China also allowed me to adapt easily, that to the great surprise of many local or foreign people, to the different Chinese delicious cuisines. One of my objectives is to try most types of cuisines in china including traditional recipes. For instance, I had the chance to be invited by one of my very good Chinese friends to spend Spring Festival in the countryside where I was able to try a famous recipe of snake soup. As soon as I had tried it driven by my curiosity, I was totally delighted by it and I ended up finishing the whole pot!

Another cultural aspect of great importance to me remains my fervent attraction to Chinese Martial Arts, mostly the traditional ones and I believe I was truly honored that I have had the chance to meet some of the most renown and famous masters in China. In this regard, I really hope that those precious traditional martial arts will always be preserved and treasured by future generations and will not succumb to oblivion.

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  • Personal evaluation of my experience and future expectations

As a conclusion to what I could qualify as a prologue on my Chinese experience, I realize that there is still much more to discover for me. But by now, I really am convinced that it is truly the journey that counts and not the destination. However, I would really like to aim for a full adaptation and a deeper and better comprehension of the Chinese culture at some point.

Developing a better understanding of the Chinese legal System and improving my Mandarin skills could enormously help in this regard. However, the task remains a continuous one and the road long but no less agreeable.

On balance, I consider my experience of China a positive and gratifying one so far. And I really hope in the future that I will be able to reap from my continuous efforts the chance to act as one more dynamic link between this beautiful country and the world, following the example of my own country Lebanon in this regard who was, and will always remain, the gate between the East and the West.

Rashad Tabet

PhD Candidate at ZhongGuo ZhengFa Daxue

Beijing

 

 

3 responses to “A Chinese-Lebanese Tale: My Experience as a PhD Candidate in Beijing

  1. Excellent article. You portrayed a beautiful image of China and it’s people. As an Australian from Lebanese origin I can understand the daunting task of living in a new culture. And it is a credit to your hosts that this process was easy for you. Good luck with your efforts.

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