Christmas Caroling in China 1987

I spent the summer of ’87 in the People’s Republic of China teaching conversational English to middle school English teachers. Class met five mornings a week and then our lead teacher taught pedagogy a few afternoons each week. Additionally, we offered “cultural lessons” that were optional (and pretty popular) a few evenings each week.

We addressed relationships one week, helping students understand American cultural norms of friendship, dating, and marriage.

Another evening we highlighted four popular American holidays: Valentines’ Day, Easter, Halloween, and Thanksgiving. I have fond memories of going to the open market to purchase squash to masquerade as pumpkins.

We spent one session introducing them to what it’s like to be a teacher in America and on another night we threw a traditional children’s birthday party.

The most powerful evening was the night we brought Christmas to Zhengzhou’s Teacher College–to over 100 students and quite a few faculty, including administration. I dug out these photos and scanned them so I could share them with you here (though I really wanted to share a set of black and white prints from the evening, but I can’t find them–maybe another time). These represent more stories than I will share in this blog.

In preparation for this night, we taught some Christmas carols to our students in class. We’d complete the agenda for the day and I’d suggest that my students could be released 15 minutes early or we could sing. They always chose singing.

Actually, my student who had chosen the English name of Sheila chose to sing and no one argued. She was my classroom monitor. From what I understand, the monitor for each classroom was a card-carrying party member who was assigned to monitor the activities in the classroom. With that in mind, and knowing that the song sheet we had included numerous carols about Santa and snow, you might find it fascinating that Sheila not only lead the choice to sing but then requested her two favorites: Silent Night and Joy to the World.

So, imagine as I remember, standing in a 4th floor classroom in the Hunan Province of the People’s Republic of China in 1987 with twenty-some teacher students singing these lyrics:

Joy to the world! the Lord is come;
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare him room,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven, and heaven, and nature sing.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.

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