‘Exporting the dragon’, by Matt Horn

The concept of globalisation is an increasingly big issue for countries around the world. Having sat in oral exams with students last week I know that there are genuine concerns about China being swamped by Western influences in terms of culture, business and society.

Just wander around Guangzhou and count up how many KFCs, McDonalds and Starbucks you can find. Think back to December and the ever growing influence of Christmas, just days before the Western New Year celebrations. Even Valentine’s Day is now a big business opportunity here in China.

It was in the light of such developments that Hu Jintao’s government got rid of the three Golden Week Holidays a few years ago, replacing them with shorter breaks for the Mid-Autumn, Qing Ming and Dragon Boat Festivals, the latter celebrated this week.

In any country, I believe it is important that traditional culture is celebrated and preserved – but I also believe it should be shared.

That is why I am delighted to say that the tradition of Dragon Boat racing to mark the Dragon Boat festival is now thriving in my home city of Preston, in the UK. I am also delighted to say that my univeristy, the University of Central Lancashire, remain the only winners of the increasingly coveted North West Confuscius Institute Dragon Boat Race.

The event started in 2012 as part of the Preston Guild celebrations, anotoher example of a cultural event that needs to be preserved, but is now an annual event.
My friend and colleague Ian Carrie is the leader of the “OARSOME” UCLan team and he explains that it started as a bit of fun.

“We still do it for fun but the competitive spirit kicked in after the first race and we are definitely not just going for a nice day out anymore…. we want to win!” he says.
“I struggled to fill the boat for the first event but now I struggle to keep up with the amount of people who want to have a go. It’s a great team event in which brute force and ignorance will not win you any medals, technique and stamina are key, even over the shorter distances. To be honest it’s the best team building event I have ever done.”
The event was held in bad weather but still attracted a large crowd of fans form the five universities, the rivals being Manchester, Liverpool, Lancaster and Edge Hill.

The fact that these universities are all home to a Confuscius Institute is an indication that there is a growing interest in looking at Chinese culture around the world.
In a recent talk to my students at GDUFS, the UK’s communications counsellor from Beijing John Gallagher said he hopes that China will promote her own culture much more in years to come.

He was asked to name his five top UK cultral icons and came up with Shakespeare, Harry Potter, The Beatles, football and the BBC. What would you say? It is also an interesting game to play in terms of Chinese culture and when I did it with my students they had a range of answersw including food (of course), kung fu, opera, and gambling. Again, ask yourself what you would say?

So I guess my message is simple – it is one of celebration and sharing. Let’s all celebrate our own culture while at the same time share it with others. Then more people will enjoy the noise, competition and zongzi at Dragon Boat Festival time.