A Year in China in the Late 1980s



From September 1987 to August 1988 I spent a year as a foreign student in China. I was assigned a place at Fudan University in Shanghai by the Chinese government authority. The Fudan was (and still is) one of the most prestigious universities in China. However, as it turned out, this was not an advantage for foreign students in the late 80s at all, unfortunately: The Fudan was the strictest in keeping foreigners and Chinese students apart from each other. All foreigners were segregated in a campus outside the main campus, making direct contact with Chinese students pretty hard. To be fair: in hindsight it is not clear whether this was the reason, or whether they intended to offer us decidedly better living conditions than the Chinese students on the main campus had.

This little blog is about my year in China.

While I blogged about my trips to Xinjiang and Tibet in spring 1988, as well as the return trip on the Trans-Mongolian Railway before, I only recently decided to get all of my slides from that time digitized. In hindsight, it was a bad and unfortunate decision to do it only now, as the slides have suffered a lot of damage in these 30 years. Some are hardly usable anymore…

Also, I am now disappointed how few pictures I had actually taken during that time – except maybe for during a few extraordinary trips. But remember that this was the pre-digital age! Digicams or smartphones did not exist. Photographic film rolls, especially slide films were a real cost factor. So was photography equipment. Also, the film rolls had to be stored, developed, framed, …

As photography was not a hobby of mine, I just brought my good old simple rangefinder camera. Through the entire year I took 26 rolls of film worth of pictures, 37 pictures per film on average. One of the last film rolls, while I spent a month in Beijing (Peking) before returning to Europe, was destroyed when my camera got soaked in a rain shower.

To sum this up: There are not really a lot of pictures and the quality leaves much to be desired. Perhaps they are still interesting to some. That’s the reason why I am posting them publicly.

A look back on different times

At the time, I was a 21-year-old university student who was not really interested in politics. I was fascinated by the emerging computer technology (remember: it was the 1980s!) and had an obsession with Chinese and Japanese characters and the languages, and therefore started an M.A. program of Computational Linguistics and Chinese Studies. The Chinese Studies required students to spend a year in China. And that’s how I got there. There’s actually a German language blog entry where, looking back, I try to explain why I decided not to pursue a career in China after graduation from university.

So, look at the pictures and comments through the eyes of the naive 21-year-old that I was then. Let’s be honest: All of us young students from Western countries were pretty much spoiled, entitled brats, thrown into this year-long adventure in this threshold country that the China of the late 1980s still was. Draw your own conclusions of what you see in these old pictures, and compare with what you see China has become since then.

By the way, I am blogging in English which is not my native language (as you may have figured out already) so that more people can read it.

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