Young overseas Chinese can now go on an (almost) free two-week trip to China. Since 1999, the Office of Overseas Chinese Affairs (OOCA), an office of China’s powerful State Council, has organized annual trips, called “root seeking camps,” to help Chinese children growing up abroad stay in touch with their national heritage. Many of these camps used to charge tuition and fees. But this year, the Chinese government has decided to cover most expenses, excluding airfare. The move may be part of a government push to expand ties with the approximately 60 million Chinese who live overseas, comprising the largest diaspora population in the world.
The program’s stated goal is to increase young overseas Chinese people’s understanding and interest toward their home culture. It has wide appeal – to date, more than 400,000 Chinese abroad have attended the camps. (Then again, some seem to have attended involuntarily at their parents’ urging). OOCA, which also drafts policies on returned overseas Chinese, work with Chinese schools and global Chinese associations all over the world to recruit participants. Most campers must be between the ages of 12 and 18, must identify as at least part ethnically Chinese, and must speak basic Mandarin or a local dialect.
OOCA holds the camps in several Chinese cities each year. Themes vary widely city to city. A camp held this year in the central province of Henan focused on martial arts, while young participants in the coastal city of Ningbo learned about Chinese calligraphy and the art of paper cutting. A camp in the metropolis of Nanjing features trips to Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall, which commemorates the 1937 slaughter of about 300,000 Chinese by the invading Japanese army; several local museums; and Fuzimiao, a famous Confucius temple.
Kuang Lihong, a participant back in 2000, said her trip changed her “previous prejudice against the country.” Cong Zhongxiao of Atlanta, Georgia, told Hong Kong-based news outlet Phoenix Media in July that she didn’t like Chinese culture on her first trip and had refused to talk to anyone Chinese. But eventually, Cong said, she grew to care for the country and the language; 2016 marked her fourth time attending. Read more…