Friday, October 17, 2008

Doing research in China - Difference between being a native and a foreign researcher

This came into my mind recently after talking with a PhD student who recently got NWO funding for her PhD study and research in China. She did her master thesis in China and has spend more than half year over there. I had very similar experience several years ago, so we had a meeting and exchanged our interest.

My field work told me that some gated community in China was under high level surveillance. I remember when I tried to enter into a gated neighborhood, the security guard stopped me immediately. He knows everyone who lives inside. I was allowed to go in only if I made a phone call to someone living inside, and that person answered the phone and told the guard that I was allowed to enter. Once I was able to enter into a neighborhood during the busy after-work hours. There were too many people crowded around the gate area, and I was able to slip through. However, I was soon spotted by some other guards inside, and asked to go out.

That is not a problem for her! Why? She is a foreigner. She said that her foreign look really helped her in getting through many neighborhoods' security check points. Maybe people would assume that foreigners would have no other purpose to come other than visiting someone they for sure know living inside. It sounds really unfair...

What can be problem for a foreigner? Communication. She had someone volunteered to help her in interpreting the interview process. What happened at the end is that the volunteer wrapped up a total an hour discussion with the interviewee in two sentences. What else? The answer was, oh, you do not have to know the rest.... I am wondering who is the researcher in this case.

I would imagine it might be very hard to find a Chinese language translator who could exactly interpret everything. Maybe the best way is to record and later translate and transcribe. It is so easy to have some meaning lost in translation if you do it intentionally.

I find some balance for being a Chinese studying China.
The image is from GettyImages.

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