Accompanied by the classic hard rock of the 1980s, Dongqing Cheng, a bumpkin-like young man wearing rugged clothes and a pair of thick glasses, is captivated by college orientation. This village boy luckily got accepted into one of the best schools in China. Directed by Peter Chan, 2013’s American Dreams in China tells Cheng’s story. Beginning with the moment he meets his two lifelong friends, the film follows Cheng as he comes up with the idea of the New Dream, China’s biggest educational institution that has sent millions of Chinese students to countries all over the world. This independent, semi-biographical film is popular in China and has raked in an enormous box-office.
Dubbed by many critics as a Chinese version of Hollywood’s The Social Network, the movie reveals how the New Dream started as a GRE and TOEFL training institute aimed at sending Chinese undergraduates to America to receive a higher education. In just a few years, the institution grew from an abandoned building with only 200 students to an empire that made more than 30 million students’ dreams come true.
Why is it called the New Dream? To know that, you have to know what the old dream was. America is a nation of justice, equality and respect. Chinese people believe that in this far western country, hardworking people can get what they want and everyone has a chance to be successful. 20 years ago, “Been in America” was a dream in China that caused many people to give up anything; money, land, power or even family, lovers and friends.
Once they arrived at America, legal or not, they stayed. Most of the Chinese people who came at that time had a hard time surviving. Since they lacked skills, it was hard to find a good job. The only ones they could find were menial labor jobs like washing dishes or serving food. They worked from day to night, seven days a week. They lived in rooms smaller than a freshman dorm. Despite all this, they stayed. For them, it was their dream, the old American dream in China.
Xiaojun Meng, a main character in the film, has the same experience in America, but he chooses to return and become a critical part of the New Dream. With growing numbers of Chinese students willing to study abroad, the New Dream becomes more popular. Years later, when Xiaojun Meng came back to U.S. as a successful businessman, he described that the purpose of the New Dreams was not just to educate Chinese students, but also to show America that Chinese students are just as smart as American students.
For Chinese students overseas today, they have a not-so-perfect but developing home country as support. They come to the U.S. to see the world and to experience the diversity.
Opening up any college’s website in the U.S., one can find a page describing the overseas programs that encourage students to study abroad. Why? Because colleges hope that their students will gain worldwide perspective, so that they can fit into the diverse and economically integrated world that awaits them. It is the same reason students from China study in America. Whether they can stay here forever or not is no longer the most important issue. Instead, the most important thing is for them to enjoy a different atmosphere, learn in a different manner and chase their dreams of the future—the new dreams of the new generation.