Statement of Purpose for Iowa Young Writer’s Workshop | Teen Ink

Statement of Purpose for Iowa Young Writer’s Workshop

September 12, 2022
By ZhitongZhou SILVER, Shenzhen, Other
ZhitongZhou SILVER, Shenzhen, Other
9 articles 26 photos 0 comments

“British humor is different from Chinese humor,” Mr. Gallie told us in AP European History, “in that it is very mean.” His words were the introduction to my first Blackadder episode, “Nob and Nobility,” the thunderclap that awoke the Anglophile dormant within me since I exhausted my Peppa Pig DVDs as a five-year-old. For a semester, I devoured BBC classics like Blackadder, Yes Minister, A Bit of Fry and Laurie, and classics-to-be like Upstart Crow. I wondered, at first guiltily, why I sadistically relished Blackadder’s punching of Baldrick and teasing of Prince George. Only later did I find the answer: it is not that the British are exceptionally mean; it is that the Chinese are mean to themselves, while the British are mean to each other.

British comedy offered the temporary consolation that I, like Blackadder, had someone other than myself to blame for my pathetic life. At Shenzhen Middle School, I too lived in a world of Elizabethan hierarchy, where teachers complained about the lack of scrambled eggs in their free lunch in the elevator, while students toiled upstairs for six floors from an 18-yuan (~$2.8) dish of unwashed broccoli; a world of Georgian inequity, where winning a high school science fair entailed renting a lab and hiring a group of postdoc instructors; of Edwardian absurdity, where Shenzhen Middle School and Shenzhen Foreign Languages School, one smartphone-abundant and one takeout-dry, competed for cultural superiority with student awards in provincial competitions as deterrents; and of Baldrickan slovenliness, where my classmates wiped their lard-laden hands on the class sofa. Only the Blackadders, doubtful of their socialist superschool and its Chinese characteristics, were left to hate themselves.

The English language was our refuge from self-hatred; it turned our mockery outwards. We forgot about the Executive Order for a World-Class High School with Chinese Characteristics when we turned away from its language. We circulated memes of “Holden Caulfield thinks you are a phony” and bit our thumbs at superintendents, who were too busy organizing spy-catching lectures for the International Department to read Shakespeare. We frequented, which the Chinese firewall, for all its fear for misinformation, let pass. Last semester, my class took the GAC courses, which the ACT made compulsory for non-native speakers in fear that we would be too dim for college despite scoring 36. In my reflective journals for GAC003, “study skills for independent learning,” I affirmed our dire need for American enlightenment: “The most astonishing fact, however, is that the brain needs oxygen to function – I always thought our nation’s scholars ran on the ancient Chinese practice of Qi, instead of carbohydrates.” While they knew ACT officials were sixty percent likely to inspect my work, my friends egged me on with

their laughter, rather than admonish me as they had when I wrote a similar journal for our military training. When I wrote a ridiculously groveling email to Mr. Gallie, whom I addressed as “your excellency,” to enquire why a six-out-of-six essay had been converted to 95 percent in my European History grade book, he thanked me for my sarcasm, which he wrote “reminds me of home,” and added the grades in question to my overall score. I was tolerated, even encouraged, to protest my imperfect world – as long as I did it satirically in English.

Youthful ephemerality, however, surrounded our subversion. Our jokes, like fireworks, extinguished upon cracking. As we exchanged Caulfield and Shakespeare, we prepared for statistic quizzes and completed Communist Youth League paperwork. No one interrupted their doctor- and lawyer-oriented agendas to record our cynical outbursts, because we would eventually toast to the plans for many a world-class companies and cackle insanely at our bosses’ geriatric punchlines. But I lament that the future historians of Shenzhen Middle School should see in its records only sunny-faced students living their superintendents’ meticulous blueprints.

My purpose as a playwright is to commemorate my time for its imperfection. History is too often mythicized as the inevitable design of an omnipresent force, be it divine will or human genius or class conflict, to the extent that we forget and thus relive its accidents and absurdity. Non-historians fit their ancestors into the cast of their political tragedy, and it takes comedy to remind them of the complexity of humanity: that the oppressed, like Baldrick, was usually not their revolutionary martyr; that the oppressors, like Prince George, were usually not their criminal mastermind; and that the in-between, like Blackadder, was not their silent backdrop. Like Ben Elton and Richard Curtis and Rowan Atkinson, I want to write a history of my people that shows not the eager makers of an economic miracle but my world-weary schoolmates. I have a Blackadder to pickle in my writing, which I hope IYWS will elevate from formalin to the perfume of Arabia, so I can boast of my writing to my younger self: “so long as men can breathe or eyes can see/ so long lives this, and this gives life to thee.”

The author's comments:

Statement of Purpose for Iowa Young Writer’s Workshop.

Similar Articles


This article has 0 comments.