Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Manchurian Candidate

I returned from a four day stint in what is called in China as Dongbei (the Northeast), the three provinces that formerly comprised Manchuria (and the Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo). I only visited the southernmost province (Liaoning) and its capital Shenyang (formerly Mukden, the imperial city of ancient Manchu kingdom before they conquered all of China and created the Qing dynasty in 1644). I did not make it to Jilin and Heilongjiang further to the north, though i cannot imagine it being much colder compared to the -20 C I felt in the blustery and snow covered terrain near the Korean and Russian borders. I gave two lectures at Northeastern University in Shenyang and two lectures a bit to the south in Anshan at Liaoning University of Science and Technology. In both cases I discussed US-China relations and the 2012 US elections. The audiences were very large, on average about 250 per lecture, and the students and faculty asked very good questions. I was even given an enormous roar of applause when I stated US official policy since the 1972 Shanghai Communique is that there is One China and Taiwan is part of China. My description of official US treatment of the Dalai Lama or criticisms regarding human rights conditions or religious freedom did not receive such a warm welcome, despite the fact that in all cases I was merely describing positions, not personally advocating any view.

But overall, audiences in both locations rarely have American professors visit (though Walter Russell Mead preceded me in Anshan), so the reception was very enthusiastic. One student had memorized some of my past Sac Hornet blogs and published articles to discuss my views. I had no idea what he was referring to regarding a blog about civil rights, having forgotten what I had written over five years ago. When he discovered I was from Iowa, he recited verbatim Obama's speech upon winning the Iowa caucuses in 2008, and delivered it with some flair. He was a very energetic student, from the Bai and Tujia minority groups in Guizhou, he was full of life, and had a seemingly appropriate 'English' name Angelo. Liaoning is a main industrial center, so iron and steel is the backbone of the society there, and many students are prepared for a career in such a field. Interestingly, I taught English in Liaoning in 2004 at a steel factory, so this was all very familiar to me. It was also nice since there are both Manchurian and Korean autonomous minority areas, we could have a wonderful Korean barbecue one night. I also got to meet the US consulate representatives based in Shenyang. It was a bit cold and lonely in the hotel room where I couldn't figure out how to run heat or get hot water (maybe there wasn't any, its not rocket science), but enjoyed the trip overall; despite forgetting to take my passport and having to express mail it up in order to fly back, I usually take only trains which do not require and often ignore the official rules that all, especially foreigners, must check in with official id because the national police have computer links to each accommodation.

Now its time to prepare for final exams and for a week back in the States for the holidays. Ready for a break, and look forward to some time off.

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