Thursday, June 21, 2012

Xi'an and Tianjin

I completed my final two guest lectures, at Northwest University in Xi'an and Nankai University in Tianjin. It is somewhat of a relief to have finished the constant travel, though certainly it was a wonderful chance to interact with such a wide variety of colleagues from across so many disciplines.

I took the 12 hour overnight train back and forth to Xi'an. It was somewhat apropos as my first visit to China in 2001 was to take the same train from Beijing to Xi'an on my second day in country. Not alot has changed, and with this my third visit, I skipped the tourist sites and just did my lectures. In both previous trips, I visited the tomb of Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi, the founder of a unified China in the third century BC, and his Army of Terra Cotta warriors to protect him in the afterlife. It is an astonishing scale of imperial grandeur, especially knowing that it stood untouched for nearly two millennia when in the 1960s a farmer hoisted up a terra cotta head while plumbing for water in the parched farmland. When excavated the colorful soldiers, carriages, horses, and the like almost instantly lost their pageantry when the air destroyed the colors of all but a few. Only the subsequent Han dynasty, which overcame the Qin dynasty and looted the underground imperial compound, before erecting their own somewhat less grand tombs, disturbed the standing army during all of that time. Even more dramatic, is that this set of guardians is far from the actual tomb of Qin Shi Huang, leaving open the likelihood of even greater treasures to be unearthed when technology is better adapted to its preservation, hopefully in my lifetime. As a once great former capital (formerly Chang'an, peace), its magnificent Tang dynasty city walls faltered, and the Ming dynasty replacement walls were recently fortified, and now an imposing rampart encircles the city. Of course, Emperor Qin was the first to connect the various walls of rival nations within modern China to create the antecedent of the Great Wall of China.

Xi'an also lies at the end (or beginning) of the ancient Silk Road (more properly a silk road, as there were several routes, one through Xinjiang as previously described), and thus has a substantial Muslim population, mostly ethnic Chinese Hui people. In the past I have watched the schools in the Muslim quarter where young boys and girls (separately) recite the Koran in Chinese, and read and write in Arabic script in some cases. And the lamb is wonderful as well as the local specialty yang rou pao mou (shredded bread soup with lamb...and cilantro; love it!). The old bell tower and various pagodas remind one of its ancient glory. And Shanxi has its only special cuisine. On this trip, however, I confined myself to Xibei campus, well aside from one lecture at one of the remote campuses an hour outside of town. The lectures were somewhat sparsely attended as June has rolled around and students are preparing for exams or graduation. I did get to meet another Fulbright couple, Joe and Maria Kennedy, for an excellent dinner with their three bilingual children who are growing up in a public Chinese immersion school in North Carolina and now fully in a Chinese public school curriculum in Xi'an. It was great to reunite with fellow Fulbrighters.

For Nankai University, the only university in China home to two premiers (Zhou Enlai and current office holder Wen Jiabao), though both were more directly associated with Nankai Middle School, and may not have completed their degrees (at least for PM Zhou, who was engaged with fighting for liberation). Both figures are well-loved in China; certainly Zhou to an enormous degree, and "Uncle" Wen to a more modest degree, though his empathy to the victims of the Sichuan earthquake endeared him to many. His recent castigation of Bo Xilai has perhaps made him look more 'political', though has probably not tarnished his image as a reformer too greatly. I took the high speed train from Beijing South station (55 yuan) and rolled in to Tianjin half an hour later at nearly 300 km/hour. Again, I only stayed for two days and mostly focused on delivering my lectures, which were modestly attended again owing to the time of the semester. My host, Prof. Wang Li, was quite a humorous character, and showed me to the former residence of the Last Emperor, "Henry" PuYi. Of course, the Bertolucci film of the same name tells his life story wonderfully, and it was a treat to see some of his artefacts and old photos in his 1920s villa before moving on to be the fateful emperor of the Manchurian puppet state of the Japanese, Manchukuo. Nevertheless, in the last in the long line of Manchu emperors of the Qing dynasty, his place in history is set despite his personal foibles. Of course, the Party emphasized his final conversion to Citizen of the People's Republic where he lived his last days as a gardener and wrote an autobiography to show his fealty to the revolution that brought 'democracy' to China.

The quick journey back to Beijing left me with one more week of classes, and then final exams. Students struggled some with the in class final exam, and its essay component, but overall they did fairly well; overall grades mostly Bs, no Cs, and a handful of As. I continue with my regular appearances on CCTV (Security in Northeast Asia-, Russia's Foreign Policy-, and am preparing for my trip to East Timor, and the end of the Fulbright. One of the last events was to join the other Beijing Fulbrighters James and Jill along with Embassy Fulbright manager Nathan for my birthday on June 17 at Golden Hans all-you-can-eat Brazilian BBQ and German beerhouse with Chinese characteristics.

Monday, June 4, 2012


My first trip to Guangzhou, the former Canton, was relatively uneventful as I slowly get more worn down from the long series of journey I have taken. Though I have been to Shenzhen and Hong Kong in Guangdong, Guangzhou is the first inland city in the province for me to see. As expected, it was quite humid, though very lush and green owing to its valuable location at the mouth of the Pearl River delta. Dim sum was the order of the day, and I had a fantastic chicken soup boiled in a coconut so that the broth (which was only the original coconut juice) was delicately coconut-flavored and the chicken was softly falling off of the bone. In the south, and specifically in Guangdong, breakfast is very important, and chatting for hours over steamed delicacies is the pastime. The din of chatter was significantly greater than in other regions, and felt very much like Chinatowns in Honolulu and San Francisco, from which most Chinese Americans emigrated.

My lectures at Jinan University and Guangdong Foreign Studies University (Guangwai) were to smaller groups of classes, though pleasant. Guangdong is more liberal and open, and that seemed to be reflected in the nature of the questions, more regarding human rights and transparency in government and media in China. In between, I did have the chance to visit the Chen Jia Si (Chen Family Ancestral Hall) which was quite ornate and striking. The collected members of the Chen family built the hall in the late Qing dynasty as a residence for taking the Confucian exams or to honor the legacy of the family. I also hiked part way up Baiyun Mountain, amid of festive atmosphere of local revelry. The mountain park was very green, with tropical plants, bamboo, and peach blossoms, though rather steamy. It was an attractive setting, though my recent visits have been to awe-inspiring sceneries, so Guangdong as expected did not match the beauty of China’s great hinterlands like neighboring Guangxi, or Sichuan or Xinjiang. Glad to have visited, especially its more modern importance as home to Sun Zhongshan (Sun Yatsen) and the Western colonial project.

Next up, Xi’an, former capital, and lastly Tianjin.


Dalian was a beautiful seaside port on the southern tip of Liaoning province (part of the three northeast provinces referred to as Dongbei and formerly Manchuria). Recently ousted Politburo member Bo Xilai was mayor of the city before departing to Chongqing and is widely popular there today, especially in comparison to the current mayor who is deeply unpopular, and blamed for the rise of air and water pollution. My final day was quite lovely, as a student from Qingdao (another beautiful coastal city) and his girlfriend from Inner Mongolia toured me along the hillside overlooking the deep blue and green ocean below, which was still quite clear. We also went to the sea world amusement area and watched performing dolphins, sea lions, and walruses. Funny how animals respond to different languages, I’m so used to these tricks always being performed with English prompts. The sky was blue, the air was clean, and the weather was temperate, so I really liked the place.

Dalian Maritime University is a leading school for navigation and ocean law, and I was grilled over the South China Sea Dispute and the maps I was using. Getting skewered at my lecture on some question is not unusual, from Tibet to Tiananmen (usually not addressed) to terrorism and the like, but the faculty here was very meticulous about the naming of the sea, as they differentiated the South China Sea (a larger body of water) from the South Sea of China (the smaller body, though implicitly without question part of China; for most, this body of water is the same geography as the South China Sea, which the professor said should include most of the nations of Southeast Asia within it).

My host was a former graduate student at the University of Iowa, who really enjoyed her time there, so that was a nice chance to talk about home.