Friday, January 11, 2013

Leaving China

With less than one week to go before departing China Foreign Affairs University and resuming my academic duties at Cal State Sacramento, I can add a final coda to my time in Beijing. The past two months remained quite busy. I made six more appearances on CCTV Dialogue, on issues from Obama's visit to Myanmar (http://english.cntv.cn/program/dialogue/20121120/101128.shtml), violence in Israel-Palestine (http://english.cntv.cn/program/dialogue/20121123/101194.shtml), who would become the new US Secretary of State (http://english.cntv.cn/program/dialogue/20121126/100640.shtml) - I argued against Susan Rice and in favor of John Kerry, got that one right at least, Sino-Indian relations (http://english.cntv.cn/program/dialogue/20121127/100903.shtml), Sino-US relations (http://english.cntv.cn/program/dialogue/20130104/100653.shtml), and regional relations in Northeast Asia (http://english.cntv.cn/program/dialogue/20130105/100860.shtml). I also had one appearance on China Radio International regarding the US Fiscal Cliff (http://english.cri.cn/8706/2012/12/27/2861s740594.htm). Those may be my last media opportunities for quite some time. I also had the chance to publish an op-ed in a Chinese state-run newspaper regarding Sino-US relations (“Change Brings Renewed Hope for Sino-US Ties” China.org at http://www.china.org.cn/opinion/2012-12/23/content_27471865.htm).

I also gave my final public lecture at Nankai University in Tianjin on the South China Sea and East China Sea disputes, topics that always lead to some acrimony. The view in China is of nervousness about Japan's increased militarism. In late November i had the opportunity to visit Kyoto for the first time, my fifth trip to Japan but first to Osaka and Kyoto. Kyoto is now easily in my top 5 cities in the world. What a wonderful combination on antiquity (well preserved wooden Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines, and imperial palaces from over a millennia ago in some cases) and modernity (excellent public transportation, glimmering shopping streets, and sparkling train station)! And Japanese people continue to rank as the most hospitable in the world, the safest and most relaxing place i have visited. So, i don't quite agree with the assertions of Japanese nationalism and militarism, but one can understand the political purposes of such rhetoric. Of course, the legacy of Japanese militarism sparks uneasiness across the region, and the tragedies of China's victimization in World War II are always part of my considerations as i have visited many sites of Japanese aggression from that time. I also had the chance to visit China's 29th province (with autonomous regions, special administrative regions, municipalities, etc. its hard to count) , Taiwan; my first trip there. Unfortunately it was the rainy season in the north at Taibei, but i enjoyed seeing the Palace Museum, the night markets, the old town of Jiufen (inspiration for Hiyazawa's Spirited Away, perhaps my friend Bekiwe can intepret the meaning of that film to me), and the rugged coastline of Yeliu. After visiting the museum, i was more impressed by the Qing dynasty, which i had always ranked as rather low. Their commitment to cultivating arts was extraordinary, though their avoidance or ignorance of the martial arts, the modern ones of artillery and armaments, left them vulnerable to outside forces that utlimately ended their reign. Even at the ebb of their power in the late 19th century, they were delegating to major officials the responsibility to design snuff bottles that would wow and overwhelm the capabilities of Western artisans to show their material and spiritual advancement. It seemed that they really believed it was a cultural competition, not a struggle for material plunder and economic hegemony over the celestial empire. Live and learn.

I also gave my final lecture at the US embassy in Beijing regarding the political transition between the election in November and the inauguration in January. I even saw one of my former CSUS students Daniel Green who is working in Beijing, and brought several of my current CFAU students. Otherwise, I am working on my academic research regarding international law and Asian politics. I am also working on a manuscript about cultural challenges between US and China on a more personal level. But time is short, and i need to carve out more time to devote myself to moving those projects forward.

I cannot quite say I am prepared to resume life in America. I look forward to driving my own car, though since its not registered currently i will have to wait some days for the California DMV to open (3 day holiday) and get through the red tape. I look forward to my soft bed at home, though must clean the place, restart all the services which is proving difficult, and restock the empty cabinets. It will be nice to share some new experiences with my classes, though i have yet to find time to make my syllabi and i do not teach my Asia class until next fall. So, at least last night i enjoyed my final visit to the Xinjiang Provincial office restaurant and devoured four large skewers of soft lamb, ate even more rack of lamb, and added on stir-fried lamb and scallions, along with some spicy vegetable dish, and ended with fresh Uyghur yogurt and pastries. and a moderately cool Yanjing beer. That is the life, all that lamb for under $50US.

I hope any readers enjoyed the blog, i left it more on my professional activities, and hope to conclude a book on my personal experiences (currently the manuscript is a messy 220 pages) maybe within a year or two. I generally avoided too many political issues, though i am ironically less critical of the governing party than many ordinary people in China. I appreciate the advancements made since i first came to China twelve years ago, and indeed the enormous progress made since 1978 in all walks of life. Governing 1.3 billion people is no easy task, and lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty is a singular historical achievement. If we compare China to other developing countries, the improvement is even more striking. If we compare it to developed countries, it lags in some indicators. And sadly in some areas progress is grinding to a halt. But in other areas dynamism is palpable, and with new subway lines criss-crossing Beijing and my recent high-speed rail journey back from Wuhan at 300km/hr, there is every reason to be optimistic about China's future. After all these public lectures, occasionally denounced, media appearances and occasional offense to the public sentiments, and touching on sensitive issues in the classroom, i can relax. And wait for my next trip back. Zaijian!! or in fact, most Chinese now say 'bye-bye'.





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