Faculty and Student Research Trip
Day 1 Beijing
Day 2 Beijing
Day 3 Beijing
Day 4 Chengdu
Day 5 Chengdu
Day 6 Ancient Towns
Day 7 Chengdu
Day 8 Chengdu
Day 9 Chengdu
Day 10 Beijing
Day 11 Beijing
Day 12 Beijing
Day 13 Beijing
Day 14 Beijing
Day 15 Shenyang
Day 16 Shenyang
Day 17 Wuhan
Day 18 Wuhan
Day 19 Wuhan
|Day 20 Wuhan||
Day 21 Zhuhai
Ryan Richter '12
"Brilliant!" There really is no better word to describe how it feels to be finally in Beijing. After over 12 grueling hours on a crowded Boeing 777 airplane, we made sure to take a picture with Bryant University’s beloved mascot, Tupper the Bulldog, to help mark the beginning of what I expect to be an adventure of a life time. He shall be joining us along the way and will certainly be making other appearances in blogs to come (Not the real live Tupper, of course. In fact this is the stuffed toy Tupper from President Machtley’s office). Needless to say it was highly satisfying to walk out of the airport and into the almost tropical humidity of Beijing. Beijing International Airport is just as big (if not bigger) than what others have told me. On top of that, it is highly efficient when it comes to moving people in and out of its airport terminal.
Bryant’s one and only mascot, Tupper the Bulldog, joining us on our arduous flight half way around the world
Allow me to momentarily explain who we are - Margaret Wong ’14, Bakhtiyar Baidaralin ’12, Ryan Richter ’12, and Jason Fortin ’12 - four aspiring China scholars, along with Professor of history Judy Barrett Litoff and Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences David Lux. With funding from Hanban, Bryant University’s U.S.-China Institute and Confucius Institute, College of Arts & Sciences and Student Affairs, we have embarked on a three week research and study trip to China. Our primary objective is to produce a small series of “Follow Me” video segments about the language, culture, and history of China. These segments are designed to enrich the curriculum offered by Confucius classrooms across southern New England.
Upon arriving we were greeted by Jerry Wu, our Beijing contact and tour guide. Quite the character, Jerry is the one who gave me the idea of describing our arrival as ‘brilliant’ as he said hello with an open smile and semi-British accent. He works for a tourism group here and has certainly gone the extra mile to give our travel group a warm welcome. He introduces himself as Jerry, that’s “J E double R Y”
Bustling Traffic in Beijing
When you arrive in Beijing and finally get a chance to wander about, there are a few things that you notice almost immediately. First is the weather. Step outside and get smacked with an invisible wall of humidity that wastes no time creating a layer of sweat over your body. Mind you, it is the end of July and the heat variable is best described as a heavy hitter that spares none. The second thing you notice is how heavily populated this Chinese city really is. Everything is bigger in Beijing. By this I mean that everything is built to accommodate a huge population (Just fewer than 20 million people). It seems as though every square inch of this place has been touched by human hands. As a result, even the motor ways are riddled with traffic.
What a great opportunity to share and exchange cultural tendencies! We can not wait to see what will happen next!
Margaret Wong '14
"If you stayed in a different room each day in the Forbidden City, after you get the chance to stay in every room, you would be 25 years older ."
Although tired and jet lagged, the group excitedly boarded our coach bus after a delicious breakfast at the hotel. We were on our way to Tiananmen Square, where we expected would be extremely crowded because it was the weekend. We arrived at Tiananmen Square and immediately disappeared into the crowds of people going through the security check. As quoted from Jerry, over 100,000 people visit Tiananmen Square per day. As we were being pushed around in the tunnel leading to Tiananmen Square, we had to worry about staying with the group and making sure our belongings were safe.
Once we walked up the stairs of the tunnel towards Tiananmen Square, we started to realize how large it is. As quoted from Jerry, Tiananmen Square is approximately 108 acres! The Chinese claim it to be the largest square in the world. We were struck by the massive throngs of Chinese tourists at Tiananmen Square. Beijing is the first place that most Chinese want to visit as tourists. As visitors to Beijing, they are typically not accustomed to seeing foreigners. They often requested to take pictures with us. We were impressed by the extremely long line outside of the mausoleum of Mao Zedong. People stood in line in the hot sun for over two hours to take a two minute look at his embalmed body. There was also a new monument added this year commemorating the 90 th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party.
Right behind the Tiananmen Gate (the Gate of Heavenly Peace) is the Forbidden City. As quoted by Jerry, if you stayed in a different room each day in the Forbidden City, after you get the chance to stay in every room, you would be 25 years older! To think that we were walking along the footsteps of many emperors, the visit got even more exciting. We are surprised to see that some parts of the buildings have been restored and other parts have not. During the imperial times, the Forbidden City was reserved exclusively to the emperor and his entourage. Only thirty percent of the Forbidden City is open to the public and it is hard to imagine how large it really is, even though we know it consists of 9,999 rooms (according to a legend told to us by Jerry).
After the Forbidden City, we made our way to the Acrobatic Show. While watching the show, a famous saying in China came to mind: ?????, ????? (One minute on stage is equivalent to ten years of hard work off stage). We were exposed to many amazing performances by individuals of all ages. Most performers have been acrobats their entire lives and they put in many hours daily to practice and train for their performances.
As the first official day of filming, we had a great start on our “Follow Me” videos. At Tiananmen Square, we shot a lot of footage to capture the size of the Square. In addition to footage of the Forbidden City, we also decided to do a short video on the usage of parasols by the Chinese.
Bakhtiyar Baidaralin '12
Today was another full day of exploring Beijing’s famous sites and learning about its rich history. After breakfast we boarded the bus and headed towards the Juyong Pass section of the Great Wall of China in the Changping District. This section of the wall is very famous because it witnessed the rise and fall of several dynasties and saw many major battles. The section of the wall we climbed was quite steep, though not the steepest, and we paced our ascent accordingly. We stopped frequently to take pictures, shoot videos, and to accommodate Chinese tourists who wanted to take many pictures together with us. The steps on the wall were very uneven in length, width, and height, making it a very tricky journey to the top. Once there, however, we were able to enjoy a breathtaking view of the valley below and of other sections of the wall that crisscrossed the landscape like flying dragons.
To shoot our “Follow Me” segments, we climbed on top of a guard tower and had a good view of all the surroundings. Again, Chinese tourists flocked to the roof to get a glimpse of a group of foreigners. One girl in the particular, Ding Ding, kindly agreed to star in one of our Chinese language segments with Margaret and me. The shoot was very successful and we were able to do a language dialogue and to talk about the history of the Great Wall. The descent was no less tricky, but took less than half the time.
Our next stop was a famous restaurant called the Golden Place which boasts a long history of hosting important state guests and officials. It is also home to a Cloisonné workshop on the first floor where visitors can see the entire process of this art form. Cloisonné is a form of art where a copper object such a vase or statue is made into an enamelware object of brilliant colors and striking beauty. The artisans were behind Plexiglas windows so that visitors could see them working on their pieces. The process requires incredible attention to detail and many painstaking hours to complete a single object. After seeing this, we ate lunch and boarded the bus back to Beijing.
Once back in Beijing, we split off from the rest of the group to meet up with Mr. Paul Haenle, the director of the Beijing-based Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy. We took the well-organized, streamlined Beijing subway to reach our meeting spot, a café at “The Place.” Prior to joining us on our project, Jason was an intern at this organization for ten weeks. Mr. Hanley is very committed to his work and encouraged all of us to continue to learn Chinese and to gain international experience. He started learning Chinese at age thirty-three and now, two decades later he can proudly say he is very fluent in the language and can communicate well with anybody. He was very friendly and had a lot of very positive things to say about Jason. In the future Mr. Hanley would like to bring in more interns from abroad, maybe even from Bryant University.
Following our meeting, we met up with the rest of the group at the Pearl Market, a hotspot for fake goods. You can find any famous brand there and the stall-keepers are quite persistent when it comes to attracting new customers. You can find pearls, clothes, electronics, and a whole range of other goods here. The thing that makes this such a popular attraction is the haggling that takes place after a customer expresses interest in a product. The sellers typically charge three to four times the actual price and the customers must bargain to find a suitable price. Foreigners typically get charged more than Chinese people. The group had a lot of fun experiencing this aspect of Chinese culture.
After the Pearl Market we went to Bian Yi Fang Restaurant, one of the most famous Peking Duck restaurants in Beijing. There we set up the camera again and started recording another Chinese language dialogue involving the preparation of the duck. The dialogue was very challenging, especially for Margaret who had a lot of lines, but in the end she and Bakhtiyar were able to overcome the challenge and complete two perfect takes. For a bit of fun, we also recorded a brief video of how to eat Peking Duck properly. It is done in four steps: first, you take a piece of really thin, round bread and spread it open on your palm, next you dip the duck in a special sauce and place it in the middle of the bread, then you put cucumbers and onion in the mix, finally you use your chopsticks to help you wrap the bread around the duck mixture before enjoying its rich and delicious flavor. ??, Hao chi – tastes good!
P.S. Bakhtiyar is far too modest to tell how he freighted us as he walked along the parapet of the Great Wall!
Jason Fortin ‘12
When you study China it is important to understand the wide ranging food, culture, and lifestyles of its people — a phenomenon which we observed first hand today. Americans can easily distinguish between cultures in New England, the South, the Midwest or the west coast, and the same applies to the Chinese. A trip to Beijing will not capture everyday life in China, just as a visit to Washington D.C. does not accurately represent the lives of citizens in Smithfield, RI. Henceforth, the time came for us to break out of Beijing and travel to another distinct and popular area — Sichuan province in southwestern China.
The day began just as the past three with a 7:30 a.m. departure time, but this day we boarded the bus and headed to the airport. Jerry, our tour guide, gave us the perfect word for our day - you du che - meaning traffic jam again. As you may have suspected, we were on the road during rush hour on a Monday morning and even the eight lane highways were packed. The roads, over the past few days, were less crowded than today because they were weekend days and you did not have to push your way through 18 million other people going to work in Beijing! To put this into perspective, recall the traffic in New York City. Now stop and realize that Beijing’s population is more than double New York’s eight million populous. With over 5 million cars on the road in Beijing, Jerry informed the group that the Beijing government is working to limit the number of cars on the road. Out of 300,000 applications for car registrations each month, only 20,000 lucky drivers are drawn. With such a large number of cars on the road, the common greeting question is not “where are you?” but “where are you stuck?”
Common among most flights out of the Beijing Capital International Airport, our plane to Sichuan Province was delayed around 45 minutes. The 2.5 hour flight transported us from the bustling, fast-paced life of Beijing to the more relaxed, calm, and peaceful atmosphere of Chengdu — the capital of the Sichuan Province. The province may sound familiar to you for one of three reasons: the tragic earth quake in 2008, the distinctive cuisine, or the adorable pandas. Before we dive into the exceptional food or our excitement to visit the panda conservation, let me give you some history of Chengdu.
In Chinese the word “Chengdu” means literally “become capital” or “become city.” In ancient times Chengdu grew from a small town to a large city over the course of three years, and its location and name have never changed. Legend has it that during the Qin dynasty (221-206 BCE), after the unification of China, Chengdu, as a capital city of a main state, was scheduled to be fortified. Yet every time the ruler of Chengdu started constructing the wall, parts of it would collapse before its completion. After months of frustration, the ruler had a dream in which a giant turtle led him on a journey around the city. When he awoke he ordered the wall to be constructed along the path of the turtle, and this wall finally remained intact! Consequently, Chengdu is frequently referred to as the “turtle city.”
Chengdu is also called the “city of hibiscus.” Many years ago a romantic man by the name of Mon Chan loved the flower hibiscus so much that he planted many of them around the city. His gardening certainly serves as a foundation for the large amounts of greenery present today. The roads are flanked by trees which contribute to the more relaxed feel of the city, whereas in Beijing or New York nature is only found in occasional parks. This theme of relaxation even permeates into the justification for purchasing a car. Our tour guide, Alice Huang, informed us that contrary to most cities, people in Chengdu purchase a car to take family day trips outside of the inner city. As a result the more popular cars are small and efficient, rather than the expensive cars citizens purchased in larger cities such as Shanghai. In Chengdu, cars are used more recreationally and practically rather than as an object of show or to save face.
There is traffic in this city of six million, but it is not as push-and-shove as in Beijing. The true soothing feel of Chengdu first became apparent in our stop at the Jinli Alley. Students and young romantics love to frequent this alley for its cozy and calm environment. Unlike the alleys in Beijing, which are often crammed full of tourist shops bustling with salespersons and eager shoppers, this alley was spacious and populated with open tea shops and restaurants sporting bamboo chairs. The ride back to the hotel later that evening brought the small town feel of this big city to full circle. We did not pass the crammed shopping malls which now dominate Beijing’s districts, but streets decorated with tiny mom-and-pop shops and tiny restaurants. The people were not quickly moving around across streets, cars were not aggressively honking their horns, and the entire arena felt much more natural than the pressurized feeling of Beijing.
Today was a great day for our curriculum enrichment project. Not only did we experience the different lifestyles between Chengdu and Beijing, but we had our first taste of Sichuan food. Most Americans stereotype Sichuan food as “hot and spicy,” but that is not the whole picture! In fact, Sichuan Province has over 3000 types of food! Just as a background, there are actually three parts of food in Sichuan: cuisine, hot pot, and snacks. We will sample hot pot and Sichuan snacks later in the week, so today I will share with you our first encounter with Sichuan “hot and spicy” cuisine.
The high point of our dinner was listening to Lei Qin, a Bryant student and native of Chengdu, provide a local description of a dish which won wild praise among all guests: shui zhu rou pian (????). Lei Qin had to describe this dish three times, and one of the high school students travelling with us recorded his description so she could make the dish at home. This dish contained pork chunks, a type of vegetable, garlic, and a delicious spicy oil. We also videotaped his explanation on how to make the dish for a video segment on different types of cuisine in China that we plan to produce. We learned of an even more exotic Sichuan delicacy not fit for those under twelve and which may cause heads to roll….
Ryan Richter '12
Today’s journey started off with an hour and a half long bus ride into the city of Dujiang Yan. Our tour guide, Alice, gave a personal and emotional account of her experience during the Sichuan earthquake, May 12, 2008. She was living in Chengdu at the time and told us how she barely knew what was going on. By the time she finally got out of her apartment and into the streets, windows were still rattling from the continuing aftershocks. The worst damage and casualties occurred in the city of Dujiang Yan, our destination.
The city is only about 90 km from the location of the quake’s epicenter. Needless to say, the earthquake wreaked havoc. In total, over 370,000 people were missing or injured and at least 68,000 people died. 6,000 of the overall death toll were young school children. To our surprise, we saw almost no evidence of the devastation caused by the earthquake. Instead, we saw recently constructed high speed rail connecting Chengdu to Dujiang Yan, the ongoing construction of what will be luxury apartment complexes, a skyline of affordable high rise apartment buildings, and a rapidly growing industrial district. As Alice told us about these things, she explained such rapid redevelopment of Dujiang Yan and its surroundings area has actually left many better off now than they were before the earthquake. With that comment, we were all reminded of the chaos of hurricane Katrina and rebuilding of New Orleans— a very different story.
Things are often different in China. We passed through a toll booth and barely miss hitting an elderly looking woman sweeping the dirt off the highway with her makeshift broom. Shortly after, the driver of our tour bus honked at a man on his moped that had left the designated lane for two wheeled vehicles on the highway for seemingly no logical reason. These sorts of thing are typical here. In the U.S. we only really use our car horn to show frustration. In China, drivers don’t hesitate to lay on the horn every few minutes. For them, it’s a way to let each other know they’re there.
The first site visit for today was the ancient Dujiang Yan irrigation system, built during the Qin Dynasty under the engineering authority of a man named Li Bing. It is amazing that this dam even exists today. It is over 2,200 years old and still serves critical roles in flood control and irrigation. Because of its usefulness, it has been continually updated and reinforced with the necessary upgrades so that it will continue to feed water into the fertile Chengdu basin. The entire area attracts a huge number of tourists. The site from beginning to end is beautiful, from mountain top pagoda temples, to swinging bridges, and eventually open gardens that utilize the natural flow of the water. Alice explained that visitors are more impressed with the irrigation system than the Great Wall, as the system still has a practical purpose while the Great Wall is simply a historical site. Do not forget, Alice is from Sichuan.
Our afternoon destination was Qing Cheng Mountain. This mountain is also a popular tourist destination and considered one of the birthplaces of Daoism. In ancient times, Daoist would practice reaching the Dao, otherwise translated as “The Way.” Some would say that it is impossible to explain what it means to practice the way, and therefore those who claim it is possible do not really understand the Dao. Regardless, when you finally arrive at the base of the mountain, the first thing you notice is how the Ying Yang symbol brands just about everything from bridges to light posts.
In many ways, I feel as though this mountain has a presence. It is not only the hundreds of Chinese tourists clambering up and down the steps making noise using their newly bought and incredibly cheap whistles and flutes. Nor is it the sound of wild birds or cicadas that make up the background noise of the public square and any of the 70 temples. The multiple staircases that lead to the summit, almost 20 km of paths go off in every direction. There are no railings to hold on to and many times the edge is nothing more than a steep drop down to a forest floor. Occasionally you come across a resting place constructed of wooden support beams and a tangle of twisted roots. They reach about thirty feet high and resemble the many pagodas that are seen all throughout China. The young, the old, and the slightly overweight find comfort in frequently exploiting these age old structures for the comfort they provide. It is fairly humid here and the moisture sticks to you like glue. Everyone marches like ants, step by step, to reach the magnificent views from the top. The number of stairs it takes to get there is comparable to those of the Great Wall we conquered only days ago. Some appear to be fairly new, while others show signs of their age as they bare scars from the abuse of their many passengers.
The heat is certainly intense here, but made bearable by the shadows cast by the thicke vegetation. The frequent sights of crystal clear fresh water brooks running down the mountain also seem to bring some comfort from the sun. Occasionally, the staircase will cut through these Buddhist and Daoist temples. While marveling at the many incents and candles burning down from behind my video camera lens, I felt a sudden tug from the back of my shorts. A bit shocked, I spun around to see the face of a concerned looking boy standing no more than two and a half feet tall. At this point, I don’t really have a clue as to what I am supposed to do. He is not trying to sell me anything, as some venders try to have their children do, which only makes me more confused. He seems just as lost as I do. I attempt to engage in basic conversation, but my Chinese is poor and I provoke no verbal response. Then, he points to the camera in my hands so I crouch down to his level to show it to him. He just mirrors my movement and crouches too. I just laugh while he checks out the scenery beyond through the screen of my digital camcorder. Soon after he is joined by his father who appears from around the corner and witnesses his son’s interaction with this seldom seen foreigner. The boy turns and an expression of relief comes to his face. The father speaks to me with a mix of incredibly broken English and simple Chinese phrases. From what I could make sense of, they were also both here for the first time and his son had wandered away from the sight of baba (dad). After a quick picture (of course) we parted and went our separate ways. It seems as though I am not the only one here adventuring into the unknown.
P.S. – A shout out to Jason and Bakhtiyar for their patience and strong arm support in assisting JBL to top out this 5,240 ft. peek in 3 hours and 15 minutes flat (round trip of about 6 miles).
Another shout out to Tupper and Margaret Wong’s unflagging patience in keeping JBL company all the way to the top and back.
Margaret Wong '14
Today was a day for novelty, shopping in a different atmosphere and tasting delicious and exotic foods. We visited two ancient towns near Chengdu, Luo Dai in the morning and Huang Long Xi in the afternoon. This is a day we’ve been waiting for. Heads rolled, projects were accomplished, and we participated in a familiar activity--shopping--in an unfamiliar culture, location, and language.
Luo Dai literally translates to English as “to drop a belt.” As described by Alice, the ancient town earned the name Luo Dai because Emperor Liu Chen dropped his belt in the well that is now located in the town center. The Hakka group dominates the population of Luo Dai. Even though the Hakka group has their own language and culture, they are still considered Cantonese. They moved to Luo Dai from the Guangdong Province, started families, and opened businesses. Interestingly enough, Luo Dai’s center street is still dominated by family owned restaurants and shops.
Luo Dai is not only visited by tourists, but also popular with locals. It pleased us to see that we were at a popular Chinese tourist site rather than a foreign tourist destination. Even more exciting, the absence of tourist buses proved that we were exposed to the local culture. Part of local culture was the wide variety of food, some exotic, some shocking, and some delicious.
We enjoyed delicious skewers of lamb meat at an exceptionally cheap price, 1 RMB per skewer (US $0.16). Dean Lux and I bought caramel sculptures—liquid caramel placed on a cold stone to harden in different shapes. There is a special process with purchasing caramel sculptures. Buyers have a choice to pay either 3 RMB (US $0.47) or 5 RMB (US $0.80)—depending on the price you choose, you get access to different wheels of fortune. Each wheel consists of different designs, and depending on where the pin lands after you spin it, that’s the sculpture you receive. The sculpture you receive is by chance! Dlux got a peach and I was lucky enough to get a dragon! That was fun and interesting. Jason and our friend Lei Qin gifted JBL and me flower tiaras, respectively, which were a popular buy for many girls in town. They were fun, too.
As promised, the “head rolling” exotic food of our trip is a RABBIT’S HEAD. Jason and Bakhtiyar each ate an entire spicy rabbit head. Alice described, and I translated, directions on how to eat the rabbit head while Ryan shot our “Follow Me” video. With the encouragement of Alice, Jason and Bakhtiyar ate ????, translated to “Sad Noodles” because the spices make the victim cry. I must note that Jason and Bakhtiyar did not cry, but they did admit to tingling lips. Concluding the morning and rounding our exotic food journey, we shot footage of STARTALK students eating scorpions, bugs, and cicadas for the first time!
Our afternoon stop, Huang Long Xi, populated by Sichuan locals and larger than Luo Dai, houses three temples and a vibrant shopping area. On one of the first shopping excursions, I accompanied JBL to purchase beautiful ?? qi pao , traditional Chinese dresses. After a day of shopping and bartering, we decided to record a “Follow Me” video on tips for bargaining in China. To display the process fully, we recorded another video of Jason and me actually bargaining for some “Red Army” sandals. Even though we successfully bartered for a lower price, unfortunately, the seller passed Jason a counterfeit 10 RMB note. Although we did not realize it was counterfeit at the time, it turned out to be a positive thing because Jason now has a souvenir! After we sat down at a tea café, we encountered a curious aspect of business in China. After I only ordered a drink for Jason, the waitress told us every person seated at the table must order a drink. As is typical for most restaurants in China, we had to pay for the drinks before we even started to drink them. That was a first for us! We were challenged by Dlux to find other foreigners in Huang Long Xi, but similar to Luo Dai, we were almost the only foreigners present.
Today was a day of firsts, many of which were incredible experiences. ???? translates to “When in Rome”. In order to have the best experiences, go to sites that are entirely local and not just for foreign tourists.
Today’s shout out goes to our bus driver, Mr. Xue, who in the middle of rush hour chose to go the wrong way on a one way ramp. The reason: “There was too much traffic the other way.” Nobody honked.
Bakhtiyar Baidaralin '12
Today we were allowed to sleep in a little bit, and trust me, we really needed it. Our next stop was a summer school in Chengdu that boasts a fine reputation of getting students from the top three schools in the city. During the summer, a lot of Chinese students enroll in classes to improve their skills and learn new things continuously. Their curriculum is quite busy and includes classes in Math, Chinese, and English.
Upon arrival, we were greeted by one of the staff and given a brief tour of the facilities. We were respectfully asked to remain quiet because classes were still in session, but that was quickly forgotten when we walked into a classroom and started observing Chinese students. Their teacher switched gears and asked the students to introduce themselves to us in English. One girl, with excellent English, introduced us to the two most famous things from Sichuan Province: hotpot and spicy girls. A few of the STARTALK students from our group were brave enough to go up in front of the classroom and introduce themselves. Tiffany even went as far as to demonstrate her Kung-Fu skills, all complete with loud yells . Margaret led a few students to perform a brief dance which was received with tremendous applause from the Chinese students.
The most fun part was actually getting to meet these students. We were allowed to mingle in their common room and within minutes both groups of students and teachers began to have conversations and to exchange gifts. I spent most of the time taking pictures and shooting videos, but I still had a few students come up to me asking me to sign their newly acquired gifts. What impressed everybody was the level of English that these kids spoke. They were also very adept at using new media and seem to be much better prepared than their elders to enter a globalized world. Most kids were able to articulate their ideas quite well and to sustain a conversation. Margaret, Ryan, and I were able to interview a few kids for our “Follow Me” project about their English names and favorite movies. They had a lot of enthusiasm, and it rubbed off on everybody else. When it was time to leave, people were saying goodbye to each other like old friends. I think we made a big impression on these Chinese kids, and they did the same to us. All of us enjoyed this unique and memorable experience and I’m sure the kids at the school did too. We will be the subject of many hallway conversations for days to come.
After lunch we went to Jinsha Archeological Site. Like all other sites in and around Chengdu, the most prominent tourists were Chinese. This just goes to show how much they appreciate and value their history. This location, accidentally discovered ten years ago during building construction, has developed into a major archeological site. The museum houses two main buildings to display the artifacts they’ve found, such as gold and silver jewelry and jade carvings. Before this site was discovered, Chengdu was thought to be 2500 years old. After its discovery, the findings proved that the city is older than 3000 years. Most of the artifacts are dated to the Shu people of the Zhou Dynasty (1046–256 BCE), and shed light on the customs and the ways of the Shu. Some of the artifacts are so precious and fragile that upon discovery they are extensively documented and then reburied to be preserved until better facilities can be built.
The Sun-God Bird, unearthed in 2001, is the symbol of the site because it represents the spiritual beliefs of the Shu people. It is a gold foil art specimen with four divine sun-birds circling around the sun. Its discovery helped explain the spiritual and sacrificial beliefs of the Shu as sun-worshippers. What we didn’t see were the various sites, such as two large fields and a palace structure, that were still being excavated. It is fair to say that historians and archeologists still have a lot to learn. It is amazing how much effort the Chinese put into preserving their history and ensuring that everybody is aware of it.
The highlight of the night was spicy Sichuan-style hotpot. For those of you who don’t know what hotpot is, imagine a large pot filled with water and various peppers (only the spicy kind), brought to a boil on a special table with a cut-out in the middle. You then order uncooked food ranging from cut vegetables to dumplings and string noodles. Everything then gets thrown into the pot and cooked for a few minutes until ready. Meanwhile, you also make your own dipping sauce by adding cilantro, salt, pepper, garlic, soy sauce, and oyster sauce to a sesame oil base. The food absorbs the flavor of the broth and the dipping sauce, turning into a steamy mix of deliciousness. It is eaten during all times of the year, but especially during the cold winter months. Ryan, Jason, Margaret, JBL, and I all sat at the super-spicy table with broth that was full of vicious-looking red peppers. The food was absolutely delicious and delightfully spicy. The waitresses then brought a powdery mix of spice and salt as additional dip and it definitely made our tongues, lips, and noses tingle. In a quest to test my limit, I covered a pepper from the hotpot with the powdery dip and within seconds my eyes were watering and my mouth was burning. I’m proud to say that my tolerance for spicy food is quite high and that I can make it as a culinary enthusiast in Sichuan province. The hotpot tradition has been around for a long time and the locals consider it an important part of their culture, one that is worth preserving.
With fires in our bellies, we went to a teahouse to watch several local performances. We were seated in a big room with rows of chairs and served jasmine tea. The show began with a musical performance involving percussion, string, and wind instruments. The Sichuan Opera piece that followed amazed me because of the intricate costumes and perfect musicality of the performers. It was obvious that their performance was very well rehearsed and well choreographed. Another interesting performance was by a hand puppeteer using an opera singer puppet. He did some impressive things such as catching handkerchiefs in the air and picking flowers from a vine.
My favorite performance was a hand shadow artist whose puppets were reverse-projected onto a large screen in the middle of the stage. He made some truly outstanding things with his hands such as birds, dogs, cats, rabbits, and horses. Jason and I attempted to mimic him, but our inflexible fingers and unrehearsed muscles quickly put an end to that effort. The highlight of the show was the famous performance by fire breathers and face-changers. The face-changers did what their namesake suggests and changed their masks in the blink of an eye. Each performer had an array of different colored masks that they changed in split a second. We were even lucky enough to see one of the performers walk off stage and do it right in front of us and it still looked almost instantaneous. One of DLux’s academic theories is that the performers have spring loaded wires behind their backs that allow them to change their masks so fast. This seems completely plausible, but we shall never know. The show ended with booming applause, and rightfully so because it was quite an amazing spectacle.
On the way back, Alice explained that what we saw was a dying art form and that the government was doing its best to revive it. In the old days, only males in performing families were allowed to continue the tradition, but in recent years the government has encouraged everybody to partake. As a result, there has been a small, but steady revival of this art form. The Chinese definitely care about their history and culture, and it shows through things that we saw today.
Margaret Wong '14
To discover a nation’s cultural identity, one must experience its national treasures. Two of China’s national treasures are its pandas and its artifacts that depict its long and dynamic history. We visited the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding and the San Xing Dui Museum in Guanghan County. Why Hollywood? Today we were movie stars; complete with cameras, fame, spectators, and money.
The pandas are an endangered species that are very important to the Chinese culture, mainly because it is native to south central China. Eighty-five percent of the 1600 pandas alive today reside in Chengdu, Sichuan. The specific research base we visited boasts over 90 pandas: some older than ten years, some less than a month old. Currently, 300 pandas have been bred in captivity, but there are plans to slowly release them into the wild after they are ready to be independent. Adult pandas eat up to 90 pounds of bamboo daily, but they are picky eaters. Out of 100 kinds of bamboo, they will eat 30 types but only like ten types--their favorite being arrow bamboo. The panda spends 90% of its day eating and sleeping.
We transformed the research base into Hollywood. Sound! Lights! Cameras! Action! Several videos were created to teach students about the Giant Panda: what they ate, their abilities and limitations, and their daily routine. We filmed multiple videos in Mandarin to supplement the language component of our classroom enrichment project. As for fame, we witnessed the popularity of the panda within Chinese and foreign tourists. Us ???(foreigners) with fancy cameras and microphones attracted many curious spectators. I swear I am not materialistic, but money did contribute to the best part of my day. With the sponsorship of my father, dlux, and JBL, I was able to raise the 1000 RMB (US$156) necessary to hold a baby panda. Although I could only cuddle with the ??(panda) for 30 seconds, I will cherish that once in a lifetime experience forever.
My excitement to hold a one-year old baby panda was only restricted by my fear of not getting good pictures or video segments to remember the moment. Before holding the panda, I had to put on a smock and slip plastic bags over the soles of my shoes. As the staff helped me dress, I gave them detailed instructions on how to operate my two cameras and one camcorder. In order to get my money’s worth, I needed all cameras rolling. Of course, no great picture is complete without Tupper, so he accompanied me as well! Surprisingly, the staff did not give me a hard time for bringing Tupper along. As I sat down in the chair and the staff placed the baby panda on my lap, I knew the clock was ticking. I made sure to smile for the cameras and hold Tupper close to the baby panda and me. Pandas have a sweet tooth and his paws were painted with honey so he can lick them cutely for the camera. After what seemed like a blink of an eye, the staff picked the baby panda right off my lap. The time was up, but it was worth it. The pictures show my joy, warmth and emotion I felt while cuddling with the baby panda.
Many would also consider China’s long and dynamic history a national treasure. Sanxingdui archaeological site is an excellent example of China’s wide-spanning, mysterious and impressive history. To understand Chinese culture, politics and language it is imperative to have at least a basic understanding of its history. Pre-historic Shu culture (2050-1250 B.C.E) was a mysterious civilization in southern China—primarily in the Sichuan Province. This museum boasts thousands of artifacts—ceramics, jades, gold objects and bronzes—from the Shu Kingdom. Dlux was stunned by the seemingly unending displays of bronze pieces.
Puzzling! This word captures the essence of the Shu culture. Many of the bronze pieces were cast in the form of masks which, as our guide noted, did not have the facial characteristics of a Chinese person, but portrayed a more Meso-American look. Why did these faces look so different? Moreover, why did the civilization disappear around 1000 BCE? Mystery surrounds much of Chinese history. In this particular example, the Shu writings have little resemblance to modern or ancient mandarin, blocking a further knowledge of their culture. Astonishment. The number of intricate artifacts uncovered by sheer chance falls into line with the magnitude of the Great Wall and the impressiveness of the Terra Cotta Warriors. Chinese citizens recognize the importance and distinctiveness of their history and incorporated it into their lives. Ever since the mid 1980s, the government has financed historical digs, projects and museums lavishly to preserve China’s history. Outside the government, individuals have joined the movement to ensure their fellow citizens have the capacity to appreciate and experience China’s history. Yet, our words can only say so much, you will just have to come see it for yourself.
Shout out to Jason for aspiring to be a baby panda because it earns 120,000 RMB (US$18,750) during its one hour of availability each day.
Shout out to STARTALK participant Ben Averill for lending his photographic talents to our project.
Jason Fortin '12
Museums are about interpretation of the past. Mr. Jianchuan Fan, founder of the Jianchuan Museum Cluster in Anren township (about an hour from Chengdu), strives to develop a comprehensive counterpoint to the mainstream recent history of China. He has succeeded. His museum emphasizes artifacts, and he lets them speak for themselves. The five-hundred acre complex at the Jianchuan Museum Cluster houses fifteen museums dealing with four distinct topics: the Chinese War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression; the Red Age (what we know as the Cultural Revolution); folk lore and culture; and, the 2008 Sichuan Earthquake.
Bryant’s Professor Hong Yang aptly described the Jianchuan Museum Cluster as the “next Smithsonian.” I agree. The Jianchuan warehouse of artifacts shows us that Mr. Fan is far ahead of others in his collecting efforts. His collection includes such things as 10,000 Mao clocks, 100 tons of newspapers from the “Red Age” (the Cultural Revolution), 10,000 official Chinese Communist Party (CCP) seals, and 50,000 propaganda mirrors. Astonishingly, he began collecting artifacts over forty years ago, and he has personally collected the bulk of the museum’s eight million artifacts. His techniques can seem curious at times. For example, he has admitted that he has convinced rural villagers that he is “stupid” because as he collected Mao Zedong propaganda mirrors, he offered a brand new mirror and 200 RMB in exchange. He sees this “foolish exchange” as a brilliant investment. He thinks that as time passes, relics of the museums’ themes will become more difficult to locate. He is also creating a foundation for groundbreaking research projects and historical analyses of 20th century China.
This museum, the largest private collection in China, is just too big to visit in one day. Yet the scale of the collection does not seem to sacrifice quality for quantity. Our visit focused on just three of the 15 museums—the “Red Age” Living Necessities Hall, the Sichuan Wenchuan Earthquake Museum, and the Hall of the Heroes of the Flying Tigers. The “Red Age” museum has recreated various scenes from everyday life—offices, houses, schools, clinics, and shops—that allow the historical relics to provide a rare insight into the lives of Chinese citizens from 1966-1976. The museum does not criticize; it does not propagandize. It simply lays out relics from Mao Zedong’s massive propaganda campaigns. The overwhelming presence of Mao in the artifacts silently conveys its own message.
The 2008 Sichuan Wenchuan Earthquake museum houses an exhibit I found riveting. From a balcony, visitors look down into a devastated living room which is slanted and akilter. The space is strewn with wreckage and debris left by the earthquake. A television, seemingly the only thing functioning amidst this devastation, plays amateur video footage recording the earthquake. The exhibit creates a chilling look at the earthquake. The wreckage is silent and still. The sounds of people screaming and the images of people running in terror come from the past via the video.
This was not a special room by any means - the huge museum continued to impress me around every corner I turned. Mr. Fan’s 2008 Sichuan Wenchuan Earthquake Museum also famously provides a home for Zhu Jian Qiang (???), the pig that survived thirty-six days beneath rubble following the earthquake. Prior to the earthquake she weighed 300 kilograms, but Zhu Jian Qiang lost two-thirds of her weight while trapped beneath the debris. Now in the attentive care of the Jianchuan Museum, she has been nurtured back to 300 kilograms! She is one healthy pig.
A highlight for this day came with our visit to the Hall of the Heroes of the “Flying Tigers.” The focus is on the American Volunteer Group (AVG), also known as the Flying Tigers, but the museum actually covers a much broader sweep of the alliance between the U.S. and China during the 1930s and 1940s. More particularly, it focuses on the role of U.S. air power in China from 1941 to 1945. It also deals well with the role of American advisors training Chinese troops and with the Dixie Mission. For those of us from Bryant University it was great to see the Jianchuan-Bryant Education Center, a special section of the building set off near the entrance. The Center features pictures and artifacts relating to Fan Jianchuan’s 2008 honorary doctorate from Bryant University.
The museum, compared to other museums I have visited, provides a much broader sweep of the U.S.-China alliance during the Second World War. Bakhtiyar’s attention was grabbed by exhibits on U.S. servicemen’s daily lives in China. For example, there were incredible pictures of U.S. servicemen haggling over fruits with locals and a moving photo of a serviceman lighting a cigarette with a Chinese citizen. Despite the fallout of the U.S.-China relationship following the Chinese Civil War, this museum emphasizes the special friendship shared by both countries during World War II.
JBL was especially excited to discover two rare, historic photos from the 1940s that related directly to her research on Rita Pilkey, an American Red Cross Club Director stationed in Yunnan Province during World War II. One March 1944 photo from Kunming featured a formal dance, attended by Pilkey, in celebration of the first anniversary of the establishment of General Claire Chennault's 14th Army Air Force (the successor to the original "Flying Tigers"). A second photo featured the U.S. Air Transport Command at Luliang (about eighty miles southeast of Kunming), one of two airfields opened up in late 1944 to help relieve the bottleneck at the Kunming airport, the major terminus for U.S. supplies flown over the "Hump" from India to China. Pilkey operated a huge "tent club" at Luliang. We made a quick executive decision to do two "little pieces of history" segments that we may be able to incorporate into our "follow me" series. We filmed her next to the pictures.
The Jianchuan Museum Cluster’s artifact-driven exhibits provide a counterpoint to the contemporary Chinese national narrative.
Shout out to Professor Hong Yang, Dr. Charles Smiley Chair of the Confucius Institute at Bryant University, for the introduction to Mr. Fan. This illustrates that hard work and a little ?? guanxi (social connections) can open doors for success.
Shout out to Mr. Fan for his casual, yet inspiring, demeanor and overwhelming generosity and support for our group.
Ryan Richter '12
The day’s travels took us out of the Mao-themed Jingui Residence Hotel (Red Age Living Theme Hotel), and back to the busy city of Beijing. We left Mr. Fan’s collection of fantastic museums and traveled just under two hours to Chengdu International Airport. Along the way I could not help but marvel at the beautiful countryside in the morning. We passed by an expansive agricultural setting of workers performing their morning chores. I wonder how continued urban and industrial sprawl from Chengdu will transform this area.
During our two hour flight from Chengdu to Beijing, Bakhtiyar graciously entertained all the STARTALK students by allowing them to braid and style his hair. After meeting with Jerry at the airport, we headed for the hutong (? ?) district of Beijing. The architectural style of hutongs dates back to the Mongol Dynasty of 13 th and 14 th centuries. The hutongs we visited were located just beyond the Drum and Bell Towers. Before the invention of clocks, these two towers were used as community time pieces. Bells were rung in the morning and drums sounded at night. Hutong is used to refer to “narrow alleys or streets.” Hutongs are built very simply for efficiency and economy; they are closely associated with Beijing’s sense of community and social organization. Some architectural historians claim that they allow for greater population density than current high-rise apartments in Beijing. Unfortunately, eighty percent of Beijing’s hutongs have been destroyed for urban development, leaving fewer than 1000 in use today.
A fleet of rickshaws, carrying two people each, transported us through the hutong alleyways. The ride served as a great opportunity to create additional content for our “Follow Me” project. As we traveled through the alleyways, we filmed Chinese vocabulary segments on directions and locations—right, left, north, south, east, west. Eventually, we ended up at a hutong where a family served us a typical home-cooked Beijing dinner. In a very casual setting, we were served a meal of beef, pork, green vegetables, potatoes, and peanuts. For me, this was one of the best meals we have had in China.
Margaret Wong '14
Today we saw historical China through a contemporary lens. The Summer Palace and the Temple of Heaven were both built during dynastic periods as places of peace and quiet, but today, it is entirely the opposite. The two sites were packed with domestic and foreign tourists. Moreover, our visit to the Pearl Market provided a behind the scenes site into the role of bartering in the Chinese Market—an important pastime—but the market was packed with foreigners not local Chinese!
The day started with a one-hour ride to the Summer Palace. According to Jerry, it always takes at least an hour to get from one place to another by car in Beijing. Comparatively, in Rhode Island, one can drive from the top of the state to the bottom of the state in roughly forty minutes! The Beijing travel time is not unique to the roads. Even subways are packed because they are flooded with over eight million people each day—eight times the population of Rhode Island!
Even though the Summer Palace and the Temple of Heaven played large roles in the history of China, nowadays, they are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and serve primarily as tourist sites and as places for elderly people to relax and enjoy the scenery. The Summer Palace was built in the Qing Dynasty and was destroyed twice, once during the Second Opium War and once during the Boxer Rebellion. The destruction of the Summer Palace during the Second Opium War ranks as one of China’s greatest humiliations.
Two-thirds of the Summer Palace is the Kunming Lake which is spanned by a bridge. The bridge, appropriately titled the Seventeen Arch Bridge, is adorned by 500 lion statues. Each and every one of the 500 statues is unique in design. While at the Summer Palace, we recorded two “Follow Me” segments: one on the Fo Xiang Tower and one about the 17 Arch Bridge. However, a concert performed by a local female acapella group highlighted our visit at the Summer Palace. This group, comprised of elderly females following the music of an old man, vibrantly sang Red songs, all the rage in China this year. People are singing these songs to celebrate the 90 th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Their music helped fight off some of the loud ruckus generated by the roughly 50,000 persons who visit the Summer Palace every day.
According to Jerry, the Temple of Heaven has nothing to do with religion. It was always falsely linked to Buddhism because of the word “temple,” but the direct translation should have been the “Altar of Heaven.” Built by Emperor Yong Le in 1420, the Temple of Heaven served as a place for royal persons to come worship, offering sacrifices for a good agricultural year. The architecture of the Temple of Heaven includes twenty-four wooden pillars, a round shape, three terraces made of marble, rings with the multiple of nine, and 100,000 ceramic tiles. Its round shape symbolizes heaven and the three terraces symbolize the three levels, cloud, phoenix, and dragon respectively. The grounds surrounding the Temple of Heaven hold 4,000 ancient trees, many dating back to the Ming and Qing Dynasty. Today, you will not find many, if any, people wishing or thanking for good weather. What you will find is tourist groups flashing their cameras and a few talented local citizens playing instruments in the surrounding grounds.
After visiting two very important historical sites of China, we went to the Pearl Market. Shopping at the Pearl Market is a cultural experience in and of itself—customers must haggle and barter for their goods. Historically, almost all Chinese persons would barter over every product, but the market has shifted to the department stores and other more established businesses. If you visit the Pearl or Silk market, you will find more foreign customers than Chinese customers. In essence, China’s burgeoning middle class has shifted the lifestyles of its people; I wonder what implications this emergence will have in the future!
To satisfy our loved ones and friends back home, everyone except JBL purchased souvenirs and other objects from the Pearl Market (hong qiao ??). I am not a particular fan of bartering, but Jason loves the process. After I purchase a product, I always think that I could have paid a bit less—a frustrating perception. On the other hand, as mentioned, Jason cannot get enough of playing the game. He purchased two scroll paintings for 78 RMB (down from 350 RMB), a suitcase for 160 RMB (down from 852 RMB), and a purse for 25 RMB (down from 150 RMB). To push for a lower price, he reminded the salesmen of his “poor college student status,” acted insulted with high price offers, spoke his fragmented Chinese, and walked away from “rip-off” offers. Bartering requires patience, humor and a determined position on an amount. Following another great dinner, our STARTALK companions went off to see the last Harry Potter movie in 3D. We returned to our own blogosphere.
Bakhtiyar Baidaralin '12
Today we visited Hanban Headquarters in the Chinese Ministry of Education—an organization that promotes Chinese language, culture, and history throughout the world. The Chinese Ministry of Education is eager to teach both foreigners and nationals about China’s rich history. Hanban graciously sponsored a large portion of our trip and offered resources for our “Follow Me” documentaries. This was a big occasion because it is another step in developing a fruitful long-term relationship with Hanban. The lobby has over thirty flags on display, each representing countries with Confucius Institutes. In the US, Bryant University is well known for having a very active Confucius Institute that supports local Confucius Classrooms, STARTALK travel to China, WaterFire, Chinese New Year, Moon Festival, HSK testing centers, and Sinologist Fellows.
The receptionist toured us around the first-floor museum which had many interactive items, such as costumes, musical instruments, and computers, on display. Even here, we saw evidence of how much the Chinese relish their history and culture. We enjoyed putting on traditional Chinese costumes and taking pictures. We also attempted to play with old Chinese bells, but everyone complained that they were out of tune, but I wonder how a metal bell can be out of tune? After our tour, the Assistant Director for the Confucius Institutes at Hanban, Ms. Zeng Yuan, expressed sincere interest in our enrichment project. We showed her raw footage of six different shots that focused on culture, cuisine, and lifestyles in China, which we had made over the past two weeks. Ms. Yuan was impressed and showered me with compliments about my language proficiency which I know I did not deserve…yet. To show our appreciation for Hanban, we gave Ms. Yuan a Bryant paperweight and a picture book of Rhode Island. We also took this opportunity to give a Bryant University jacket to Jerry as a token of our appreciation for all of his help.
Our second destination was the National Museum of China, a monolithic structure directly east of Tiananmen Square. The façade of this very imposing structure is lined with big columns and large windows that overlook the square. It is the largest museum in the world and is symbolic of China’s rise to become a world power once again. To get in, we had to pass a very thorough security check by guards dressed in black; several of us even got patted down. After moving through the gigantic main hall, coupled with tall ceilings and large windows, we were treated to a tour of the exhibit on Ancient China by Professor Hong. We were not allowed to film inside the museum so I had to get creative and filmed discreetly—however, I cannot speak to the quality of the footage! Professor Yang has extensive knowledge about this exhibit and succinctly directed us through prehistoric and ancient Chinese history. For example, he taught us about the Bronze Period (4000BCE–1500BCE), paying special attention to the artwork of the late Zhou Dynasty. Most importantly, we saw a well preserved oracle bone tablet with ancient Chinese characters carved into it. The writing system of China originated from this exact practice. The artifacts in this portion of the museum were very well preserved. Once again, we were struck by the overwhelming number of Chinese tourists.
The museum just recently reopened after renovation, leaving a lot of exhibition halls empty or under construction. In my personal opinion, it was pretty difficult to navigate because there were no signs warning us that certain exhibits were inaccessible. It took us at least twenty minutes of wandering to find the Hall of Rejuvenation. This exhibit details China’s period of instability and decline during the late Qing Dynasty and the beginning of its “Reawakening” with the end of dynastic rule in 1911.
The sculptures in this exhibit were inspired by Soviet-style art that depicted epic scenes of peasant struggle. Even periods of history that do not correspond with Soviet influence were depicted by that art form. The late nineteenth century covered Western imperialism and exploitation. The narrative then focused on Japanese aggression against China in the 1930s and 1940s. I was surprised not to see more animosity toward the Japanese and their cruel treatment of the Chinese for more than a decade. Surprisingly, very little was shown about the Nanjing Massacre other than a few black and white pictures of Chinese people in grotesque positions. My favorite part was a shelf lined with captured, well preserved, Japanese weapons dating back to the 1930s. Very little space was given to the Kuomintang and their opposition to the Japanese. For example, the United Front was shown as a brainchild of the Communist leadership.
The final rooms of the exhibit were devoted entirely to the post 1949-era. However, only cursory attention was devoted to the history of China from the birth of the PRC in 1949 until the death of Chairman Mao in 1976. By contrast, the era of Deng Xiaoping and his successors is extensively documented. China was shown to be industrious and progressive; ready to take on any new challenges that today’s world has in store. I was certainly impressed by the sheer size of the museum, but I was slightly disappointed by the lack of cohesion and organization. Maybe it’s just because it is still under construction?
Our final destination was the famous or infamous, however you look at it, Silk Market. The Pearl Market near the Temple of Heaven is small in comparison to the scope of the Silk Market. The Silk Market is a seven story building, filled to the brim with knockoff goods of all kinds. I walked along rows filled with “brand-name” clothing, silk items, shoes, luggage, electronics, jewelry and anything else imaginable. I bargained for a few items and hopefully paid a good price for them. To counter the sly tactics of the vendors, I pretended not to understand any English and forced them to speak Chinese to me. This did not allow them to pinpoint which country I was from, allowing me to bargain on lower terms. In the end, everyone was happy with their purchases and spent all of dinner comparing their arsenal of cheap goods.
Today was a fragmented day. The STARTALK group left for the United States in the morning. DLux, JBL, and Margaret were responsible for seeing them off without any delays or incidents. We all had very different experiences and the three of us, Margaret, Bakhtiyar, and Jason, will each write about our part of the day.
Margaret: ????????? is a Chinese saying that translates to “Everything comes to an end.” JBL, DLux, Jason, Ryan, Bakhtiyar, and I embarked on the second half of our research trip as we sent off the STARTALK high school students and teachers today as their journey in China came to an end. The students and I had an amazing last night in Beijing when they had a late night party at my suite. We all decided we would stay up until we had to send Kyle off at 5:30AM because he was on a different flight to California. JBL, DLux, and I went to the airport at 11:30AM to send off the rest of the group. After they checked in, we had McDonald’s for lunch and then it was time to say our goodbyes. The students and I already made plans to meet up after we got back to the U.S.!
P.S. Margaret is too humble to mention that she only got three hours of sleep before having a very busy day in Beijing.
Bakhtiyar : We all arrived at the Wudaokou area of the Haidian District, which lies northwest of Tiananmen Square. This area is known for having over forty different universities within a few square kilometers. It is a very trendy area with a lot of fashionable shops and cafes. I studied abroad at Beijing Language and Culture University (BLCU) in Fall 2010 and remember this area very fondly. We walked through the crowded street into the BLCU campus and towards the cafeteria building. Hidden away from view is a small, but cozy Uyghur Muslim restaurant. We all ordered lamb skewers, naan, yogurt, noodles, and rice. It was a delicious meal and something different from what we have been eating these past two weeks. It was good for us to explore the cuisine and culture of one of China’s fifty-six ethnic minorities.
Jason: This evening DLux, JBL and I met up with two friends at the Lao She Tea House. While enjoying what JBL described as the “best tea on the trip thus far,” we viewed a series of short performances and folk lore pieces of Chinese culture. Dean Lux first attended this tea house five years ago, and it has been praised by Bryant University Professors Hong Yang and Long Quan. In fact, it seems most Chinese, even young people, know of this tea house. It is named in honor of Lao She, one of the most famous of all twentieth-century Chinese literary figures. He is best known for his novel Rickshaw Boy and his play Tea House . He was persecuted and tortured during the Cultural Revolution, and was murdered or driven to suicide in October 1966. The Chinese claim that had he not died he would have become the first Chinese to win a Nobel Prize in literature. The Lao She Tea House is dedicated to preserving his sense of traditional Chinese culture and folk arts.
The one-and-a-half hour show featured nine acts—all exceptionally well performed. My top three acts were: ‘conjuring,’ ‘Peking Opera’, and ‘acrobatics.’ I have always been an admirer of magic and was only let down by not being chosen to be an assistant from the audience. The Peking Opera segment particularly impressed dLux. He thoroughly enjoyed the graceful, athletic, and poetic movements of the Monkey as it majestically defeated two adversaries. All of us were blown away by the acrobatics portion. It started simple; the female acrobatic lay on her back and moved a large vase around on the bottoms of her feet. Then the show really started when she began to juggle a four-legged table and rounded out her performance by holding and twisting a downsized telephone pole with two ladies sitting on each end. This show was a great way to cap off our time in Beijing and an excellent stop if you would like to see well-performed shorts from Chinese folk lore and culture.
Jason Fortin '12
Our final day in Beijing featured two extremely important sites in the modern history of China. More particularly, they are important in the history of the Chinese People’s War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression. We visited the Marco Polo Bridge and the Museum of the War of The Chinese People’s Resistance against Japanese Aggression. JBL and I visited both of these sites on our trip last year, but this time around we picked up new information and enjoyed hearing the first impressions from our fellow scholars.
Our first stop was just southwest of Beijing at the Marco Polo Bridge, also called the Lugou Bridge, which was built in 1192 during the Jin Dynasty. We went there because on July 7, 1937, Japanese troops moved near the Marco Polo Bridge and provoked a battle with the Chinese soldiers as an excuse to invade Wanping township, move into Beijing, and continue the invasion south toward Shanghai and eventually Nanjing. The Japanese invaded Beijing from the south in order to circumvent the Great Wall and cut off Beijing from the Nationalist controlled areas in southern China. Our guide informed us that the bridge has an impressive and long standing importance in Chinese history. Jerry provided some local insight into the significance of this bridge and confirmed my perception from last year—its historical importance—dating from the 12 th century—is the main attraction today. In fact, the bridge’s historical grandeur is a mechanism of motivation, and for Chinese visitors, the 1937 Marco Polo Bridge Incident is only a small component of the bridge’s attraction.
While at the Bridge, we filmed three great video segments on its historical importance. Two videos incorporated local knowledge from Jerry and a third continued our language lessons.
Following our visit to the Marco Polo Bridge, we journeyed to the nearby Museum of the War of the Chinese People’s Resistance against Japanese Aggression. Not widely known to most American students, the PRC resisted Japanese aggression from 1931-1945 and fought various brutal conflicts against the Japanese troops. This museum, commissioned by Deng Xiaoping, was opened in 1987 as one of the three ‘new-remembering’ museums (more on those later). Although I visited this museum last year for about three hours, I definitely learned more this time around even though I spent two hours there. Lesson learned: do not think you should skip out on visiting a place twice, you can always learn more the second, and even third, time around.
One of the most intriguing parts of the museum this year was an exhibit which was closed on our previous trip. This exhibit, which focused on the role of the CPC in rural China during the war, was entirely in Chinese and in the basement of the museum. With the help of Jerry, some deductive reasoning, and brainstorming with JBL, I worked my way through the exhibit. In my opinion, this exhibit provided an excellent illustration on how Mao Zedong, his Red Army, and the CPC at large won over large portions of the populous and positioned themselves for victory in China’s Civil War (1945-1949). Mao Zedong was brilliant with his guerilla tactics. He supported schools, organized cultural events, and seriously worked to improve the lives of the rural people. However, the exhibit did not clarify that the Japanese focused most of their forces on the major Kuomintang cities, and they did not view the CPC as a primary threat.
JBL, dlux, and I were also struck by the fact that the museum referenced the global conflict during the post Pearl Harbor era as the World Anti-Fascist United Front. It identified the correctly Big Four as the USA, Britain, the Soviet Union and China. However, it did not clarify that the China of the Big Four was Nationalist China.
Lastly, this visit was unique because of our new VIP status. JBL and dlux are Chinese Ministry of Education sanctioned Sinologist Fellows. We were able to use our special status to bypass a museum rule of no videotaping on the surrounding grounds and even inside the museum! We now have some educational shorts and great panoramic shots of various exhibits within the museum for our educational enrichment project.
In conclusion, today was an academic and exciting day. I filled in many gaps of my contemporary Chinese history and could exercise my knowledge through education videos for Chinese and American high school students. I thoroughly enjoyed re-visiting one of the three ‘new-remembering’ museums—the other two being the Nanjing Massacre Museum in Nanjing and the 9.18 Mukden Museum in Shenyang. All three of these museums were constructed in the late 1980s to open up the academic discourse on the Chinese War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression. I was lucky enough to visit the Nanjing Museum last year and will visit the 9.18 Mukden Museum tomorrow! In fact, I am already bunked up on an overnight train from Beijing to Shenyang with the rest of the crew. Good times are definitely in our headlights.
Ryan Richter '12
We have looked towards today with much anticipation. The “Follow Me” project has two parts. Our first aim is to create video content of Chinese language dialogue to use in Confucius classrooms. The second part focuses on Chinese culture and acts as an extension of research conducted last summer by JBL and Jason on the history of China from 1931-1950. Last summer JBL and Jason travelled throughout China to research China’s “New Remembering.” During the Mao era much of the history of China’s War of Resistance was distorted, deleted, or selectively documented. However, during the ascendency of Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s, Chinese history on this integral period started to incorporate the role of the Nationalists. In essence, the Chinese people and their government were re-remembering their history. An essential component of this “Remembering” was the construction of three national museums commissioned by Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s to understand better the war. Last summer, JBL and Jason visited the Museum of the Chinese People’s War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression in Beijing and the Nanjing Massacre in Nanjing—two of the three “new remembering” museums. Shenyang, the capital of Liaoning Province, is home to the third “new remembering” museum.
Our first destination was the original site of the Mukden Prisoner of War Camp where many Allied prisoners from the Pacific campaign were incarcerated. Located in Shenyang (then called Mukden), it imprisoned over 2,000 Allied soldiers from the United States, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand from November 11, 1942, to August 15, 1945. The men held captive here were forced into hard labor, most of which included manufacturing tools of war for the Japanese. They suffered illness, starvation, beatings, and mental stress, which ultimately took the lives of 244 men. The death rate of American soldiers detained at this POW camp reached 16 percent-- 14.8 percent higher than American POWs incarcerated by the Germans. The Museum was closed, but good fortune found us, and the caretaker gave us a tour of the complex.
As we walked through the camp, two things resonated with us throughout the day. First, the eighty original bunks of the 2000 POWs had not been moved or destroyed since the camp was closed. According to our calculations, these “beds,” roughly 7’x15’ each, held about 25 people. They were remarkably well preserved and so were the heating ovens. The second thing that caught our attention was a quote cast on a wall by the highest ranking American POW of World War II, General John Wainwright. It read,
“Many times during my long rot in captivity, I wondered how the Japanese were capable of their gross inhumanities?” – Jonathan M. Wainwright
Following the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895 and the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905, Japan dominated northeastern China. As a result, hundreds of thousands of Japanese peasants, industrialists, bankers, and members of the military populated Manchuria. (During this time, this area was named Manchuria, after the Manchu people which were the majority ethnic group in northeastern China.) Japan, eager to gain formal control over northeast China, instigated the 9.18 (Mukden) Incident in 1931.
The 9.18 Museum in Shenyang was our second site visit of the day. This museum details the 9.18 Incident of September 18, 1931, when Japan invaded Manchuria. The museum outlined Japan’s conquering of Manchuria and its establishment of the puppet state of Manchukuo in February 1932. Japan installed Puyi, the last emperor of the Qing Dynasty, as the figurehead of Manchukuo. Japan continued to gather resources from the region and used them to prepare for the creation of the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere. Despite the fact that half of the museum was under renovation in preparation for the 2013 Chinese National Games, which will be hosted by Shenyang, we still collected valuable footage and information for our “Follow Me” segments.
On September 18, the Japanese Kanto Army detonated a bomb on the South Manchurian Railway, but the Japanese blamed the explosion and damage on the Chinese. Shortly after, Japan invaded the capital of Shenyang and immediately began to strengthen their defenses. At this time Chiang Kai-Shek, leader of the Nationalists, was focusing his efforts on defeating the Communists. He ordered his troops in the northeast to pursue a policy of non-resistance. Chiang hoped non-resistance would satisfy Japan, but he was very wrong. While the museum suggests that certain communist movements were responsible for organizing counter attacks, it also identified local Manchu people who played a critical role in resisting the Japanese. Following the Marco Polo Bridge Incident of July 7, 1937, Chiang Kai-Shek recognized that all Chinese people must work together to defeat the Japanese. A political cartoon on the wall of the 9.18 Museum portrayed this perfectly. The top arm of the cartoon has the insignia of the Kuomintang (Nationalists) and the bottom arm has the insignia of the Communist Party of China—signifying that the Nationalists and the Communists must work together to defeat the Japanese.
This economic advantage earned Shenyang the nickname, “First Sun of New China.” Yet if the smog was as intense back then as it is today, I doubt people would have used such an expression.
Overall, I would say that our first day in Shenyang was fantastic. The food was great and the people have made me feel very welcome here.
Shenyang is home to about 7.5 million people, a number that our tour guide, Aiden Sui, says is steadily on the rise. It is also the China headquarters of several internationally recognized corporations, including Coca-Cola and BMW. The route to the hotel was sprinkled with KFCs and McDonalds, and even a Dunkin Donuts has found a niche here. Aiden is quite proud of his city. His stories made this a day to remember. It is interesting to hear about what changes have occurred here over the past century. Even more outstanding is how much the Chinese have invested in remembering this important piece of history. With less than two years left before the China National Games are held in Shenyang, people here are excited to make the most out of these important tourist destinations.
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Last Updated: August 16, 2019