U.S.-China Institute at Bryant University

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Day 12 - From Qufu to Beijing

China offers seemingly unlimited horizons for new experiences.   That seems as true for the Chinese as it is for visitors. For the Chinese, change seems to be everywhere: new buildings, new careers, new roads, new technology, new opportunities and new ways of thinking.  For visitors, there are unlimited vistas both in trying to comprehend the scope of these recent changes for the Chinese and in seeing more traditional areas of Chinese life for the first time.  Sometimes, it’s not easy to tell the difference.  What belongs completely to the New China?  What’s a re-tuned version of something quite traditional?

Originally, I was scheduled to take a one-hour flight from Jinan to Beijing at the close of the conference in Qufu.  Realistically, however, that one hour promised to require six or seven hours for waiting times and for getting to and from airports.  So, when Alan Cheung offered to share a ride in his car, I was more than happy to accept.  Alan is the Executive Director of the Confucius Institute at the University of Maryland.  He is a 100% Chinese American who has retired after a successful career in health care and entrepreneurship.  Born in Hong Kong, he came to this country as a teen for his education, and he’s never really looked back.  Of course, he and his wife maintain homes in Hong Kong and Beijing, but America is home for Alan.

The car and driver, and even Alan’s cell phone, are on loan for the week from a friend in Beijing.  The friend in Beijing is a successful real estate developer who is helping build the new China.  This friend’s sister happens to live in the Washington, D.C. area and has become a friend of, and, neighbor, to Alan.  This friendship has been built up around family visits back and forth between Beijing and Columbia, Maryland. 

 

The car, professional driver, and cell phone are all very much new China.  On the other hand, the reciprocal hospitality leading to friendship, generosity, and spirit of sharing is very Chinese.  Indeed, it’s very Confucian.  I doubt that Alan ever questioned whether he should offer me a ride sharing his friend’s hospitality, just as I know his friend never questioned whether he should offer the car, the driver, the cell phone, and a traditional dinner for both of us when we arrived in Beijing. 

"Is it not a pleasure to meet with friends from afar?”   This is among the best known of all the aphorisms from Confucius that come down to us in the Analects.   Even before we set out from Qufu on the 6-hour drive to Beijing, I felt I was seeing Old China meet the New China. 

The next six hours did nothing to dispel that feeling.  Shandong Province is among the richest of all Chinese agricultural regions, and we passed mile after mile of carefully cultivated farmland.  Only by taking notice, however, did it become clear that these fields were heavily committed to corn.  This is not a region of paddy agriculture.  From the look of the fields, we could have been driving though northern Ohio, Indiana, or Iowa.   And of course, we know that such agriculture is almost exclusively committed to animal feed rather than human consumption.  This is agribusiness in the heart of traditional China’s breadbasket.  Once again New China and Old China come together.

North of Jinan, about half-way from Qufu to Beijing, we also passed through “Solar Valley,” China’s state-sponsored center for the development of green technologies.   This effort, focused on the city of Dezhou, is built on a $740 Million investment by the government, and according to a recent Washington Post article (May 17, 2010), the “Solar Valley” project is attracting significant foreign investment.  The Solar Valley project is quite apparent from the expressway.  Besides the massive buildings we passed occasionally, the highway is lined with solar panels positioned atop tall light poles.  According to the Washington Post, the city streets in Dezhou are completely lit by solar power.  We also saw significant signs of the Chinese effort with large wind turbines. This took the form of a convoy of several dozen trucks, each transporting just one turbine blade. 

Pole-mounted solar panels lined both sides of the highway for many miles as we passed through Shandong’s “Solar Valley”
The convoy of trucks we passed carried several dozen of these massive turbine blades heading north.  Each blade required an extra-long flatbed carrier – and it still stretched beyond the end!

The car trip from Qufu to Beijing offered a continuously rolling panorama showcasing China’s traditional culture, its basic economic development infrastructure of new highways teeming with long-distance trucks, and the 21 st century high tech of areas such as Solar Valley.  What a wonderful cultural panorama!  The trip even allowed me to indulge my taste for creative and helpful signage.  As many who’ve been to China will recall, the Chinese are masters in the delightful art of calling your attention to those important everyday reminders encouraging civility and public manners.


Even roadside rest stops show the calming influences of traditional garden architecture.  Makes sense to me!

These over-loaded, long distance trucks are the heirs to China’ cultural traditional in trade and commerce.  In many ways, they seem the modern carriers of the Silk Road tradition of cultural diffusion carried with trade.

"Waste Discarding Prohibited”

"Don't Try Fatigue Driving”

Chinese truck drivers are masters at maximizing  their loads
"Spreading the load” at higher elevations is common!

For me, the six hours of this road trip to Beijing truly rushed past us.  The sights and impressions cascaded one after another.

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