Bryant Professor of History Dr. Judy Barrett Litoff and Chair and Professor of Science and Technology Dr. Gaytha Langlois embarked on a two-week research trip in China from June 11-25 together with Bryant students Tom Pagliarini and Jason Fortin. The group investigated historical sites and topics related to the course “U.S. and China: 1931-1950” that Dr. Litoff teaches in fall semester and Tom and Jason have completed. Dr. Langlois collected earth samples and other scientific data at various sites for her research in international environmental policy and research.
The group visited Beijing, Xi’an, Yan’an, Shanghai, Nanjing and Hangzhou. The trip is co-sponsored by the U.S.-China Institute, Confucius Institute, Department of History and Social Sciences and Department of Science and Technology in joint efforts to support Bryant faculty and student research and international exchanges. Below are reflections Tom and Jason sent back daily while traveling in China.
4:00 a.m. June 11, Providence, RI – midnight June 12, Beijing, China
Our flight to China was a long and exhausting ordeal. The thirteen and a half hour flight seemed to never end. However, the flight crew’s helpfulness made the trip bearable. We also met some friends during our flight. Kevin, a native of Iowa, on a business trip to China dealing with robotics and Sean, a Chinese native who is a graduate student at Northwestern. It was interesting to hear about the circumstances that brought each of these individuals to China.
While the flight to Beijing might have seemed to drag on forever, our time in the impeccably cleaned Beijing International Airport was not wasted at all. The entire process from exiting the plane, getting our baggage, to passing through customs was completed in under fourteen minutes! In that time our body temperate was scanned twice and our passport was verified utilizing by both the airport computer and the Chinese police officer. It was a display of remarkable efficiency, and if I may add as a first time international traveler, a process that was simplistic and comforting.
We were met in the airport by our helpful and upbeat guide, Grace, a graduate of the Chinese College of Foreign Languages. She led us to a van which took us to our hotel near downtown Beijing (about an hour away). On the way we saw towering buildings, both residential and commercial, on either sides of the highway. Another familiar site was a hefty amount of traffic, which, as Grace explained, was the result of people heading to prepare for a weekend-long holiday festival.
Upon checking into our hotel we were given our room keys and exchanged some of our dollars for Chinese Yuan. Although with Grace’s help our check-in was stress free and efficient, I noticed that despite being in an “international” hotel there was not much English spoken. However, what is more remarkable is that despite the absence of a strong command of the English language, my stay so far has been as comforting as any of the best hotels I have ever stayed in stateside. The staff is relentlessly helpful and one is always encountered with a pleasant smile.
Looking back, my experience in the hotel reminds me of a magazine I saw in the airport in Chicago depicting the former Chinese Chairman Mao Zedong wearing an Uncle Sam hat. Growing up I had learned about communism as a pejorative term that encompassed many facets of social, political, and economic life. My impression was skewed to encounter a Red China bearing nothing but the bare necessities. Yet what I have found so far is a land which reminds me of many of the things which I appreciate in America. I have found a Chinese culture that embraces many of the same values to which I have grown accustomed; however, it does so in its own unique way—a manner which I am sure I will discover more thoroughly, is distinctively Chinese.
June 13th, Beijing, China
After a much needed good night’s sleep for everyone except Professor Judy Barrett Litoff who entertained herself with subtitled CNN for the entire night, the day began with a breakfast fit for a royal family. Provided with the option of eggs, spaghetti and meatballs, fresh fruit, cereal, lunch meat, and grilled tomatoes, we filled our empty stomachs with a variety of delicious food. The alumni group did not arrive until 2:30 a.m. that morning so we had a late start to the Panjiayuan market. The bustling market sold everything from jewelry to clothes to old books and teapots.
After our morning at the market, we visited a Chinese Supermarket which resembled a Wal-Mart Supercenter, but housed an open meat and fish market—quite different from the factory processed packaged meat and fish products offered in the states. We then boarded the bus and made our way to a traditional Peking Duck lunch where we enjoyed delicious Duck, fish, Duck liver, and green tea along with many other scrumptious cuisines—even Tom, unbeknownst at that time, tasted the Duck liver and has lived to tell the tale.
The afternoon began with an adventurous journey through the Forbidden City. Jane, our tour guide, provided valuable information on the historical background of the Forbidden City. Her historical remarks, especially in regards to the Tiananmen Square incident of 1989, further solidified our understanding of a seriously complex Chinese history. The back side of the palace is decked with old trees, rock collections, and flowers, while the front contains large meeting halls and grand open brick courtyards. We were sincerely impressed with the ancient technological achievements of constructing the palace; with particular interest in the lightning rods, 250 ton one-piece rock waterfalls that were transported over 70 kilometers by sliding on ice during the winter, and the large water reserves to protect the palace in case of fire. To our dismay, we discovered that the Forbidden City is quite run down and the PRC only just began a 20-year process to restore the great landmark and former home to the Ming and Qing Emperors, royal families, and servants.
To everyone’s hilarity, Tom and I became a spectacle of great attention and were asked to pose in multiple pictures with dozens of young Chinese women who clamored for our attention as we progressed on through the Forbidden City and made our way towards Tiananmen Square.
We saw Mao’s resting house, the home of the National People’s Congress, and the Chinese National Museum—all constructed in old soviet style around the world’s largest square to model the Red Square in Moscow, Russia. We then returned to the hotel to seek out the local hot spots for a light dinner.
June 14, Beijing, China
Our day started with another early rise and a heavy breakfast before the long journey that lay before us. The first destination on the agenda was a trip to the Great Wall, a massive defensive fortification, mostly constructed during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Although we hit very heavy amounts of traffic on the way out of the city because of the Dragon Boat Festival holiday, we were still able to make it to the wall with plenty of time to enjoy the marvelous display of architecture.
Though we had heard, and later discovered for ourselves, that hiking up to the wall could be an exhausting task, I, and my hiking partner, Jason felt compelled to trek up the winding steps to the ancient structure. However, as Jason and I discovered, as well as our two enthusiastic professors who set out on their own hike, taking the tiring journey up the steps, as opposed to taking the ski-slope style gondola, instills a much more profound admiration for the ingenuity and resolve for the people that constructed this majestic fortification. With typical youthful ambition, we thought that we could run all the way to Tower Ten at the top of the mountain. About a quarter of the way up, our hearts were racing and dehydration set in. As we finished the hike to the wall, sweating and out of breath, we were both left in wonderment, unable to fathom how such a structure could have been built without utilizing the luxuries of modern construction equipment.
After tobogganing down an alpine slide to the foot of the wall, several of us took the opportunity to test our bargaining skills with the nearby merchants. While still in need of some sharpening, our skills were able to land us a variety of discounted goods, from touristy t-shirts and hand-made woven hats, to replica Red Army attire. As we learn some of the tricks and techniques of bargaining, it becomes apparent that the exchange is more of an art, mastered through intuition and experience, rather than a science that can be studied and dissected.
All of the hiking and haggling had made us rather hungry. However, before our lunch, we made a quick walk through the 2008 Olympic area venue to see the fabled structures like the Bird’s Nest and the Water Cube. Both the expansive area and innovative buildings were incredibly impressive. The great amount of time, labor, and money that the Chinese government invested in the Olympic Village between 2004 and 2008 mirrors what I imagine was put into the construction of the Great Wall centuries ago.
We had lunch at a restaurant that served us the traditional style Beijing noodles which were made by combining the vegetables and noodles with the soy paste. The meal, as many other meals in China have been, was both delicious and incredibly inexpensive. The good news was that we ate a lot of food for lunch; the bad news was that we were soon going to have to walk off much of the calories because our bus had broken down. Fortunately, our walk to the Temple of Heaven was not that far away and we were able to get there without any problems. However, what was noteworthy was that for the first time in China many of us - not smart enough to use sunscreen - got sunburned.
When we got to the Temple of Heaven, one of the four temples built by the Ming dynasty within Beijing, we were confronted with the problem that we had arrived a couple minutes after they had closed. However, thanks to our resourceful and amazingly dedicated tour guide, Jane, we were able to gain entrance. The buildings, gardens, and surrounding scenery were not only larger, but were all much more aesthetically pleasing than the Forbidden City. However, this is not surprising given the fact that the Ming emperors, who considered themselves the Sons of Heaven, would not dare build their own residence larger than the temple dedicated to the God of Heaven. It’s no wonder that the Temple was former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s favorite location in China. Also, outside of the Temple we were fortunate enough to witness a small informal gathering of Chinese locals singing Russian songs from the 1950s.
Our last venture was to another restaurant: this one located in Beihai Park. On the way there we saw an ancient pagoda leftover for the Ming dynasty, as well as the oldest imperial garden in the world. The park was calming and relaxing with its man-made lake and many walkways. The restaurant was another sight with its ornate and elaborate design. The excellent food and drink was a great way for us all to sit back, relax, and reflect upon a long and tiring, but also eye opening and amazing day in China.
June 13, Beijing, China
We rose about an hour later today, said goodbye to our alumni group, and met up with our tour leader, Grace, who would guide us through the beginnings of our historical research. Our first stop would be just southwest of Beijing at the Marco Polo Bridge, also called the Lugou Bridge, which was built in 1192 during the Jin Dynasty. Due to the Dragon Festival Holiday, one of China’s main holidays, traffic heading out of the city was quite light and we made it to the Marco Polo Bridge in half the time. At our visit, we discovered that the bridge has an impressive and long standing importance in Chinese history. The historical weight of the bridge is the main attraction of the bridge today. I would guess that in addition to being the only Westerners at the bridge, we were the only people visiting the bridge specifically for its significance in 1937. 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 the Wanping city, move into Beijing, and continue the invasion down towards Shanghai and eventually Nanjing. Although historically used as waterway pass, it was named a cultural relic in 1981 and in 1985, the PRC banned motor vehicles from passing the bridge. To our pleasant surprise the bridge was restored to the exact shape of its 1937 photographs.
Following our visit to the Marco Polo Bridge, we journeyed to the Museum of the War of the Chinese People’s Resistance against Japanese Aggression. This title may sound wordy, but it is a direct quotation from the museum. Widely unknown by most American students, the PRC resisted Japanese aggression from 1931-1945 and fought various brutal conflicts against the Japanese troops. This museum provided priceless information concerning the conflict which dominated a large portion of US-Chinese relations from 1931-1950. Interestingly enough, using English headsets provided by the museum, we found that the museum left out a considerable portion of information that we gathered from a variety of other sources that we had studied. For example, the narration did not mention the failure of the United Front between the Communists and the Kuomintang and left out the Long March. The history was presented as a seamless transition from a divided state following the fall of the Qing dynasty in 1911 and credited all wartime successes towards “China”, without acknowledging the nationalist contributions. However, CCP accomplishments were highlighted with sincere pride. Regardless of a varied perspective on history, it held a number of intriguing artifacts from the construction of the modern Chinese state. The below photo is of an original table and benches used during the beginnings of the CCP political system in Yan’an.
As the sun moved west, we travelled to Old Beijing and had lunch at an off the map authentic Chinese Restaurant. The food was scrumptious as usual, and then Grace led us along a tour of a Hutong section, which once dominated the landscape of Beijing. Hutong houses are traditionally built around courtyards, but in the last 50 years were destroyed to make way for high rises and highways. Due to their current rarity, they are now protected and have been gentrified and experienced a rise in popularity among the rich and famous—Jackie Chan recently purchased a $2 million Hutong house. Our tour guide then led us to the former abode of Soong Ching-ling: the wife of the father of modern China, Dr. Sun Yat-sen. Her residence housed a newly constructed museum which preserved a number of her former possessions and truly dictated the integral role she played during the formation of the modern Chinese state.
After the museum we continued our walk around the Shichahai Lake filled with numerous pedal boats and lined with hundreds of restaurants and bars. The arena was quite relaxing and had a few enjoyable parks with ping pong tables, public exercise equipments, and other communal amenities.
Unfortunately, as the day winded down we had to make our way to the train station to catch our overnight train to Xi’an. The station was crowded and as we waited, Tom and I grabbed some KFC and enjoyed a small snack of popcorn chicken that tasted remarkably different than it does in the states—our first encounter with “American” food. It characterized how when aspects of cultures, such as food, are transplanted, they are often adjusted to satisfy the desires of the local population.
As I finalize this blog post from the compacted overnight train to Xi’an, I find myself in a soft bunk adjacent to some friendly University of Bogota students. More to come!
June 16, Xi’an, China
Upon reaching the outskirts of Xi’an, the capital of Shaanxi province, we awoke from a surprisingly peaceful slumber aboard the overnight train from Beijing. Before the train came into the station, we started strategically planning our exit from what we anticipated to be a mad rush. This was going to be our first time switching locations without a local tour guide so we wanted to make sure the transition was swift and seamless. Fortunately, our preparation paid off and we were able to exit the train without any problems. We quickly found our next tour guide, Lincent, or as we call him Li, waiting for us on the platform holding a “Brayant” sign. We figured we would give him a pass on the spelling mistake—that is as long as he made up for the error with knowledge of the history of Xi’an.
In the van ride to our hotel, Li began telling us some of the history of Xi’an. The city was his hometown and the place where he studied art and art history at a local university. Consequently, he was very informative about the historical and cultural traditions of the area. His constant reference to Xi’an as “my city” showed he felt a deep connection and appreciation for the city which was the capital of many older Chinese dynasties. On multiple occasions throughout the day, especially when we visited the Shaanxi History Museum, Li reminded us that Xi’an was the capital of China for many more centuries than Beijing.
Driving from the train station to our hotel, we noticed that Xi’an had a completely different feel from Beijing. Even immersed into an entirely different world here in China, we are able to recognize and appreciate the variances we encounter in each of the locations. Unlike Beijing, where little remains of the city wall, surrounding the entire inner city of Xi’an is one of the most meticulously preserved city walls in all of China, adorned with four main gates on each of the cardinal directions. In the center of the inner city, a stunning bell tower raises high into the air. In order to preserve the charm of the tower, the government does not allow any buildings to be constructed higher than the historical structure in the center of the inner city. Outside of the city wall and beyond the lush and vibrant green of the surrounding public parks, there are countless medium sized skyscrapers.
Upon checking into our hotel, we learned that our fate welcomed us to Xi’an. One of our hotel room numbers is 1936, the year of the infamous Xi’an Incident. On December 12, 1936, two Nationalist generals, Chang Hsueh-liang and Yang Hucheng kidnapped a recalcitrant Chiang Kai-shek who was more concerned with fighting the Communists than the Japanese. Tomorrow we will explore the site of the Xi’an Incident. What are the odds that two of us would have been assigned to a hotel room number that bears so much historical significance on this portion of our trip
Our first destination in Xi’an was to the famous Communist outpost of the Eighth Route Army commanded by General Zhu De. The location remained remarkably preserved from the time it had been used for operations by the Red Army. While in Xi’an, we have seen more westerners than we did in Beijing. In this museum, however, we were the only westerners present. We even received the attention of a photographer from one of China’s newspapers who asked our guide if he could take pictures of us. Li explained to us that in all of the seven years he has been a tour guide, we were the first group to request a tour the museum of the Eighth Route Army. He explained that he, like many other Chinese students, visited the museum as part of their education. Once again, Li’s connection to the history of Xi’an was evident. Furthermore, his command of the subject matter was remarkable. Li acknowledged the complexity of the time period and was able to elaborate on the dynamic interactions between the Kuomingtang (KMT) and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Much to our delight, he also recognized the importance of the mid and late 1930s visits by American journalists Edgar Snow, Helen Snow, and Agnes Smedley. We learned that the Eighth Route Army outpost in Xi’an was the “last stop” before reaching the Communist capital in Yan’an.
After the museum, we made our way to the Xi’an City Wall. Per the request of our professors, Jason and I took the helms of the two-seated bikes that we rented to travel around the wall. With the much appreciated wo-manpower of our professors pedaling in the back seats, we were able to conquer the fourteen kilometer wall in the 100 degree heat! Unfortunately, we had no opportunity to take pictures of the ride because our professors were too excited to get a chance to act like kids again.
Needless to say, the biking worked up a good appetite. We then headed to the Tang (pronounced Tong if you are Chinese) Dynasty Hotel to satisfy our hunger and replenish ourselves from the draining heat. The restaurant food was much more touristy than our previous meals, but the touristy nature of the venue provided us the serendipitous opportunity to meet up with our friends from the University of Bogotá once again. Later that evening, we returned to the same hotel to experience “An Authentic Tang Dynasty Cultural Presentation.”
June 17, Xi’an, China
Today, to quote our tour guide, we started “not too early, but not too late” as we boarded the bus from the hotel towards outer Xi’an. Before heading to the location of the Xi’an Incident, we stopped at the factory where workers reproduce Terra Cotta warriors constructed with the same clay used to make original statues. Following the familiar scene of a western style gift shop, we took our van to Mount Li. At the base of this mountain is the Hua Qing Chi Palace, constructed during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 C.E.). This Palace, now converted to a museum, is located on top of two natural hot springs. The emperor and empress used to vacation at this Palace and relax with their family.
For our purposes, Chiang Kai-shek, commander of the Kuomintang Party and Army, vacationed at the springs and, in 1936, set up a temporary headquarters to carry out his plans against the Communists.
General Zhang and General Yang, two of his foremost commanders, were upset with Chiang Kai-shek’s unwillingness to cooperate with the Communists in order to defend the country from the Japanese. Instead, Chiang was dedicating resources and his most valuable and best trained troops to weakening the communist front. As a response, the two generals, along with a small military brigade, stormed the residence in search of Chiang Kai-shek. Chiang fled the Palace, climbed into the mountains, and hid behind a rock in the steep hillside. He was eventually captured and persuaded to join into a second United Front with the Communists to fight the Japanese—this front later broke apart in 1941. To our pleasure, Tom and I were able to climb the mountain (most notably as the first Americans), wear a replica of Chiang’s uniform, and hide in the mountain, just as he did from his kidnappers! According to our guide, the rock was first referred to as the “Capturing Chiang Kai-shek stone,” but in an effort to improve the PRC’s relationship with Taiwan, it was renamed the “Chiang Kai-shek prevailing stone” around 1986.
After visiting the location of the Xi’an Incident, we travelled to the site of the Terra Cotta warriors which were constructed under the Qin dynasty to protect the ‘first emperor of China’. When Professors Litoff and Langlois visited the warrior museum in 2000, they were able to park right next to the warrior excavation and quickly enter the viewing rooms. Currently, the parking lot is a 15 minute walk from the actual entrance, and the path is littered with stores and shops all selling the same souvenirs to hungry tourists.
Today we also had meals at a few tourist designated restaurants which resembled western cafeterias. These restaurants were probably more expensive than, and did not taste as good as, local authentic food we previously enjoyed. The overwhelming tourist shops and falsified Chinese cuisine and culture present a misdirected vision of Chinese life to the average tourist.
This is a harsh reminder that sacrificing the best parts of Chinese culture for a Disney Worldesque setting results in only a partial view of Chinese life to many tourists. As the tourist companies, restaurants, and sites are run by the Chinese government, we wonder whether this is their construct or if it merely satisfies the demands of undiscerning visitors. Luckily, after speaking with our tour guide, we have refined our time in Shaanxi to not only satisfy our historical research, but also engage with the local culture using an off-the-beaten path approach. After discussing this with our tour guide, you could see the pleasure of interest spread across his face as he then began a detailed and excited explanation of authentic Shaanxi food. As an individual who has experienced both tourist attractions and a search for “true” culture, I encourage all foreign travelers to look beyond cultural gimmicks and explore the areas without silverware, without English, and without paths littered with souvenir shops. Only then will you truly understand, appreciate, and cherish what is different in the other parts of the world.
June 18, Xi’an to Yan’an
Last night after dinner in Xi’an we went searching, to no avail, for a Muslim community we heard was located in the city. We awoke early the next morning and quickly scrambled to throw together overnight bags for our trip north to Yan’an. Once again we were greeted in the lobby by the familiar faces of our guide Li and his faithful driver Ho, with the addition of our second guide, Sophie. Sophie is a pleasant young native from Yan’an who now works as a tour guide out of Xi’an.
We embarked on our five-hour journey to Yan’an with the excitement of seeing the former CCP headquarters. It is fitting that as we began our journey to the powerbase of the CCP during the 1930s and 40s, we encountered the first person in the country who identified herself as a member of the Communist Party. Sophie explained to us that along with being a member of the Communist Party, her favorite Chinese leader is Chairman Mao. Never once did she refer to the iconic figure without providing his title of “Chairman.” While knowledgeable about the basic happenings during the time period, it was interesting to hear the different perspective that Sophie provided. Clearly, her Communist ideology has had a tremendous influence on her understanding of modern Chinese history.
The route to Yan’an was much more off the beaten track than our previous destinations. Li informed us that we were the only Westerners that he had ever taken to Yan’an. However, historically speaking we are certainly not the first Americans to venture to the “holy city” of Chinese Communist thought. From July 1944 to March 1947 a small group of American foreign service officers, scientists, and other military personnel made the former Communist capital their home as they studied the operations of the CCP. The Dixie Mission, as it was called, was a critical element in helping the American government obtain a more complete perspective of the political dynamics between the CCP and the KMT.
The Yan’an Revolutionary Museum was another awesome display of China’s modernization. The gigantic marble structure with its vast stone courtyard in front stands out amongst the surrounding buildings. However, despite all of the modern architecture, some local people, unable to afford alternative housing, still make their homes in cave-like dwellings set in the hills. The interior of the museum is equally as impressive as polished marble surrounds the lobby. Yet for all of the impressiveness of the museum’s display, we felt that the history of China during this era was more accurately preserved in the simplistic presentation at the Eighth Route Army Museum in Xi’an.
Being the only non-Chinese we saw throughout our first day in Yan’an, we began to grow accustomed to the many stares and turning of the heads we received. Even in the Yan’an Revolutionary Museum, crowded with government sponsored tour groups, we were the only Westerners present. Upon exiting the museum we were approached by a staff member requesting to exchange, at a premium rate, Chinese Yuan for an American dollar. The staff member’s excitement over the trade evidenced the rarity of Westerners to this city.
Outside of the museum, there is a towering statue of the ever present Chairman Mao. Once again, Mao’s influence on the thought of the people of Yan’an is witnessed by the custom of bowing in front of the structure three times to pay respect to the legendary figure.
Later on we attended dinner at a "local" restaurant. The fact that our guides needed to ask local residents how to get to the restaurant should have been telling us that we were not about to experience local cuisine. While the food was clearly more authentic and more appetizing than what we had been served the past couple of days, the sight of Chinese tourists made us feel that we were once again missing out on being a fly on the wall in a real Yan’an restaurant. Determined to immerse ourselves into the local culture, we opted out of another suggested cultural performance and decided to hit the streets and become in-tuned with the Spirit of Yan’an.
June 19, Yan’an, China
For the first time of this entire trip we were the only non-Chinese individuals at our hotel breakfast. According to our tour guides, very few non-Chinese travel to Yan’an for work, research, or touring. After getting used to being gawked at consistently since arriving the day before, we journeyed to the famous Precious Pagoda, located on a hill outside downtown Yan’an. The pagoda is widely regarded as a symbolic land mark of the Yan’an spirit and the CCP headquarters. The Pagoda was originally constructed during the Tang dynasty and was one of the few buildings located in Yan’an in the 1930s and 1940s. In the 1930s, Yan’an had a population of around 10,000 people; most of whom were farmers that lived in hillside caves. Even up until the 1970s there were few buildings in the remote town. However, this has changed drastically as most of the farming area is now lined with skyscrapers and construction cranes are visible in all corners of the now 300,000 person city.
Following the Precious Pagoda, we climbed up a very steep hill to the Picking Stars Pavilion. This pavilion was aptly named the Picking Stars Pavilion because the locals felt they could reach the stars due to its altitude. The Pavilion provided an excellent view of the sprawling city in the valley below and the mountain ranges that encircled the town. It also allowed us to compare the rural poor cave areas—which housed many of the local farmers—with the skyscrapers and gorgeous houses owned by those who had recently become rich from the oil and natural gas industry.
Once leaving the pavilion we visited the former headquarters of the CCP during the Second World War. Our first stop was the Central Great Auditorium, the location of the pivotal Seventh National Congress in 1945 which refined many of the cracks in the Chinese Communist Party and formally established Mao Zedong thought as the guiding ideology of the party. In addition to this building, finished in 1942, we visited the Cultural Arts and Music hall located adjacent to the auditorium. When located in Yan’an, Mao endorsed and fully supported the music, artwork, and performances of the local farmers—a concept which was disturbingly reversed during the Cultural Revolution.
The last visit of our trip to Yan’an was the caves that housed the leaders of the CCP prior to the establishment of the PRC on October 1, 1949. These caves were quite bland and bare and represented the minimal resources and luxuries that the leaders possessed during the Anti-Japanese War and subsequent civil war. Inside these caves were a scattering of pictures of the American Foreign Service officers and military personnel from the Dixie Mission in 1944-1947. The bare necessities with which this party developed is quite impressive considering the far reaching effects it had.
The unwavering and unquestioning support and adoration for Chairman Mao in Yan’an is still prevalent today. According to our local guide, Yan’an families have a picture and statue of Mao Zedong in their homes; many are card carrying members of the Communist Party and regard Mao as their favorite leader of the establishment of New China. On the contrary, our other contacts from around the country expressed more support for Zhou Enlai. They recognize the contributions that Mao made to the unification of China and the establishment of the PRC, but they are not so supportive of his actions, views, and autocratic views after he assumed power in 1949. These varying perspectives, based off one’s review of history, fascinated us and have driven us to review the multifarious connection between the historical interpretations of events that is presented to the general public by the People’s Republic of China.
June 20, Xi’an to Shanghai
This morning was our last day in Shanxi province. We were fortunately able to enjoy a late start to our day, checking out of our hotel at 9:30 a.m. As we exited Xi’an we were stunned by the amount of new construction that was taking place. Everywhere we looked there were towering cranes next to scaffold-lined apartment buildings. Our guide Li explained how the new construction was part of the government’s initiative to provide more housing for the growing city. When we got to the airport, we sadly had to say our goodbyes to our beloved driver Ho. His energy and personality will truly be missed.
With Li’s help we were able to navigate our way to the security checkpoint at the airport. Once again the process was remarkably efficient. Despite the fact that each person that went through the checkpoint was scanned with a security wand, we were able to get through the line unbelievably quickly. Our flight from Xi’an to Shanghai went by like a flash. The approximately two hours we spent in the air felt like nothing compared to the thirteen hours we had spent on our trip to China.
In Shanghai we were greeted by our new tour guide, Jack, once again a local of the city we were in. Jack is a knowledgeable guide whose business casual attire presented a very polished look. Though at times the fast pace of his speech is difficult to understand, Jack has done a great job of presenting insights into Shanghai’s path to modernization. The city also provides an excellent example of China’s ability to transform itself in a dramatic and accelerated fashion. On the way to the city, once known as the “Paris of the Orient,” we saw a massive structure being built. Jack informed us that this new aquatic complex, to be the largest in the world, is being constructed in preparation for an upcoming World Swimming Competition. Having witnessed just days earlier the awesomeness of the Beijing Olympics Water Cube, the concept of yet another aquatic structure of even greater capacity is utterly mindboggling.
As we drove through downtown Shanghai on the way to our hotel, it got harder and harder to remember where we were. All around us we saw the streets lined with shops bearing the names of the top labels from around the world. The influence of Western culture has clearly had an impact on the development of Shanghai ever since the mid-nineteenth century. As I look down at my own polo, I notice that even the driver is sporting the same label as I am. Nowhere else in our stay in China have we witnessed the permeation of Western culture more so than in Shanghai. This fact is cemented in our minds as we dined at the famous Astor House Hotel, located in the former International Settlement. Not only did the menu supply English translations for all of the selections, but from the moment one enters this historic venue the visitor is presented with portraits of famous Westerners such as Edgar Allen Snow, Albert Einstein, and Bertrand Russell, lining the pillars of the lobby.
To cap off our fantastic introduction to Shanghai and dinner at the Astor House Hotel we took a walk on the famous Bund along the Huangpu River. As we strolled along the paved banks of the river, we were surrounded by Chinese tourists excitedly posing for pictures. While the ongoing World Expo being held in Shanghai probably accounts for some of the crowds we observed, Jack explained that given the rise in China’s middle class, there has been a dramatic influx of native Chinese tourists to Shanghai. As we looked at the top of the buildings along the former International Settlement, we noticed the flag of the PRC prominently displayed. In stark contrast, on the other side of the river we see the bustling Pudong financial district with its unique and impressive modern architecture. The ability to observe old Shanghai and new Shanghai in the same view is analogous to seeing the Chinese flag atop the historic buildings along the International Settlement. While the history of the city of Shanghai has been preserved, it also must make room for the newfound prosperity and innovation that is occurring. It is clear that Shanghai, more than any of our previous destinations, represents the achievements and potential of what we have come to understand to be the “New China.”
June 21, Shanghai, China
My legs ache from nine hours of walking as I lie on my bed watching the beginning of the Portugal v. Democratic People’s Republic of Korea football match. Today, Professors Langlois and Litoff along with Tom and I joined 500,000 other visitors at the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai. We arrived at the gate ten minutes before 9:00AM (the Expo operates from 9:00-24:00) and joined the already massive line to get into the Expo grounds. With a "speedy" wait time of only forty minutes we made our way through security and the ticket gates into the massive grounds of the World Expo. The Expo will host some 76 million visitors this year—95 percent of whom will be Chinese and the other 5 percent foreigners. However, of that 5 percent of foreigners, most will travel from Japan and Korea, making us one of the few Western people in attendance.
We quickly walked the two kilometers to the United States of America pavilion where we were met by Christina Ho, a Bryant University graduate who works at the USA pavilion this summer and will join the staff at the Bryant Confucius Institute in the fall. She graciously provided us VIP access as we bypassed the 50 minute queue to enter the pavilion. The U.S. pavilion was quite promising as it promoted green technology backed by numerous American corporations. In the pavilion, Tom and I were celebrities and posed for at least 20 pictures each with various Chinese visitors. As we started to plan our route for the remainder of the day, we learned that most of the big pavilions had enormously long lines—in some cases up to seven hours at the Saudi Arabian pavilion.
To avoid the lines, we decided to visit those countries whose pavilions that did not attract crowds—most specifically Iran, North Korea, Belarus, Senegal, Angola, Tunisia, Algeria, Croatia etc.
Interestingly enough, most of the lines for the pavilions were to get one’s Expo passport stamped rather than view the cultural presentations. At previous world expos, all participating countries and organizations would prepare Expo stamps, which were used to stamp on visitors’ Expo passports in their pavilions. Thus the Expo passport is also called a "global passport.” Originating at the 1967 Expo in Montreal, Canada, the Expo passport also served as the admission ticket, but the admission function was later separated out. We learned from our guide that a completed Expo passport sells online for almost $800. Such a profitable opportunity explained why many visitors had multiple passports—even as many as ten!
In order to establish our own tradition, Tom and I proceeded to have our arms stamped. Such an act attracted funny smiles and looks from countless individuals.
Unfortunately, due to the large lines at the attractive pavilions, such as the five hour wait to enter China’s massive show arena, we were not able to visit all that we desired.
Nevertheless we spent nine hours at the Expo and walked 6.6 miles according to one of Professor Langlois’ scientific devices. After our return to the hotel, we rested about an hour before heading out for some food at an Islamic Uyghur restaurant. The Uyghurs are the majority population of one of China’s seven autonomous regions—Xinjiang province—the largest province located in Western China.
June 22, Shanghai, China
This morning we were reunited with the Bryant alumni group. Our reunion was rather chaotic because the dining area in our hotel was swarmed with people having breakfast. After trying to squeeze in some breakfast amongst the crowds of people, we set out for the Shanghai History Museum.
The museum was filled with over 1,200 pieces covering the over seven thousand year history of this famous city. We also had the fortune of seeing exhibits from some of the minority groups within China. Of special note to us were the displays featuring Hmong and Uyghur artifacts. Many Hmong, or Miao as they are called in China, live in communities in Yunnan Providence, and the Uyghur’s occupy a special place in our heart, of course, because of the excellent meal we had last night.
After finishing our tour of the museum a bit early, some of us decided to head to the nearby People’s Park, located on the grounds of the racetrack of the former British Concession. The park was a beautiful place filled with various trees and gardens. The multitude of walkways and nearby Starbucks with outside seating provided a great place for people, especially local couples, to relax and enjoy the warm weather. Inside the neat little park was a small location filled with carnival-like rides. For about two dollars a ride, Jason and I couldn’t pass on the opportunity to kick up our feet on the Roman Swings. After our little joyride, we sat down for a nice cup of coffee at Starbucks. Our view from the patio was incredible. In the immediate foreground was the lush green of the People’s Park with a skyline of modern skyscrapers surrounding us.
Next stop on our agenda was a local fabric market. The atmosphere was very similar to the other markets we had visited before. Immediately upon entering the doorway, we were bombarded with salespersons asking us if we interested in their wares. While many of us thought we had gotten better at bartering with the locals, our skills were no match for our helpful personal shopper and Bryant alum, Christina Ho. With her knowledge of the local dialect and bartering savvy, many of us were able to land great bargains in the market. Our professors and many of the alumni group were able to acquire custom-tailored Chinese silk garments at substantially discounted prices. Meanwhile, with Christina’s help, Jason and I were able to buy thirty silk ties for just a little over a dollar each. While perhaps the goods may not bear the same brand names that one would buy in a U.S. department store, it is hard to see how anyone could pass up on such unbelievable deals.
After our conquest of the market, we headed to the location where many of China’s most influential business people conquer the competition of their own, the Pudong Financial Zone. Although we did not have the opportunity to tour the entire financial zone, we got the chance to go to the top of the tallest building in all of China! From the bottom of the Shanghai World Financial Tower, one has to practically break his or her neck to see the top. Since this is the third tallest building in the world, the view from the 100th floor of this unbelievable structure allows us to peer down upon the world below, leaving us in awe. As we observe the tower cutting into the sky, we realize that it symbolizes for New China, perhaps that the sky is truly the only limit.
As we exited the incredible structure, we began to scramble to figure out how we would get back to our hotel. After trying to explain, unsuccessfully, to one cab driver where we wanted to go, we were eventually able to secure a driver who understood our instructions. Although our trip back to the Golden Tulip was filled with heavy traffic, the fare for the ride was only thirty-eight Yuan, about seven dollars. Upon our arrival at the hotel, we quickly put our purchases from the market away, and made our way to a local restaurant around the corner from our hotel. The meal was a bit spicy, but delicious nonetheless. With a good meal under belt, we prepare for an early departure for Nanjing tomorrow morning where we will resume our study of the history of the United States and China between 1931 and 1950.
June 23, Nanjing, China
Today’s travels, visits, and information acquisitions were excellent and really buffered the purpose of our trip. The four of us caught an 8:00AM train from Shanghai to Nanjing. Nanjing was the capital of China at a few points throughout history, most notably for Dr. Sun Yat-sen’s and Chang Kai-shek’s governments. The first stop of the day was at the International Anti-Japanese Aviation Martyrs Memorial Park. In the 1930s and 40s, when China was divided and being overrun by Japanese forces from multiple directions, it required major international support and supplies to sustain the blockades, bombardments, and aggressive movements by the Japanese forces. This memorial serves as a monument to the aviators who sacrificed their lives for the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression. 6,164 Chinese aviators and ground crew members were killed along with 236 members of the Soviet aviation, 2,590 members of the American aviation team, and 2 Korean pilots.
Leading the charge for the American contribution was General Claire Chennault, head of the American Volunteer Group (AVG). The AVG, nicknamed the Flying Tigers, was a group of around 100 volunteer fighters that went to China from 1941-1942 to support the Chinese against the Japanese Air Force. The group was later formalized and integrated into the 14th Army Air Force when the U.S. joined the war after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
After a relatively quick lunch, we took a short van ride to Dr. Sun Yat-sen’s Mausoleum. Sun Yat-sen is regarded as the founder of the Chinese Revolution for organizing the movement to overthrow the feudal system in China in 1911. His unyielding spirit in fighting to arouse people and salvage the nation served as an inspiration to all, especially Chang Kai-shek and Chairman Mao. Completed only four years after his death, the Mausoleum covers four hectares, houses a coffin chamber, 10 terraces, 392 steps, a memorial archway, gate, tablet pavilion, sacrificial hall, and is surrounded by beautiful gardens. It was one of the few places that was not attacked by the Japanese during WWII (perhaps because Sun Yat-sen spent time in Japan while planning the revolution). During the Cultural Revolution, Zhou Enlai convinced Mao Zedong to preserve the Mausoleum and temporarily cover the prominently displayed Nationalist symbol.
The day continued with a moving visit to the Nanjing Massacre Museum, which was originally opened in August 1985. After an eighteen month renovation and expansion, the museum was reopened on December 13, 2007—marking the 70th anniversary of the Massacre. Although Nanjing was defeated on December 12, 1937, the Japanese proceeded to defy basic moral principles of humanity. From December 13, 1937 to the second week of January 1938, the Japanese troops committed a series of atrocities in Nanjing, including the brutal slaughter of over 300,000 innocent men, women, and children as well as rape, looting, burning and the destruction of much of the city. The museum is a phenomenal presentation of the brutality that occurred and walks its visitors through the events in a detailed and organized manner in Chinese, Japanese and English. Significantly, the museum focuses on Japanese militarists, not the Japanese people.
The museum highlighted the work of Minnie Vautin, an American born teacher who worked in the Department of Education of Ginling College prior to the Massacre. She is credited as the head of an international shelter and protected over 10,000 refugees including as many as 9,000 women and children. Such actions prompted the refugees to address her as “Living Goddess,” and she has been further decorated by the Chinese Government. As we rounded up our visit, I discovered that the museum was constructed directed above many excavation sites of the massacre and solemnly passed through multiple rooms over looking mass grave pits containing the skeletons of as many as 10,000 individuals at a time.
With only two days left, we are sad that the end is near; yet the journey so far has been a priceless, moving and unforgettable adventure.
June 24, Shanghai to Hangzhou, China
We set off in the morning on another train out of Shanghai. Today’s destination was Hangzhou, “Paradise on Earth” as the locals call it. When we arrived at our first destination, the China National Tea Museum, the weather was cloudy and the sky was gray. Although the weather wasn’t the best we could hope for, the bountiful gardens and ponds surrounding the museum provided a great entrance to the West Lake Region. Inside the museum we were given a breakdown of the long and extensive history of tea in China. For many of us tea may be just a refreshing and relaxing drink, however, for the staff of the museum, tea is held in much reverence. As we witnessed during the elaborate tea pouring ceremony conducted by the beautiful staff, we understood that tea is something that is inextricably linked to Chinese culture.
After a great meal filled with uncontrollable laughter and many jokes, we headed back to reunite with the alumni group. We spent the next couple of hours walking around the famous West Lake of Hangzhou. Despite the continued poor weather, we soon realized why this place is called “Paradise on Earth.” The nearly one and half miles of lake surrounded by countless trees and rolling hills provided an atmosphere that, if even for a brief moment, allowed us to escape into a natural paradise.
As we sit on our train heading back to our hotel, we converse about our journey over the past two weeks. For me, having been exposed for the first time to a land outside of the U.S., I wonder how much this trip will impact the rest of my life. While I love the comfort of my small town of North Providence, my eyes have been opened to beauty and adventure of foreign destinations. While only time will tell the path my life will take, I head into the future with a new appreciation for culture, both at home and abroad.
P.S. One thing is for sure, I sure won’t miss the chaos and clutter of the train station in Shanghai—I guess our thoughts about Chinese efficiency were a little premature!
As I recover from jetlag and a long journey, I look back and reflect on one of the most educational and enriching experiences of my life. The trip began as an exploratory research trip to enhance our understanding and expand our knowledge of US-Chinese relations from 1931-1950. After visiting Beijing, Xi’an, Yan’an, Shanghai, and Nanjing, I now better comprehend the complexities of such relationship and the years of struggle for the Chinese people.
I was fascinated to learn how the perspective of the founders of the People’s Republic of China are revered and displayed by the Chinese people and the Chinese government. Historical observations varied by location, and we found the most adamant supports of Mao Zedong in Yan’an—the original CCP capitol. Lastly, I was intrigued that although the revolution was born out of a movement for equality and better political representation, all of the citizens that we spoke with concerned themselves only with a good life, and not the qualms of politics.
China impressed me the most with its development. In regards to what I call a “Craneline,” the sky is littered with cranes, highways are arising out of the countryside, and a town (Yan’an) that was entirely farmland only 30 years ago, now holds a population of 500,000. For the 2008 Olympics, China constructed the largest swimming pool arena in the world, but is currently building an even larger pool arena in Shanghai for the 2011 World Swimming Championships. China already houses three of the ten most expensive cities in the world, yet it is still building and still surpassing itself—as witnessed by the 2010 World Expo and its estimated 200 million visitors.
This trip has inspired me to continue to engage Chinese culture, language, politics, and history in my academic and professional career. I encourage all other Bryant professors and students to express interest in all things Chinese, and if they have a chance, to travel to China. I hope that I will be fortunate enough to one day return to China for an extended period of time to learn the language and experience more of what the country has to offer.
China Research Trip Final Reflection
Getting settled back into my summer routine, I still find it hard to believe that only a short time ago I was, quite literally speaking, on the other side of the world. Until the opportunity to go to China for this research project serendipitously presented itself to me, I had never really given travel to another country much thought. Throughout my Bryant career, I have heard many of my professors speak about the value of studying abroad. While I respected their views, I didn’t fully understand how simply travel alone could be so beneficial. Regardless of my initial hesitation regarding this trip, I could not have asked for a more eye-opening and rewarding experience. Despite only having traveled to China for two weeks, I feel as though I have gained a much more well-rounded and complete perspective on my life. As I move forward, I am definitely going to try to maintain a connection to the Chinese culture. I plan to try to learn Mandarin and am looking into study abroad programs in Chinese law schools.
That being said, what impressed me most about China was just about everything. I felt like a kid in toy store for the first time. Everywhere we went my head was like a sponge on a swivel just soaking up as much as I could. From the ardent persistence of the simple street vendors to the fancy designer shops that lined the sidewalks of the major cities, China’s embrace of its own unique form of capitalism was fascinating. As we visited locations specific to our research in the connections between the U.S. and China from 1931 to 1950, we noticed the unique juxtaposition of history and modernity each location. We were constantly reminded that the Chinese people have a legacy that is thousands of years old; with each period, including the present, adding a unique feature to the country’s collective identity.
Perhaps my largest accomplishment during my trip was my newfound willingness to let down my guard and immerse myself into a new culture. To highlight this, I now confess that I had packed enough granola bars and Poptarts in my suitcase to provide me with sustenance for the entire trip. I proudly say that I did not enter into my bag of treats the entire time. Rather, I committed myself to trying all of the local foods, even using chopsticks for all of my meals (I actually got progressively less embarrassing as the trip went on). My advice for other Bryant students looking to study or travel abroad draws upon an analogy of the chopsticks I proudly mastered over the two weeks. While at first one may feel uncomfortable in another country, as one does when first trying to wrangle some food with chopsticks, the more you open yourself to the experience, the more rewarding it will be.
A Decade of Change
When we first traveled to China in the summer of 2000 under the leadership of Professor Hong Yang, we had no idea that this would be the beginning of a new direction in our careers. At the time, we were simply caught up in the magic of being in China, with all its cultural and historical richness. Now, having completed three more research trips to Inner Mongolia, Tibet, and Yunnan, Shaanxi, Szechuan, and Guizhou Provinces, we remain intrigued with the mystery and mystique of China.
The rate of change was equally striking in both 2000 and 2010, with old and new often juxtaposed side by side, but over the past decade there have been other significant changes. Our first encounter with Beijing was a city teeming with bicycles, but today, although bicycles are still part of the landscape, Toyotas, Audis, BMWs, and Hondas now rule. In 2000, we rarely encountered Chinese tourists. By contrast, during our 2010 trip, Chinese tourists were everywhere. As Westerners we were now the anomaly, with Chinese tourists from distant provinces jockeying for photographs with the strangers from America. Nowhere was this more evident than at the Shanghai Exposition which appeared to have been designed primarily to bring the world to the Chinese. Another change that we observed is the significant investment in improvements to infrastructure. New high-speed trains, an interconnected highway system, new energy production facilities, and modern hotels and apartment buildings abound. In addition, the proud way that China celebrates its centuries-old culture and history is manifested in its brand new museums, focused on art, culture, history, archeology and sciences, that are scattered throughout the provinces. What a difference from the days of the Cultural Revolution!
Because this trip was focused on U.S./China relations between the period of 1931-1950, we had the opportunity to discuss the legacy of Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai, and Chiang Kai-shek with many Chinese citizens. Virtually everyone with whom we spoke praised Mao for uniting the country and creating “New China” in 1949. Yet, many were critical of Mao’s actions between 1949 and his death in 1976, often referring to him as a “new emperor.” By contrast, we heard nothing but commendation for Zhou Enlai, who was perceived as a model statesman as well as having a moderating influence on Mao. Although contemporary Chinese remain critical of Chiang Kai-shek for his unwillingness to join with the Communist Chinese in fighting the Japanese, we also observed that there is now some acknowledgement of his contributions to the War of the Chinese People’s Resistance Against Japanese Aggression.
This research trip provided us with new insights on how the Chinese present the history of China during the critical years of 1931-1950 to English-speaking people. We collected books and pamphlets in English on this topic which are not available in the United States. In addition, we were careful to take photographs of the English translations in the museums and other sites that we visited. Jason and Tom were equally intrigued by this. As a result, they will engage in directed studies in the Fall of 2010 to explore this topic in more detail.
In spite of China’s poor reputation for air quality and water pollution, the country appears to be dedicated to moving toward sustainability and a greener environment. We were reminded of this over and over again with slogans, posters, logos, and recycling containers. This theme was prominently displayed at the Forbidden City. On the left of the entrance, the banner read, “Save the energy and enjoy green life; support low carbon and reach green development in a healthy way,” while on the right of the entrance the banner proclaimed, “Long live the People’s Republic of China; long live the unification of all the peoples of the world.”
We would be remiss were we not to comment on the joy of travelling with two young and talented Bryant University students who never ceased to surprise us with their initiative and enthusiasm for this research trip. Their humor and creativity brought great joy to our journey, and their patience in our nightly and lengthy editing of their blogs was remarkable. With great affection, we dedicate these “wild and crazy adventures of Senorita Soil Sampler and JBL” to Tom and Jason.