In late March I flew to China’s booming capital city to deliver two Fulbright Guest Lectures at Beijing Normal University. The lovely downtown Beijing campus enrolls 10,000 students, about a quarter of them graduate students. However, like other Chinese universities trying to meet the influx of new students, they are constructing a second campus on the outskirts of Beijing. The attached picture of their main administrative, faculty office and classroom building reveals BNU’s modern architecture. I delivered my lectures in the large building, with posters announcing my speeches near the entrance.
I gave my presentations at BNU’s School of Politics and International Studies about how America formulates its foreign policy and then I discussed U.S. foreign policy changes with new presidents, illustrated by the shift between Bush’s neo-conservative approach to Obama’s “principled pragmatism,” adopting Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s depiction. The students indicated that the Iraq war had given them negative impressions of President George W. Bush and his policies, sentiments I also heard at Xiamen University and Sichuan University as well.
I was pleasantly surprised at the graduate students’ fluency in English, thoughtful questions and knowledge about international relations concepts developed by American scholars. They had already read some of the basic texts we assign in the study of international relations theory, some quite difficult to comprehend even in English. Their questions often linked concepts to world politics today. The discussions ranged widely, not just centered on the expected hot button issues of U.S. arms sales to Taiwan or the Dalai Llama’s visit with President Obama. We also discussed whether the United States has had a “grand strategy” since the end of the Cold War and Truman’s containment policy. The visit was intellectually stimulating and enjoyable.
After completing my lectures, I went to stay with a Fulbright colleague teaching at nearby China Foreign Affairs University, a smaller campus. His “foreign expert” apartment was similar to mine. Ido, originally from Israel, teaches international relations at the University of Florida. We went that afternoon to Beihai Park, with its three lovely lakes. This large (176 acres) imperial garden behind the Forbidden City was constructed about one thousand years ago, then rebuilt and renovated by subsequent emperors. The key landmark was the White Dagoba, a white tower in the Tibetan style, originally built in 1651. Visitors strolled through the gardens, rented boats to enjoy the lakes, and relaxed in teahouses bordering the water. We took a coffee break at a Starbucks designed to blend into the environment with Chinese entrances and artwork.
The next day a colleague from the University of Georgia joined us. As three political scientists, we decided to first visit Chairman Mao’s Memorial Hall (completed in l977) in Tiananmen Square. The Memorial Hall, built near the large historic southern gate to the city, is square and surrounded by a colonnade. The lines were extremely long as Chinese people sought to pay their respects, with some buying white flowers near the entrance to place before a statue of the l949 Revolution’s leader. Inside the Memorial Hall the guards ensured a decorous silence and the removal of hats before actually viewing the preserved body of Mao Tse-tung. Tiananmen Square itself is huge, guarded by ancient gates and a large picture of Chairman Mao. Security at the entrances was tight.
We then walked quite a distance to the imperial Temple of Heaven. Here the emperors from the Ming and Qing Dynasties made annual ceremonial sacrifices to Heaven, praying for good harvests. It contains many gardens, gnarled old cypress trees, a circular Mound Alter for winter prayers and the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests (1420), for me the most impressive Temple of Heaven structure. The art on both the outside and inside of the Hall of Prayer is colorful, symbolic and beautiful. Twenty-four pillars support the eave, whose paintings represents solar terms.
This brief visit to Beijing gave me a greater sense of the city, since I’ll be meeting my son at Beijing airport when he flies to China April 21. At that time we’ll tour the Forbidden City and the Great Wall. When I flew back to Chengdu and my Sichuan University apartment, I felt I was going “home.” It’s interesting how quickly we adapt to our familiar environments.