I spoke last week at Chongqing University after arriving by a “fast train” from Chengdu. The price for a first-class ticket is quite reasonable for the two-hour ride. I traveled at a speed of 200 kph (120 mph) through many tunnels along the mountainous route. Usually I fly to events, but this is preferable; I just sit back in a spacious, comfortable seat and watch the changing scenery of terraced farmland and men plowing muddy fields with oxen.
I’ve been reading Simon Winchester’s The Man Who Loved China, a biography about a brilliant British don, Joseph Needham, who wrote multi-volumes on Chinese inventions and scientific discoveries that preceded similar discoveries in the West, like printing, gunpowder and the navigational compass. Needham arrived in Chongqing during World War II as a diplomat when the city was the capital of Nationalist China, with Japanese troops controlling the coastal areas. I heard the author speak during a literary festival at the English bookstore in Chengdu called The Bookworm. His description of wartime Chongqing, the Chinese people’s resistance to the Japanese invasion of their land and the tenuous collaboration between Chang Kai-shek’s Nationalist troops and the communist guerrilla army of Mao Tse-tung introduced me to the city I would visit.On Friday I was driven to the School of Foreign Languages at Chongqing University’s “new” campus about 30 minutes away from downtown. It’s only about 5 years old but already enrolls 20,000 students–typical of China—with beautiful landscaping, open spaces and modern buildings. My escort pointed out that sixteen Chongqing universities had created new campuses in this former agricultural area, creating de facto an instant city of 100,000 students.
My first lecture was overwhelming. I entered a packed auditorium of over 400 students, mainly English majors. Evidently they cancelled classes to hear my address. There was a huge red banner in the back of the spacious room with the title of my address in Chinese and English. I couldn’t recognize the Chinese characters for “Swansbrough;” my surname probably strained Chinese inventiveness, since it’s a tongue twister in Chinese. I just go by “Professor Bob” or Bob!
The lecture on “Key American Principles: Division of Power, Pluralism and Individualism” went well, followed by thoughtful questions. Students are timid at first, but these English majors asked some solid questions. I was told the students were particularly interested in my comments on individual rights. In the afternoon I was handed over to the university’s Law School, where I spoke to about a hundred students and 3-4 faculty members. At the outside entrance to the Chongqing University law school building was another welcoming red banner, but this time my name appeared in English, with the title of the talk in Chinese—I think! The first student question concerned how America protected the interests of minorities.
At a dinner banquet I received a gift from the Law School Dean and was joined by about four law school professors, the assistant director of the International studies office and–the chairman of the CPC Committee for the Law School. It’s the first time I’ve had dealings directly with a major party official in that capacity, although most of the high ranking Deans, city officials and professors I meet are often Party members. This often leads to some interesting and very polite questions. I was told that the CPC Council acts similar to an American university Board of Trustees.
On Saturday three law students and the dean’s driver took me around Chongqing. My first request was to visit the museum dedicated to General “Vinegar” Joe Stillwell, who was U.S. commander over the India, Burma and China military theaters in World War II. He also served as chief-of-staff to Nationalist China’s President Chiang Kai-shek. The museum was located in a mansion he occupied during World War II, replete with his furniture in that war environment and many photos of his heroic leadership. I particularly liked the room displaying memorabilia and photos of the famous “Flying Tigers,” who downed so many Japanese planes. As a young boy, they epitomized adventure to me when I built the plane models with the ferocious tiger’s teeth on the fuselage!
During my visit I got to see the Ciqikou ancient town, the 1,000 year-old Luohan Si Buddhist temple, the Three Georges Museum and see the impressive municipal center, modeled after Beijing’s Temple to Heaven. Greater Chongqing, with a population of 32 million, separated from Sichuan Province in 1997, becoming a self-governing municipality (like Beijing and Shanghai), reporting directly to the national government.
One of the most memorable moments was sharing a “duck pot” dinner with my student guides and driver. When seated, the server lit the pot recessed into our round table. After several minutes, a student lifted the cover to reveal a well-cooked duck simmering in broth, which she ladled out as our tasty soup course. Then she placed pieces of duck meat on our plates, followed by potatoes from the simmering pot. We ordered cool watermelon juice to temper the spices and warm food, and sticky rice and pumpkin fried paddies as sweets. The waitress then brought a small rolling table full of other items that the students sequentially put in the pot, placing on our plates after they cooked. This included meat balls, shrimp dumplings, meat dumplings, crab meat, big black mushrooms and long stringy ones, sliced turnips, lettuce, tofu squares, sprouts…and then, chicken feet. That was over the top for me, but the students assured me that chicken feet was a wonderful Chinese delicacy! Thanks, but no thanks….
Next to us, about twenty students had pulled tables together and ordered food and many, many bottles of Chinese beer. They were already celebrating their graduation from college next month. As the guys and coeds began playing drinking games, I recognized how similar college students are all over the world!