Chongqing Memories

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. 1006-Farmer-Ox-Plow-WEB

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.

School Foreign LanguagesOn 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.Gen. Stillwell Museum

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.955-Dragon-Greeting-WEB

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….1002-Duck-Pot2-WEB

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!


Traveling with Jimmy

On April 21 I flew to Beijing to meet my son, Jimmy, after his lengthy flight to China from Washington, D.C. He seemed to recover quicker from “jet lag” than I did, as the next day we toured the Forbidden City in a steady rain. Even through the rain, grey haze and many umbrellas, the ruling place of Chinese emperors was quite impressive. Surrounded by a moat and 30 feet high walls, the Forbidden City was the splendid home and power center of many Chinese Emperors. Uninvited visitors were immediately executed. 624-HiddenCity-Moat-Wall-WEB

The imperial city within the city of Beijing (Northern Capital), was first established by the Mongol leader Genghis Khan in 1215 AD. It afterwards served as China’s capital for all but the first 33 years of the Ming Dynasty and during 21 years under the Nationalists. The Ming forbid the construction of any building in Beijing taller than the Forbidden City’s Hall of Supreme Harmony, primarily used on ceremonial occasions. 586-ForbiddenCityRain-WEB

There are three Great Halls, with numerous other buildings on the sides, all gilded with gold and adorned with imperial dragons—and baby dragons. Then one visits the quarters of the empress, concubines and eunuchs, often the center of palace intrigues. A grim visitor’s site is the Well of Concubine Zhen, where Empress Cixi ordered her competitor wrapped in a rug and thrown down the well because of political machinations. Palace politics were certainly “hard ball!”

Later that day we visited the Pearl Market, which tested one’s bargaining skills. On five floors of a large building all kinds of clothing, art, souvenirs and jewelry were for sale. From tiny booths or stalls hawkers literally tried to pull you into their “store” to give you great bargains. Thanks to my Chinese tutor, I learned that if interested in a product, you low-balled your counter-offer to about 20 percent of the asking price…and then haggled upward. And most importantly, if you felt the price was too high, you simply walked away. Usually that led the seller to agree to your last offer! The scene was a little overwhelming for Jimmy, after just arriving in China from Chattanooga. 638-Jim-Bob-GreatWall-WEB651-GreatWall-thru-Window-WEB

The next day we traveled to the Great Wall near the city of Mutianyu, avoiding the crunch of tourists at the closer city of Badaling. We took a ski lift gondola to the top of the mountain, rather than hiking up 1,000 steps, and then climbed to the top of the incredible Great Wall, built to keep out the Mongol invaders from the north. Looking left and right, the Great Wall rimmed the surrounding mountain ridges, dotted by guard towers that could signal an approaching enemy. Construction began during the Qin Dynasty (221-207 BC), with subsequent emperors expanded it at great human cost to workers.

The Great Wall was wider than I expected, since it was built so five or six horsemen could ride abreast. A visitor could walk quite far—if one had considerable stamina in dealing with the stone steps and inclines. The view on this sunny day was spectacular, attuning one to China’s long history. After leaving the Wall, hawkers pushed “I climbed the Great Wall” T-shirts. Since the rear side was emblazoned with a dragon, Jimmy and I each purchased one—after considerable bargaining.

We then flew to Xi’an, the home of the First Emperor’s 7,000 man terra cotta army, a major interest for both of us. The ancient city of Xi’an pleasantly surprised us with its large city walls, also built in antiquity, and the layout and ambiance of the city itself. Downtown we visited their historic drum tower and bell tower, and then meandered through the Muslim Quarter shops, eventually locating the Great Mosque. By then, Jimmy had honed his bargaining skills for some nice “deals.” 758-Main-Warriors-WEB

I had hired a guide to take us the following day to the site of the terra cotta warriors, where in l974 a peasant digging a well encountered parts of these 2,200 year-old warriors. There are three large enclosed pits, with the largest (Pit 1) like an indoor football stadium. An imposing army faces you as you enter of 6,000 archers, soldiers, charioteers and horses lined up in battlefield columns facing East. Archeologists think Pit 3 represents the headquarters where the generals developed their strategies, guarded by warriors. The second pit with more soldiers and horses is still being excavated. The museum also displays two bronze chariots and horses. 763-Warriors-Horses-WEB

Later that day we walked on the City Wall of Xi’an, which bordered the ancient city. Xi’an served as China’s capital for 1,100 years during thirteen dynasties.
The 40 feet tall walls, for nine miles, surround the city. Residents and tourists can even rent bicycles to tour the city from the wall. Since the city has grown to about 6 million inhabitants, buildings mushroomed on both sides of the imposing city walls.

The next morning we departed early for Chengdu since I had to teach my American Government class that afternoon. Before leaving the city, Jimmy and I visited the Panda Center, Jinsaw archeological site of the Shu Dynasty, the poet Du Fu’s Thatched Cottage (since Jimmy was an English major), and the Daoist Temple. After he flew back to Beijing, I suffered an acute case of homesickness!884-Jim-Two-Pandas-WEB


Life in Imperial China

While visiting Wuxi as a Fulbright Lecturer, my hosts took me to visit the former residence of Xue Fucheng, a Wuxi native, Qing Dynasty reform thinker, provincial administrator and Chinese diplomat in the late 19th century. Touring the many rooms, courtyards and gardens with a guide provided an interesting insight into imperial life.

I became intrigued by four Chinese symbols that in the l960s Red Guards had chiseled from a granite frieze above an entrance. The Chinese characters identified four key criteria of imperial examinations: “pàn” represented judgment, “yán” stood for logical thinking and “shū” evaluated writing technique. Evidently Xue Fucheng’s calligraphy was not up to imperial standards, as demonstrated with writing samples in an exhibit, and he failed to achieve a higher rank at the time. Xue Fucheng Mansion

The last standard was “xíng,” referring to the official countenance or the authoritative appearance of the man seeking advancement. In my early years in the Navy, “command presence” appeared on an officer’s fitness report, which I’d deem equivalent to the imperial assessment.

During the Qing Dynasty, the emperor alone could wear robes embroidered with a five-clawed dragon. Commoners could only depict four-clawed and three-clawed dragons. The Qing emperors even portrayed a large dragon on the national flag of China. In China the dragon represents strength, protection and good fortune, a masculine symbol. However, in the West our myths illustrate dragons as fire-breathing, aggressive and destructive beasts. During a trip to Greece several years ago, I bought an icon depicting Saint Demetrius of Thessaloniki slaying a dragon with his lance. St. Demitrius & Dragon

Likewise, only the Empress could wear the emblem of the phoenix bird, generally viewed as a female symbol. The penalty for lesser officials and common people using the five-clawed dragon or phoenix was death! However, I learned how the wealthy would slightly alter the images to avoid evoking the emperor’s—or empress’—wrath, when I visited some old Chinese mansions in other cities. Likewise, to get around the emperor’s restrictions on the number of rooms in the homes of lesser officials, Xue Fucheng used a novel two-pillar construction technique in designing his sprawling mansion.

The family received important visitors and friends in Wuben Hall. It intrigued me that three doors, all with wooden stoops to step over, provided entry to the room. The height of the stoop reflected the official imperial rank of the host. Only visitors of an equivalent rank or higher could use the center entrance, which was then lowered or a step was provided for their passage. Lower-ranking guests had to use one of the side doors.

Women were secluded during the Qing Dynasty, enjoying their own courtyard and housing area. A separate open courtyard featured a stage and tiny garden for theatrical and musical performances. Xue Fucheng’s plans for the mansion also included a library and many gardens with ponds, pavilions, flowers and statues to enjoy while sipping tea, discussing public affairs or simply reflecting. Since he had visited England, Xue Fucheng even included a separate billiard room, featuring a large snooker table he bought in London. Mansion Stage & Garden

Xue Fucheng served as the emperor’s Envoy Extraordinary to Europe, traveling to England, France, Belgium and Italy in the late l9th century. As a learned scholar, he maintained a diary about his observations and China’s concerns that he presented to European governments. His observations were frank, often noting the clear differences between China’s values and those he encountered in the Western countries he visited. Ambassador Xue Fucheng

His European diary was translated into English and can be read on the Internet. One passage particularly struck me as amusing. In his February 12, 1893, diary entry, he contrasted the centrality of the family under Confucianism to his reflection on the impact of Western religion on the role of the family in Europe.

I’ve condensed the passage to present the key points: “Traditionally, the Chinese believe that each family should keep its lineage intact. It is firmly believed that a childless couple will become hungry ghosts, because they will have no one to visit their graves to offer food to their spirits.”

He continued, “By contrast, it’s not unusual to see high-ranking Western government officials who remain bachelors in their advanced years…. They do not consider it important to have children. Their reason is apparently due to their faith in Jesus, whose preaching advocates that spirits require no food.”

A fascinating observation that highlights how cultural differences between East and West can skewer our respective understanding of another nation. Traditional Garden Framed by High Rise Buildings


Wuxi, Chattanooga’s Sister City

I was invited to Chattanooga’s Sister City of Wuxi to deliver a Fulbright Guest Lecture at Jiangnan University. The expansive new campus—opened only five years ago on the outskirts of Wuxi—enrolls 20,000 undergraduate and 5,000 graduate students. Initially founded in l902, the central government’s push to expand higher education led to the sale of its downtown property to create the new “eco-campus.” Walking around the vast campus, you enjoy modern architecture, traditional pagodas, landscaped gardens and artistic bridges over flowing streams. Jiangnan Univ Library

I lectured on American foreign policy to an attentive audience of about eighty undergraduates, whose thoughtful questions reflected both excellent spoken English skills as well as a keen interest in international affairs. I even fielded a question about why America allowed everyone to own guns. TV and newspaper stories often portray America as still the Wild West.

After my address I met with the director of Jiangnan University’s International Exchange Programs. She expressed a strong interest in establishing student-faculty exchanges with the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Jiangnan Student Asks Question

Another advantage of such exchanges was Wuxi itself, a moderate-size city (by Chinese standards) of six million residents. Located only fifty miles from Shanghai, Wuxi has benefited from this proximity to China’s largest city (18 million). Wuxi historically became a commercial center because of its river location and the fact that the historic Chinese Grand Canal from Beijing passed through the city. Construction on the 1,100 miles Grand Canal began in 486 B.C.

I delivered a second Fulbright speech to Wuxi staff officials about how the United States formulates its foreign policy. Once again knowledgeable questions arose about U.S.-Sino relations, but also about the battle over President Obama’s healthcare plan. Many of these individuals were well informed about America’s politics, but worried about the impact of such political fights on U.S. foreign policy toward China.

In discussions with some very professional Wuxi officials, they articulated a clearly focused strategy to advance Wuxi’s industrial and high-tech enterprises. Wuxi currently ranks among China’s top ten cities in terms of GNP, a key economic indicator, underscoring its long-time business and industrial roots. It seeks to become a key Chinese solar city, with two large solar manufacturing companies already located in Wuxi. Wuxi also highlights the city’s ranking in a 2008 Forbes business magazine article as the third best business city in Mainland China. They sounded like our Chamber of Commerce advocates, with proud selling points for investors.

Local leaders also spoke to me about Wuxi’s targeted effort to bring “leading innovative overseas talents” to Wuxi to conduct research, develop cutting-edge technologies and start new companies. The city itself offers major inducements of housing assistance, risk capital and help in obtaining land, permits and labor. In a time of economic slump in the U.S. and Europe, such “carrots” may attract entrepreneurs from the West.

Wuxi also borders beautiful Lake Taihu. The day after my talks I visited one of the parks on its shore, crowded with Chinese families enjoying the blossoming cherry trees. It seemed every family or couple had a digital camera as they posed next to the delicate cherry blossoms, with pagodas, pavilions and the lake in the background. Family Enjoys Cherry Blossoms

My Wuxi hosts also took me to view the Great Buddha at nearby Lingshan. This eighty-eight meter bronze statue of Buddha, standing on a base of lotus petals, is one hundred feet taller than the Statue of Liberty. Completed in l997 on the site of an ancient Tang Dynasty Buddhist temple, private investors from Japan and Taiwan funded this major tourist site. The project includes a number of hi-tech attractions that appeal to the devout as well as tourists. A fountain opens its lotus leaves to reveal the baby Buddha, who revolves 360 degrees as sculptured demons spray water. Even Dollywood can’t match that extravaganza. Lingshan Giant Buddha

The recently built Buddhist Palace features beautiful artwork tracing the life of Buddha, a fascinating painted high ceiling with surrounding Buddhist angels and a gold-gilded Buddha. Another room has a huge revolving stage to watch performances as lights on a dome above change color. This room hosted a recent global conference of Buddhism scholars. Not surprising, local government officials emphasize the complex was funded without public funds. 572-Buddhist-Palace1WEB

As a postscript, I’d like to thank my friends who emailed their concern for my wellbeing after the recent earthquake in western China that killed between 800-1,000 people. The destruction in Qinghai province, northwest of Sichuan province, occurred over 130 miles from Chengdu. However, many Chengdu people I spoke with today anxiously recalled the devastating Sichuan earthquake of May 2008, which killed hundreds in a town about sixty miles away from Chengdu.


Visiting Beijing

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. Beijing Normal University

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. BNU Grad Students

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. White Dagoba

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. Tiannamen Square

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. Temple of Heaven

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.


Chengdu Area Attractions

“All work and no play,” is truly no fun. Fortunately for me, a twelve-person University of Tennessee at Knoxville delegation visited Sichuan University in March to develop student/faculty exchange programs. The SU Foreign Affairs Office kindly invited me to tag along on several of their planned trips and attend a farewell banquet. It was enjoyable meeting fellow Tennesseans so far from home. However, I wore my UTC Mocs cap on our outings!Bob & UTK Delegation

I had been looking forward to visiting the Giant Panda Research Center on the outskirts of Chengdu. The city sometimes bills itself as “The Panda’s Hometown.” These delightful animals are fun to watch as they continuously munch on bamboo, swiftly climb trees or frolic among themselves. The Chinese named two of the largest—and, supposedly, the best-looking male pandas, Tom Cruise and George Clooney! 226-CU-Two-PandasWEB

On Saturday we traveled by bus to Leshan, a small river town about 30 miles from Chengdu. The Giant Buddha, some 233 feet tall, was carved by devout Buddhist monks over a ninety-year period, beginning in 713 A.D. Since it was built into a mountainside on a riverbank, we took a boat to view this very impressive sculpture. More intrepid (and younger) visitors climbed down and up steep steps carved into the mountain, but we had a better view of the gigantic and impressive Buddha from where two rivers merged. It was indeed, as my UTC students would say, “Awesome.” 260-Bob-BigBuddha-WEB

One Sunday a Chinese political science colleague invited me to join him and his girlfriend to visit the Wenshu Zen Buddhist Monastery in downtown Chengdu. The monastery was first built (605-617) during the Sui Dynasty, but later destroyed by fire during warfare. In 1697, Zen master Cidu Haiye rebuilt the monastery. The monastery comprises six major halls, with wooden buildings and many copper, stone and wood statues of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas (guardians). The lush grounds are full of paths, flowers and ponds. People burn incense, pray and touch certain statues for good fortune. In one large hall we encountered many lay worshipers and monks chanting sutras. About one hundred monks reside in the monastery as they seek enlightenment. The monastery, to expand knowledge of their faith, now conducts Zen camps in the summers.Buddhist Prayers

On another weekend I visited the museum dedicated to the great Chinese poet Du Fu. During the Tan Dynasty (618-907), Du Fu wrote his beautiful poems. He moved his family to Chengdu during a rebellion, and while in Chengdu wrote 240 poems. The museum is actually like a park, with many lovely buildings, ponds, pavilions and gardens. Some people brought picnic lunches to enjoy the serene surroundings. One hall included calligraphy praising Du Fu by subsequent major poets of China. A huge colorful fresco in the Great Hall of Elegance honored Du Fu’s life, while statues of 12 famous poets of China faced the fresco. The entire museum honored Du Fu’s contributions to Chinese culture. Sadly, my own education lacked much knowledge of Chinese poetry, so I bought and am currently enjoying an English translation of Du Fu’s poetry. Chinese culture, developed over 5,000 years, has much to offer the West. 309-Du-Fu-Pagoda2-WEB


China’s Higher Education Push

I am currently living on the Wang Jian campus of Sichuan University, which enrolls 20,000 students, primarily graduate students. Founded in 1896, the “old” campus is downtown, surrounded on all sides by stores and walls, with entry to the university through four guarded gates. Pedestrian entry to campus seems unrestricted, but cars require approval to drive on the campus, with taxis forbidden. Nevertheless, the often-narrow streets are usually packed with pedicabs, bicycles and silent electric scooters and bikes that require pedestrians to cross a street with great care.

Many Sichuan University faculty and staff live in on-campus apartment buildings, reflecting a past government policy that required companies and institutions to provide housing for their employees. Inside the campus you find banks, stores, print shops, restaurants and athletic facilities; it’s a mini-city. The campus feels crowded with its many narrow streets, although it has a lotus pond, pagoda lake, basketball courts, a track/soccer field and a number of small parks the students and faculty enjoy. 213-Student-AssistantsWEB

In contrast, Sichuan University’s new “Jiang An” campus, only about six years old, is located in a more rural setting, about twelve miles away. I commute to my class at Jiang An in a university bus for students and faculty. About 40,000 undergraduates are taught at the new campus, living in numerous large dorms, with four students to a room.

My colleague explained that about ten years ago China initiated a major expansion of higher education, creating “new” campuses separate from the traditional university settings so they could educate many more students. Fulbright colleagues told me the same thing has occurred in their cities as well. One pragmatic reason these new campuses were built so distant from the traditional campus was cost: rural land was cheaper. There is a third Sichuan University campus downtown for medical students, with over 10,000 students.

When I entered the gate of Jiang An campus, the atmosphere was quite different than at the downtown Sichuan University. The new campus occupies a huge expanse of land, with lots of green spaces, new colorful classroom buildings and a modern glass-front library. A lake divides the academic buildings from student dorms, many restaurants and small shops for students. A long, very wide bridge with a lovely tile walkway carries students strolling to and from their classes carrying backpacks, totes or dribbling a soccer balls. The trees are beginning to bloom, so I can already imagine students sitting on rocks and benches along the river intently studying for tests. 215-Student-Bridge-OneLaneWEB

At Sichuan University, in both its old and new campuses, most classes enjoy what UTC calls “smart classrooms,” replete with computers, PowerPoint and DVD capabilities for the professor. My undergraduate classroom has ten rows of fixed seats, running left to right rather than as at UTC, rows going from front to back. Each row contains eleven fixed seats, with a maximum capacity of over one hundred students. Classrooms are unheated, so both students and faculty presently wear sweaters and parkas during the lectures.

The week before my classes began, I was invited to give a guest lecture on U.S. foreign policy in my political science colleague’s two-hour undergraduate class on Marxism and Maoism. He gave his 45-minute lecture, punctuated by PowerPoint pictures of Mao, Stalin, Lenin, Engels, and of course, Karl Marx. He showed a TV interview with a Chinese general from their War College that included footage of British soldiers firing on Chinese patriots during the Opium Wars. Such was the prelude for my speech on America’s foreign policy-making process.

I began my lecture with a personal introduction, highlighting through PowerPoint slides pictures of my family, home, the UTC campus and Chattanooga that I had photographed before departing for China. I saw students talking among themselves, probably about the size of my home, since skyrocketing home costs represents a major issue in China today. SU-Welcome-BanquetWEB-06

I teach an undergraduate course on American Government at the new campus, and a graduate course about U.S. Foreign Policy on the old campus. I’ve been assigned two great student assistants to help distribute materials and translate student concerns for me. I have them pass out copies of my PowerPoint slides at the beginning of class, so students can look up unfamiliar English words and concepts before a class discussion or exam.

I bring my PowerPoint lectures to class on a small USB flash drive, which I plug into the classroom computer system. Of course, all the console instructions are written in Chinese, but occasionally I’ll recognize a familiar Microsoft Office icon. A student is always willing to help with technical problems. And, as in my UTC classes, the students are usually more computer-savvy than those of us from an earlier chalkboard generation.

My first week of classes went well, although 110 students showed up for my first U.S. Foreign Policy lecture. They are attentive, stand up to address comments to me, and seem enthusiastic to be in a course taught by an American. Of course, I’m not sure yet how well some of the students comprehend my lectures in English. Nevertheless, at the end of both class lectures, the students applauded. I don’t know if that is a Chinese custom, but it felt quite rewarding. 211-Bob-Student-QuestionWEB


Lovely Coastal Xiamen

Last week I attended a five-day in-country orientation in Xiamen for the twelve 2009-2010 Fulbright Lecturers in China, most of whom arrived in September to teach both semesters. We first met in Washington, D.C. last summer. Xiamen is a lovely city on China’s southeast coast near Taiwan. After dealing with unseasonable freezing weather in my Chengdu campus apartment, I boarded the plane to Xiamen wearing about six layers of clothing, happily shedding them in warm Xiamen.

Our orientation involved meeting a number of American Embassy and consular officials, who discussed some of the outstanding political and economic issues in U.S.-China relations, as well as cultural differences. The program highlighted China’s diverse cuisine with a seeming endless number of dishes served at Chinese banquets. We also saw a Sichuan “face-changer” dancer, a Fujian local opera performance and a charming puppet show.Face-Changer Dancer

At the orientation I met my Sichuan University “waiban,” or foreign affairs officer, assigned to help me. He was traveling with his wife, a marketing professor at SU. The program, banquets and side trips provided us with time to informally talk and get to know one another. I mentioned to my waiban that I wanted to hire a Chinese tutor, he text-messaged his office, and two hours later told me a lady who had a Masters degree in teaching English as a second language was available at Sichuan University.

One day we visited the campus of Xiamen University, which sits on a beautiful beachfront. The coastline, sand-colored buildings with red-tiled roofs, palm trees and the laid-back atmosphere on campus reminded me of the University of California at Santa Barbara, where I received my Masters and Ph.D. degrees. Only on Santa Barbara’s campus, their Spanish style red tile roofs don’t curve up at the corners in the traditional Chinese manner!Putuo Temple Buddha

We spent several hours walking around the very large Buddhist Putuo Temple. I am always confused by the number and significance of the many portrayed Buddhist statues. But fortunately, unlike the Taliban’s destruction of their historic Buddhist carvings, the Chinese government has preserved many of these religious sites. Chinese people throughout the temple were lighting incense, bowing and praying for good fortune before the major Buddha statue.

I delayed my return to Chengdu to deliver my first Guest Lectures at Xiamen University. The Fulbright Program encourages and sponsors our travel to give speeches in our field. I spoke in the morning to an undergraduate course on key American government principles and in the afternoon to graduate students and faculty about changing U.S. Foreign Policy during the Bush and Obama administrations. Gulangyu "Piano" Island Garden Pagodas

Chinese students are generally quiet and simply take notes from their Chinese professors. Then, they memorize and write out the professor’s notes in their final exam. The American teaching technique of asking questions in a Socratic manner, seeking student opinions or generating class debate is unfamiliar to most Chinese students. However, when I did get questions from students, not unexpectedly the queries concerned America’s policies of hot button issues as the recent U.S. sale of arms to Taiwan, the Dalai Llama’s visit to the White House and the Chinese currency issue. My Xiamen University Host.

Since I’m not with the State Department, I could give background information and my personal perspective on the issues. However, I was struck by how many Chinese have a view of American foreign policy that totally ignores the variety of factors and groups that influence U.S. actions. Checks and balances isn’t a familiar concept. Many Chinese seem to think a President has vast powers and Congress just follows (or should follow) his lead. I’m sure both Presidents Bush and Obama often wished that was the case. One of my challenges is to try to reveal to Chinese audiences what really occurs within the so-called “black box” of U.S. policy-making.

And as Bismarck warned, you don’t want to visit a factory to see how sausage is made; nor do you want to see how laws are truly crafted in the back rooms of Congress. Since I have worked on Capitol Hill, I know it’s not always a pretty or rational process.


Arriving in Chengdu, China

The flight from Shanghai to Chengdu took three hours (about 1,100 miles). The taxi ride from the airport to the city quickly highlighted the economic prosperity of Chengdu, with Jaguar, BMW and Lexus dealerships lining the highway. On one of the major avenues you saw modern, high-end stores like Louis Vuitton and Dior. Skyscrapers and huge billboards, like at Times Square, were everywhere. Chengdu Times Square

My “foreign expert” housing is located on the older, urban Sichuan University campus, surrounded by major streets lined with small stores. You enter the campus through several guarded gates. After receiving an e-mail indicating I’d need to take a rickshaw (pedicab) from a gate to my campus housing, I prudently decided to stay in a downtown hotel for my first night in Chengdu. I went to Sichuan University the first day with only one big suitcase to get my apartment key. The older man still got a workout pedaling me about a half-mile to my four-story apartment building.

The next morning I got a call from a Chinese lady who works at the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu with Fulbright Scholars. She kindly convinced her husband to drive to my hotel and transport me and the remaining bags to my foreign experts building. What a pleasant relief. I had planned to hire two pedicabs for myself and my remaining luggage!

She phoned a young, English-speaking Political Science colleague who teaches in my school. He took me to lunch and then helped me shop for basic household goods and a few breakfast items. We had an interesting talk over a Sichuan meal of fresh and boiled vegetables (some I didn’t recognize), a sliced beef dish and a whole fish. He joined the CPC (Communist Party of China) at age 27. In joining, he had to agree not to embrace a religion. In the country of 1.3 billion people, he told me only 70 million are Party members.Sichuan University Pagoda

The apartment that Sichuan University kindly provided has two bedrooms, a large dining/living area, a small kitchen and a bathroom. It also enjoys 24-hour hot water, but it’s not drinkable. I was advised to close the doors of the unused bedroom, bathroom and kitchen to preserve heat. Two electrical heaters near the ceiling of the master bedroom and living room direct the heat outward to warm the apartment. That night, it dropped to 31 degrees. I was glad I brought wool socks, long johns and a ski shirt for sleeping.

The next morning I went to the “supermarket” and bought a four-cup coffee maker. I returned to my apartment and promptly made some fresh coffee. Now I could face any new challenges. Tea is still a novel experience for me, but since Chengdu is known for its teahouses, I will probably become more civilized by July.

The next evening I invited my Chinese colleague to dinner. This time we dined at Pete’s Tex-Mex restaurant just off-campus and I knew what dishes to order. The restaurant had just won the award for Best Western Restaurant by the English-language magazine “Chengdoo City Life.” Although the restaurant is popular with ex-pats, that evening mainly young Chinese filled the tables and booths. Sombreros and serapes hung on the walls while Chinese girls wearing Lone Star shirts politely served customers. Ole! Chairman Mao Statue

On Thursday I decided to explore the city. I first visited the lovely old pagoda at the main Sichuan University gate. After you leave campus though the East Gate you can walk along the Jinjiang River path for the view and exercise. I took a cab to see the huge statue of Chairman Mao at the city’s center, surrounded by red flags and blooming flowers. Down the street was the People’s Park, full of families enjoying the colorful flowers and Spring Festival displays. Peoples Park

I then visited the Wu Hou Temple. It was first built in 223 A.D. to respect the memory of Emperor Liu Bai, who founded the Shu-Han Kingdom in this region during the Three Kingdoms period of ancient China. I was impressed that the shrine also honors his key counselor Zhuge Liang for his wisdom, justice and loyalty. While a guide was explaining the deep popular respect for Zhuge Liang throughout China, a lady next to me suddenly clapped, brought her hands together, and bowed her head in prayer to his statue asking for good fortune.

As a political scientist, I enjoyed the partial translation of a couplet, written during the Qing Dynasty, lauding Zhuge Liang for his great statesmanship that still garnered broad respect so many centuries later: “Only virtue and ability can convince the people….”


Shanghai: Year of the Tiger

My plane arrived February 12 in Shanghai from Detroit, Michigan, after a 14-hour flight. Instead of 6:20 am, it was already 7:20 pm in China because of the time difference. We stumbled out of the plane, still groggy and stiff from trying to sleep on unyielding plane seats, and dutifully stood in serpentine lines for health clearance, passport check, custom declarations and then for our luggage. It went smoothly since Shanghai, a city of 20 million, is a major international airport. Shanghai Mom & Daughter

The following day I spent trying to overcome jet lag, with my body clock totally confused regarding times for sleep and daytime activities. I walked to the major Shanghai shopping area full of Chinese families looking for new clothes and gifts. The impact of China’s one-child policy becomes evident after a while: no large families. Entering the smaller shops with special sale items reminded me of New York City; all the salespersons hustled you to buy. I used the Chinese phrase “bu yao,” “I don’t want it,” quite often!

That evening, on Chinese New Years Eve, I was awakened by loud fireworks bursts before midnight. My hotel room enjoyed a river view and when I opened the curtains I enjoyed a 180-degree panorama of red, green and white fireworks displays shooting into the sky from about 24 locations. The colorfully lighted skyscrapers, towers and monuments provided a backdrop. Suddenly, from the street below, rockets shot up past my window as my hotel joined the celebration. It was a boisterous, cheerful and memorable display, lasting about 45 minutes. According to ancient legend, the fireworks and red lanterns keep demons at bay. Chinese New Year Celebration

The fireworks heralded the arrival of the Year of the Tiger, according to the Chinese Lunar Calendar, which features twelve animals. In honoring tradition, many residents had left Shanghai to visit their ancestors’ villages to reunite with their family and honor their ancestors’ graves in the Confucian tradition. According to the China Daily newspaper, 65 million Chinese people took long distance buses or ships and another 5.2 million people took trains on the Spring Festival holiday. Heavy snows in northern China hampered this huge migration by closing at least 30 highways, not unlike the recent snowstorms that shut down Washington, D.C.

On China’s New Years Day, which fell on February 14 in 2010, everyone wished you a Happy New Year. Since February 14 was also Valentine Day, you could also buy Valentine gifts for loved ones. I had thought Valentine’s Day was only an American holiday, promoted by Hallmark, but the Chinese saw business opportunities as well. Most Chinese celebrated the Spring Festival with family dinners, children receiving from relatives red envelopes containing money, but for good luck, an even amount. Experts say the custom is at least 1,800 years.

After meeting another Fulbright Lecturer and his wife, we ate in a restaurant in the picturesque French concession area. Around the corner was a museum in the original Shanghai building where the Communist Party of China (CPC) was created in 1921. The documents and pictures on display were interesting, highlighting the unequal treaties with foreign nations, the nationalist “bourgeois revolution” of l911, and then Mao Tse-tung’s key role in establishing the nation’s Communist Party. We were struck by the youth of the founders as well as the implied historical determinism in the course of the 1949 Revolution, portrayed as a continuation of the earlier revolts against imperialism and feudalism.

In an ironic clash with traditional China, as we left the museum dedicated to the founding of the Communist Party of China we encountered the Chinese New Year’s dragon dancers, accompanied by drums, gongs and cymbals. The children had their pictures taken with the fierce yellow dragon carried aloft by about a dozen yellow-garbed dancers. Shanghai Boy & Dragon Dancers

Shanghai is a bustling city of commerce, with construction evident everywhere as the city prepares to host the World Expo that opens in May, expected to bring in millions of tourists. China’s superhero NBA basketball player, Yao Ming of the Houston Rockets, called his hometown of Shanghai the “Paris in the Orient.”

One must learn quickly to respect the unwritten law of the road jungle here, with its pecking order of deference to buses, then taxis and cars, motor scooters, and bikes; pedestrians fall at the bottom of the street food chain. Bob Welcomes Year of Tiger I wish I had more time to explore Shanghai, but tomorrow I fly to Chengdu, my home for the next five months.


Archives