Archive for November, 2014

NanDa & HNC

Wednesday, November 26th, 2014

Nanjing University

I routinely walk through the main part of Nanjing University’s (Nanjing Daxue, or NanDa’s) downtown campus on my way between HNC (located on one end of campus) and….. yes, you’ve probably already guessed: the nearest Starbucks. On my way, I pass by the iconic Nanjing University campus building, surrounded now with a background of urban towers (the one on the right, Zifeng Tower, is currently the 7th tallest building in the world). It’s a beautiful campus, in a beautiful city. I hadn’t realized that Nanjing was once the world’s largest city (in the late 1300s), hosting a population of almost half a million persons. Its city wall is the most ancient one still standing today, anywhere in the world. It’s also quite beautiful, as I found out on an HNC alumni weekend in early November, on a ‘wall walk’ with both current students and alumni.

On Nanjing Wall

Roger & Prof. Liu

I also had a chance later in the month to see Nanda’s new campus in Xianlin, a 40 minute metro ride to the other side of Purple Mountain. I was invited to give a presentation by Professor Liu Beibei, a professor in the School of Environment located there. She also teaches environmental policy at HNC (as does her husband, Professor Bu Maoliang, an environmental economist). You can see Prof. Liu in the nearby picture, and I happen to be looking over both of her shoulders – in person, and from the poster announcing my talk.

1930’s China

Wednesday, November 26th, 2014

You might remember last year’s posting noting a particular interest in 1930’s China after reading Midnight in Peking…. and Nanjing is obviously a very special place for that. My apartment – and all of HNC and Nanjing University, in fact – is located within the so-called “Safety Zone” established by John Rabe and other Westerners in 1937 ahead of the horrific Japanese invasion of the city.

Rabe was a German industrialist working for the Siemens Company who played an important role in protecting Chinese citizens from that Japanese invasion. Iris Chang, who uncovered his diaries in the mid-1990’s while doing research for her book The Rape of Nanking, noted: “John Rabe is the Oskar Schindler of China, another example of good in the face of evil.” His house, which sheltered up to 600 Chinese citizens during that tumultuous period, is now a historical monument…. & I had a chance to visit it on a nice, sunny November afternoon. It’s a bit hard to envision the trauma of that period, given the prosperous nature of the surrounding area, and the pleasant ambience of the house itself…. but the photos and historical documents, and his own diaries, are sufficiently jarring to bring it to life.

And given my new ERE focus at HNC, I thought it would certainly be appropriate to read Alice Tisdale Hobart’s Oil for the Lamps of China, a best-selling 1933 novel based upon her life here while married to a Standard Oil executive. Hobart never won a Nobel Prize for Literature like Pearl Buck, but her vivid description of life in a country undergoing radical social, economic and political change — and the driven, bottom-line harshness of a Western oil company bringing new technology (but also upsetting modernity) to an impoverished countryside – is quite illuminating (an appropriate bon mot, no??). I brought along a used, beat-up, headed-for-the-dustbin library copy I had purchased in the States, and it had not been checked out for many, many years — but I nonetheless found the novel quite absorbing, & an entertaining read.