Archive for November, 2016

Wuxi and Nanxun

Tuesday, November 8th, 2016

China certainly does things on a gargantuan scale – and nowhere is that more apparent than in newly-developed tourist attractions. New AAAAA (i.e., Five A) tourist sites have been developed over recent years….. and Nanjing University graciously decided to treat their international faculty in a corresponding manner on a recent October weekend. We stayed in five-star hotels in Wuxi and Nanxun, visiting some quite amazing ‘hyper-reality’ locations – as well as more sedate traditional fare.

The first stop was in Wuxi, an ancient city located on Lake Tai (Taihu) – one of China’s largest freshwater lakes. I’ve written about the lake’s pollution concerns in a previous posting, but this visit included a stop at design and textile schools at Jiangnan University, and then a trip to the huge 100+ acre CCTV Wuxi Movie & TV theme park/studio. That site was built in 1987 to film the 84-episode historical television series Romance of the Three Kingdoms, a series based upon my very favorite Chinese novel — I even use it in my air pollution classes [please drop a note, and I’ll send you the article]. The waterfront site is used for other TV and movie productions as well, and while the Wu king’s palace certainly has no historical significance – the vast scale & ambiance of the place certainly made the visit a lot of fun.

Lao Tzu at San Shan Dao

The next morning brought a visit to Yuantouzhu (Turtle Head Peninsula), a scenic area built up by wealthy Wuxi industrialists at the turn of the previous century…. and a boat ride over to San Shan Dao, a set of islands in Tai Lake with temples, teahouses and a huge stone stature of Lao Tze (the founder of Taoism). I had shown a rather coarse statue of him in a previous Peking U. posting—but this one was much more conventional, and certainly more in line with the natural and scenic setting of the island.

Lingshan Grand Buddha

Next up was another new – and quite overwhelming – religious site. Built two decades ago, the bronze Lingshan Grand Buddha is just that – 288 feet (88 m) tall, and towering over the nearby landscape. (By way of comparison, the copper Statue of Liberty is 151 feet [46 m] tall.) Near the base of the statue – and following a loud musical crescendo — six lotus petals bloom in the middle of Nine Dragon Fountain, and a 24 foot (7.2 m) golden Buddha arises in the middle of a water cannon show every bit as dramatic as comparable displays in Las Vegas.

The final stop was the ancient town of Nanxun, a more rustic, Venetian-type landscape, with canals and waterways linked to China’s Grand Canal. It became well known for its silk industry during the Southern Song Dynasty (13th century), and was later an important commodity hub during the Ming and Qing dynasties. Its narrow lanes, old houses, arched bridges & waterways made for a very pleasant Sunday morning stroll – & the end of a delightful weekend getaway.

Nanxun waterway

China, 1945

Tuesday, November 8th, 2016

We’ve had a number of distinguished speakers at HNC since our Fall semester started (including U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito and U.S. Ambassador to China Max Baucus) – but one of the more interesting ones was Terry Lautz, an U.S.-China expert and former V.P. of the Henry Luce Foundation who is now at Syracuse University. Lautz recently authored a book about John Birch — a name I remember well from my childhood, since the John Birch Society was a strong anti-communist, right-wing political organization active in the U.S. in the 1950s and early 1960s. Birch himself was a Baptist missionary in China who became a soldier — and unfortunately became the first American killed by Communists immediately after the war with Japan had ended.

Lautz suggests that there was plenty of blame on both sides for that fatal incident – Birch probably suffered from what today would be called PTSD, and his actions were not necessarily appropriate given the situation…. but Communist soldiers also over-reacted. His name was subsequently adopted by an organization which became synonymous with right-wing extremism – but Lautz makes the case in his book that Birch himself probably wouldn’t have become a member.

A couple of other books similarly document that fascinating transition period – China, 1945. Richard Bernstein, a former New York Times reporter, has written one with just such a title. It’s a very detailed and even-handed description of the complicated political period at the end of World War II, as U.S. and Soviet allies maneuvered into a new adversarial face-off…. with China one very important playing field in a complicated world-wide strategic game. Another book, The China Mirage by James Bradley, covers a longer historical period – but shows how Chiang Kai-Shek’s ‘China Lobby’ was able to build upon American misperceptions about the country (fostered by Christian missionaries, Henry Luce’s media empire, and simple naïve idealism) to support a corrupt and very unpopular political regime. Critics have noted that Bradley’s book makes it seem that all major decisions about China’s domestic situation were made in Washington – certainly an unwarranted overstretch. But the book is absorbing and very well-written…. and another window onto a complicated and extremely interesting place and time.