Archive for December, 2017

All Things Ming

Monday, December 18th, 2017

The Ming Dynasty was one of the golden eras of Chinese history, lasting for a bit less than three centuries between 1368 and 1644. It had the world’s largest economy at the time; built the Forbidden City in Beijing; constructed most of the Great Wall; and is well-known even today for its ceramic excellence (and those blue and white porcelain vases). It was also the time of the Porcelain Pagoda and Zheng He’s epic voyages noted in earlier postings.

It all started here in Nanjing with Zhu Yuanzhang (the Hongwu Emperor), buried now on Purple Mountain. His crown prince son passed away, so he chose his grandson as successor – but another son, Zhu Di, had a rather different idea. After a multi-year battle, Zhu Di defeated his nephew to become the 3rd Ming Emperor (the Yongle Emperor) – and since his political base was Beijing, he built the Forbidden City & moved his capital there.

Although the Ming burial grounds on Purple Mountain were an obvious must-see years ago, I’ve had several other historical Ming site visits over recent weeks:

The stele at Yangshan Quarry

First was a visit to the Yangshan Quarry, located about fifteen kilometers east of the city…. and arranged by Dr. Yu Ningping and her hubby Lejing. [Dr. Yu is the same person who had humored me by arranging a visit to the Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge…. but this request was even stranger!] I had first read about the quarry in Louise Levathes’ book about Zheng He….. and had trouble believing the story. The Yongle Emperor had wanted to honor his father (the Hongwu Emperor) by building the world’s largest stele (i.e., upright stone columns marking the tomb). But after considerable stone-cutting work had been completed, there was a terrible realization: the pieces were simply too big & heavy to move! So now, more than 600 years later, they remain in the quarry — the stele column (on the right) and its top section (on the left) in the photo above. The bottom section – another massive piece – lies nearby.

Stele Pavilion at Ming Tombs near Beijing

A second outing was a wonderful visit to the Ming Tombs located outside Beijing, and arranged by CUSEF as part of our ‘China Energy Transition’ tour (see posting below). This is, of course, a world-famous site, and I had been there once before (in 1991) – but admittedly didn’t have sufficient understanding of China’s history to fully appreciate it then. After completing the Forbidden City, the Yongle Emperor employed feng shui and chose the site where he was to be buried – and twelve other Ming Emperors subsequently followed him there.

On this visit we took a stroll down Spirit Way, the pathway leading to the tombs that is lined with large statues of guardian animals and officials; stopped next at the Stele Pavilion, to see the (much more reasonably-sized) stele, evident in the archway of the picture above, and resting upon a carved turtle’s back; and finally headed to the Dingling tomb, the mausoleum of Zhu Yijun (the 13th Ming Emperor) and his two empresses. The latter has an underground section (unearthed in the 1950s) we were able to visit, and a nearby display holds some of the relics found there.

Back in Nanjing again, my third Ming excursion — on a brisk December afternoon — was to the original site of the dynasty’s Imperial Palace (i.e., the illustration below showing Nanjing’s earlier ‘Forbidden City’). Not much remains today, except a few column bases, the Meridian Gate (in lower left of picture below), and some moat bridges and statues. But the city has developed a pleasant park around these relics…. and it’s a powerful reminder of the ebb of even such an illustrious history.

Relics of Nanjing’s Ming Palace


Monday, December 18th, 2017

In November, Professor Rui Wang and I led a twenty-student SAIS delegation on a ten-day ‘China Energy Transition’ tour, sponsored by the China-United States Exchange Foundation (CUSEF). We visited three cities – Beijing, Shenzhen, and Shanghai – and had a wonderful opportunity to meet with governmental agencies, private companies, carbon exchanges, energy/environmental and public policy NGOs…. and even the new city near Shanghai where Tesla is expected to build a factory for its electric vehicles. The whole trip was a truly memorable affair, with first-class accommodations and detailed attention from CUSEF, as well as logistical support from the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries (CPAFFC).

Shenzhen waste-to-energy plant

The really difficult task was selecting tour participants, since more than seventy (very, very qualified!) SAIS students applied. We ended up with ten students from the DC campus; eight from our HNC campus in Nanjing; and two from Bologna.

Our first stop was Beijing, and here the focus was on governmental policy and direction. We met with senior officials from the National Development & Reform Commission; the Energy Research Institute; the National Energy Administration; and the Ministry of Environmental Protection. Beijing also offered a chance for me to catch up with many other good friends and colleagues, both as part of the tour (the Beijing carbon exchange at CBEEX & the Paulson Institute) and individually (Prof. Zhuang Yahui from my UN days, as well as four former students). CUSEF also treated our delegation to a Ming Tombs visit (see posting above).

We then flew down to Shenzhen, a city bordering Hong Kong…. & China’s ‘Silicon Valley,’ focusing on information and other new technologies. We had a chance to visit with BYD, the electric car/battery company that received a substantial investment from Warren Buffet a few years ago; the Tsinghua-Berkeley Shenzhen Institute in the Nanshan Intelligence Industrial Park, a high-tech research center surrounded by universities; and the Shenzhen carbon exchange CEEX (the first of seven emissions exchanges to begin operations in the country’s domestic pilot ETS program). Of particular interest to me (since I spent five years working on waste-to-energy [WTE] systems several decades ago!) was a visit to a SE Environment Engineering Company (SEEE) 400 tpd mass-burn facility…. the very first WTE facility I’ve visited in China!

Virtual reality in Nanhui

Shanghai was next, although we started out with a one-day side-trip to nearby Changzhou – site of TrinaSolar, which has set 16 solar energy efficiency records over the past six years; and the Guodian coal-fired power plant (site of a previous HNC student visit). The latter visit enabled us to discuss the recent Guodian merger with Shenhua, China’s largest coal company…. and likely changes in the future coal-based power system. A visit with the Shanghai Institute of International Studies targeted the country’s outward reach for energy supplies and commodities; one with Nicobar, a boutique market intelligence firm, explored China’s nuclear strategy; and Nanhui, a new city in the Pudong area, showed the enormous scale of China’s development ambitions. Almost half of Nanhui was built on land reclaimed from the sea, and the city has a man-made lake even larger than Hangzhou’s West Lake. A virtual reality show featured plans for considerable high-tech industrial development, closely tied to manufacturing support; the nearby Yangshan deep-water port; an associated free trade zone; the urban/green-belt/residential areas; and the 60,000 university students already living there.

The tour ended with visits to the Yu Garden, dinner in the revolving restaurant up in the iconic Pearl TV Tower, and a wonderful nighttime cruise on the Huangpu River. Truly a spectacular and memorable energy program – and our sincere thanks to the folks at CUSEF who made this all possible!

On the Huangpu River in Shanghai