Friday, June 05, 2009

To understand China, one must understand the notion of "guanxi" (pronounced GWAN-SHEE). Roughly translated, it means connection or relationship. It connotes respect, familiarity, and often friendship. It is analogous to collegiality in American universities, but Guanxi cuts deeper, implying long-standingl ties. To get anything done in China, one must have guanxi. I think It was because of guanxi that Professor Li, Vice President of NCUT asked us to visit his home last evening after the ceremony, rather than to a restaurant as would have been customary . Professor Li's daughter, Sonshu, just completed her Masters degree at our university. When she arrived at ETSU in 2007, the dorms were not ready-- it is hard to arrange flights from China that mesh with everyone's schedule. Joe and I often host overseas students until they get settled; so we suggested Songshu stay with us. Her parents have always been grateful. It must be a difficult thing to send one's only child to the other side of the world.

Professor Li, who is an excellent cook, personally prepared zhaodzi. This is China's signature festival dish, and the process is labor intensive. His niece, who will study business at ETSU this fall, entertained us with a piano selection, "Wonderful Chairman Mao."

Above: The Vice President as chef.

Below: A patriotic performance


American teachers grow accustomed to criticism. The shortcomings of the education system are laid at our feet. If we only taught better, so the myth goes, parents would support us; standards would rise; students would do their work joyfully; and the achievement gap between "haves" and "have nots" would spontaneously close.

In higher education, we are told that students are "customers" whose needs we must satisfy. We are also told we must keep standards high. I work hard. I prepare carefully and spend lots of time reviewing student work. Students don't always like me. Many complain I give too much work.

At NCUT, I did what I always do-- nothing more. I gave lectures, prepared assignments, and conferred with students. And I was showered with appreciation. Go figure. Today, at a special ceremony, I was awarded honorary professorship here.

Above: I am handed my "certificate of appointment" in a red velvet folder.

Below: My certificate, complete with the university's red star seal.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

June 4th
Yesterday, a student told me it would be best not to leave my apartment today. "You never know what will happen," he said. "Especially, do not go anywhere near Tiananmen."
June 4, 2009. This is the 20th anniversary of the massacre on Tiananmen Square, where thousands of young people assembled peacefully to demand reforms from the government and were killed by automatic weapons and tanks.
I asked the young man if there were likely to be demonstrations this year. "It is best we not talk about it," he said. The fear in his face was palpable. "My parents have told me I should not go outside. You should not, either."
The Tiananmen Square events are not discussed here, and the websites about it are blocked; but older people remember what happened.. Word about the massacre passes from person to person, creating an atmosphere of tension and fear. China is much freer now than it was twenty years ago and people's lives better. Still the question remains: could this happen again?
Some people say such open repression would be unlikely today, given China's place in the world. Just as the United States was eventually too embarrassed to maintain segregation, China may relinquish such strong arm techniques.
The Chinese leaders are extremely intelligent and know that a nation cannot make progress when people are hopeless and there is no free exchange of ideas. Yet, they fear more liberty would mean fragmentation of China, for man happy with the status quo. The government wants to stay in control. As Marx said, no one gives up power without a struggle.

Above: At the heart of the city, the Chairman.

Above: Chinese flag

Above: Tiananmen Square today. The name means "Gate of heaven." Long before the massacre, the plaza was the center of many important events in Chinese history. See this website:

Below: Scenes from the massacre.

Below: The People's Army on Tiananmen

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Don't Ask, Don't Tell

We told the international office that we don't need to keep seeing museums and monuments-- that we'd like to see things off the beaten path. They thought we would like to experience some authentic Chinese snack food.
Betty, a lovely young woman on the international office staff, conducted us to an area close to Tiannanmen Square in the heart of Beijing. The snack place she remembered had closed. We wandered awhile through narrow lanes where storefronts sold ice cream, trinkets, and shoes; and kids raced around on scooters. A man who did not have a shirt on upbraided us for not buying anything. "You are the rich. You must spend."
At length, we reached a snack food restaurant, and Betty asked us to pick out some eats. We chose a vegetable wrap and some orange juice. But the Chinese don't feel hospitable unless they have provided you with more food than you can possibly finish, so Betty chose additional dishes, none of which I recognized.
Always eager to practice my Chinese, I said, "Zhe xie shen ma (What's this?)" as I pointed to a plate containing a grooved and stringy white, green and black substance which was served with hot sauce. Betty's English is as well-developed as her Chinese hospitality. "Oh, "she said. "It is stomach. Of the ox."
A seasoned international guest, I refused my impulse to gag; but downed a few mouthfuls of ox with hot sauce. I suggest this policy when confronting new foods here: Don't ask what you're eating; and if you know, don't tell.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Practical use.

I persevere with Chinese. From what I am told, I butcher the language's tonal structure, but some people understand me. It's a question of motivation-- on the part of the native speakers, that is.
Money is a powerful motivator. I am more likely to be understood by merchants and restauranteurs than by other Chinese. A few days ago, I was able to communicate with a worker at the Chinese equivalent of Kinko's and succeeded faxing a recommendation to a school in America, on behalf of a graduate student. In such establishments, someone always speaks English, but we did the transaction entirely in Chinese. I am now capable of such profound statements as "Do you sell batteries?" "Which way is the exit?" and "Where are toilets?"

Like the Chinese, Americans vary in their ability, or perhaps willingness, to comprehend what is said by non-native speakers-- this case in English. Students regularly complain about the English of foreign born teachers, even though, in my opinion, their English is entirely comprehensible. In such instances, there is a tendency to side with the students because they are paying tuition. I think the matter is more complex. In a world gone global, communication is a two-way street, and people need to learn how to listen to a variety of accents and styles.

Above: Campus copy store, where they sell flash drives and I-pods in addition to sending faxes.

Below: This store clerk in Chengde had no English, but understood my request for batteries.
The gender of lions.

How do you tell if a stone lion is male or female? It's simple. The female has a lion cub under her foot. The male has a world under his (see above) Prof. Guo Tao told us this when we visited the Eight Temples of Chengde.

This is an active Tibetan Buddhist worship community, not simply a monument. Worshipers burn incense and bow before Buddha, while Temple musicians play harps, drums, and flutes.

There was a cool breeze, so the climb to the top was tolerable. The stones are irregularly laid, and many are half broken, so I had to concentrate; however once I get absorbed in the task of climbing, I labored to the top. The view was glorious.


1-The Putzuozhongchen Temple with prayer flags flying
2- At the pinnacle
3- Worshipers and musicians

Holiday Weekend

The Dragon Boat Festival is a holiday weekend which ushers in the summer, much as the Memorial Day weekend in the US. It commemorates the self-sacrifice of the Buddhist statesmen and poet Qu Yuan, who drowned himself to protest the Zhou emperor's ill-advised foreign

In Southern China, there are Dragon Boat races; here in the North many people make excursions into the mountains. We were taken to Chengde, a mountain community 150 miles North of Beijing for the holiday. The place was crowded with cars bearing Beijing license plates.
Constructed during the reign of Kangxi (1654-1722), the palace at Chengde provided a summer mountain retreat for the Qing Dynasty emperors, who sought to escape summer outbreaks of smallpox. Tibetan style temples were constructed to foster goodwill toward Northern allies.

The palace grounds are vast. Lotus grows in the lake, which is surrounded by willows. The deer which roam the grounds are extremely tame; in earlier days these gentle creature were raised to provide sport for the emperors. (above)

I managed to walk through the miniature waterfall (below), though it was slippery with moss.

This website has lots of information about the Dragon Boat Festival

What does tomorrow mean? It is 5:30 pm here, but at home it’s 5:00 in the morning. I leave Weihai tomorrow and make a stop in Beijing. ...