We just arrived in South Korea but we were unable to post a blog during our stay in mainland China. The Chinese authorities exercise tight control over the internet and I could not access many websites including my business e-mail, the New York Times, and our travel blog site. I never knew that travel blogs could be considered so subversive!
Other than the censorship issues, we mostly enjoyed our China travels. We covered a lot of ground in twelve days. We first spent a few days in Shanghai where we celebrated Christmas with the students. It took a lot of searching to find a very small artificial Christmas tree but we were still able to create a memorable Christmas; sharing family traditions, singing Christmas carols, and opening “Secret Santa” gifts. Our touring in Shanghai included visiting the Shanghai Art Museum, the Lion Grove Garden, and the Humble Administrator’s Garden. Then we were off to the city of Tai’an by high speed train where we climbed Tai’an Mountain and visited the Confucius Temple and Family Mausoleum at Qufu.
Another high speed train ride brought us to Beijing — a remarkably modern and beautiful city. There we visited Tienanmen Square, the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven, the Summer Palace, and the 2008 Olympic venues. We climbed the Great Wall north of Beijing, enjoyed street foods and a fabulous Peking Duck dinner, and took a pedicab ride through the Hutung District to see ancient Chinese residences.
We were impressed by how modern and clean the cities of China appear, the superb Chinese highways, and the smoothness of the high speed trains. There are new skyscrapers being built everywhere and the highways are full of new cars. All of the government officials drive brand new black Audis. One of our lecturers observed that China has made as much progress in the last ten years as the U. S. has made in the last forty years. There is still immense poverty in the countryside and many people still depend upon bicycles for travel (even in the bitter cold and snow), but China is rapidly making progress in reducing overall poverty as well.
We were also struck by how the citizens of China continue to revere their deceased Chairman Mao Zedong. Mao memorabilia is everywhere. We saw one woman selling Chairman Mao hats, pulling them out of a Walmart bag. Even with the censorship in China most of its citizens must be aware by now of the millions of deaths caused by Mao and government mismanagement during the Great Famine of 1958 – 1961 and the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people killed during the Cultural Revolution. We watched an educational show on Chinese television about the life of Mao. It runs on a continuous cycle. Chairman Mao is often shown surrounded by adoring men and women, smiling, clapping, and apparently ecstatically happy. One has to wonder about this. Aristotle said that happiness is the highest good, but if it derives from the appeal of a leader who has created a cult of personality while millions have perished, is it still a good thing?
We ended our visit by celebrating the New Year countdown at the Summer Palace. We were allowed to attend this exclusive celebration, carefully orchestrated for Chinese television, through a special invitation by the Chinese government. They apparently saw this as an opportunity to show Americans enjoying tourism in Beijing. We were surrounded by television cameras and newspaper photographers who were especially excited to capture shots of our blond students from Minnesota. New Year’s Eve often seems to create an artificial happiness but they put on a spectacular show and the happiness seemed real when the clock struck 12:00.
Happy New Year!
Modern Beijing, new buildings arising everywhere.
Superb highways, at least in Shanghai and Beijing
Modern China – Many stores selling Gucci,
Chanel, and Rolex
Tienanmen Square II
Near Confucius Cemetery
Lion Grove Garden
Humble Administrator’s Garden
Temple of Heaven
Great Wall II
Birds Nest at Olympic site
Street Food II
Street Food III
Street Food IV
Street Food V.
Pedicab in Beijing
Street Musician, Shanghai
Chef preparing Peking Duck.
New Year’s Eve