Greetings from Beijing (again)! Moving back to China’s capital was a very exciting process that had its fair share of trials and tribulations. Although, I can hardly say that I am moved in and acclimated, as I have only been here for six weeks! Despite the short amount of time that has elapsed, I feel as though I have been here for months, if not years. That is definitely a good thing.
Earlier this year I was accepted into a fellowship program titled Princeton-in-Asia (PiA). Founded over 110 years ago, PiA is a program at Princeton University that places recent graduates into teaching, service, or work posts all over Asia. As a PiA fellow, I felt very fortunate to receive a teaching post at China Foreign Affairs University (CFAU), right in the heart of Beijing. (In photo: Princeton-in-Asia fellows in Beijing)
China Foreign Affairs University is commonly called the “cradle of Chinese diplomats.” Out of all Chinese universities, CFAU boasts the largest number of ambassadors and Foreign Service officers amongst its alumni. Additionally, the university specializes in areas of international diplomacy, public policy, international law, and foreign languages. It is also one of China’s most competitive universities: its average on the National Higher Education Entrance Examination ranks among the top institutions in the country.
What this all amounts to is a really interesting place to work. My students are all incredibly insightful and well-versed in current events. CFAU also serves as a prominent training center for Chinese and foreign diplomats, so there are always foreign delegations and Chinese officials roaming the hallways. One example was when China’s Foreign Minister, Yang Jiechi, came to give the keynote speech for the university’s opening convocation in September. (Foreign Minister Yang is the U.S. equivalent of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.)
Witnessing the PRC turn 60
Since my return in early September, life has been a whirlwind of activity. In the midst of moving in, I had the opportunity to witness the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. For most in the West, the notion of celebrating a 60th anniversary is not that important. We as Westerners place greater emphasis on quarter-century marks to really go “all out” and celebrate.
However, 60 is an important number in the Chinese tradition because it marks the end of a full lunar calendar cycle. While the lunar calendar is not used functionally today, it is still used to determine all of China’s festivals and holidays. (Such as the Chinese New Year and the Mid-Autumn Festival.) Therefore, it was no surprise that the Chinese pulled out all the stops to host a large-scale celebration in honor of the government’s 60th anniversary. (In photo: Tian’anmen Square during the National Holiday)
Of all the events produced for the celebration, the National Day parade received the most attention by both the local and foreign press. Due to the security restrictions around the parade route, I, along with the rest of China, watched the parade on television. Even though I could not see the tanks firsthand, I could see the military fly-by from my window.
On a more exciting note, I was able to take part in the national celebrations in a different and memorable way. As a foreign professor at CFAU, I was invited to attend a government dinner for “foreign experts” at the Great Hall of the People to celebrate the 60th anniversary. The Great Hall of the People functions as the nation’s parliamentary building and consists of many chambers, including the Great Auditorium that houses the National People’s Congress.
We had dinner in the State Banquet Hall, which is where the Chinese hosted Richard Nixon when he first visited China in 1972. What really made the dinner memorable was walking through the building itself. It was chilling to think what leaders and other notable figures walked the halls of that monumental structure.
In fact, to call the building monumental insufficiently describes the scale of the place. From the outside, the Great Hall does not look that overwhelming, but once inside I felt dwarfed by the massive columns that lined its endless corridors. The banquet hall itself was jaw dropping in that it seated well over 2,000 people comfortably for dinner. From the Forbidden City to the Great Hall of the People, the Chinese sure do know how to construct buildings of epic proportion.
It’s not just all about work
Four weeks into classes, China took an eight-day hiatus to celebrate National Day as well as the Mid-Autumn festival. It was a relaxing holiday that included a trip with some friends out to the coastal city of Qingdao.
The city is known for its German concession that thrived there at the end of the 19th century. More importantly, the city is known for what the Germans left behind: a brewery. Qingdao beer, otherwise known in the West as Tsingtao, is China’s most famous beer and is consumed widely in China and distributed globally.
The Tsingtao brewery is truly a window into China’s recent history. The brewery’s museum tells the story of how the Germans invaded Qingdao at the turn of the century, and later how Japanese forces overtook the city and renamed Tsingtao beer for a brief period. When the Communists came into power in the late 1940s, the original name was restored and beer kept flowing under Chinese management.
It is also an interesting example of how a foreign tradition (beer brewing) permeated Chinese drinking culture. Today, no matter what restaurant you walk into in China, Tsingtao will almost always be on the menu.
Despite the excitement of autumn, winter is slowly announcing its arrival. The days are already getting colder and markedly shorter. As we start the march into another Beijing winter, I will check back in with updates from life here in China’s capital. Until next time.