Sustainability Practicum Weekly Reflection 2

As a group, we have learned about the history of China since the mid-1800s. We have also been exploring the town and nearby areas in our classes and during our free time. Please reflect on your experiences so far, find an incident, be it an object or a place or a phenomenon or anything, that you think connects with one part of the Chinese history, and discuss it.

Be specific, be inspiring, be insightful.

Post your essay as a comment to this post by Thursday, June 28th, at 11:55 pm (Beijing time).


  1. Hellen Li says:

    On Monday my Understanding Place Section B class interviewed Mr. Du, a local antiques seller who is of Bai minority and has lived in Dali, specifically XiZhou, all his life. Upon arriving at his house, I immediately noticed the wide array of antiques spread around his courtyard: statues, circular design blocks seen on roofs, stone pieces with mythic images and urns. He began to explain some of the story behind each image and the different values of each antique. After the question, “How is the value of each antique determined?” he began to delve into the subject of Mao’s Red guards during the Cultural Revolution. The Red guard was comprised of children typically of middle school age who were sanctioned by Mao to encourage uprising in order to make way for communism. They began to destroy books, buildings, and antiques burning anything that contained elements of China’s pre-communist past. Mr. Du told us a story about an event he witnessed as a child where he saw “tears dropping” from the faces of intellectuals when their books were burnt. At this time, he did not understand why they were so heartbroken and distraught over the decimation of mere words. Only with time did he come to understand that those contained valuable knowledge that can never be shared or recovered again once lost. Even as he was reminiscing, he had a nostalgic tone for the never to be seen artifacts and antiques that could have still existed today.

    While listening to Mr. Du’s story, I had a sense of deja vu only to realize later on that I had heard a similar story from my dad. My dad saw Red Guard members personally destroy artifacts up close as he stood there watching everything go up in flames. In 1966 Mao cancelled school and encouraged people to visit Beijing to hear him speak. He wanted students to not only praise him but also be his minions training to be in the military. For ten years, up until 1976, school was not considered a priority as it was not as important as Mao. During this time when my dad was four all the way till he was fourteen – the vital years for education – he was unable to attend school. Instead he was sent to military camps and to roped into Mao’s propaganda, reading his Red Book (collection of his quotes). Similarly, my mom also did not attend school from the age of six to sixteen and was sent into the fields to help with agriculture for the country. Learning about this specific part of China’s story and hearing about Mr. Du’s childhood memory really struck close to home. My parents did not receive a formal education with their only form of knowledge the Red Book and the miniscule years of education they received after the Cultural Revolution to learn basic skills. I am greatly in awe of all the individuals who had the strength and motivation to educate themselves after the Cultural Revolution to try and understand the world and society they live in. My parents worked hard to make up for all the years of education they lost by self-studying and combining what should have been ten years of education into four years.

    Learning about the Cultural Revolution has been such an emotional experience for me personally as my parents were greatly affected. It has been interesting to hear Mr. Du and Liou’s mom’s story about this time in history. I still cannot believe that Liou’s mom was in Beijing when Mao was passing by waving and was present in the moment even if she did not see Mao’s face.

  2. Kalina Harden says:

    Listening to the lessons on Chinese history, I found myself impressed with the strong drive that the Chinese have towards unified progress. Although many of Mao’s reforms have been criticized due to the fact that they accidentally led to tens of millions of deaths, I can’t help but think that the attempts were admirable in both their scale and speed.
    In later works, Mao admitted that his knowledge of economics was modest at best. This is evidenced by the fact that, by some, the Great Leap Forward is considered to be a one of the greatest failures the world has seen. Mao focused on steel, seeing it as a marker of progress, but the means by which he attempted to create it were ineffective. Additionally, simply creating steel does very little in terms of overall economic growth. The collectives were also counterproductive because they neglected to take into account the simple fact of human nature. Overall, the Cultural Revolution was a movement based on highfalutin ideology without a solid grounding in practical reality.
    Even today, China implements a top-down type of power. Wandering around Xi Zhou I have seen evidence of this in the sheer speed of change. The construction in the market place has gone staggeringly fast and the both the number and type of people working hard on a daily basis is vastly more than I have seen back home. I remember that, back in the states, I heard a story about a small set of steps that needed to be built in a park. The government had budgeted $60,000 for the project and waffled on it for quite a while. Finally, a local man just built the steps for a total cost of $500 and they took it down because it “wasn’t up to code”; the stairs have not yet been built to my knowledge. Such a situation would not happen in China. When the government decides to do something, they do it. This is the reason that between 2000-2009, there was a steady economic increase of 30% per year in China.
    Additionally, this week, I have been investigating the Lake Erhai project which is a massive undertaking. The end goal is to clean up the lake and, to do it, the government is installing sewage lines (which we have to skip over every day), closing hotels and properties near the water, and banning fishing, some of which are the sole source of income for many people. In the United States, such an effort would be fought tooth and nail, likely culminating in a 20-year court battle. On the other hand, people would not be divested of property that they own, because, in the United States, they do own it.
    The two different approaches speak to two very different value-systems. The Chinese is collectivist; the Individual is less important than the whole. Examples of this mindset are dotted throughout their history.
    While my instinct is to put a value-judgement on things, that is not the point of this trip. As my mom always quoted “Things are not better or worse. They are just different.”

  3. Samuel Kamau says:

    “Hello, have a look.” These were the words the antique store owner would say to me whenever I passed by his shop along the street outside Yang Zhuo Ran to the supermarket. Although I was at first hesitant to go in, I finally walked in one day. After that, I returned more often. Walking into the antique store every other day and learning from the storekeeper about the different artifacts therein is always a refreshing experience. Although I currently know where most of the teapots are, the location of the calligraphy paper and even the maps, each time I walk into the store brings forth a different perspective on things. On the second day at the store, I noticed a four-foot tall painting on the wall that I had not noticed before. “How could such a large painting escape my sights?” I wondered. The thought stuck that day, and I decided to be consciously present over the entire time I was at the store; taking in as much as I could – smells, colors, artifacts, the brewing of a teapot and the soft hum of the generator next to the stairs by which the storekeeper charged his phone. This time, I am sure nothing will escape my sights. I thought to myself. And so I took all of in, exploring, wandering, tinkering. I opened the snuff boxes. I examined the pipes. I wore the smudgy, tinted glasses the storekeeper said were over a hundred years old. I held small Buddha sculptures deftly in my fingers, and I squatted to examine the larger Buddha heads that I could not quite lift.” Nothing will escape my sights,” I again assured myself. I sat in the chairs with ornate carvings of plants and animals, and just to be sure, I opened the ink boxes too.
    The storekeeper spoke some English. Whenever I held something, he would say its name. Sometimes, he would talk about its age. Although his communication was somewhat inconsistent, he continued to explain the history of some objects to me. I thought about speaking to him in Chinese and perhaps getting to know a bit more about the objects. However, I decided not to. “Perhaps he wants to practice his English, just as I want to practice my Chinese.” Perspective. “The few times I and some other foreigners go to the store might be the only few times he gets to practice his English.” Although this was a tall assumption that might also have hampered my bargaining skills, I decided to move forward with this decision. However, I made a slight modification. I spoke in shorter sentences that encompassed the main point I was trying to get across. Rather than asking “Hey, do you know whether this is wood or bone?” I would ask, “What is this made of?” He answered the questions better, and he got a bit talkative as well. At some point, he elaborated about a small pair of shoes on one of the shelves. “For bound feet,” he said. He proceeded to show me decades-old pictures of ladies with their feet bound. It was the same kind of shoes.
    Unfortunately, our conversations would not last long as locals and other tourists would walk into the store and he would have to attend to them. Although I am yet to have a full conversation with the storekeeper, I realized two important things – that it is critical to sustain our cultures and forge new relationships. By learning about the cultural revolution in class, I have been able to understand the great effort it took for some Chinese people to preserve some of their cultural artefacts. For some, their efforts extended to them burying the items in the ground. In the mid 90’s and early 2000’s, this storekeeper scoured around and bought some of his pieces from locals, who would then uncover them, confident they were in safe hands. Now, these items have not only acted as a source of his livelihood but as a tool towards the preservation of the Chinese culture I get to appreciate while I am here in Dali.
    Additionally, I learned from his friendliness, and on how he beckoned towards us. From the different presentations concerning Chinese history I listened to in class, China has made a conscious decision to open its physical and cultural borders to the rest of the world. Just as he welcomed me into his store and was glad to share his insights concerning different pieces, we should also be welcome to forging new relationships with others, learning from them and considering their perspectives. We should be willing to learn and improve on ourselves, just as China was open to reform its existing economic policies after 1978. Through my eagerness to learn, openness to new insights and a few hard bargains, I have been able to convert the antique storekeeper’s “Hello, have a look” into a friendly wave and a “How are you?”.

  4. Rahmel Pacheco says:

    This past Monday, in my understanding place class, we interviewed Mr. Du who is an antique shop owner. His shop is also his home, so it must feel quite personal for a customer to shop there. When we entered the shop/ his home he was very welcoming and eager to tell us the story of different items that he had. These included statuettes of different gods, tablets that told creation stories, teapots, and instruments. He had so many antiques that were hundreds of years old and I found it incredible how long they survived. Mr. Du then explained how many of these antiques had survived through the Cultural Revolution. The Cultural Revolution, which began in 1966 and ended in 1976, was a movement constructed by Mao Zehdong that aimed to destroy old values, culture, traditions and anything that seemed elite. It also caused a stop in education for ten years. These former students were inducted into the Red Guard, who were tasked with keeping the ideals of the Cultural Revolution. They burned books, destroyed art, killed intellectuals and caused many professor to commit suicide. This Revolution also stopped a whole generation of education. As a child, Mr. Du told us how he witnessed the burning of books during the Cultural Revolution. He told us stories of how people’s would bury items with Cultural value in the hope that they survive into the future. As time passed Mr.Du realized the importance of these items and has been collecting antiques. Another incredible phenomena would is the story of the flying tigers. The flying tigers were a volunteer plane squadron that helped aid China during World War Two. They were the first to take the battle to Japan after the events of Pearl Harbor. Many had to fly through the Himilayan mountain range to transport supplies to China and many did not make the journey due to how difficult it is to navigate through the mountains. This piece of history relates to Xi Zhou because the flying tigers flew over this town and rumor has it that Xi Zhou once housed and fed pilots of the flying tigers.

  5. Reed Hutton says:

    I wish to start by indicating just how difficult it can be to comprehend roughly 200 years of Chinese history in only three hours, learning from over 15 different people, and having all of the presentations be presented orally. While I learned a great deal last week, I cannot help but feel that there is still so much I don’t know, and there are a few connections that I am still not making. Anyway, I do feel that I have a solid base with which to better understand Xizhou, and China in general, and the history I learned has helped me connect with and better understand the people with which I interact.

    Before coming to Xizhou, I knew very little about Chinese history, only knowing that it is long and complicated. Many museums across the world contain relics from China’s past, some bronze statues and jade ornaments dating back thousands of years ago. In the book Where the Dragon Meets the Angry River, Grumbine tells readers that when the United States was founded in 1776, China already had a population well above 300 million, which is the current population of the United States. For as long as I can remember, I have associated Chinese history with long time spans, warring regions, ancient dynasties, and Mao Zedong. While I may not be wrong, what I learned in class on Friday is that the history of China, especially the last 200 years, is extremely important in understanding China today.

    I presented to the class on the Cultural Revolution. The Cultural Revolution is a dark time in Chinese history. Mao Zedong, in an attempt to regain political power and control over the country, facilitated a youth uprising dubbed the Red Guard urging students across the country to eliminate the 4 olds and create a proletariat uprising. The following years resulted in chaos as old relics, books, and art were destroyed, an entire generation evaded school, and hundreds of thousands of people were murdered. What I found most shocking about the Cultural Revolution was not the violence or the mission, but the fact that it started in 1969, only fifty years ago.

    After presenting to the class on Friday, Liou brought up the fact that her parents were members of the Red Guard. Her mother took a train for days to reach Beijing in order to see Chairman Mao.


    It wasn’t until Liou mentioned her mother’s experience that I truly realized just how recently the Cultural Revolution took place. In that instant, I recognized that a lot of people I passed by in Xizhou, especially the older generation, would have been directly effected by the national tragedy.

    This realization became apparent when my Understanding Place section visited Mister Du at his home (which is also his antique store). When questioned about how he acquired many of his different goods and items, he pointed out that many were rescued from the Red Guard tasked with destroying relics just like his during the Cultural Revolution. He explained how people rescued the different items in order to preserve history and culture that was being destroyed at the time. These items were not necessarily saved to preserve monetary value and be sold, but were saved in order to preserve their cultural and historical value. Here, Mister Du’s livelihood was (and maybe still is) directly influenced by the Cultural Revolution. It was incredible to be able to physically see how Chinese history was affecting the life of a person in Xizhou today. What would Mister Du be doing today if these artifacts and antiques were not saved? What if he was 5 years older than he was in 1969, and he himself was a member of the Red Guard. These questions and more swirled through my head as we continued the tour of his home.

    As we walked back to YZR, I noticed a young store owner had a tapestry with Mao Zedong hung up in the back of his store. The story owner did not look much older than myself. How much does he know about the Cultural Revolution? Has he heard the stories of the violence and cultural destruction from his neighbor? It is interesting to see China today; a country becoming more and more advanced with each passing hour, but with a break in cultural and historical understanding between generations. How much does the newest generation of Chinese people know of their own history?

  6. Pele Voncujovi says:

    The Ultimate Code Switcha

    The part about China’s history that most strikes and resonates with me is the Sino-Japanese relation. Growing up, I was always cognoscente about the non-amicable relationships between Japan and China. I always knew that they didn’t get along well but I never really knew why. From the tone with which my Japanese mother and her friends said “Chugoku” (China), to th to the way the Japanese media mocked China, the tension was always clear. However, I never knew why until I took an East Asian history class at Middlebury. I experienced a sort of cognitive dissonance when I first read about the Nanjing massacre and the atrocities Japan committed during their conquest in Asia. I confronted my mother about it asking why Japan never apologized to China or Korea and she immediately replied that we had apologized several times but China keeps bashing us about it. According to many Chinese people I have spoken to, the dominant narrative is that Japan never ever apologized. I find these polar opposites thoughts to be rather interesting. These are 2 completely different perspectives on a peace-building effort that continues to remain a central obstacle for future reconciliation.

    One clear example of how prevalent and deep-rooted this conflict is can be seen at our local Shijeibei bar. On the first night there, I exhibited great enthusiasm and ‘extraness’ supporting Costa Rica in the world cup, so much that the bar tender fell in love with me and gave me 3 free beers to console me when we lost to Serbia. I loved it. I then began looking forward to supporting Japan the next time they played there. I could not have made a worse mistake. The next time we went there, Raquel pointed out how amidst all the flags hanging in the bar, all 3 Japanese flags were burnt right in the middle. That’s some crazy shit. That was when I noticed how real and deep this conflict was. At this point, whenever I’m in that bar, I’m only Ghanaian… Feizhou all the way. I have made it a mission to make sure they don’t find out I’m Japanese. But deep down, I don’t know how I really feel about this strategy. In some sense, it’s code switching. It’s not like I’m talking badly about my Japanese side, its simply altering my act to suit my audience. I like to think of it as a ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ situation. Someone suggested to me that I should let the bar tender know that I’m partly Japanese and be some sort of ambassador to change his perceptions but I don’t know if that’s remotely effective or even necessary. I’m black and I doubt he will truly view me as a Japanese anyways, even Japanese people don’t. Anyways, it’s the first time I had ever felt uncomfortable with my heritage and its has given me a different perspective on the magnitude of the Sino-Japanese tension.

  7. Nikki Situ says:

    Chinese history class is so helpful for me as a Chinese who doesn’t have a comprehensive understanding of my own country’s past. When we were talking about Rape of Nanjing and comfort women in China, I cried. I could control myself from crying if this period of miserable history can be recognized internationally. Sadly, Japan denied what they’ve done to Chinese people, especially women, and they even educated their future generation to continue to disregard the truth of the history. It reminded me of a Chinese documentary about last 20 Chinese comfort women who are still alive. My mind was filled by all the aching moments happened in the documentary and the conversation between journalists and these 20 comfort women. When they started to remember and tell the story about the past, every woman cried. They are so depressed, but I can feel the inner anger towards Japanese soldiers at that time. I’m so thankful for this documentary to let people notice and know there is still a group of minority women. For the whole of Chinese society, this documentary courageously to break the taboo and reveal the truth of Chinese history. I’m so proud of myself to be a woman school now to fight for women right with other brave and intelligent women together.
    After I finished lunch yesterday, and I went to a tea shop when I was walking back to Yangzhuoran. The man in the tea shop is so enthusiastic and nice. He welcomed me to sit down in front of the tea table. He made different tea for me to taste and to take a break here. He introduced his tea shop to me. This tea shop not only sells different tea but also sell rose-related commodities. The tea shop has a complimentary tea factory where is miles away from Xizhou. The name of the tea shop is “Xiaguan Tuocha”, and this tea shop is honored by a lot of rewards. The most remarkable reward is nationally geographical culture reward. I feel like this reward is something like non-material cultural heritage, and it is probably really rare across the whole country. According to the man’s saying, the tea shop was originally his grandfather’s shop a couple of decades ago. His grandfather’s last name is Yan, and Yan’s family is one of the wealthiest families in Xizhou. He also showed me a photograph about 16 representatives from 16 the wealthiest families in Xizhou at that time. In addition, Xizhou is a really rich town in Yunnan province, and there are a lot of businessmen who had different business here. And nearly every business here is so famous and their commodities were always exported to southeastern Asian countries or even to European countries. Later, the tone of our conversation altered a little because the time period of his story came to the 1800 year. He sighed and said that at that time, a lot of private business was fell into government hand, and people started to become unemployed. In addition, people began to lose their business and the entire Xizhou became really poor. Even worse, there was a famous saying among local people, which is that if someone is the richest person in Xizhou, then that person would be killed.
    In spite of the ridiculousness of the story, in the end, Yan’s tea business was preserved in the end until now, and I really hope this amazing tea shop can last for generations and the Chinese tea culture can be cherished and can be spread to the outside world.

  8. Charlotte Massey says:

    I came into this program with only a vague understanding of Chinese history. My high school did not cover Asian history past the Yellow River Valley Civilization and we never studied contemporary Asian politics. The very quick and broad run-through we did on Friday completely changed my perception of China and the way I look at Asian history and current geopolitical relations. I knew that the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution had massive repercussions but I didn’t realize the scale of the impact Mao had on China, to this day.
    Now that I have a framework for understanding China’s history, many of the observations I’ve made and interactions I’ve had in Dali make more sense. The Mao boxes and medals and souvenir key chains that dot every tourist knick-knack shop surprised me at first. I knew that he is still revered by many people in China, but I struggled to understand how that could be. Liou’s story about how her parents blame the Gang of Four and not Mao for the atrocities of that time period explained why so many people are able to still revere Mao after the atrocities his policies called. And the government hold on information (such as blocking Google) makes it easier to spin their official versions of reality. George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four comes to mind, as it has very often relating to US politics lately. Doublespeak and Doublethink, knowing something is true and yet holding another truth as reality, seems quite possible for human minds and is exemplified well here.
    When Brian gave us a tour of the Linden Center, I was confused about why old relics wouldn’t be valued here. Why did a white man need to come in and save these cultural treasures? Our interview with the antiques dealer, Mr. Du, on Monday with Understanding Place B helped me understand how the Cultural Revolution fits into the history of artifacts in China. Mr. Du was a young boy when the Red Guard came through this area. He told us he watched the Red Guard smash all the art and artifacts they could find, part of destroying the old religion and culture pre-communism to create room for new culture. After the Red Guard was dissolved in the late 1960s, Mr. Du started collecting the antiques that didn’t get destroyed in the Cultural Revolution. He said many people saved their statues and pots by burying them under ground, and when he asked to purchase objects they would go dig them up from the yard. I am so glad that some of the Bai treasures survived that period in history and I hope I would have the strength and foresight to preserve history and culture if that happened in the United States. Mr. Du told us that he participated in chants because you got points if you supported the Mao government, but that he didn’t really believe in what he was saying. I wonder how many people vocally support a system for their own safety, even if they may not understand it or may be personally opposed.
    We think of atrocities like the Cultural Revolution and genocides as being securely in the past, but they could easily happen again. News coming out of the US right now is not good. Trump’s administration is putting families in detainment camps at the border and the supreme court just made a series of decisions I disagree with. Kennedy announcing his resignation today means Trump gets to appoint a second Justice. We need to take what we’re learning and then apply a similarly critical eye on our own politics. The more we know about history and other countries, the better we can understand warning signs at home.

  9. Sarah Haedrich says:

    After a large dinner involving multiple orders of fried tofu, a couple of us decided to wander around the streets surrounding the Linden Center to walk off the meal. As we passed many interesting and new doorways, curiosity got the best of us, and we decided to walk inside. Immediately, the store owner invited us to sit down to rest and enjoy a cup of tea. Soon, we were all sitting around the table enjoying tea, wine, and spicy radish thanks to the help of his mother. As we started chatting, we discovered that he had just opened up the restaurant two years ago. Not far into our conversation, the store owner’s friend, Dodo, arrived and joined our conversation. Dodo moved from Beijing two years ago after graduating college. He had recently opened a shop downtown that sells gender neutral artisan clothing. We had just met two entrepreneurs completely by chance in the span of ten minutes.
    Recalling our Chinese history, we know this scene would be unimaginable fifty years ago during the Cultural Revolution. The idea of starting a business as a recent college graduate was unheard of. Starting in the 1980s, China propelled itself into a capitalist market, and we can feel the continuing momentum today even in a small village such as Xizhou. As we learned in class, private companies were first established in coastal towns, and then spread throughout China to the point where ninety percent of Chinese businesses are privately owned. All my life, I’ve known China to be a powerhouse of the world. However, fifty years ago, the scene was completely desolate and monotone. Fifty years – that is an insanely fast transition.
    These past weeks as I’ve been walking around the streets, I’ve noticed the amount of brands that Chinese people love to wear on their clothing – shoes, pants, bags, everything. At first, I interpreted this as extremely materialistic. However, I understand now that after years of monotony and poverty, people are genuinely excited that they have disposable income. This wealth is brand new, seeing as the transition from communism to capitalism was so recent. The brand names that people sport are another indicator of a new capitalist market, just like the two entrepreneurs I met in the restaurant.
    As we move through the program and try to understand this place, understanding the context and history is crucial. I’m far from grasping the full picture, but I have more understanding of why a Chinese teenager is repping Adidas from head to toe.

  10. Caroline Bartlett says:

    I have always been curious about the Communist Party’s rise to power in China. It seems like such an improbable feat for a brand new party, founded in just 1921, to upset the larger powers of the imperialists and the Nationalist party. Diving deep into history answered a lot of my questions. To make a complex situation far too simple, times were tough and the ruling Nanjing government was corrupt and self-interested. People needed government aid to improve social conditions and the CCP promised just that. After securing party leadership via the Long March in 1934-35, Mao lifted the party to new heights, reaching 1.2 million members by 1945. He worked on winning one-third of local governments over at a time and slowly built a base of loyal supporters. Meanwhile, Chiang Kaishek, leader of the Nationalist party, was fighting a battle on two fronts—Japan and the CCP. In 1945, WWII ends and the Civil War begins. While the pretext of this war helps explain that the Nationalists were over-extended and mismanaged, the Communist victory is still an impressive moment. What followed was an attempt to propel the country forward that resulted in massive failure. The Great Leap Forward is characterized by forced labor, violence, killing, suicide, and even cannibalism; over 55 million people were killed between 1958-60. Mao’s rise to power was mirrored by a swift spiral into horrific conditions and loss of control. The Cultural Revolution was his final attempt to regain power. Forming the Red Guard using mainly students, he set out to destroy the four olds: culture, customs, ideas, and habits. From 1966-69, thousands more were killed and 60% of government officials were purged by making them declare they were against Mao. One lasting effect of this devastation was the closing of all schools for 10 years, which wiped out an entire generation of elites.

    I learned a lot about the party’s roots, rise, and fall from power, but still had questions about how people bought into the propaganda. Our visit to the antique dealer Mr. Du provided some explanations. As a person who lived through the Cultural Revolution and who now fills his time collecting and selling art that survived this time period, it makes sense that Mr. Du has some wisdom on the subject. What I found most fascinating was his role in the movement. He said he was just a young boy and was against the entire concept because his mother told him never to steal. However, he participated in shouting propaganda anyway because it was a means to earn money. He explained that if you shouted louder and more often, you were granted more points that corresponded to money. This simple system, which most history lessons probably glaze over, really illuminated my understanding because I was able to put myself in his position. His actions make perfect sense; he wasn’t “brainwashed”, he was just being rational. Standing on his porch surrounded by 3000-year-old statues, I couldn’t believe the story he was telling occurred less than 50 years ago. This realization emphasized the rapidity of China’s transformation and gave me a new appreciation for current conditions. While I have many issues with the Chinese government, there is no denying that life has improved significantly for their citizens, especially when compared to the turmoil of 50 years ago.

  11. Grace Carter says:

    Mao Zedong is everywhere. Not in a “big brother” type of way, but as in you can’t turn around without seeing his side profile on it. From the money we use to fuel our capitalistic desire to bumper stickers. This baffled my friends and me, how could a man who caused so much pain (the great famine) and erased so much history (cultural revolution) still be a sense of pride for the country? Here the sensible parts of my brain take over – saying that the people just don’t associate Mao being the one to commit these atrocities. That it was just his wife, or advisors… I understand my view is “from the veranda” because after writing this blog post I can sleep and not think about Mao, or even more extreme is the fact that I get to learn all of this information from books (that may be illegal in china) and professors who have all studied outside of china. Dr. Liou shared her family’s story and told us how her parents are still ignorant to Mao’s faults, an eye opening comment for me. It’s really important to not only look at things in china from the eyes of a westerner but also from the eyes of someone who does not have the luxury of leaving china. At the end of the 6 weeks I can either continue responding in shock when I look at Mao’s face or I can just accept that there are some things my brain just cant understand. Which is also ok… I guess? How much of this blog post is me trying to make China’s cultural norms fit into my western standards? Do I even have a right to comment on Mao? While thinking about Mao as an American you cannot help thinking about the USA and how Kennedy just announced his retirement to “spend more time with his family” while supporting the Muslim and immigrant bans. Learning about china’s history has made what is going on in the states even more real. A terrifying and humbling thought, being in china was not is not a break from the current political situation. If anything looking at your country from an outside perspective escalates the realness of it all. Learning a smidgen of Chines history and how its policed by the government so the people don’t know everything makes me question our own government and what secrets are being held “for the greater good.” Not knowing until it is too late seems to be a common theme between countries that I’ve never thought to compare. I wonder where both countries will be in the next 10 years and how my time in china will seem when I’m a little more grown looking at the blog posts from my 18-year-old self.

  12. Benjy Renton says:

    In our second week at the Middlebury School of the Environment, we have been deepening our understanding of place, and this place, through understanding the concepts in Chinese history. From the Opium Wars in the late 1800s to the 1980s Reform period, it is evident that Chinese history still manifests itself in the landscape and geography of the region. Relatively speaking, the 1960s and 1970s were not so long ago, and so many of the people we talked to lived through these events.

    On a three-hour research expedition this past Wednesday, Kwame and I ventured on bikes out of Xizhou to the villages of Shacun and Shenjiangcun. We were initially curious after fishing on Tuesday if people lived in the houses across the lake. We had also heard a pumping sound from what appeared to be a pump house, so we wanted to investigate more. Initially surprised at the fact that there was a high percentage of agricultural land use right by the water, we also saw a Soviet-era power station in the distance. We climbed precariously on an aqueduct and straddled two copper pipes to get on to the pump station. Many people were watching us and we were nervous, but we didn’t care — we simply needed to see the pump station. Upon arriving at the station, it was apparent that it was built a long time ago — the characters were rubbed off and a Soviet-era logo with hands on either side of a star was clearly marked on the top of the stone building. We peered inside and nothing seemed to be working — the aqueduct had a little water in it and most of the plant was rusted. An interview a few minutes later with farmers clarified the situation. According to the farmer nearby, the pump transfers water from Erhai up to the mountains. We found out later that it is part of a larger pump network to pump water back up towards the mountains, with outlets into rice paddies. The pump only operates some of the time — apparently two hours a day for only a month at a time.

    We then asked the farmers how old the pump is. They believed that it was from the 1960s, around the time of the Cultural Revolution. We learned in an interview with Brian Linden that during the Great Leap Forward in the late 1950s and the Cultural Revolution, many of the wetlands next to the lake were transitioned into rice paddies for maximum agricultural production. This caused a major change in the land use, which can still be seen today. An interesting anecdote was that the farmer said that the rice used to be larger in the past but smaller today. There could be greater environmental implications behind this fact. Farming for their whole lives, these farmers have lived through various periods of Chinese history and were a great source for learning about this land in another time. Walking away from the pump station (and to safety), I felt like this was a land lost in time and I would like to explore this area more.

  13. kwame Mukasa says:

    On Tuesday as we collected discharge data near the downstream of the Wanhuaxi river we found a family of cormorant fishermen who shrimped and fished in a bay on Lake Erhai.
    They offered to take us out in the bay to watch them catch fish. As we sat in the bought and the tradition came to an end I could hear a rhythmic sound coming from an abandoned looking building. As I stood by the shore I began to hear a rhythmic sound coming from the building, but I couldn’t believe what I was hearing because it looked so old and abandoned. A local told our the group that it was an aqueduct, but didn’t confirm whether it was still in operation.
    Could it be possible that it was still pumping water from the lake to serve a greater purpose to society?
    The next day Benjy and I were cycling through the nearby towns and found ourselves in the same bay, but closer to strange abandoned looking building right by the lake. The field was split by a large concrete channel for water with women farming on either side of it right next to the water. At the end of the channel was the building and based on the symbols and designs on the structure it became clear it was a water pump station. We decided to scale the duct and walk on the rusted pipes to get to the isolated building next to the water. Initially, the plant looked abandoned and the Soviet-style markings on the building suggested that it was from the Sino-Soviet relations of the cold war era. As we got closer it appeared that there were electricity lines to the building and the duct had water in it. The ladies farming next to the field told us that it was working about two hours before we arrived at the site. The building pumped water from the lake to irrigate agriculture being grown in the fields. The farmers also mentioned that the water pump and aqueduct were there since the 1960s. In the 1960s the system was used to pump water into the adjacent fields that were monoculture rice fields as cash crops to feed the industrial cities of the people’s republic under the communist party of Chairman Mao. The great leap forward and the collectivization of land was a period of time where the government changed its sociopolitical thought and redefined the use of land in China. The Land around Erhai was part of a large-scale agricultural landscape used to support the vision of an industrialized China that received its food produce from communes. The site demonstrated that the Erhai water was already being used to provide water to place by the lake and it directly aligned with the idea of having large infrastructure projects that would serve the communes functioning by the lake to maximize production.

    The experience of discovering what the building was for was extremely satisfying because I had no idea it was functioning or whether it did connect to one of the historical periods in China we studied so closely. The experience was satisfying, but it also inspired me to ask more questions about the story of the place I was in and how it changed with time.

  14. Molly Welsh says:

    When I first arrived in China I was quite ignorant to the history and culture. In just a few short days I was astonished by not just China’s distant history but the atrocities and struggles China’s people went through as recent as our grandparents generation. It is clear life in China today is totally molded by the political and cultural transformations last century and more specifically during the Cultural Revolution. Liou’s story about her parents recollection during that time and their perspective of how and why life is and was the way it was revealed an incredibly compelling story. The story of the veil the communist government put over it’s citizens eyes. Another reflection is Mao Zedong’s face everywhere. On every dollar bill of every value, pins, posters and frames pictures are still hung proudly in nearly every place you go. At first glance it gives me a sense of somber and pity; and then I remember Holly reminding us how this is a history and current life people have to live with, they didn’t get a quick history lesson and fall asleep knowing this wouldn’t affect their actual lives like we do. Not only is this perception incredibly on point, it is also a reflection of the truth they know. There was also this moment of clarity when I heard about “illegal books” in the library. History has literally been ripped from the text books of not burned. This veil of secrecy protects people from trauma. Whether that is the morally “righy” thing to do is another discussion. I’ve noticed a variation of perception while in Xi Zhou. While visiting Mr. Du he mentioned how his mother told him to pretend to praise The Red Army but not actually participate in their destruction; that he would actually be punished by the heavens if he did. Mr. Du showed a keen awareness of how devistating the Cultural Revolution was and the sentimental value of these relics was strong enough that he devoted his life to their recovery and sharing them. When he described living through the Great Leap Forward and the point system after money was abolished, it touched a soft spot in me as that was my topic for our history presentations. I knew at that moment there was so much more to his story than what meets the eye and what was shared. The enlightenment I have gained in just two short weeks has really open my mind to a much bigger world than I have previously lived in and I hold much anticipation of what is to come.

  15. Yoshinari Fukuzawa says:

    Yesterday, I went to a tea shop called “下关沱茶 (Xiaguan Tuocha)” to look for a jar of rose jam to buy. I wandered into a tea shop and asked the owner of the shop. As he took me to a shelf that contained the rose jam, he started to talk about the legitimacy of his shop—for example, how this shop has begun in 1902 and how it has been nationally recognized by the Chinese government as one of the renowned brands in the tea industry. As part of his introduction and promotion of this shop, he led me further into the shop and made me sit down in front of the tea table to have some tea with him. He showed me several photos—one taken from a meeting between the managers of the tea shop and the officials from the Chinese government, another was a portrait of the founder of this tea shop, and the third one was a photo of his mother and grandfather. As he talked about these photos, he started talking about how this tea shop came to be.

    He told me that the founder of this shop was a rich landlord of Xizhou, who was, surprisingly, his grandfather. Repeating many times, he also proudly said that Xizhou had some very wealthy merchants in the region before the civil war. During the Qing dynasty, this shop was one of the most successful business enterprise within the tea industry. Not only did it open in Chinese cities outside of Dali, it also had connections with the foreign countries and had their base there. Overall, he told me that Xizhou was a merchants’ hub before the civil war. After the civil war, the tide has changed in the region. Wealthy landlords were purposely targeted and publicly shamed or even executed. Their properties were forcibly taken and businesses were shut down. As a result, Xizhou was no longer as economically vibrant as before. While the shop itself has survived, Xizhou as a village has changed dramatically.

    When he was telling a story of his shop and this village as a whole, I suddenly recalled the introduction tour that we had received in the Linden Center in the beginning of the program. I remember Michael telling us about the wealthy merchant who built the Linden Center, and as one of the wealthy landlords in the region, he was also targeted by the government. Fortunately, because he had given up his property before it was forcibly taken away by the government, he was not treated as harshly as some other landlords in Xizhou.

    The transition from the dynastic era to the communist era for China was rough. To implement communism in China where it has always been under the dynastic rule, Mao Zedong believed that the land should be distributed among the peasants, and therefore, landlords should be stripped of all their properties and eliminated. In his first Five Year Plan from 1952 to 1957, land reforms and collective agriculture were the main focus. After the land was distributed among the peasants, all ownership of the land and the crops grown was forfeited. As a result, people did not benefit from working harder, which led to a decline in productivity and crop yields. Many businesses were shut down as well—economy in general was not so great at that time.

    Looking at what happened in China in general in the 1950s, it made sense that Xizhou, which was originally a very vibrant town, had changed dramatically within several years. Yet, I wonder why the tea shop was able to stay in place and survive through all these difficult times. I would like to go back to that tea shop one day and ask him to elaborate more on his story. I believe that his story is one of a kind; it is something worth listening to. His free tea there is also worth tasting, and of course, it’s always worth to buy a jar of rose jam from a shop with so much history.

  16. Lina Beron Echavarria says:

    The hectares and hectares of corn that flood the outskirts of Dali and XiZhou don’t cease to amuse me. Growing up, maize was both our delicacy and our staple, but never did I find myself lost in a maze of maize. Same applies to my current home, a small student-run farm near Gambier, Ohio. We grow some of the popcorn variety and our windows peer over the extensive corn monoculture, but not even there had I seen such green straight rows of blooming corn stalks. In other words, the last thing I expected when leaving my two corn-based homes and traveling all the way to the southwest of China (one of its most biodiverse regions), was to find myself lost among the cornfields.

    Trying to get a better sense of this place, I decided to join the 48-Hour Film Workshop and venture Xi Zhou. By the end of our first day filming, I found myself cutting through the cornfields on a yellow tuc-tuc headed towards the north of XiZhou. The local friend that I had been working with was taking to what his favorite place in town: a large white two-story building in the middle of more and more fields. Suddenly, we walked into the most modish and aesthetically pleasing coffee shop I have ever been to. But despite the bloomed Bougainvilleas, the pastel-colored three-legged benches and the white curtains moving with the blow of the western wind, there was no one else in the establishment besides us two, a couple charismatic plants, and three contemporary paintings. It took me less than 3 seconds to organize the visual information in the punctualistic painting that hung in the middle; then, Mao’s face popped out out of the modern painting in all its commodified grandiosity.

    The big dots in the Warholish art-piece continued to resonate in my head even when Max, the owner of the coffee shop and the good friend of the friend that had taken me there, walked into the bright room, recommending I try their avocado milkshake. I interviewed Max and found out that he had immigrated from Beijing in the pursuit of a more peaceful and natural lifestyle in the outskirts of Dali. He had designed the interior design of the coffee shop as well as that of a small guesthouse in Dali City and was part of group of young entrepreneurs that owned a 90-hectare organic farm located between the city and Xi Zhou. When he noticed my enthusiasm, that of a fellow farmer, he rushed to show me pictures of their monthly farmers’ market: a group of “hippie” and “hipster” young people playing the banjo and walking with leashed hairy dogs. The dots on Mao’s face tingled in the back of my spine and scratched the events of the previous day: two hundred years of Chinese history in a three-hour class period.

    Collective agriculture became a norm in China the early 1950’s, when Mao rose to power and set a series of Land Reforms to eliminate the republic’s land-lord-driven farm system.
    With the People’s Communes, agricultural production increased drastically, propelling China away from the feudalism and capitalism that Marxist Theory throned upon. While a side of history regards these political and economic measures as the key to China’s success, the other blames it for the enforcement of forced labor and mourns over the infringement of human rights. Nonetheless, Mao continues to be praised by many, his round face referred equal to a full red rising sun. Today, as the representative of the Gates Foundation that talked to us mentioned, China’s agricultural productivity continues to increase by 12% despite, and perhaps greatly thanks to, the skyrocketing urbanization and rural-to-urban migration. But, now, as Max shows and proves to us, things work differently. Enterprises make up 70% of China’s GDP and the number of private businesses are skyrocketing. Max’s chic coffee-shop and organic collectively-run farm are the mere effects of globalization. And the cornfields that inundate the Dali area? These are but the backdrop of an exhibit where the modern painting of Mao hangs, painted by a thick layer of capitalism, one with “Chinese characteristics.”

  17. Raquel says:

    “For bound feet.” I will never forget that moment of realization, when a story that I heard about in some old documentary became reality in just a second.

    As you know from my last blog post, I’m a big fan of antique stores. I’ve tried to visit and explore every single antique store I’ve seen in Xizhou, and I’ve been very excited to find some more in Kunming. This past week I visited a very interesting antique store with Sam (my antique store partner), where we found the most uneven ensemble of older and newer artifacts: Kama-sutra manuals, opium pipes, pig-shaped tea pots, bronze statues of deities, and many other peculiar objects; but there was an object that caught my attention the moment I set a foot into the store. Two pairs of ridiculously tiny shoes embroidered with elaborated flower patterns and shiny colors, about the size of three quarters of my palm. “Shoes for old lady.” I didn’t realize what he was trying to explain, until he said: “For bound feet.” Suddenly, an image of an old lady breaking the bones of her granddaughter and binding them in a specific shape came to my mind, exactly as I saw it in a Kung Fu movie years ago. Holding those shoes in my hands, touching the cloth and the sole, and feeling the worn out inside cover, I felt an uncomfortable pressure on my chest that only grew stronger when the owner showed me old pictures of a lady with bounded feet.

    Foot binding remains within that part of history that no one wants to remember, but that is still very fresh in our minds. It was practiced in China for over a thousand years, but only started disappearing in the beginning of the 20th century. Experts estimate that almost 50% of all women in China had bounded feet during the 19th century, resulting in life-long disabilities and limited mobility. Even today, there are some women who live their lives with bounded feet. Luckily for all those women, the practice started disappearing with the introduction of ideas about Darwinism and feminism, and it was finally banned in 1912 by the newborn Republic of China. The May Fourth movement strongly condemned foot-binding, as a sign of China’s backward traditions, and years later Mao’s government strictly enforced the ban. However, foot-binding was practiced until the 1950’s in Yunnan, being the last province to get rid of this terrible tradition.

    Every time I walk past the antique store I think about all the young girls who had their feet shattered when they were as young as four. Some of those girls, who are old women now, could be walking right next to us today, since Yunnan was the last province to effectively enforce the ban.

    I hope that my next blog post is about a happier theme, but I’m very glad that I was able to learn more about this tradition and to become more aware of the hard path that women have walked for thousands of years.

  18. Jay Mahato says:

    Before the Chinese History Presentation preparation, I wasn’t much aware of Chinese history. To mention few among few of them that I know are that there were different dynasties who ruled China in past and Mao Zedong transformed China into a single-party communist nation. A lot of historical turmoil happened after the last Qing Dynasty fell and until Mao came to power. And, I truly believe that Chinese History Presentation from different students filled the gap of Chinese History which I was missing and eventually aided me to understand the history of China at much deeper level.
    One of many moments of Chinese history that I clearly remember from the presentation is that before Mao came to power with his communist party, there already was a Nationalist party called Kuomintang ruling Mainland China. Professor Xie mentioned many times in between the students’ presentations that in Chinese History Mao’s Communist Party and Republic of China’s ruling party united together many times in the name of fighting against their common enemy: once against Britain and other against Japan. However, the real reason behind their unity was to invite one another party’s members and kill them to raise their respective power to rule. One of the examples of unification of these two party, the second time in history, was in 1937 which was called United Front to fight against Japan. As the real purpose of wasn’t to fight against Japan so, the peace/unity between these parties broke out in 1945. At the end of 1949, Mao was the supreme leader of Republic of China. The civil war was fought in the countryside. So, the fight and the unity between Nationalist party and Communist party vividly shows how countryside people and, in general, civil Chinese had to be killed and tortured to fulfill the power hunger of these two parties.
    Another incident that touched me was the destruction of ancient Chinese cultural heritage during the Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976. During this period, Mao’s Red Guards: middle school kids were sent to demolish traditional and capitalist cultural sites instead of being sent to school to establish one single ideology: communist, among the people. Interestingly, for our understanding place class, we got to meet one of the antique shop dealers: Mr. Du from Xi Zhou who was a teenager during the Cultural Revolution. For the question: Did you also go to demolish the cultural heritage during the revolution?, he said that he used to go with his friends but he didn’t use to destroy the heritages because his mom told him not to do so because the god will be watching him from the heaven and will punish him later. And, he is doing the antique business because he thinks that the old cultural heritages are important aspects of Chinese culture. He also mentioned that he collects the antiques from the countryside. He said that people in the countryside had hidden the antiques in the ground during the revolution. And, when Mr. Du goes for these antiques then the people dig them up and sell it to Mr. Du.
    Hiding of these antiques by local people illustrates how local people fought against Red Guards and Mao’s communist ideals silently and shows one of the significant parts of Chinese history.

  19. Alex Haver says:

    Everything has a story.

    My favorite pair of socks come from Hawk Mountain, which is a large mountain in PA where my Environmental Science class went for a field trip. This past winter season, these thick wool socks made their way into my wardrobe nearly once a week, and there was not a day that a wore those socks that I did not think of the magical day hiking that mountain. Objects have stories, and this is why we pass them on from generation to generation. The antique stores around town are filled with objects, and things all that have years and years of use and stories.

    Long and delicately carved pipes fill the very front glass case of the small shop in XiZhou. I asked him what they were, and he explained how they are opium pipes from before the cultural revolution. These pipes were tucked away and hidden during the cultural revolution, where such beautiful and intricate work would have been destroyed. If it was not for my understanding place class, and my appreciation for the story behind things, I would not have appreciated what I saw before me.

    From what I learned about the opium crisis from our class, opium was seen as a “cure-all” drug, because it made people feel amazing. Additionally, opium became a important part in Chinese culture. Looking at these intricate pipes, I couldn’t help but realize that the textbooks were right. Also, the fact that people hid these opium pipes during such political movements just shows not only how important these pipes are but also how much people were willing to sacrifice for these family relics.

    The antique store is filled with antiques filled with stories from all the different time periods throughout China’s complex history. These objects have lived through these periods that we have studied, and contextualizing them during their original time in use, shows evidence of the history, and helps us better understand the history.

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