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Visit and Lectures in Anhui 18-23 April 2010

The Run Run Shaw Library at Huangshan University

From 18-23 April I visited Anhui Province. Anhui is an inland province just adjacent to Zhejiang. This trip included a visit to Hefei, the provincial capital, and Huangshan City, home of the famous ‘Yellow Mountain’ (Huangshan Mountain). Click here to see Hefei on Google Maps, and click here for Huangshan City. My visit had two purposes. Firstly, to visit a number of schools and universities with a view to better understanding where education stands in Anhui. And secondly, to conduct some preliminary research, and make necessary contacts, on the ‘Ancient Anhui – Hangzhou Road’ (I will be writing on this in the ‘ChinaRoutes’ category of my blog soon). The trip was arranged by my fine colleagues at the Anhui Education Provincial Department. Many thanks to Daniel, Maggie, Bob and Linda. I’m pleased to report that my number of ‘QQ‘ friends has increased dramatically as a result of this trip! That just goes to show how warm and hospitable Anhui people are!

On the morning of Monday 13th April I visited Anhui University. We went to the new campus. Once again, extremely impressive. I met with Professor Xu at the Foreign Affairs Office (who also turned out to be a poet of some reknown) and with Professor BIAN Li. Professor Bian is the Director of the Hui Studies Research Centre. He gave me an excellent introduction to the history of Anhui and the significance of Hui culture. He promised to take me to some interesting out of the way places in Anhui if I should return. Rest assured I will take up on that offer! In the afternoon I visited Hefei Teachers’ University and had a good exchange with the President and colleagues from the social sciences and humanities.

Shuanggang Primary School

Tuesday was devoted to visiting schools. In the morning I visited Shuanggang Primary School. This was extremely rewarding. I learnt a great deal about the school’s innovations in education. I gave a talk to the students from Year Five about Australia (in Chinese and English). They had really done their homework and knew a lot about Australia. Following that I had an exchange with the English language teachers. I was very impressed with their command of English and passion for teaching. This school is looking for a sister-school partner in Perth and I will see what I can do to help them.

In the afternoon I visited Hefei Number 10 Middle School. The school really made me feel welcome and went to a lot of effort. Number 10 Middle School was established in 1957. It has racked up quite a few achievements over the years. Recently it had a team of students visit Australia to take part in the international youth robotics competition. That’s pretty good! The school has good facilities and dedicated teachers.

Robotics Workshop

The ‘robotics workshop’ was interesting. This is an extra-curricular activity that students can choose to select if they so desire. It teaches team cooperation and problem solving, so it is quite good for developing creativity (one of the common complaints and critiques of the Chinese system of school education is the strong focus on testing which tends to mean that teachers only have time to train students how to pass tests rather than to think creatively). I also gave a lecture on Australia to the students, mainly in English. It seems they were able to follow me, so you can see how well advanced the English teaching is in China.

On Wednesday I travelled to Huangshan (Yellow Mountain). The city is quite small. Until recently it used to be known as ‘Huizhou’ (which is where the ‘hui’ from ‘Anhui’ comes from). The name was changed to match the famous mountain of Huangshan which is nearby and thereby attract tourists. There were a few grumbles from the locals about the change of name! I was hosted in Huangshan by Huangshan University. I met various University leaders and colleagues from the Foreign Affairs Office. I also met with Professor WU Zhaomin, Director of the Huizhou Culture Research Centre.

Professor Huang on the Ancient Road next to Song Dynasty Inscription

On Thursday I travelled with Professor Wu to Jixi County to investigate the ‘Ancient Anhui-Hangzhou Road’. We met a local scholar by the name of Pressor Huang Laisheng. Professor Huang turned out to be quite a treasure trove of information (which I will write about later). A very fine man indeed doing his bit to preserve and carry on the local history and culture.

On Friday morning I delivered a lecture on ‘Ecological Community-Based Tourism: Australia and China Compared’ to students in the Tourism Department. Professor BI Minzhi was the host on this occasion. I spoke a lot about ‘ethical tourism’ and ‘responsible tourism’. These seem to be relatively new concepts to the students. It was a good learning experience for me.

This was a successful trip. I’m definitely returning to Anhui.

Zhejiang Normal University Visit and Lecture 13 April 2010

Statue of Confucius with library in background

On the 13th April I travelled from Hangzhou to the nearby city of Jinhua. Click here to see Jinhua on Google Maps. Jinhua is famous for its ham. It is also the home to the well respected institution of higher learning that is Zhejiang Normal University (a ‘Normal’ university is one which has a strong focus on the education and training of teaching professionals). The Chinese government has invested strongly in higher education in recent years. Most universities now boast new campuses, usually on the outskirts of town, and state-of-the-art facilities. Zhejiang Normal University (ZNU) is certainly in this category. It has very impressive grounds and facilities. In particular the library is of a high international standard.

I met with Professor Xu Lihua, the Director of Hanban at Zhejiang Normal University and also the Vice Dean of the School of International Education, where both foreign students learn Chinese and Chinese students study the art of teaching Chinese to foreigners. It is quite unusual to see both of these cohorts in the same department. I think it is a very good arrangement. Professor Xu was once a visiting scholar to Murdoch University, Perth. She has very fond memories of Australia.

I delivered a lecture (in Chinese) to undergraduate students on ‘International Citizenship in the Age of Globalisation’. I think it went down quite well. This is a part of my research that I’m working collaboratively on with my colleage Dr Doug Smith at Griffith University. I’ll return to this topic at some future point.

What about a Chikko Roll?

I also caught up with Sarah Stanton, a fine young woman from The University of Western Australia who is currently studying at ZNU. I visited the foreign student dormitory. No problems there. Sarah seems to be fitting in quite well and has joined the local student choir. Well done Sarah! The picture here was taken in the dorm common room and includes ‘novelties’ from the various countries around the world from where the students hail. Sarah is in the process of getting a ‘Cherry Ripe’ wrapper mailed to her for inclusion (I suggested a ‘Chikko Roll‘ wrapper but this seems to have fallen on deaf ears!).

I was quite impressed with ZNU and Jinhua. It is well worth considering as a destination to study Chinese.

Happy Jiangyin International Conference 27–28 March 2010

I was invited to attend a two day international conference on the ‘Happy Jiangyin’ government project on 27 – 28 March 2010. I was invited by Prof YU Keping, one of China’s most influential official/public intellectuals .  It took place in Jiangyin City, Jiangsu Province (not far from Shanghai). Click here to see Jiangyin City on Google Maps.

The conference was hosted by the Jiangyin City Government/Party Branch and the China Centre for Comparative Politics and Economics (in the Central Compilation and Translation Bureau), and the Center for China Government Innovations (Peking University). It was well attended by some of China’s top researchers on government and public administration from Peking University, Tsinghua University, Fudan University, Zhejiang University and State Council think tanks (to name but a few). A number of foreign researchers and representatives from organisations such as the Ford Foundation and diplomatic missions also attended. 

I have written more extensively on the themes of the conferece here.

Images from the conference can be found at my Flickr site: Click Here.

Welcome to EducationMatters!

Visit to a primary school in remote Nu River Valley, Yunnan

ChinaWatch2050 is not just about the detailed examination of contemporary China. It is also an opportunity for me to let others know what exactly academics get up to. We certainly do not sit in ‘ivory towers’ pondering our own navels (although that is a very attractive preoccupation!). Personally I’m quite committed to ‘getting my hands dirty’ and communicating the importance of my research and sharing insights with the broader community. This section of my blog is akin to a working diary of visits to educational institutions, attendance of seminars and conferences, delivering of lectures to young and old, and the general trials and tribulations of being an academic in the Australian system of higher education.

Welcome to ChinaRoutes!

This part of my blog will outline the growth and development of my new research project for which I have given the overarching working title of ‘China Routes’. Here I take ‘route’ to refer to a ‘passage’ or ‘way’, and by extension ‘a journey’ (once again conforming to the theme of ‘2050: a Chinese journey’). As we all know by now China is in the grips of historically unprecedented change. There is no part of Chinese society that is not untouched by change at this moment. There are many angles from which we can explore and highlight this change, and I indeed intend to cover multiple perspectives in this blog. But the concern of ‘China Routes’ is with the rapid development of physical human mobility. China is literally ‘on the move’. Millions upon millions of people are moving across the country in search of work. Many thousands are even now travelling abroad for such purposes (to supplement skills shortages in places like Australia). Many millions are also moving about in search of leisure. The rise of domestic tourism and dramatic development of the leisure industry (which by 2050 will constitute the largest industries in China), and all the related consequences for culture, the economy and the environment, is one of the great untold stories of modern China. All of which is facilitated by the incredible pace and extent of the development of a modern transport infrastructure: sea and river ports; domestic and international airports; national, provincial and local highways; modern bus terminals and transport centres; and high speed rail networks (not to mention space traffic, but this is limited to only a few well trained individuals at present!). Once inaccessible and difficult to reach places are now becoming the frequent destination of the Chinese tourist: the domestic tourist travelling within the mass tourist industry; the independent tourist arranging their own travel and perhaps even driving their own car; and the humble yet significant Chinese backpacker/hiker. As the well known British sociologist Anthony Giddens once wrote, through modern technology and infrastructure space and time are literally being compressed. China Routes will explore what modern mobility is doing, enabling and tranforming in contemporary China. Strap yourselves in for the ride of your life! Destination unknown!

Governing Happiness Jiangyin Style

[update: National Public Radio (US) have done a story on ‘governing happiness’ in China. Although not quoted I did speak to the reporter and provided the images. See the story here. 18 September 2010]

I’m interested in many things, big and small. In terms of the ‘big’ things ‘government’ in all its guises is at the core. I think of government in the broad sense of ‘governing’ something, whether a nation, a community, a family or oneself. I’m very much indebted to the French philospher-historian Michel Foucault in this regard.

The study of ‘government’ in China is a fascinating subject and one that is under going constant change and innovation. I will be sharing with you many insights into the changing nature of government in this blog, so stay tuned.

What are the central questions of government in China at present? That’s a complex issue! Let me begin by discussing some government innovations in the field of ‘happiness’. I was invited to attend a two day international conference on the ‘Happy Jiangyin’ government project on 27 – 28 March 2010. I was invited by Prof YU Keping, one of China’s most influential official/public intellectuals (once described as a ‘close advisor to President Hu Jintao’).

The conference was hosted by the Jiangyin City Government/Party Branch and the China Centre for Comparative Politics and Economics (in the Central Compilation and Translation Bureau), and the Center for China Government Innovations (Peking University). It was well attended by some of China’s top researchers on government and public administration from Peking University, Tsinghua University, Fudan University, Zhejiang University and State Council think tanks (to name but a few). A number of foreign researchers and representatives from organisations such as the Ford Foundation and diplomatic missions also attended.

Images from the conference can be found at my Flickr site: Click Here. Click here to see Jiangyin City on Google Maps.

Jiangyin is a small city by Chinese standards (pop. 1.2 million) . It is strategically located on the Yangtze River at a spot that has historically been very crucial for military, political and economic reasons. It is often described as the ‘gateway’ to the Yangtze. Given its location and seemingly good administration and management, Jiangyin has prospered during the reform period and is now one of the richest regions in China. In 2009 Jiangyin’s GDP was a staggering 171.3 billion yuan (2.2. times more than 2005). The city coffers are literally overflowing! Jiangyin is also home to Huaxi Village (pop. 35 thousand), the richest village in China, and if the claims can be believed, the richest village in the world. Huaxi refers to itself as the ‘Number One Village Under Heaven’ (tianxia diyi cun; 天下第一村). The annual profit of Huaxi is in the order of 30 billion yuan! I hope to return to Huaxi to do conduct some interviews and will report on my trip to Huaxi in a separate blog entry.

Given this blessed state of liquidity the Jiangyin City Government and Party Branch (the two are intimately interconnected as is the case for all levels of government in China with the Party Branch usually in the position of ultimate authority) have had the envious task of contemplating the question of what development means once you are ‘developed’. In China ‘development’ is defined by the Party as realising ‘xiaokang‘ (a moderate standard of living). There are ten major social, political and economic indicators of ‘xiaokang‘ and Jiangyin has checked all the boxes.

The Party Secretary, Mr Zhou Minyang, and his team have come up with the ‘Happy Jiangyin’ project in which they attempt to incorporate various ‘happiness’ indicators into the work of government. There are five broad categories:

1. To Let Everyone Have a Good Job (employment rate, skills training, etc).

2. To Ensure a Good Income for Every Household (household income, social insurance and the gini coefficient).

3. To Make a Good Environment Everywhere (urban green coverage, environmental quality indexs, public security, etc).

4. To Have a Good Mood Everyday (culture, charity, public cultural spaces, community development, etc).

5. To Ensure Good Health for Everybody (higher education, medical access, life span, sport participation, etc).

The first half of the first day was in form of a ‘study trip’ to various sites in Jiangyin: an exhibition centre displaying the achievements of ‘Happy Jiangyin’; a senior secondary school; a retirement home; and bird park. It was a very quick tour and sometimes we didn’t even ‘touch the ground’ so to speak. Of course every community has a dark side and of course we are presented with what our hosts wanted us to see. But my overall impression is that Jiangyin is indeed doing very well. It is immacutely landscaped throughout the city (much of which is still quite ‘rural’ and has much ‘southern Chinese’ (jiangnan; 江南) charm). The facilties we examined were first rate. The secondary school was extremely impressive in terms of buildings and achievements. The retirement home was clean and modern, and the residents seemed as cheerful as you can be in such a place.

The most interesting part of the conference were the presentations, speeches and general discussion. Of course there was a lot of discussion about what ‘happiness’ is and what forms of ‘happiness’ are the proper concern of government. By and large it was agreed that the role of government was to provide the physical and social infrastructure needed to build and sustain well-being.

One of the most interesting themes to emerge was what did it mean to ‘develop’ (fazhan; 发展) in a post-xiaokang context. In the past ‘development’ was seen as the main goal in China and the means were not often debated. Realising economic growth was, and often still is, the main objective in itself. Deng Xiaoping famously said that ‘development is a fundmental principle’ (that is, the purpose of history itself and the Party’s historical mission). However in recent years there has been a significant shift in the Party’s government discourse with a growing emphasis on ‘people centred development’ (yi ren wei ben, 以人为本) and ‘scientific development’ (kexue fazhan; 科学发展) (by which is meant balanced and meaningful development). A key campaign to overarchh this concern is ‘Harmonious Society’ (hexie shehui; 和谐社会). This is a topic that I will return to many times as it is a key feature of government and political developments in China. As ‘China Watchers’ we need to know a lot more about them.

So it is not surprising that Jiangyin has taken up the cause and launched ‘Happy Jiangyin’. There is a famous Chinese saying (from the statecraft philoshopher/scholar Guan Zhong 管仲, 725 BC – 645 BC): ‘canglin shi er zhi lijie, yishi zu er zhi rongru’ (仓廪实而知礼节,衣食足而知荣辱), which translates as ‘when the graneries are full the people will know civility, and when they are clothed and fed they will know shame and honour’. In other words, without a certain physical foundation in the necessities of life a fair and civil society cannot be created. Much of Chinese government has been precisely about achieving the goal of having the people ‘clothed and fed’ (wen bao; 温饱). But once that is achieved, and achieved to Jiangyin standards, what next? What is the role of government and indeed the Party after ‘xiaokang‘?

Much of the discussion on this subject focused on the notion of ‘participation’ and ‘democracy’. In this stage of ‘social development’ citizens require, expect and demand more participation. ‘Democracy’ refers to grass-roots participation within the community and is definied strictly in terms of the Party’s ‘vision’ of democracy. The playing out of ‘participation’ and the Party’s vision of ‘democracy’ will continue to unfold in the following years with many a twist and turn and bubbling away of underlying tensions and difficulties.

One related issue was how Jiangyin’s new migrants are to be incorprated into the community. China has a fairly rigid system of household registration (hukou; 户口). You either have ‘rural’ or ‘urban’ registration. If you have an urban hukou you generally have subsidised access to schools, health care, accommodation, and so on. You are a ‘citizen’ in the sense of gaining access to certain social and economic rights (and even in China there are ‘political’ rights attached limited as we may see them). The overall benefits are not as good as they once where under the old system (for many), but there are still tangible and intangible goods attached to urban hukou. Therefore rural migrants into the cities do not have ready access to all those services and will generally have to pay quite large amounts to access them, something which many cannot afford to do. You could say it is a form of institutional discrimination. In this sense migrants are indeed ‘second class citizens’. In Jiangyin, as elsewhere in China, this division still exists and it seems to remain a major obstacle to developing genuine community participation for the new migrants. To be ‘happy’ you must feel ‘at home’, so it seems to me. I know that Jiangyin has made a noticable effort to incorporate the new migrants and provide services for them, but to what extent they are treated differently from the local residents remains to be investigated.

So it is clear that with further economic development that the question of meaningful participation will continue to raise its head. This is a space definitely worth watching!

For those of you interested here are some links to the reports on the conference from the Chinese media (some of which include excerpts from the various speeches):

http://www.js.xinhuanet.com/zhuanlan/2010-03/31/content_19395008.htm

http://www.js.xinhua.org/zhuanlan/2010-04/14/content_19518025.htm

http://jy.js.xinhuanet.com/2010-03/29/content_19370016.htm

http://unn.people.com.cn/BIG5/22220/80078/11290813.html

http://kuaibao.xinhuanet.com/images/2010-04/11/12709185701427314409733142557.pdf

Welcome to ChinaWatch2050!

Hello people! Well this is it! My blog! Why 2050? Let’s look as far as the ruling party of China does. Yes, they still expect to be calling the shots by mid-century when the promise of realising a ‘moderately well off society’ will be achieved. Follow me, follow 1.3 billion Chinese, as we examine the present in anticipation of a Chinese future. Let’s pray we make it to 2050! As the Chinese saying goes: ‘Every journey starts with a single step’.