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Shangrila Tourism Conference and Tea Road Fieldwork

Green meadows, blue sky and the vibrant flowers of late summer in Shangrila. In the background is the very imposing Ganden Sumtseling Lamasery (Songzanlinsi in Chinese).

“If we have not found the heaven within, we have not found the heaven without”, James Hilton, Lost Horizon, 1933. 

From 9th to 11th August 2011 I attended the First Shangri-lasia Tourism International Forum (第一届香格里拉亚洲旅游论坛) in Shangrila, Yunnan Province, China. Shangrila is the prefectural seat of Diqing (Dêqên) Prefecture (迪庆州).  Diqing is an Autonomous Tibetan Prefecture in northwest Yunnan on the border of the Kham region of Tibet. Historically it falls within the Tibetan cultural zone and was an important transit point along the ancient trading networks between Tibet and southwest China. The conference was organised by the International Tourism Studies Association (ITSA), ‘the first China-based global academic association on tourism research’. You can see where Shangrila is located on Google Maps here. With an area of just over 11,000 square kilometres and a registered population of about 130,000 (this figure does not include migrants and the transitory population), Shangrila has plenty of room and there is indeed a distinct feeling of ‘space’ with imposing mountains, wide blue skies, and even the Tibetan houses are gigantic by anyone’s standard. Like some other hot tourist destinations in Yunnan, notably Lijiang (see my introduction to Lijiang and Shuhe), Shangrila has entered a period of rapid development. The Prefectural Governor told us in his welcoming address at the conference that in a few short years they are expecting an annual influx of one million visitors. Good for business most certainly. But will it be good for Shangrila? For its ecology? For its diverse cultures? For improving the life choices and living standards of ordinary people? Shangrila thus faces many challenges and difficult choices as it seeks to become the ‘next big thing’ on both domestic and international tourist circuits and concomitantly maintain the ecology and lifestyles which we associate with the name ‘Shangrila’. There is a very good article by Liu Jianqiang of ‘ChinaDialogue’ (an organisation devoted to discussing China’s environmental issues) on ‘Vanishing Shangrila’ which discusses some of the issues I raise here.

The old town of Shangrila (Zhongdian) is now a major tourist attraction and has undergone quite a bit of expansion which makes it hard to work out where the 'old' ends and the 'new' begins. It has not yet become as overly commercialised and busy as the old town of Lijiang (Dayan).

Just a quick note on the significance of ‘Shangrila’ for upon hearing of its terrestrial existence many readers may be about to pack their bags and get to the nearest airport (indeed, as I explain below, places like Shangrila are attracting people looking for a lifestyle change). ‘Shangrila’ first came into the English language via the 1933 novel Lost Horizon by James Hilton, which several years later was produced as film of the same name. Both book and film were well received and hit a particular chord amongst the predominantly Western audience. Remember at this time that Europe was just on the verge of being once again plunged into bloody warfare on a scale unforeseen in human history, another nail in the coffin for so-called ‘Western civilisation’. Bearing this in mind Hilton used the term ‘Shangrila’ to refer to a utopian paradise where people were guided by wisdom, where the locals (we assume they are Tibetan although we don’t really get too close) live a simple and pure existence in harmony with nature (what in Chinese is known as a ‘peach orchard beyond this mundane world’ (世外桃源)). By my reading ‘Shangrila’ as depicted in the novel and film, and later within Western popular culture, is full of the standard Orientalist tropes and sits alongside a modernist fancy for finding the cure for a materialist and decadent West in the spiritual wisdom of the East (a theme that also became popular in the ‘Asian Values’ debate of the 1990s). If you take careful note of the main plot of the film it concerns the transfer of the corpus of knowledge of human civilisation from one European custodian to another (without any consultation with the indigenous people who seem to exist in a state of blissful subservience). How exactly ‘Xianggelila‘ (Chinese for ‘Shangrila’) is understood within Chinese, given that it has only become more widespread in recent years, remains to be thoroughly investigated (an interesting postgraduate research topic). Prior to 2001 Shangrila was officially known as ‘Zhongdian’ ( 中甸) (and many of the locals still refer to it as such). But in accordance with government plans to develop cultural tourism it was decided to rename ‘Zhongdian’ as ‘Shangrila’. This renaming of places so as to bolster to prospects of tourism has become something of a trend in China, and indeed along the ‘Ancient Tea Horse Road’ there are a few examples with ‘Puer’ undergoing a similar name-shift in 2007 (you can read about the Puer case here and here). This is not to suggest that Shangrila is not worthy of this title as an ‘earthly paradise’. Indeed, Shangrila is one of the most beautiful places in China with majestic mountains, rich alpine forests, meadows and lakes, and is inhabited by a mixture of Tibetan, Lisu, Han, Naxi, Bai, Yi and several other ethnic minority groups, all of whom seem to live in relatively harmony (there seems to be little in the way of serious ethnic tension, at least when compared to other parts of Tibet, Sichuan, Qinghai and Xinjiang). Tibetans make up about 33% of the total population, followed by Lisu at 27%. At approximately 11 persons per square kilometre there is plenty of space for both ‘man’ [sic] and ‘nature’. I will have more to say about Shangrila as both a place and an idea below, after a brief report on the conference.

Shangrila is home to the Ganden Sumtseling Lamesary (Songzanlinsi in Chinese). It is the largest lamasery in Yunnan and an important place of worship and scholarship in the Yellow Hat Sect. It too has now become a major tourist attraction. Some lamas I spoke to said it is no longer a good place for training due to the large numbers of tourists.

The obligatory dancing with the locals in the old town square ('old' or 'new'?). On my way out to Hamagu (see below) I saw truckloads of village women dressed in their costumes no doubt on their way to perform the public dancing routine.I suspect that the villages nearby take turns.

The theme for the conference was ‘New Horizons for the Future of Tourism’ and there were indeed many papers addressing this topic. Presenters came from many corners of the world, including a great paper on the Kokoda Track (very important for Australians),  but it is fair to say that the vast majority focused on China, which was great for me as I had so much exposure to many different aspects of tourism and tourism development in the Middle Kingdom. There were too many good papers for me to go through them all. The opening keynote by Professor Alastair M. Morrison, President of ITSA, is worthy of note as it took a critical look at tourism development in China and presented a number of policy options to avoid the many problems that are arising as a result of rapid development and the sheer scale of things in China. Alastair summed up his approach under the title of ‘China’s ‘new’ tourism’ by which he means that tourism is developing so fast that is lacks sufficient planning and, in terms of marketing which his particular area of expertise, is loaded with cliches. Some of the key concerns he raised, which I have also noted in my fieldwork and reading of the literature, include purporting to be an ecotourism destination without really being true to the fundamental concepts of ecotourism and sustainability; talking about tourism at great length without really understanding the principles; and the tourism ‘trojan horse’ in which real estate developers use the guise of tourism real estate to sell property. I sincerely hope Alistair and ITSA can have some positive impact on tourism policy formation and implementation in China and will stay closely tuned. My own paper, by the way, was on the possibility of developing international standard hiking trails along the ‘ancient tea road’ in Shangrila. This served as a hypothetical entry into a discussion about the rise of adventure tourism in China and the emergence of the ‘donkey friends’. The paper will be published hopefully in 2012.

The last day of the conference was devoted to visits to Ganden Sumtseling Lamasery and Pudacuo National Park (普达措国家公园). The latter is one of China's most awarded tourist attractions in the 'national park' categoy. In China a 'national park' has as its primary objective the development of tourism, quite different to the emphasis on conservation that we associate with the term in Australia. Pudacuo is one of the better examples in China of finding a balance between tourism and conservation.

Two young women from Hamugu Village who kindly directed in the direction of the elusive remnant road.

In the short amount of time at my disposal (like many conferences that take place in the northern hemisphere the teaching commitments of those of us in the antipodes are often overlooked!) I took the recommendation from colleagues to examine some remnant road near the Tibetan Village of Hamugu (哈木谷). Due to its strategic location Hamugu is regarded as an important staging post on the ancient tea road. Hamugu is approximately ten kilometres from the old town, at the foot of Shika Snow Mountain (石卡雪山) (which for the convenience of tourists has a cable car all the way to one of the peaks, apparently the locals are able to use the cable car free of charge on important festivals days). The village is also adjacent to Napa Lake (纳帕海), a seasonal wetland that is now the site of much tourist activity, especially horse riding, and hence an important sideline activity for local villagers.  According to some sources, Hamugu was one of the first village communities in China to develop community based ecotourism. It could possibly be a good site for future fieldwork and I’m currently looking for somewhere to conduct a community based ecotourism project (which I hope will be part of a comparative project with a colleague in Taiwan who I met at the conference). Due to time constraints I wasn’t able to meet with anyone from the village in any official capacity (for which my liver and lungs were very grateful!), I simply hopped into a cab in the old town and said ‘take me to Hamugu!’. Once arriving in Hamugu I had a vague idea that I needed to climb up a nearby gorge and I asked two lovely village lasses for directions. Unfortunately they didn’t seem to sure where this ‘remnant tea road’ was, and suggested I make my way to the first major meadow on the mountain and ask one of the herders. Okay, sounded like a plan …

A typical wooden hut found on the high altitude meadows across northwest Yunnan and beyond. They serve as basic lodging for the locals during the summer months while their herds of yaks and cows are grazing.

Using a tea churn to make yak butter tea. Yak butter tea is typically salty and oily.

I managed to find the first meadow after climbing up and out of the gorge. Shangrila was really strutting its stuff, there were plenty of flowers in bloom attracting birds, bees and butterflies galore (although unfortunately the rhododendrons had just finished flowering). Upon arriving at the meadow I headed for the first wooden hut (小木屋), clearly there was someone inside as I could discern smoke rising from the chimney. As I approached I was greeted by a Tibetan woman and her young granddaughter (thankfully the ferocious looking Tibetan guard dog was chained to a nearby post). During the summer months the locals bring up their yaks and cows to the meadows to graze. It seems common practice for someone more elderly to take on the task of caring for the livestock and producing yak butter (suyou 酥油) and cow cheese (naizha 奶渣) during the grazing months, whilst the younger members of the family go about their business ‘down on the plain’ (farming and/or engaging in sideline activities such as tourism (horse riding in this case) and transportation). After a warm greeting, and being somewhat incredulous at seeing a lone foreigner ambling across the grass towards her, she invited me inside to enjoy some Tibetan tea (suyoucha 酥油茶) (in which the yak butter is a crucial ingredient) and tsampa (zanba 糌粑) (roasted barley flower which is mixed with some tea and kneaded into a dough and then consumed, along with more tea of course). We had a good chat about life in Hamugu including the impact of tourism on the community. For me it was the highlight of the trip, sitting there at about 3,500 metres in a simple wooden hut with such a generous local. Admittedly communication was not so straight-forward as I have virtually no Tibetan and her Mandarin was rather rudimentary, but that didn’t dampen our spirits. I asked her the way to the remnant road and she pointed vaguely in one direction. As it turned out I took the wrong path, but not to worry for as I was descending back into the Zhongdian plain I met a young chap from another nearby village. He was on his way down from a different meadow where his mother was looking after their family herd. His beautiful grey horse was piled with fresh yak butter ready for personal consumption and the market. I got talking to him and learned quite a bit more about economic and social life for villagers on the edge of Napa Lake. He knew about the remnant road and had taken both Chinese and foreign guests to visit it previously. He invited me to his house for more tea and tsampa and I promised to return, hopefully, later in the year or in 2012 to take up his offer to be my guide. All’s well that ends well.

Freshly made yak butter (suyou), an indispensible item in daily Tibetan life.

Madam Cheng at the door to her Tibetan style house in a village outside the county town. Tibetan houses in Shangrila are very large even by the 'McMansion' standards of Australia.

Whilst in Shangrila, apart from meeting many wonderful folks at the conference, I also had the good fortune to meet Madam Cheng. Madam Cheng is a semi-retired woman from Beijing/Hong Kong who having fallen under the spell of Shangrila has become a devout follower of Tibetan Buddhism (Zangchuan fojiao 藏传佛教). Along with one of her close friends she has built a Tibetan style house in a village just outside the county town. I’m quite interested in this phenomenon of the ‘mountain changers’, that is, those persons either from the eastern parts of China or from abroad who leave behind the hectic, crowded and polluted lifestyles of the city to find a change of pace and environment in the more idyllic parts of western China. This is something like the phenomenon of the ‘sea changers’ (or ‘tree  changers’) in the Australian context (that is, urbanites leaving the city to live in small rural communities on the coast or inland). Of course the term ‘sea change’ has a much longer heritage and can be traced all the way back to William Shakespeare. But in both cases it refers to the notion of a transformation, and in the demographic context of both a physical movement of a household (either permanently or for a prolonged period of time) and a ‘spiritual’ transformation. Another great postgraduate research project. Madam Cheng was kind enough to invite me to her house and whilst there I also was fortunate to meet Thangka Master Lobsang Khedup who heads up the Thangka Art Academy in the old town. I learnt a lot from him about the art of the Thangka and also of the complex nature of Tibetan religious practice. Although time was short I found my time in Shangrila very productive and hope to return in 2012 for a more extended period. Tashi delek བཀྲ་ཤིས་བདེ་ལེགས 扎西德勒!

With Madam Cheng and Master Lobsang Khedup.


‘Global Chinese’ Conference and 30th Anniversary Celebrations at Sun Yat-sen University

“Eat in Guangzhou, Study at Sun Yat-sen University”



Sun Yat-sen University is named after Sun Yat-sen (1866 – 1925), the first provisional president of the Republic of China (founded in 1912) and first leader of the Guomindang (or ‘Nationalist’) Party (国民党). Sun Yat-sen is revered as the ‘Father of the Nation’ (国父) by persons of all political persuasions (communist and nationalist alike). He also founded the university in 1924. It was renamed Sun Yat-sen University after his death in 1926.

From the 18th to 21st June 2011 I attended a conference on Chinese language teaching  at Sun Yat-sen University (中山大学). The conference was titled ‘Global Chinese: Chinese Language Teaching in the Global Age’ (全球汉语教学研讨会). The conference was organised by the School of Chinese as a Second Language (中山大学国际汉语学院). The School was founded in July 1981 and was hence also celebrating its 30th Anniversary. It was one of the first such schools dedicated to the teaching of Chinese to foreigners to be established in the People’s Republic of China in the reform era. I had the privilege of going to study there in 1989/1990 and, at the generous invitation of the School, also took part in the celebration as an alumnus. The story of the thirty years of development and growth of Chinese language teaching and research at Sun Yat-sen University from a small concern with only a handful of foreign students to a major enterprise with over a thousand students from around the globe in a given semester also captures very well the evolution of China’s changing self-perception in the world and the projection of Chinese language and culture into the 21st Century.

San Yat-sen University is located in Guangzhou (广州) (known in the past in English as ‘Canton’) which is the provincial capital of Guangdong Province (广东省) one of the wealthiest and most economically advanced regions in China. It is also one of the most populous with approximately 80 million people.  You can see where Guangdong is located on Google Maps here. If you look at the map closely you will notice that Guangdong/Guangzhou are strategically located next to Hong Kong (or perhaps we should say that Hong Kong is strategically located next to Guangdong). It was in this region of the Pearl River Delta (珠江流域) that China’s first steps towards embracing global capitalism and stamping it firmly with ‘Chinese characteristics’ started in the late 1970s. If you haven’t been to Guangdong I’m at least 100% certain that you have handled or touched something that was ‘Made in Guangdong’ for just as China is the ‘world’s factory’ then Guangdong is ‘China’s factory’. And if you have ever eaten at a Chinese restaurant outside of China or gone to yumcha in Chinatown then I’m very confident that what you consumed was derived from the the rich heritage of Cantonese cuisine. Indeed there is a famous Chinese saying that goes ‘Be born in Suzhou’ (生在苏州)[because the people from Suzhou are very attractive], ‘Eat in Guangzhou’ (食在广州) [because the food is delicious], and ‘Die in Liuzhou’ (死在柳州) [because they make the best coffins!]. To the ‘Eat in Guangzhou’ part I would add ‘Study at Sun Yat-sen University’ (食在广州,学在中大). Why? Allow me to elaborate.

An image taken in 'Little Africa' (非洲村) in one of the original villages of Guangzhou which have now become 'urbanised' and are now known as 'urban villages' (城中村). I will be writing about my visit to 'Little Africa' on the blog in the near future.

All those years ago at the end of the 1970s and the dawn of the process of ‘reform and openness’ Guangzhou was a very different kind of place. You probably could have fitted all the foreigners residing in Guangzhou at that point in one room. There were certainly little or no provision for anyone to go to Guangzhou to study Chinese Mandarin. Now Guangzhou is home to tens of thousands of foreign residents some of whom, such as in the above image from the ‘Little Africa’ (非洲村), are concentrated into certain residential areas. The influx of migrants, both domestic and foreign, has generated some concern amongst local Cantonese residents who fear the dilution of their language and culture. In 2010 there were some demonstrations across Guangzhou in protest of the perceived loss of cultural identity. The New York Times has a brief report on this subject here.

A picture taken of the Pearl River from the new 'back gate' of the old campus. Back in 1989/1990 the back gate was a bit of a 'waste land' connecting the campus to the ferry. It was a great place to take a few cold beers and watch the barges go up and down the river. It has now undergone a significant facelift. From here you can also see one of the tallest buildings in Asia.

Many people erroneously believe that if you want to study Chinese Mandarin you should go to Beijing or Northeastern China where ‘Chinese Mandirin’ (普通话) is the standard spoken dialect/language. Yes, going to study in these places does have some advantages, but also to my mind some distinct disadvantages as well. Throughout the rest of China people speak different dialects of Chinese (and of course in many cases completely different languages). In fact most people in China do not have ‘Chinese Mandarin’ as their first language, usually it will be a local dialect and/or language (although this is changing as across China the younger generations with greater exposure to education and a unified national media increasingly prefer to speak Chinese Mandarin, which is part of the concern about the loss of language mentioned above). Spoken Cantonese (‘Guangdongnese’ – 广东话) and Chinese Mandarin, for example, are mutually unintelligible (the written script is the same and that’s the core thing that has kept Chinese people  united with common bonds of culture and text over thousands of years). What people don’t realise is that the university campus in China is a microcosm of the nation at large and includes people from across the country. In this case Chinese Mandarin is the lingua franca on campus and in the classroom. Of course when you walk out the gates you will invariably be confronted with the local dialect as you would in most places in China. I have personally found exposure to a dialect like Cantonese extremely helpful when it comes to understanding the many varieties of Chinese spoken around China (and indeed around the globe). It’s also quite handy when visiting places like Hong Kong and Macau where Cantonese is the main language (although that is also slowing changing) and the many Chinatowns around Australia and elsewhere where Cantonese can be heard.

Sun Yat-sen University is a comprehensive research-intensive university consistently ranked in the top ten of China's institutions of research and higher learning. In 2010 it was ranked as the fifth top university in China and within the top 200 universities (171st) in the world by Times Higher Education. The original campus is also one of the most picturesque in China and has retained a lot of character and heritage buildings.

The School held a gala event in which both the local Chinese and foreign students provided the entertainment. Professor Zhou, one of the comperes, is on the far right. 帅哥人!

Studying Chinese in China during the Maoist period (1949 – 1976) was generally limited to a handful of institutions in Beijing, most notably the Beijing Language Institute (now known as the ‘Beijing Language and Culture University). And the number of foreign students at any time was also very small by today’s standards. But with the launch of ‘reform and openness’ in the late 1970s the authorities realised China needed to encourage more foreigners to learn Mandarin. Sun Yat-sen University heard the call and established in 1981 the Chinese Training Center ( 汉语培训中心). Over time it became very clear to the teachers and leadership within the Center and University that Chinese Mandarin was going to become one of the most popular languages for acquisition around the world and they were wise enough to begin to develop key strengths in both teaching and research. In 2009, after having gone through a number of other name changes, the Center was renamed the ‘School of Chinese as a Second Language’ ( 国际汉语学院) and is one of the most active and significant centres for teaching and research in this field both within China and indeed globally. The Head of the School, Professor Zhou Xiaobing (周小兵), is one of China’s leading researchers in the field of Chinese language acquisition. It is probably worth noting that in Chinese the name for the School should be literally translated as ‘the School of International Chinese’ which is a strong indication of how the School views the kind of research it is undertaking, that is, it is no longer just concerned with the teaching and learning of Chinese within China but is placing greater emphasis on research into the teaching and learning of Chinese outside of China. And of course like many other such institutions in China the School now as cooperative links abroad via the establishment of Confucius Institutes. One of my teachers, Professor Zhang Shitao (张世涛), is currently the Chinese Director at the Confucius Institute at Ateneo de Manila University (菲律宾亚典耀大学孔子学院) in the Philippines. The School is also home to a national centre of excellence in Chinese language teaching resources funded by Hanban (Office of the Chinese Language Council International, the body which also oversees the Confucius Institutes).

Over the last 30 years the School has trained over 12,000 students from 152 countries, quite a remarkable achievement considering it only started with six students from the United States in 1981!  桃李满天下! What is most remarkable is that more than 60% of the total number of students trained has taken place in the 2000s. No doubt much of the interest has been generated by the growing strength of the Chinese economy. Originally most of the foreign students, with the exception of some students on Chinese government scholarships from Africa, North Korea and other such places, came to institutions such as Sun Yat-sen University to study Chinese for short periods (anything from one month to a year). But these days there are a growing number who also extend their stay to take undergraduate or postgraduate studies. I want to take the opportunity here to encourage anyone keen on studying Chinese in China to consider the option of degree studies, it’s a fantastic way to really deepen your knowledge and immerse yourself in Chinese society and if you manage your programme wisely you will come out ahead of those who just choose to study only the language.

Li Laoshi (Teacher Li) way back in the day. A very fine teacher who incidently is now conducting research on the cultural heritage of the Pearl River Delta. Summer in Guangzhou is brutally hot and humid and in early days we didn't have any airconditioning ... anywhere! One of my fondest memories is Li Laoshi (Ms Li, not pictured) constantly wiping her forehead as she took the class. 谢谢各位老师,你们辛苦了!The only respite we had as students back then was to ride our bikes downtown to the White Swan Hotel (which then was a newly completed five star hotel on the Pearl River) and sit in the air conditioned lobby.

It was really great to see my teachers and to learn about the development of the School. Like most other Chinese cities Guangzhou has undergone a dramatic transformation and the area around the campus (the original campus on the banks of the Pearl River) is unrecognisable (Guangzhou has also had a recent face-lift with the holding of the Asian Games). In the old days it didn’t take me too long to ride my bicycle and find myself passing through villages and fields, but now you have to ride a considerable distance, a feat made more difficult by the dramatic growth in traffic. I had a very enjoyable and productive time whilst studying in Guangzhou in 1989/1990. In those days Guangzhou was probably the most vibrant city in terms of economic development, it had a real buzz. Oh and did I mention that the food was incredible! Yumcha before class was a regular occurrence! I also learnt taiqi from a lovely little old hakka lady who could barely speak Cantonese let alone Mandarin, and I learnt some ‘southern fist’ from a nearby farmer (the village I think is no longer) who introduced me to the ‘underworld’ of Chinese martial arts in Guangzhou.

During my time at Sun Yat-sen University in 1989/1990 I was approached by advertising companies to do some modelling (yes, they were desperate!). Here I am modelling some piece of plastic crap with one of my fellow students from Germany (then West Germany).

I gave a paper at the conference titled ‘Exploring the Use of the Internet as a Method of Chinese Language Teaching: An Analysis of the QQ Social Networking Platform in Facilitating Cross-Cultural Communication and Second Language Acquisition’ (基于互联网技术的对外汉语教学的探索:QQ聊天工具在跨文化沟通和第二语言教学和学习的作用). I wrote this paper in conjunction with my colleague Zhang ‘Pearl’ Yingchun (张迎春) from China Jiliang University (Hangzhou). This is part of our ongoing collaboration exploring this use of digital technology in the teaching of Chinese and the prospects for using the technology to promote both language learning and cross-cultural understanding between students in China and Australia. You can read more about this project with China Jiliang Universtiy here. Unfortunately Pearl couldn’t be at the conference but she was represented by two very fine colleagues instead (Professors Guo Lanying 郭兰英 and Chen Hong 陈红). I was honoured to be able to introduce them to the delights of yumcha and to interpret the local Cantonese (see, it does come in handy!).

If you happen to have studied Chinese at some point at Sun Yat-sen University the Alumni Office is keen to make contact with you. Please email Professor Zhu Qizhi (朱其智) at: flszqz@mail.sysu.edu.cn

Chinese Language Teaching in the Digital Age: The Online Cross-Cultural Communication Project

A warm welcome for UWA students from China Jiliang University

Over the course of the last semester (July – November 2010) I worked with my colleague, Ms Pearl Zhang, at China Jiliang University (Hangzhou, Zhejiang) to explore how our students could interact using the Internet and assorted communication software. Pearl teaches in the School of Foreign Languages in a special programme for students taking the teaching of Chinese as a second language. My students at The University of Western Australia are intermediate Chinese language students. So it seemed to be a match made in heaven. And so we launched the ‘Online Cross-Cultural Communication Project’. The emphasis here on ‘cross-cultural’ alludes to the fact that this was not just concerned with language exchange but rather with using language teaching as a medium to enhance cross-cultural awareness. I first visited China Jiliang University in May 2010. You can read about that initial visit here. The ‘Online Cross-Cultural Communication Project’ was built upon that first visit. It was good to catch up again with colleagues I met last time: Professor Li, Dr Chen and the new Dean, Professor Guo, plus the many teachers and students. I must extend thanks to my colleague and friend from Zhejiang University, Professor Wu Zongjie, for helping to make all this possible in the first place. China Jiliang University have written about the visit on their website here.

Finding their partners in the crowd

The project lasted for four weeks (Monday 20th September to Friday 22nd October). Each student in my Chinese Intermediate Two class was paired with a partner at China Jiliang University. Pearl told me that her students were so keen there were not enough of my students to ‘go around’, so participation from her end was very competitive. From my end I made the project a part of the assessment and thereby hoped to use both a bit of ‘stick’ as well as ‘carrot’. The students from UWA were instructed to: ‘engage online with your partner once per week for the duration of the project. Each period of contact must be for at least 60 minutes. You must first email your partner and set the time and date for the first ‘meeting’. At the conclusion of each session make sure to set a time for the next week’s contact period.’ Students could choose which communicatin platform to use: MSN Messanger, Skype, Yahoo or the Chinese platform ‘QQ’. (‘QQ’ is the most amazing online communication platform I have ever seen/used and I will be writing about it later in my research on the Chinese hiking communities which spend more time social networking on QQ than hiking).

Partner found!

The first two contact weeks were devoted to introductions. Students from UWA were instructed to introduce themselves and to interview their Chinese partners. A copy of the dialogue and a written report was required. The last two weeks of contact were given over to the trainee teachers from China to design a specific learning module. As a means of encouraging the students to reflect on the project and their learning both Pearl and I asked them to keep ‘reflection diaries’. These proved to be extremely interesting and informative. It was clear that both sides were anxious about the project not knowing what to expect. My students were nervous and shy. They worried that their Chinese was not up to scratch and would find themselves embarrassed or without anything to say. As it turned out both sides found that had a lot to discuss. Many students reported that they often extended the scheduled online contact time for anything up to another hour. My students reported that their confidence had been given a great boost. They surprised themselves in being able to confidently and competently communicate in Chinese with their partners on a range of subjects (this came as no surprise to me of course). For many of my students it was the first time they had ever communicated with a native Chinese speaker outside of a formal class environment.They same was true for the trainee teachers from China.

Student reports on the project

So I’m pleased to report that the ‘Online Cross-Cultural Communication Project’ was an outstanding success. But that is not the end of the story. In early December a number of the UWA students who took part in the project came to Hangzhou to study Chinese at Zhejiang University. China Jiliang University arranged to bring the UWA students out to the campus (way out in the suburbs of Hangzhou) to meet and interact with their partners. It was quite an experience to say the least. Although they had never met in person before the students had little difficulty in locating each other in the crowd. There were hugs and warm welcomes as they first embraced like long lost cousins (except for poor Philip who’s partner was ill that day!). We then moved to a lecture hall where the China Jiliang University students gave presentations reflecting on the project. It was extremely moving and very valuable. I had really underestimated the impact this project would have on the Chinese students. The UWA students were also in high spirits and Ash and Andrew gave a great presentation in Chinese and English (well done!) introducing themselves and life in Perth. When time came to depart I saw a few tears and sad faces.

There were a few hiccups. Technology and the Internet can be very unreliable and tricky at times. Initially we were hoping the students would be able to use Skype or QQ to talk to each other. But often the network was not strong enough to allow that so they fell back on using text. But that was fine as it gave my students a good opportunity to familiarise themselves with computer based Chinese character input methods. The UWA students also gave me valuable feedback and pointed out a few flaws. Pearl and I, along with Professor Guo and Dr Chen, took the opportunity whilst I was in Hangzhou to have a meeting and work out the strategy for implementing the project the next time. Based on this information Pearl and I are planning to expand and develop the project in 2011. We also hope to publish a research paper on the project in 2012 (plus also present the findings at a suitable academic/teaching conference).

Chinese Studies in China: Australia-China Roundtable at Shanghai Expo

The China Pavilion

On 27th October 2010 I attended a ‘Commonwealth Roundtable’ discussion on Australian/Chinese collaboration in the field of ‘China Studies’ (though as I explain below I prefer to use ‘Chinese Studies’ to describe the field). The event was sponsored by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and organised by the University of Sydney. It took place in the very impressive Australian Pavilion at the Shanghai World Expo. Australia’s Ambassador to China, Dr Geoff Raby, was the Chair. It was a small gathering of scholars from Australia and China. Representatives from Australia hailed from The University of Sydney, The University of Western Australia (yours truly), RMIT (Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology), UTS (University of Technology Sydney), UNSW (University of New South Wales), the University of Western Sydney and the ANU (Australian National University). From China the participants came from some of China’s best tertiary institutions such as Zhejiang University (浙江大学), Nanjing University (南京大学), East China University of Science and Technology (华东理工大学), Fudan University (复旦大学), the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences (上海社科院) and Tsinghua University (清华大学). I found the discussion extremely illuminating and thought-provoking and here will try to provide a bit of a record and some of my impressions.

The Oriental Pearl Television Tower. Very 1950s retro scifi!

It may at first seem a bit strange to be talking with Chinese scholars about ‘Chinese Studies’, especially those working ‘within China’ itself. Isn’t that what most scholars in China are doing? What benefit do they half in discussing what is meant by ‘Chinese Studies’? But in fact it is not so strange given that ‘Chinese Studies’ as we understand it in the Anglophone Academy (the English speaking/writing world) has a particular history, approach(es) and, probably most importantly, identity. As China continues to transform and rise it is imperative that we work closely with our colleagues in China to explore Chinese society and its interactions with the world from all angles. Clarifying different intellectual and methodological approaches is very important in terms of locating different cultural, social and historical perspectives and thus taking a few more steps towards more effective cross-cultural communication, understanding and collaboration.

Probably a good time at this point to define what I understand by ‘China Studies’. Simply put it refers to the ‘study of China’. Doh! The term ‘China’ obviously places the object of research within a given geographical and historical boundary which in the present day includes the People’s Republic of China and Taiwan (the latter getting rather  complicated when the issue of ‘national identity’ arises). We can immediately expand the field of study by tweaking the statement to the ‘study of all things Chinese’. Unlike a geographically bounded ‘China’, ‘all things Chinese’ has no spatial restrictions and in addition to the study of everything ‘within China’ would include, for example, the study of Chinese people and culture in regional and global contexts. In this day and age of ‘globalisation’ the latter broader concept of ‘Chinese Studies’ is more appealing, at least to me. Which is also why I have issues with the notion of ‘Sinology’ insofar as that term evokes the study of something to the exclusion of everything else.

Quite a provocative slogan!

In this regard I quite like the idea behind the new ANU centre which goes by the title of ‘the Australian Centre on China in the World’.  Professor Geremie Barme, the Director of the Centre, has been outlining his approach to the study of China through his writings on ‘New Sinology’. In a nutshell ‘New Sinology’ is a call for a deep and multidisciplinary engagement with China and the Sinophone (that is, the rich languages and cultures of China/Chinese speaking world/history) world. It involves a reflective approach and respect for Chinese discourse, that is, the ways in which through spoken and written texts Chinese individuals, communities and nations (as historical entities) articulate and think about themselves and relations with others. Actually, and as Barme acknowledges, whether we call it ‘New Sinology’ or ‘Chinese Studies’, the approach he outlines is something that most of us attempt to do anyway, although a deep engagement with a civilisation as rich and diverse as China is not achieved easily especially given the challenges of learning ‘classical Chinese’ (文言). What Barme is attempting to do, it seems to me, is map out a particular intellectual approach which draws on the traditions of Sinology and wed them to contemporary ‘Chinese Studies’. ‘Sinology’, a term now clearly out of favour to describe ‘the study of all things Chinese’, harks back to a classic approach to China that was dominant for a very long time in the West, perhaps up until the post-WWII period when ‘area studies’ came to the fore (the latter with a particular emphasis on ‘knowing the other’ for the purposes of Cold War engagement, a very postivist/empiricst approach to the object of knowledge). The practices of Sinology are deeply rooted in the study of China’s high culture of Confucianism and the classics, a very humanist approach one could say (‘humanist’ in the sense that we gain deep insights into another culture through the study of its literature, art and refined culture). Barme is seeking to combine this deep engagement with China’s classic past with the multidisciplinary social science and humanities approaches of the present.  Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is a big fan of ‘New Sinology’ and has cited this approach with approval and enthusiasm a number of times including in an important speech to students at Peking University. One of the important concepts that Mr Rudd uses to describe the relationship between China and Australia is ‘zhengyou’ (诤友) which can be broadly translated as ‘a true friend who offers criticism when needed’. The New Sinology could be seen to have had some impact here as it is just this kind of open engagement that it encourages. We will have to wait and see what, if any, fruit the ‘zhengyou’ tree will produce.

Outside the Australian Pavilion.

‘New Sinology’ is not without its critics and there has been some concern about the way in which Kevin Rudd went about awarding the centre to ANU without going through a competitive process and  the motives behind ‘picking winners’ when it comes to government endorsement of certain approaches to research. Other scholars are also writing on the topic of ‘what is Chinese Studies’ and ‘how is Chinese history and identity udnerstood within Chinese discourse/language’. Arif Dirlik’s work springs to mind. So does that of Glora Davies. I’m still working out my own thoughts on all this and what I have written here is preliminary. Hopefully I will have something more substantial by March 2011. Stay tuned! Oh, and I also learnt that the University of Sydney is establishing a Centre for China Studies in 2011. Something to look out for and good to see a bit of diversity within Australia.

Back to the theme of the roundtable. ‘Chinese Studies’ within China began to become visible as a specifically designated area of research and teaching in the 1990s as ‘zhongguo yanjiu’ 中国研究 (‘zhongguo’ literally means ‘the middle kingdom’ which is the way ‘China’ is commonly rendered in vernacular Chinese). It also coincides with the (re)emergence of ‘national studies’ (国学) in the last few decades. ‘National Studies’ refers to a body of research and commentary in Chinese which takes Chinese traditions, philosophy, schools of thought, and so on, as not only an object of study but as also containing elements of a uniquely Chinese approach or worldview (and therefore something that makes ‘China’ uniquely ‘Chinese’, in some ways reminiscent of classical Sinology which took China as sui generis). One of the participants from Tsinghua noted that there is something of a trend towards preferencing ‘indigineous’ (本土化) theory in China, a reaction one might suggest to the dominance of Western social sciences and theory. It seems to me that this coincides with a general return to the roots of Chinese culture (and of course its ‘reinvention’ and ‘repackaging’) that is unfolding all across China in diverse ways (religion is a good example and I will be writing on this in a few weeks after I return from a trip to a Zen Buddhist temple in Jiangxi).

In terms of establishing undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in ‘Chinese Studies’ it seems that Nanjing University has been particularly active. Zhejiang University launched a Masters in ‘China Studies’ (中国学) in 2005 and more recently was the first to establish an undergraduate degree in this field (中国学本科). In 2004 the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences held a conference on ‘International China Studies’ (世界中国学). However, as the discussion advanced it became clear that there were a few different understandings from the Chinese and Australian sides as to what constituted ‘Chinese Studies’. Our Chinese colleagues tended to be much more focused on ‘Chinese Studies’ in terms of applied knowledge, that is, how to solve China’s pressing problems (of which there are many!), whereas Australian scholars tended to view what they are doing as the ‘study’ of Chinese society, politics and culture more generally. This is completely understandable given the different social and institutional contexts within which Chinese and Australian scholars work. Of course Chinese scholars would be more concerned with solving practical problems, and receive research funds from Chinese funding authorities precisely for this purpose. One participant described the difference in terms of ‘utilitarian’ and ‘existential’ approaches. I think there is something in this kind of division and it is certainly worth exploring further.

Ambassador Raby, Professor Xu Yongxiang and myself. Professor Xu is a very interesting scholar and I have an interview with him to publish on the blog soon.

It seems to me there is at least two ways in which Australian Chinese Studies could contribute to Chinese Studies within China. Firstly, there is scope for Chinese and Australian collaboration in particular fields of social (and environmental) policy in China. Australia has a great deal of experience and knowledge it could share with its Chinese counterparts in this field. The role of Australian Chinese Studies scholars could be as ‘match makers’. Secondly, there is scope for Australian scholars to work with Chinese scholars to record, describe and analyse the dramatic social/cultural transformation that is underway in China. Indeed such collaboration on both fronts already exists but there is still great scope for expansion. China is now Australia’s number one trading partner and export market. Much more needs to be done however. Obviously it is crucial for Australia to develop a strength in the study of China, a strength that is comprehensive across fields and of the highest international standard. Ambassador Raby mentioned a few times how far behind and lacking Australia was in this area of China-related research and China Literacy. And hence capitalising on what we already have by working with colleagues in China is a very sensible proposal.

The sign informs visitors to the Shanghai Pavilion that they can expect a three hour wait!

By extension, I like to also think of how Chinese Studies scholars outside of China can contribute to shaping the ”story/stories’ of China’s rise and place in the world. I think that as ‘outsiders’ Australians have insights into Chinese society that many in China would appreciate, especially when considering how to project/interpret/package what is happening in China for a non-Chinese audience. Telling the ‘story of China’ is of course not necessarily the main purpose of Australian Chinese Studies, much of which maintains a critical distance from mainstream narratives, and rightly so. But my work in the Confucius Institute and brushes with Chinese efforts to project its image and develop ‘softpower’ has lead me to conclude that foreigners also need to be involved in communicating the ‘story(ies) of China’ to a broader public. This could of course take a very critical edge (‘critical’ in terms of ‘critique’ not simply ‘criticising’ something) but deconstructing dominant narratives and exposing the Chinese and the world to the complexity that is contemporary China. Let a hundred flowers bloom, a hundred schools of thought contend …

Just a quick note on the Shanghai Expo. Ambassador Raby informed us that more than eight million visitors had passed through the Australian Pavilion, seven million more than expected! So a huge success by that standard. And yes, the lines were long and bewildering!

Conference in Shenyang and Lecture in Beijing, August 2010

Downtown Shenyang.

From Friday 13th to Saturday 21st August I travelled to Beijing and Shenyang. You can see where Shenyang is located on Google Maps here. The teaching semester had already commenced at The University of Western Australia so I was mindful to keep an eye on things back home in Perth during my brief stay in northern China. Whereas winter was gradually receding in Perth and the first touches of spring are already upon us, it was still quite hot in Beijing and Shenyang with only the first inklings that the long cold hand of winter was approaching.

Conference in Shenyang

The main purpose of my trip was to attend the 10th International Conference on Chinese Language Teaching and Learning (第十届国际汉语教学研讨会) in Shenyang (沈阳) from 18th to 20th August. This conference is organised jointly by the The International Society for Chinese Language Teaching (世界汉语教学学会) and the Office of the Chinese Language Council International (国家汉语国际推广办公室) (known in abbreviated form as ‘Hanban’).  The International Society for Chinese Language Teaching was founded in 1987. It has 3,300 members, 840 of of whom come from outside China from 56 different countries. The Society also has 183 institutional members (which includes publishing houses, education institutions, etc). I am a member of the ‘council’ (理事会) and at present the only representative from Australia. The conference was attended by 640 delegates, including 154 ‘foreigners’ from 38 countries. Six hundred papers were submitted and only 325 selected for the conference proceedings. One hundred and thirty-two model class presentations were submitted.  Only 60 were accepted for the conference (a ‘model class’ is a presentation in which a teachers show a five minute video of his/her teaching and then discusses the particular teaching strategy and/or learning outcome).

A demonstration of the ancient Chinese art of woodblock printing given by one of the publishing houses at the conference.

The theme of the conference was ‘New Teaching Materials and Pedagogy in International Chinese Teaching and Learning’. There was a great deal of discussion on how to adapt the teaching and learning of Chinese to the needs of the 21st Century. There is a real sense of excitement that the Chinese Mandarin is now ‘going global’ . But also much anxiety that the teaching methods developed in China do not suit the tastes and learning habits of people abroad. There was a good deal of discussion about the younger generation of learners and the need to understand how to keep their attention focused in this day and age of digital media. One of the perennial topics of dicussion was how and when to introduce Chinese characters in the learning process. There is no consensus in this matter and I think personally it depends on the learning goals of the particular students themselves. There was also a strong presence from the Chinese language teaching material industry in the form of Chinese publishers and multimedia enterprises. These are at the forefront of China’s ‘softpower’ when it comes to language learning resources. Quite considerable progress has been made since the days when I first started learning Chinese in the late 1980s and our textbooks were rather bland and dull. But still a lot more work needs to be done and I think the only way forward is for Chinese publishers to work with foreign partners.

The Black Dragon warns visitors to the tombs in Shenyang that you are entering the zone of Imperial Authority.

The Dragon Throne in 'Mukden Palace'.

It was my first trip to the ‘north-east’ (东北). Shenyang is the capital of Liaoning Province (辽宁省) and the largest city in the northeast with a population of approximately seven million. ‘Liao’ is an ancient name for this region which derives from the ‘Liao Dynasty’ (辽朝) (907-1125). The Liao Dynasty is also sometimes referred to as the ‘Khitan Empire’ (契丹国). It is believed that the word ‘Cathay’, and ancient term for ‘China’, is derived from ‘Khitan’. Indeed, this is still the term for ‘China’ (that is, ‘Khitan’) used in Russian and many East European languages. It shows us the importance of the ‘intermediary’ states between China (the ‘central plains’) and those societies on the other side of the Eurasion land bridge. Incidentally it is through the Khitan Empire that the Russians were first introduced to ‘tea’, but that’s another story. The Khitan, one of many nomadic pastoralists in the area, ruled much of what today is northern China from the borders of Korea to Xinjiang. In Shenyang we are right on the doorstep of the Mongolian steppe and at the interface between the nomadic pastoralists, composed of many different ethnic peoples the most famous of which are the ‘Mongolians’, and sedentary Han Chinese agriculturalists who inhabited the fertile valleys, basins and deltas of eastern China. The conflicts and interactions between these two forms of social life shaped much of Chinese history right up until 19th Century (when the arrival of modern Western powers shifted the focus from the ‘grasslands’ to ‘the sea’).

Dazheng Hall (大政殿), the oldest building in the Mukden Palace was used for important regal and military occassions. In front of the building is a large square and down the sides are ten pavilions, eight of which represent the 'Eight Banners' of the Manchu military/administrative system.

A fine example of the decorative artwork in Mukden Palace. Part of the palace has been converted into a small museum explaining the techniques of construction.

The region was once a major industrial heartland in China but in recent years has lagged behind the rapid modernisation we see in the Pearl and Yangtse River deltas. Shenyang and the surrounding area is also famous for being the home of the Manchu people (满族), the ethnic group which founded the Qing Dynasty (清朝), China’s largest and longest dynasty (1644 – 1910). Before they conquered the rest of China the Manchu court established a capital at a number of sites, finally settling in Shenyang (then known as ‘Shengjing’ 盛京 – the ‘Rising Capital’) in 1625. It is at this point that ‘Mukden Palace’ was built. This is in some ways a smaller version of the “Imperial Palace’ in Beijing but with Manchu and Tibetan influences. It is not as spacious and grand as the Imperial Palace in Beijing but it is certainly more colourful and decorative. After the capital of the Qing was moved to Beijing the old palace was used as the place of residence when the Qing Emperors returned to the region and their ‘spiritual home’. The Manchu’s were also originally nomadic pastoralists and many of the Qing Emperors maintained the traditions of horse riding, hunting and living on the steppe. Shenyang is also home to a number of imperial tombs for the first Qing Dynasty Emperors. Both the palace and tombs are World Heritage listed.

Than Zhang Family Mansion. Quite a contrast to the Mukden Palace!

Shenyang and Liaoning (the latter actually only came into existence as an administrative entity in 1954, prior to that it was divided into different administrative regions) has indeed had a colourful history. It is strategically located on the Yellow Sea with the port city of Dalian (that has in recent years been a shining light in terms of economic growth in the northeast) and is surrounded by many ‘civilisations’. It is fair to say the every square inch of land in Liaoning has over time be fought over by a myriad of peoples. During the course of the 20th Century the Russians and Japanese wrestled with each other for influence with the Japanese eventually gaining the upper hand. For a time the Japanese established the puppet state of Manchukuo in which they reinstated the last emperor of the Qing Dynasty, Pu Yi (溥仪), as ‘regent and emperor’. For some time during the 1920s and 1930s Shenyang and the surrounding region was dominated by the Fengtian Clique (奉系). The Fengtian Clique was basically a series of warlords who ruled the area during a chaotic period of national disunity. The most famous of these are the Zhang family. Zhang Zuolin (张作霖) (1875-1928) laid the foundations for a powerful political-military base which is son, Zhang Xueliang (张学良) (1901-2001) inherited upon his father’s death (Zhang Zuolin was assassinated by the Japanese in 1928). In his youth Zhang Xueliang was something of a ‘womaniser’ and ‘opium addict’. The corruptions of a life of ease and plenty perhaps. Of note is a gentleman by the name of William Henry Donald from, of all places, New South Wales, who was a close confidant of Zhang and helped him kick his evil habits. Soon after Zhang Xueliang pledged his allegiance to Chiang Kai-shek and the Nationalists. He is most remembered for the December 1936 ‘Xi’an Incident’ in which he kidnapped Chiang Kai-shek and made him join in alliance to form a united front with the Communist Party to fight the Japanese. He spent the rest of his life under ‘house arrest’ (including for the entire length of time he lived in Taiwan after 1949). He is revered in mainland China as a national hero (千古功臣) and the Zhang Family Mansion is a major tourist attraction. Unfortunately I didn’t see any references to Mr Donald and his important contribution! The mansion is definitely worth seeing as it also incorporates the old Zhang family mansion built in the traditional Chinese style. So you can see the radical changes in architecture, and by extension social development and the symbolism of power, that were already underway.

Lecture at Beijing Language and Culture University

The main administration building of Beijing Language and Culture University

Before attending the conference in Shanghai I spent a few days in Beijing. I caught up with some colleagues here and there. The main purpose was to deliver a lecture at Beijing Language and Culture University (北京语言大学). The Beijing Language and Culture University was established in 1962 (after 1964 it was known as the ‘Beijing Language Institute’) as one of the first institutions in the PRC to teach Chinese to foreigners. It is the only specialised institution of higher education devoted to the teaching and learning of Chinese. It has the largest body of international students learning Chinese (I haven’t got the official figures but there are certainly several thousand international students at ‘Beiyu’ at any time). There is also a strong programme for training Chinese language teachers which attracts students from all over China, and now also from many other countries. As some of you will know this is not the first time I have lectured to Chinese language teachers. You can read about my lecture at Zhejiang University here.

With some of the volunteers and teachers

My lecture on the topic of ‘The Rise of Chinese Language Teaching and China’s Softpower’ was presented to participants in the ‘2010 Confucius Institute Teacher and Volunteer Predeparture Training Programme’ (2010年孔子学院岗前教师培训/志愿者教师培训). Each year the Confucius Institute Headquarters sends thousands of teachers and volunteers to work abroad in Confucius Institutes, universities, schools and other organisations. The ‘teachers’ are qualified Chinese language instructors who mainly come from Chinese language teaching programmes in Chinese universities and colleges. The ‘volunteers’ are generally recent graduates with little Chinese language teaching experience but a big desire to gain valuable experiences abroad. The training programme is therefore designed to equip both teachers and volunteers with the knowledge and skills they will need to function during their foreign postings.

Teachers and volunteers practicing Taiqi. They also attended classes on Chinese culture with an emphasis on folk art and cultural practices that they could 'use' in the classroom.

In 2009 Hanban (Office of the Chinese Language Council International) and the Confucius Institute Headquarters (孔子学院总部) sent 2,740 volunteer teachers to 71 countries, an increase of 32% over 2008. In this training programme there were 300 volunteers and teachers. They underwent twelve weeks of training in subject ranging from Chinese language teaching to understanding foreign customs. In my lecture I attempted to outline how Chinese language teaching is developing outside of China, with a particular emphasis on Australia. I also spent considerable time discussing the notion of ‘soft power’ and what it means for the ‘rise of China’. My challenge to them was to think about the ‘story’ that China wanted to project to the rest of the world this century. How do Chinese people want others to regard their country and civilisation? What are the ways in which one can foster goodwill? What obstacles and challenges stand in the way? I really enjoyed this lecture as it gave me futher opportunity to reflect on these questions. Through these lectures I’m beginning to develop some more sophisticated responses to the notion of ‘China’s rise and softpower’. I hope one day to put them down in more systematic form. The volunteers and teachers were very attentive and asked some tricky questions, even though it was early on Saturday morning! Thanks to all the team at Beiyu who made me feel very welcome!

The main entrance to Beiling (北陵), the 'Northern Tomb' in Shenyang. This mausoleum is dedicated to the founding emperor of the Qing Dynasty (Huang Taiji/皇台吉) and his wife. There is also a section tucked away for his concubines! It is now a public park and World Heritage site.

Inaugural Lijiang Ancient Tea Horse Road Culture Symposium

A Naxi women glances into the lens as street performers attempt to entertain the tourist hordes.

I was invited to attend the Inaugural Lijiang Ancient Tea Horse Road Culture Symposium (2010丽江茶马古道文化研讨会) in Lijiang (丽江), Yunnan (云南) from 6th – 8th July, 2010. The event was hosted by the People’s Government of Lijiang (丽江市人民政府) and supported by the Lijiang Cultural Research Association (丽江文化研究会), the Naxi Cultural Research Association (纳西文化研究会), and the Lijiang Tea Chamber of Commerce (丽江市茶叶商会). Once again I was wearing a hat from the Ancient Tea Horse Road Culture Research Institute at Yunnan University, special thanks to Professor Mu Jihong. The focus was the tea road and related cultural traditions as they exist in and around Lijiang, so I got a good overview of the cultural heritage issues and history debates from a Naxi viewpoint in this regard (the Naxi 纳西 are the local ethnic group). There were also scholars from other parts of Yunnan, including of course Professor Mu Jihong (who as it happens is himself a native Naxi from nearby Lashi Lake), and of course other provinces and regions where the tea road is of historical and contemporary importance (Tibet, Sichuan, Gansu and so forth). We were also joined by Professor Chen Baoya of Peking University (who announced that Peking University is also establishing a tea road research centre). Professor Mu and Chen were one of the ‘six immortals’ who took part in the historic research expedition twenty years ago on the tea road to Tibet. It was their initial journey and the subsequent publication of the account which really started the research and ‘rediscovery’ of the Ancient Tea Horse Road. I was honoured to be able to spend time with them, and other scholars, at the symposium (more time was spent around the dinner and tea tables, but in reality this is where in Chinese culture you socialise and engage in discourse).

With China's top 'Ancient Tea Horse Road' scholars.

Lijiang was one of the most important, and prosperous, staging posts on the Ancient Tea Horse Road from Puer to Lhasa. Here is another fine example of memorialising the history of the tea road in bronze public sculpture.

Lijiang is an historic staging post on the Ancient Tea Horse Road. The predominant nationality are the Naxi. The history and culture of the Naxi and of Lijiang is incredibly rich. There’s no way to do it justice in just a few words to suffice to say the the old town of Lijiang is listed as World Cultural Heritage. It has undergone tremendous change over the last two decades and has been transformed from a sleepy backwater to a commercially driven and thriving domestic and international tourist destination. The sheer success of Lijiang has had a detrimental impact, many would argue, on the ‘culture’ of the old town. Many of the residents of the old town no longer live there, having moved out to give way to tourism developments. And with all the tourists and noise who would want to live there anyway! But many locals I met, maybe with vested interests in commercial tourism (out of courtesy I didn’t ask), see things differently. They regard Lijiang’s commercial spirit as a continuation of the spirit of trade and entrepreneurship associated with The Ancient Tea Horse Road. Suffice to say that this will be one of the topics for me to investigate more thoroughly in the coming years. You can see where Lijiang is located on Google Maps here. You can see the images taken from this trip on my Flickr website here.

Jade Dragon Snow Mountain looms large in the Lijiang background, a majestic backdrop that reminds you your well in the mountains now!

Steamed Barley Buns (sweet or savoury), a Naxi speciality.

The night before the symposium Professor Mu kindly informed me that I was going to give a presentation at the opening ceremony. Thanks! It was only ten minutes long (and being a relatively disciplined speaker I kept to the time limit. Out of twenty speakers that day I was the only one to do so! Academics have no sense of time and seem to love the sound of their own voices!). As I haven’t actually done any research worthy of reporting at this stage I spoke about my experience in the Confucius Institute and the links between ‘cultural communication’ and the ‘Ancient Tea Horse Road’ vis-a-vis ‘softpower’. I explained that I see the ‘Ancient Tea Horse Road’ as an excellent platform to promote Chinese culture. As a research area it is extremely colourful and diverse. The inclusion of ‘tea’ is also a real winner as there is not a place on earth where tea is not a welcome beverage. My talk was well received and I had many scholars and officials coming to speak to me over the next few days. I was also interviewed by a number of newspapers and TV stations, they were keen to get an ‘outsider’ perspective for which I was only too willing to oblige. I’m really grateful to be so welcomed and to have so much enthusiastic support from all my colleagues. Now I just have to get some real research done! Easier said than done!

The conference coincided with a large commercial tea exhibition. Tea manufacturers, most of whom came from Puer, displayed their wares and offered tastings to passers-by.  Here a young Naxi lass pours a cup of freshly brewed Puer.

The only way to conduct research ... on horseback! Will have some difficulty getting 'Dali' through the library doors though.

The third day of the symposium was devoted to a field trip to examine the remnants of the tea road around Lijiang. Unfortunately I couldn’t take part as I had to catch a plane to Shanghai in the afternoon. So instead I arranged for a driver to take me to Lashi Lake to inspect the tea road myself. Oh dear! I should have explained myself to the driver a bit better (although Professor Mu did warn me that the actual remnant tea road is not so well known by the locals). Instead the driver took me to the horse riding attraction by the lake. I was a little bit bewildered but not totally lost for words. I asked him how from here was I to get to the Ancient Tea Horse Road? He pointed to a nearby horse. I then examined the noticeboard and discovered that one of the horse trails was to take riders to the tea road itself. Okay, I thought, what better way to inspect the old trail than on horseback! I paid the fee and was introduced to Ms Yang, a local Naxi farmer who was to be my guide. The horse I rode, named Dali (after the town of Dali), also belonged to her. I was assured by Ms Yang that Dali was an obedient steed but he didn’t seem to keen that particular day. Luckily I know a little about horse riding and was able to get him to move in the right direction, which impressed Ms Yang no end! After a few ‘adventures’ on the trail we finally made it to the ‘Ancient Tea Horse Road’, or so both Ms Yang suggested and the nearby rock engraving declaring the same indicated. I looked around. I even got of the horse and had a quick gander on foot. But to my disappointment I did not see any remnant trail at all! Ms Yang then sheepishly confessed that although this was the original site of part of the trail the stone paving had been removed some years ago to replace stones in the old town of Lijiang itself. Oh dear! The only trail I saw that day was a concrete path the villagers had built as part of the ‘tourist trail loop’.

Ms Yang picking fresh sweet yellow plums from her courtyard tree. That very evening I was enjoying these with friends in Shanghai!

Although I didn’t find the remnant trail on this trip I nonetheless was rewarded with an engaging conversation with Ms Yang and I learnt a great deal about the development and operation of tourism in this instance. Ms Yang explained that when they first developed the horse riding venture it was down on a rather ad hoc and unorganised basis. Different families and villages competed against one another. Prices were not set and altercations with tourists were common. Insurance and liability was also another prickly issue that raised its head when accidents occurred. Finally the local tourism authority stepped in and took over the overall management of the venture, for as Ms Yang explained, ‘We are farmers and don’t have any culture’. Hmmm … Anyway, according to Ms Yang, things are much better. Every household is welcome to join the venture and the tourists are equally distributed. The outside ‘managers’ take a cut to cover administration and so forth. The concrete path was built at the request of many tourists who were intimidated by the mud and dirt, whereas in fact the horses (there are no mules involved) and farmers prefer to ride on the unpaved section. Ms Yang was very kind and we stopped at her house on the way back. She showed me her stables, courtyard and garden. She has two daughters, one of whom is a dance instructor in Chengdu and the other works in store in the old town. She picked a pile of yellow plums from the plum tree growing in her courtyard which I took with me to Shanghai and enjoyed over the next couple of days, each juicy bite bringing back fond memories of equine enjoyment under sunny skies (not a horse or blue sky to been seen in Shanghai!). Anyway, I now have some good openings to persue the topic of tourism and the horse road a bit further, if I so desire.

Whilst in Lijiang I also attended the opening of a 'branch' of the Yunnan University Ancient Tea Horse Road Culture Research Institute. It is also something of a museum/exhibition with a massive diorama of the tea road from Puer to Lhasa that covers two entire stories.

A bovine hybrid? I'm not too sure ...

I also had a bit of luck of the bovine variety. Whilst in Shanghai a few days earlier I came across a book in which was written: “Long years of training and domestication have resulted in domestic yaks, which may be crossed with oxen to produce a stirile hybrid. Hardy, with a stalwart build and docile temperament, this animal is equally suited for use on the high plateau and in the plains … Their gait over flat land is sure and steady and has earned them the names “ships of the plateau””. As we were passing through Ms Yang’s village one particular bovine specimen took my eye as from all appearances it was half-yak/half-oxen! I asked Ms Yang to verify my suspicions and to my delight I’m glad to report that I think I have now seen a yak-oxen bovine hybrid in the flesh. And what a fine specimen of a beast! I have since discovered that these beasts are known in Tibetan as dzo and that if the hybrid offspring is female it is raised for its milk, if male as a beast of burden. I also suspect that much of the milk that goes to make up ‘Yak Yoghurt’ (a popular dairy product in Lijiang and growing in popularity in Beijing and Shanghai) and ‘Yak Jerky’ is actually derived from these animals. To be investigated!

Part of the diorama. Here we see yaks (or the bovine hybrids?) taking on the task of transporting tea and goods on the high Tibetan plateau.

Lijiang has become such a tourist 'Mecca' that visitors need to be reminded 'shopping should be rational'!

I first visited Lijiang in 1994. In those days it was still a relatively quiet place with a distinctly bucolic and relaxed atmosphere. Today it is a bustling city with a burgeoning tourist industry. In the past it was the foreign tourist that was the main pillar of the tourist economy, but nowadays, as is the case all over China, it is the domestic tourist which is the driving force. Oh my God! How Lijiang has changed! When I first visited Lijiang there were only a couple of foreign style and Chinese restaurants, and a handful of bars. Now, with the massive influx of Chinese tourists looking for leisure and fun, Lijiang’s bar scene has powered ahead and is really quite something else to see. Here is another topic worthy of research: the emergence of China’s bar culture and proliferation across China.

The old market square of Ljiang, now firmly part of the 'shopping experience', 21st Century tourist style!

The next generation of Naxi women dancing in the market square. Where did the old women go I wonder?

Lijiang also has a strong live music scene. First and foremost are the musical traditions of the Naxi. The Naxi elite imported the musical fashions from the Tang Court and whereas those musical styles have long since disappeared in Han China they still survive in Lijiang. Mr Xuan Ke, a living legend, reinvigorated the Naxi classical music in the 1980s and the orchestra performs on a daily basis, much to the delight of music aficionados and no doubt to Mr Xuan’s hip pocket. I had the pleasure of briefly meeting Mr Xuan a few times previously and also saw him in action at the symposium as he reminisced about the horse caravans. He is now eighty-one and still going strong. Mr Xuan urged all the delegates to see the Naxi classical music orchestra, and to do so soon, as the players are aging and ‘disappearing’ one by one. A few younger Naxi men and women have taken up the instruments but only time will tell if it can be truly retained.The Naxi are also famous for their dances. The women folk in particular are fond of getting together in public to dance. When I first visited Lijiang the old women would gather in Sifangjie (the site of the market place in times gone past) and dance for several hours. I notice that this tradition continues today but also notice that the old women have disappeared and have been replaced by a much younger group of Naxi women. Fair enough! I’m sure the old women are still out there somewhere, but probably away from the tourist gaze!

A young Chinese music producer. The next Phil Spector? I hope not!

All the young dudes just doing their bit to make a living! I had fun jamming with them .

In addition to the classical music and the dancing is the live music scene in the bars and cafes. Many of the bars employ musicians to pump out easy-listening pop music, much of which is pretty average. But here and there are some real talented musicians and performers. They come from all over China and included local talent. I noticed a few small ‘music workshops’ in the old town and had a chat to one young music producer entrepreneur. He sells cds of local artists who perform in the bars. He records them in local recording studios and sells the cds to tourists. He recommended a few for me and I was pleasantly surprised and have taken home a pile of stuff to enjoy. I’m also pleased to report that I spent two nights jamming with some dudes in a bar. Of course I’m limited to playing blues and rock, and not very well, but what I had to offer seemed to be a very welcome diversion!! Believe it or not we even attracted passers-by into the bar! But the damn owners still made me pay for my beer! Out bloody rageous! The other thing I witnessed was what I will call the ‘Chinese hippy trail’. I’m referring to young Chinese urbanites who have taken to the road and are travelling throughout western China, with Dali, Lijiang and Shangrila as popular destinations. These youngsters dress just like western ‘ferals’ (sorry for not being more politically correct, but you get the idea), with a major difference that they always were shoes! After playing in the bar I went down to Sifangjie and noticed a whole crowd of youngsters sitting on the steps. One young gentleman was playing guitar and singing a popular Chinese folk/rock song (‘I’m a little bird’). The rest of the crowd were singing along. It was quite amazing to see this and to think of how Sifangjie is now being used as a musical venue!

I’m now all set and well connected to get some serious work done in and around Lijiang. I look forward to get back there and getting my hands dirty soon. In the meantime I will plough my way through the collection of books and articles I have in my study, as well as try to master a few more Chuck Berry licks!

The Western Australian Zhejiang Business and Culture Promotion Association

On Sunday 18th July I attended a luncheon function held by the The Western Australian Zhejiang Business and Culture Promotion Association (WAZBCA). The WAZBCA was founded in 2009 and seeks to promote business and cultural links between Zhejiang Province and Western Australia. Zhejiang Province and Western Australia are also Sister States/Provinces (with over 25 years of exchange). The WAZBCA hopes to do its bit to further promote the growing bilateral relationship.

The luncheon was held to celebrate the first year of achievements in establishing the Association and running a number of cultural and business events. The luncheon was attended by Association members and supporters including representatives from local, state and federal government, such as the Honoural Judy Moylan, Member for Pearce. Vice-Consul General Ms ZHANG Hong was present representing the Consulate General of the People’s Republic of China.

I’m very honoured to have been invited to be the ‘Honorary President’. I have a great passion of China-Australia relations, and especially for relations between Western Australia and Zhejiang. At the luncheon I gave a very brief overview of Hangzhou and Zhejiang and related some of my more recent experiences whilst residing in Hangzhou. I will be organising a lecture function with the Association, scheduled for later this year. Stay tuned!

Lecture at Zhejiang University: Globalisation, Chinese Softpower and the Internationalisation of Chinese Mandarin

A young graduate posing at the main entrance to the Zijingang Campus. Good luck!

I was invited by Professor Huang Jianbin (黄建滨), Director of the Chinese Culture and International Communication Centre (中国文化国际传播中心主任) and Coordinator of the  International Chinese Language Teaching Programme (汉语国际教育专业负责人) in the School of International Studies (外国语言文化与国际交流学院) at Zhejiang University (浙江大学), to give a lecture on the topic of ‘Globalisation, Chinese Softpower, and the Internationalisation of Chinese Mandarin’. The lecture was held on the afternoon of Friday 2nd July. Zhejiang University is one of China’s top research intensive universities, consistently ranked as the top third or fourth institution of this kind in China. It is a member of the prestigious C9, a consortium of China’s nine top research-intensive universities (a bit like our Australian ‘Group of Eight’). It is a very large university with five campuses and nearly 40,000 students. I have had great pleasure in working with colleagues across different Schools (Faculties) and getting to know some of the students. I’m particulary fond of all my colleagues in the International College (国际教育学院).

View from the hills behind the Yuquan Campus of Zhejiang University. You can see a bit of West Lake up in the top right-hand corner. As beautiful as Hangzhou is it can't escape the haze that envelopes most Chinese cities on the eastern seaboard.

A Buddhist sculpture in one of the many grottoes at Lingyin Temple. This parituclar sculpture was made during the Yuan Dynasty (1271 - 1368).

As many of you will be aware, I have spent the last six months in Hangzhou as a Senior Visiting Scholar at Zhejiang University. A few brief words about Hangzhou, my adopted home for the last six months. It is the provincial capital of Zhejiang Province and is strategically located in the rich and prosperous Yangtse Delta, only a few hours drive away from Shanghai. Hangzhou is one of China’s most liveable cities, it is certainly one of the most beautiful. It is fortunate to have fantastic natural scenery and many parks. There is the famous West Lake (西湖) to admire and the many hills surrounding the lake which are covered in forests, streams, tea plantations (form which we get the famous ‘Dragon Well Tea’) and Buddhist temples (and the odd Daoist one as well). Hangzhou has a very long history. The city itself goes back well over 2,000 years. For a time it was the a dynastic capital (during the Southern Song Dynasty, 1127 – 1229, during which time it was most likely the largest and most populous city in the world). It has been admired and rendered into poetry and painting by many famous Chinese artists such as Li Bai and Su Dongpo (both of whom were also local magistrates, ‘Governors’ if you will, in Hangzhou). It has been a very important centre for Buddhism, being home to the Lingyin Temple (灵隐寺), one of China’s largest and wealthiest temples. It is also the starting point for the historic and strategically vital Grand Canal (大运河), an 8,000 kilometre network of canals, lakes and rivers that brought tribute rice from the fertile Yangtse Delta to the granaries of Beijing (the capital of China for much of the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties). There is simply not enough space here to list all of Hangzhou’s historical and contemporary merits, suffice to say that if you visit China and don’t include Hangzhou on the itinerary your missing out (or have to plan another trip!). The West Lake is currently on the Tentative List for World Cultural Heritage at UNESCO. I certainly hope it makes it onto the permanent list. You can see where Hangzhou is located on Google Maps here.

Picking 'Dragon Well Tea' in fields just behind Lingyin Temple.

With students and teachers outside the lecture hall.

The lecture was presented, in Chinese,  to the Masters students taking a course in the ‘Teaching of Chinese as a Second Language’. There were approximately forty students present. Most of them were from different parts of China, but there were also about 15 international students from countries such as Japan, Korea, Vietnam and Thailand. As China continues to ‘rise’ it is crucial that more students around the world begin to learn Chinese Mandarin. Indeed this trend is already well underway with large increases in the number of students studying Chinese in many countries. In order to make sure students keep up their language studies and attain a desired level of proficiency it is also crucial to ensure that the teaching methods and pedagogy continually develop and improve. The Office of the Chinese Language Council International (Hanban), where I was a visiting Foreign Expert (外传) for four months in 2009, has funded a number of such Masters programmes in institutions all across China. It is encouraging to see a new young cohort of enthusiastic teachers being trained. It is also very encouraging to see that international students are also getting in on the act. Indeed, we need a good balance of Chinese native speaker and non-native speaker Chinese language teachers. Both have the capacity to teach Chinese to a high standard and both bring something different, and valuable, to the classroom in terms of cultural and social knowledge.

Flower and main administrative building of Zhejiang University in background.

Another batch of graduates, the 'Class of 2010'.

In my lecture I outlined what I understood by ‘softpower’ and also the way in which ‘softpower’ is understood within China. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, in a nutshell, ‘hardpower’ refers to the physical infrastructure of a nation – the military might, the economic muscle, the research capacity, and so on. ‘Softpower’ is a bit more nebulous as it refers to concepts and more intangible phenomenon such as ‘values’ and ‘spirit’ that create a sense of inspiration and awe. It may for example, include normative notions of political participation and democracy. It certainly includes the capacity for creativity and innovation. Most importantly it suggests that the more and better (?) softpower a nation has the more likely other people around the globe are to look upon you in favourable terms. Ultimately a ‘super’ sense of softpower is one that can be ‘exported’ to different social and cultural contexts (such as the ‘American way of life’, for better or ill!). In Chinese debates softpower is all about promoting Chinese culture and an awareness of China that creates long-lasting goodwill. The Confucius Institutes are one of the key institutions in this regard (and I know a little about that as I was Director of a Confucius Institute for five years).

I concluded the lecture by talking about some of the challenges they may face as Chinese language teachers teaching in a foreign context. Many of the Chinese teachers were keen to apply to join Hanban’s ‘volunteer teacher’ programme (which sends Chinese language teachers abroad) and listened very carefully to all I had to say. They asked me some good questions as well. One student went a little bit off topic and ask me if Kevin Rudd had been dumped as Prime Minister because of his close ties to China! I told him that that was absolutely not the case at all, and that the relationship between Australia and China, whilst no doubt bumpy at times, would continue to develop as it was in the mutual interests of both parties (both government and business). Professor Huang invited me to come back and lecture again at the end of the year and also to hold a joint function with Chinese language students from UWA (and other parts of Australia) and the Chinese trainee language teachers at the end of the year during the ‘China Study Tour’ that I am coordinating.

Sunset at Yanggongdi (杨公堤), a section of canals and lakes at the back of the main West Lake. My favourite part of Hangzhou lies here.

Visit to Longchuan County (龙川县), Dehong Prefecture (德宏州): Part 3

School children in Husa with the new Project Hope teaching building under construction in the background

After a restful night in one of the homes of the villagers we had a quick breakfast and made our way to the local village primary school where Mr Shao is the Principal. The primary school is a ‘Project Hope’ recipient. Project Hope is a programme run by the Communist Youth League (CYL) Central Committee and the China Youth Development Foundation. It encourages donors to contribute to education projects in rural China where access to quality education is a real challenge. Most commonly the donors contribute funds to build school buildings, but they can also contribute through providing scholarships and infrastructure (such as libraries and computers). The donor in this case was  a particular government department based in Kunming. When we visited the school the Project Hope building was still in the process of construction but there was already a relatively new teaching building in operation funded by the local government.

Each day a number of children are tasked with the responsibility of cleaning the school grounds and classrooms.

There are a total of 174 students at the school. The school teaches grades one to six. There is also a ‘preschool’ class (学前班) which is basically a primer in Chinese Mandarin for the local children as most of them up to this point have only ever spoken Husa Achang. In this class they teach in a bilingual mixture of the local language and Chinese Mandarin. In fact all of the children at the school are Achang. It is the only school in Husa in which this is the case, the other schools have students from other ethnic groups (Han, Dai, Jingpo, and Lisu) as well as Achang. So the challenge of teaching in such an environment is very considerable. Some students have to stay at the ‘preschool’ level for an additional year if their Chinese Mandarin does not reach an acceptable standard. Even so I was informed that for those students who go onto Year One the challenge of teaching them in Chinese is still very great. As a student of Chinese myself I can totally appreciate that one year is not very long to master Chinese! In most primary schools in large urban centres by Year Three the students will also be taking basic English lessons. But given that Chinese is already a second language for most students in Husa they don’t burden them with this requirement. The school also requires that the students wear the school uniform, but as many families are quite poor it is not enforced. The fact that they at least come to school is enough! The school does insist that all children have some form of footwear (and will provide something for those who can’t even manage that).

With the teaching staff.

There are nine teachers at the school, including the Principal who also has teaching responsibilities. According to the official guidelines for staff-student ratios, based on the number of students they should be allocated another two teachers, but funding is just not enough to make that a reality. The teachers therefore have to take on an extra load (for which they get additional compensation). Two of the teachers are Achang, one is Dai and the rest Han Chinese. All of the teachers live onsite at the school (each teacher has a single room to him/herself). The teachers report that the pay and conditions have improved in recent years, but there are still many challenges. For instance, the teachers do a great deal of community work especially with regards to the ‘problem’ students. As there are no social workers or other such community support personell in the community the burden of counselling, mentoring and so forth, falls on the shoulders of the teachers. And given that they live in the school itself they are basically on call 24 hours a day.

Swatting up before class by the looks of it ...

The authorities have a new policy which waives all tuition fees for students from years one to nine (China has a ‘nine year compulsory education’ law 九年义务教育). Textbooks are also distributed free of charge. Prior to this policy change it was difficult for some families to send their children to school. For instance, in most of rural China, an average family may have an annual income of 3,000 yuan but the tuition fees could mount to a total of 800 yuan. That’s quite a considerable amount for struggling rural families. In Husa the average income is much lower than 3,000, so the challenge was even greater (whilst the school fee was not as high as 800 yuan, as a proportion of annual income it was, nonetheless, beyond the reach of most). The new policy seems to be working reasonably well. Mr Shao reported that attendance levels from the village families is very high. However, there are other issues to contend with. One of the challenges that Mr Shao mentioned was for families in which both parents were working in eastern China (usually in the factories of Guangdong and Zhejiang). Although they were making money they were unable to remit any to their families in Husa and the children therefore tended to stay at home (where they were also needed to do some of the farm work in the absence of their parents). Sometimes these children got into a bit of trouble with the authorities as their grandparents where unable to control them. Also, and very unfortunately, the ‘preschool’ year, as vital as it is, is not included in this policy and it can be extremely difficult to get the ‘fee’ (which is approximately 100 yuan per semester) from the families. Indeed, it make take anything up to three years for a family to pay the complete fee, if at all.

Pull up a pew ... literally!

After a lengthy discussion with Mr Shao and some of the teachers who didn’t have class at that moment Mr Shao ‘rang the bell’ and issued instructions for the students to assemble outside. I had agreed to give the students a brief talk about Australia and the ‘world outside’ Husa. Most of the children have never been outside Husa and they have never seen a foreigner in the flesh, let alone one that can speak to them in Chinese. Mr Shao was very keen for me to talk to them and fire them up a bit about the importance of education and hard work! I kept my talk very simple. I talked very generally about myself and my ‘education’ in China and gave a simple introduction to Australia. As is usual in the case of these presentations I talked a bit about Australian animals. I had some ‘Australiana’ gifts and told the students that whoever was brave enough to ask me a question would get a ‘prize’! This worked quite well as usually the students are extremely shy, but the lure of the ‘prize’ seemed to motivate a few of them. I really enjoyed talking to the students and I think, by the smiles on their faces, they found the experience a pleasant distraction from regular classwork!


As Mr Diao and I were leaving a number of the students blockaded the school exit by forming a human chain. They wouldn’t let us leave until we promised to return again in the future. I was extremely moved by this. It makes one realise how privileged we are and how such a simple thing as a visit by a ‘not-very-talented or significant’ foreigner can mean so much to these children. I have since had communication with Mr Shao and we have some plans to develop a special programme in the school, hopefully one which can be ‘exported’ to other schools as well. I hope to get some of our Chinese language students from UWA involved. More details later! In the meantime stay tuned for the next report about the visit to a Jingpo (景颇族) village, the last leg of the ‘Dehong Tour’.

The Australia-China Education Fund: Kunming Visit June 2010

The Nu River Valley. The Nu is China's last 'wild (undammed) river'. See it before it's too late!

 For much of late May and June 2010 I have been in Yunnan Province. The main purpose of my visit has been to attend two important meetings on the Chamagudao (Ancient Tea Horse Road) (more on those meetings later) and to visit some potential fieldsites for my research and that of future postgraduates. I have been travelling to Yunnan Province for many years. I have run study and cultural tours to Yunnan in the past, and plan to do so again in the future. It is truly a beautiful and fascinating place. Culturally it is very diverse with 26 different ethnic groups (more than any other place in China). Topographically it is also a natural wonderland with terrain ranging from jungles to high alpine meadows. Yunnan is extremely mountainous and this has meant that ‘modernisation’ is slower than compared to eastern China. There are still many areas of poverty and many social, economic and cultural challenges faced by local communities. But as my blogs are noting, change is taking place and Yunnan will not be the same in ten years time, so there is some sense of urgency to document what is happening.

Dr Russell Harwood. Now working in AusAid on the 'soccer skills programme' (that's a joke by the way, Russell only supports AFL!).

 In this connection, a few years ago a young lad by the name of Russell Harwood approached me in my office in Asian Studies at The University of Western Australia (Perth). He was interested in switching from a degree in International Business to something more firmly based in the social sciences. He had good Chinese under his belt as he was one of the few students of non-Chinese background in Western Australia to study Chinese Mandarin at school (Mount Lawley Senior High School). I was very impressed with this young man and took him on in a special ‘Honours’ project focusing on rural development in contemporary China. He did exceedingly well and went on to gain a PhD scholarship for an ambitious project examining rural education and development in western China. I suggested to Russell that if he wanted to make the most of his PhD experience he go somewhere a bit challenging. I suggested he do his fieldwork in Gongshan County (贡山县), Nu River Prefecture (怒江州), Yunnan Province (云南省). You can see where Gongshan is on Google Maps here. He agreed to take up the challenge and I arranged some contacts for him to get official approval to undertake his fieldwork. Although at first it was very tough going – Gongshan is extremely remote – Russell persisted and came up with the goods in the form of an excellent PhD thesis (soon to be published in book form). But being ‘Russell’ he was not content just to parachute into the fieldsite, gather his data and leave. He decided it was important for him to give something back to the local community.  

Shi Min with Sazimenken children on the 'Safe Path to a Better Life'

 Given that his research was on education Russell decided to establish the Australia-China Education Fund and use his resources and connections in Perth to raise scholarships for students in Gongshan. He also coordinated a major engineering project to construct a concrete path linking a village on a hill-top to the nearby county town (in order to allow the children of the village to get safely to school during the rain season). You can see a video about the ‘Safe Path to a Better Life’ on my Flickr website here. This project was later incorporated into the Gongshan County Government’s official ‘Building a New Socialist Countryside’ programme which is one of the largest programmes launched by the Central Government in Beijing to reduce the development gap between urban and rural/eastern and western China. Later Russell channelled the funds into scholarships for young women who have graduated from senior high school to take up technical and/or tertiary studies in Kunming (the provincial capital of Yunnan). This most recent project is known as the ‘Women in University Initiative’. 

A visit by Australian university students to the Dandelion Migrant School in Beijing. The school is run by a not-for-profit organisation that seeks to give the children of migrant workers in Beijng an opportunity to receive quality education.

As the then Director of the Confucius Institute at The University of Western Australia I was very proud to support Russell in this endeavour. It is fair to say that with the support of the CI at UWA Russell was able to get a lot more exposure that would have been the case. From the point of view of the CI at UWA I saw this as a valuable opportunity to reach out to Australians of all walks of life to both support a development project in China and at the same time learn more about contemporary China in the process. I have seen that linking such projects (that is, ‘development’ and ‘cross-cultural understanding’) is extremely successful. Russell and the CI received strong commendations for this project from the Vice-Chancellery (which used Russell’s example in a major nation-wide promotion campaign to demonstrate the calibre of UWA postgraduate students, you can see a copy of the advertisement here: The Australian 27 Jun – Rev 21Jun), and the Office of the Chinese Language Council (home of the Confucius Institute Headquarters). Many of the visiting Chinese scholars and officials to the CI at the time were also very pleased to see that the resources their country was providing to the CI at UWA were not only helping educate local Australians about China but also giving something back to young people in China – a real ‘win-win’ situation. It was in part due to this success, and also to the general solid progress of the CI at UWA at the time, that we received an ‘Advanced Confucius Institute Award’ and I personally accepted an ‘Outstanding Individual Performance Award’ (though acknowledging that ‘individual’ here is really a collective effort). Russell was also able to attract a lot of support from the local Western Australian community and draw people to the CI at UWA who otherwise would have had no interest in our activities.

The Fund has received very generous support from many Western Australians, including the Rotary Club of Matilda Bay, the Jack Family Charitable Trust, Patti Chong and Jen Wheeler. Unlike other poverty alleviation and education scholarship support programmes that target China, in the Education Fund the Australian supporters know exactly to whom and where the money is going. The supporters receive regular updates and can follow the progress of the scholarship recipients. The ‘value’ therefore works in both directions: on the one hand the scholarship recipients receive financial support (and mentoring), and on the other the donors learn about the social and cultural life of young people in China in a way that feels ‘real’ and ‘intimate’. In short, the project was a complete success exceeding all our expectations and it opened a new path in the development of ‘cross-cultural’ communication and understanding between Australia and China.

 At present there are two young women, Hu Junying (虎俊英) and Yu Qiuxia (余秋霞), who are studying in Kunming under the auspices of the Women in University Initiative scholarships. Whilst visiting Kunming during this trip I took the opportunity to catch up with Junying and Qiuxia and see how they were getting along. I’m pleased to report that both young ladies are doing very well. The transition to life from a remote mountain gorge to a bustling urban environment was a big challenge for them both. Although both did well at school in Gongshan (and hence where academically worthy of the scholarships) they found ‘competing’ with their classmates who have been educated in the cities quite tough.  

Hu Junying

 Hu Junying, the first recipient of the scholarship, is studying law at The Yunnan College of Business Management (云南经济管理学院). Junying is from the Nu ethnic group, a very small ethnic community inhabiting the upper reaches of the Nu River valley. She is a very mature and intelligent young woman with a strong sense of community responsibility. I asked Junying what has been her greatest reward during her recent two years of life in Kunming. She told me that for her the mere opportunity to leave Gongshan, which she had never done before, and come to Kunming in itself was extremely rewarding. She has learnt a lot about life in the ‘modern’ world and acquired many new skills, both in class and in the challenges of day to day life as well. I also asked Junying what she hopes to do upon graduation. She replied that she hopes to take the examinations to become a lawyer and work in the legal field. Her other option is to take the civil service examinations and become a public official. I then asked Junying what the greatest challenge was for her thus far. She told me at first it was very difficult to keep up with her classmates. She had to put in extra effort just to stay level with them. However, after two years of persistent hard work she is now in the top five in her class. Well done Junying!  

Yu Qiuxia

 Yu Qiuxia is studying a programme in music education (specialising in voice and ethnic minority performance) at Yunnan Arts University. Qiuxia is from the Lisu ethnic group. She had to undertake a special performance examination to get entry. The university campus has a real ‘artistic’ feel to it. As you walk through the campus you can hear music from every direction as students and teachers practice. Qiuxia said that the learning environment was very inspiring. It was only when she entered the rehearsal room that she saw the first piano in her life. She is now learning to tinkle on the ivories (an interesting connection here to Russell’s family as his late grandmother was a noted pianist). Qiuxia is keen to see more of China and to take the songs and music of her home to a broader audience.

 Both Junying and Qiuxia are extremely grateful to all the donors and want to pass on their personal thanks. It is hard for us to sometimes imagine what a huge difference this means for their lives. It is truly ‘life changing’. The scholarships have opened up new horizons for them, they can dream of futures that were once unimaginable. Russell and I are sure they will go on to do great things and be role models for other young women from Gongshan.  

Professor Diao Qigang, Kant's man in Kunming.

 Special mention must go to Professor Diao Qigang of Yunnan Finance and Economics University who has generously donated his time to monitor the transfer of funds to the recipients and to provide ongoing mentoring and supervision. Mr Shi Min, who lives in the county town of Gongshan, has also played a vital role in working on the ground to process the scholarship applications.

 Unfortunately the CI at UWA in its present incarnation has decided it will not support this project in the future. Nonetheless Russell and myself are determined to see that the Education Fund continues its good work and that we continue to develop the innovative model of ‘development’ support and ‘cross-cultural’ understanding. I personally see this innovative direction as a major growth area into the future. We hope that our supporters will continue to support the project and follow its progress in the years to come. I’m sure it will move from strength to strength. There will be some important announcements in this regard in the coming weeks, so please stay tuned!  

The obligiatory 'in front of the gate' photograph.