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Visit to Luoyang Normal University

Luoyang Normal University. From the official LNU website. There were no blue skies during my visit.

Luoyang Normal University. From the official LNU website.

From the 7th to the 10th of December 2015 I visited Luoyang Normal University (LNU) (洛阳师范大学) (for an English introduction visit this link). I was invited to visit Luoyang by two departments at LNU: the ‘Central Plains Intelligent Tourism and Innovation Center’ (CPITIC) (中原经济区智慧旅游河南省办协同创新中心) and the Jujube (Chinese Date) Applied Research Centre (JARC) (枣科学研究应用中心). An overview of the CPITIC’s history and objectives is available here (Chinese only). The official CPITIC website is here (Chinese only). An introduction to JARC and Professor Zhao Xusheng (赵旭升), the Center’s Director, is available here (Chinese only). Before I explain how this invitation came about and the research collaboration proposals on the table let me give you an introduction to Luoyang itself.

Luoyang is an ancient Chinese city. The human habitation of Luoyang and the surrounding region goes well back to the neolithic era and beyond. Luoyang became a centre of power during the Eastern Zhou Dynasty (771 – 256 BCE). During its heyday it was the capital of the Eastern Han Dynasty from 25 – 220 AD. It was also the capital for numerous other dynasties that followed (but did not have the ‘glory’ of the Eastern Han). Hence for many centuries Luoyang was one of the world’s largest and most vibrant urban centres.

Luoyang sits on the fertile ‘central plains’. The ‘central plains’ (中原) (or ‘middle plains’) is a commonly used term in Chinese to refer to the culture and peoples of the alluvial plains of the lower reaches of the Yellow River. This is regarded as the heartland, or indeed ‘the cradle’, of Han Chinese civilisation. It was in this region that the core of Chinese philosophy, cosmology and science was born. Some ancient bronze inscriptions found in this area display use of the characters for ‘zhongguo’ (中国) – which could mean either ‘middle kingdom’ or ‘middle kingdoms’ (Chinese nouns can be either singular or plural). This is most likely where we get the term still used today for China: ‘Middle Kingdom’ (中国).

Nowadays Luoyang is a prefectural city in Henan Province with a population of approximately two million in the core metro area (another four million in the rural districts). Henan itself has a population of approximately 93 million. Luoyang has definitely seen better days. Inland provinces like Henan have not developed as rapidly as those provinces on the eastern seaboard (such as Guangdong, Fujian and Zhejiang). It also doesn’t have a climate and environment conducive to domestic tourism like the provinces of Yunnan and Hainan. But it does have a very rich history and stories of fact and fiction which are deeply woven into the mainstream Chinese identity. It is these cultural and historical resources that have attracted the attention of my colleagues at Luoyang Normal University.

My connection to LNU came through a recently graduated PhD student, Dr Su Xiaoyan. I had the pleasure of supervising the ‘tail end’ of Xiaoyan’s thesis. Before embarking on the PhD thesis Xiaoyan was already a lecturer at LNU. She has now returned to LNU and is a member of CPITIC. Xiaoyan’s thesis was on the topic of community participation in cultural heritage tourism. Xiaoyan produced a very good thesis with the Shaolin Temple as one of the case studies. The Shaolin Temple is also located in Henan, not too far from Luoyang, and is the capital of Chinese Zen inspired martial arts and philosophy.

With Prof Zhao in the jujube (Chinese date) orchard on the new campus of LNU. Some of these trees are 400 years old. They were transplanted from village orchards due for demolition as the city limits expand. There are 751 different varieties of jujube in this collection (85% of all known varieties).

With Prof Zhao in the jujube (Chinese date) orchard on the new campus of LNU. Some of these trees are 400 years old. They were transplanted from village orchards due for demolition as the city limits expand. There are 751 different varieties of jujube in this collection (85% of all known varieties).

Xiaoyan contacted me one day and asked out of the blue if I knew anything about Chinese dates (jujube). I had to confess that I didn’t. It turns out that Henan is the ‘homeland’ of the jujube and Professor Zhao’s research centre is one of the most important sites of research on the jujube in the world. I learnt from Xiaoyan that Professor Zhao, one of China’s most eminent Jujube researchers with a long list of awards and achievements, was keen to make contact with me for two reasons. Firstly, to explore the possibility of jujube research and commercial production in Western Australia. Of course this kind of research and activity is not my field but I was happy to assist Professor Zhao in making the necessary contacts. Secondly, Professor Zhao was interested in my research on Chinese tea. He argued that the humble jujube tree had made an equally important contribution to Chinese and world culture, but unfortunately its contributions have thus far gone unrecognised. Professor Zhao explained that he would like to co-author a book with me in English on the history, culture and contribution to human civilisation of the humble jujube. So I traveled to Luoyang to meet Professor Zhao in person. After learning from Professor Zhao the background to the jujube and his own work I’m very keen on the idea. So another ‘seed’ has been planted, stay tuned.

Chinese dates (jujube) if you've never seen them. You can eat them raw and also dried. They are an important ingredient in Chinese medicine and often used in soups (adding a natural sweetness). They come in different sizes. The tress have thorns and are very tough They can cope with extreme conditions of heat and cold.

Chinese dates (jujube) in case you’ve never seen them. You can eat them raw and also dried. They are an important ingredient in Chinese medicine and often used in soups (adding a natural sweetness). They come in different sizes. The tress have thorns and are very tough. They can cope with extreme conditions of heat and cold.

After spending the first day with Professor Zhao and his team I was then ‘passed’ over to the fine people at the ‘Central Plains Intelligent Tourism and Innovation Centre’ (CPITIC). Tourism has become an important part of the Chinese economy (nearing five percent of GDP). Some regions and provinces have done very well financially out of the development of domestic tourism (Yunnan, where I have been spending a lot of time in recent years is a good example). By contrast, provinces such as Henan have not done as well as first hoped in the tourism sector. CPITIC is a very new center and was only founded in August 2014. CPITIC, whilst based at LNU, is a ‘coordinating center’ which means that it will be working with government departments, tourism developers and research institutions across Henan to develop innovative research and tourism development strategies. The staff at CPITIC are very young, well trained and enthusiastic. I gave a seminar on my own research in the tourism field to the academic staff and on the same day a lecture to students in the tourism studies major. That evening the President of LNU, Professor Liang Liuke (梁留科) made me an ‘Adjunct Researcher of CPITIC’. Professor Liang’s own area of research is tourism and its no surprise that he is the Director of CPITIC. Dr Cheng Jinlong (程金龙) is the Administrative Director and tasked with the day to day management and implementation of programs and so on. I’m looking forward to a fruitful collaboration.

Unfortunately during my time in Luoyang the atmospheric pollution was quite bad and visibility was poor. It was also starting to get a bit cold. I therefore didn’t get the chance to see many of the sites of historical interest. In any case the famous Longmen Grottoes was closed for maintenance. Instead, with Xiaoyan as my guide, we visited the ‘White Horse Temple’ (白马寺), the first Buddhist temple to be built in China (68 AD). The original structures are long since gone but there has been a functioning temple on this site since its inception.

This was my first visit to Luoyang. I made new friends and collaborative research links. I’ve already mapped out a research plan for the next few years. So my research has now taken me from the ‘periphery’ (Yunnan) back to the ‘centre’ (Henan). It will be an interesting journey. Stay tuned!

The certificate of appointment as an adjunct fellow.

The certificate of appointment as an adjunct fellow.

2 Comments

  • Jan 30th 201604:01
    by Jarek

    Reply

    Interesting report Gary, thanks for sharing! Good to see you suffering in polluted north for a change – instead of showing all these beautiful landscapes from the South of the Clouds…:)))

    Chinese date does not seem to have such rich culture associated with its consumption as tea enjoys, but it is definitively a very popular fruit, both dried and fresh, especially in northern China. Fresh date in November are great snack, so are dried, drilled and staffed with peanuts. Of course you know it well, after all you spent your time in Beijing, where the foodstuff shop opposite 百货大楼 on Wangfujing was (and hopefully still is) offering a whole variety of date.

    • Jan 31st 201600:01
      by Gary

      Reply

      Thanks Jarek. I’m curious to learn more about the jujube. Let’s see where it leads …

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