Select faculty members and students from a variety of departments and backgrounds had the opportunity to travel to China during summer break.
While some travellers have visited China in the past, such as Megan Ferry of the Modern Languages and Literatures Department, many saw the trip as their first dose of true Chinese culture. Their experiences were captured by Filmmaker-in-Residence for Film Studies Jim de Seve in his documentary “Ten Days in the Middle Kingdom.”
The documentary opens with quotes from the faculty. There was a mutual understanding that the purpose of the trip was to highlight the fact that a single nation’s ideals and moral backbone do not define the rights and wrongs of the world. If anything, “Ten Days” focuses on the importance of acknowledging that we do not live in an ideological vacuum and to be aware of other countries’ cultures and issues, whether we agree or disagree with them.
When touring Beijing the students and faculty noticed the immense amount of development in the area in the past 30 years. They visited the museum of modern workers, where they learned about the thirteen laborers that jumped out of a Foxconn building to commit suicide in an effort to become free from their life without dignity. In addition, the faculty and students were educated on environmental law, recycling and pollution.
In particular, the group learned from the environmental warrior activist that on June 5, 2016, more than half of the water was polluted; this was just a few days before the group’s arrival. They also visited an organic farm that was run by wealthy people “who play farmer on the weekend.” This shows the distrust in China’s rural agriculture.
When the group went to the rural area they had to walk down a staircase off the highway and go through a hole in a suspicious fence. The countryside was about 1000 years old. While there, they talked to some locals, including a couple that were born in the area and still live there in old age. The group asked the couple if they were happy, to which they responded positively; however, their responses may be due to Chinese tradition.
Because of how modern the cities were, the group expected the countryside to be more modern; whereas the cities were crowded with bustling people, the countryside was more or less abandoned. The only people there were the elderly and their grandchildren. However, the grandchildren are projected to move into the cities with their parents.
When going to a coal mine in Shanxi province one of the professors said that, “I’ve never seen anything that man made,” referring to the extensive coal mining that they were witnessing. When they went into the mine they had to wear special safety gear before descending 1000 steps only to make the same trip back up to the surface; there was no elevator.
At the end of the trip the group noted that they were unable to say if China was going in a positive direction. While one can argue that change does not need to be feared, one cannot deny that rapid change can and will bring about drastic consequences, both good and bad. At the end of the documentary a Chinese native expressed her happiness with China’s economic success. However, now that China has to deal with lots of smog and acid rain, she is concerned for the environment.
As a reflection, one of the faculty was more confused about China than before. The country hosts so much progression and technological advancement, but the political tensions run deep between city-dwellers and rural residents. That being said, China’s future is open-ended.
This is not to say that the country is going to have great challenges to overcome, but when a huge demographic of the most populated country in the world is frozen in time while the rest is propelled toward a new technology-driven era, there remains a missing link that goes back to the political repercussions of China’s government.
There are so many loose ends that nothing is concrete. It’s almost fitting that there is more confusion now than there was before China’s cities went through their monumental changes. But for now, we can only wait and see what the future has in store for the Middle Kingdom.