SACU Tour 2013 Following Joseph Needham's 1943 Journey to the West (11-27 September 2013)
Walter Fung has been SACU's editor of China Eye for ten years. He accompanied the SACU tour to China in 2013 and describes the trip in this article.
This tour has much significance with SACU because Joseph Needham was one of the founders of SACU (and the SCA in Scotland) and because SACU's present Chair, Zoe Reed's father accompanied Needham on his 1943 journey to Dunhuang. Zoe's father knew both Rewi Alley and George Hogg who played important roles in setting up industrial cooperative factories and schools in wartime China. There have been a series of talks at King's College, London on important subjects associated not only with this tour, but also with Chinese history. Several of the 27members of the tour group, had met Joseph Needham. The group also included, Catherine Townsend, the daughter of Peter Townsend who was also associated with the Chinese industrial cooperatives
Joseph Needham was already an eminent biologist when he became fascinated by China after he met some Chinese scholars at Cambridge in the 1930s. He became concerned that so many Chinese discoveries were unknown in the West. By 1943 China had lost much of its industry and research institutions which were situated in areas occupied by the Japanese. A request was made for assistance to Britain to help China's educational and research facilities in the western areas still under Chinese control. The British government sent Joseph Needham to Chongqing in 1943 to assist in whatever way he could and he established a Sino-British Scientific Co-operation office in the compound of the British Consulate in Chongqing. At this time the city was the interim capital of China and under intense Japanese bombing. In the course of his duties Needham made several journeys from Chongqing to visit industrial and educational institutions in other parts of unoccupied China. One of the longest and most notable was his trip by road from Chongqing to Dunhuang via Lanzhou and Shandan in Gansu province. Visiting the Mogao Caves at Dunhuang was one of his objectives and what he saw there probably influenced his future academic studies.
Needham collected Chinese books and manuscripts on scientific subjects and a large number were presented to him by the people he met. When he returned to Cambridge at the end of the war, he set up the Needham Research Institute ➚ (NRI) specifically to research and record scientific and technological discoveries in China. He recorded the findings into a book called, ‘Science and Civilisation in China’. Seven volumes were anticipated but in fact it eventually ran to 24 volumes. He died in1995 but his staff completed the outstanding volumes and research into Science and Civilisation in China continues today at the NRI in Cambridge.
Needham was an amazing character with many varied interests. His life and work are detailed in Simon Winchester's book, ‘Bomb, Book and Compass’ (Viking, 2008). These items symbolise the three great discoveries of China; printing, explosives and the compass. Francis Bacon, in the 17th Century, not knowing that they had all originated in China, declared that these were the three great inventions that had most profoundly changed the world. Needham worked to spread the knowledge of Chinese culture and he was a founder member both of SACU and the Scotland-China Association.
Because China's main industrial facilities were now in Japanese hands, a group of Chinese patriots and Western friends of China, with the support of both the Nationalist government and the Communists in Yan'an, set up numerous small-scale Chinese Industrial Cooperative (CICs) factories to produce materials for the war effort. This became known as the Gung Ho movement (‘work together’). In addition they set up schools (which became known as Bailie Schools) for orphans to be educated in skills useful to the cooperative factories - using a ‘hand and brain’ approach to education. Rewi Alley, a New Zealander, was instrumental in setting up both the CICs and the Bailie schools. To seek international support and to promote the ‘Gung Ho’ movement, Song Qingling (Madam Sun Yatsen), helped to initiate the founding of the International Committee for the Promotion of Chinese Industrial Cooperatives (ICCIC) and she was elected chair in 1939. ICCIC services were suspended in 1952, but they were resumed in 1986 with the opening up of China. The present ICCIC International Secretariat and training centre are in Beijing.
Zoe's father, KC joined the Bailie School at Baoji (Shaanxi Province) and met Rewi Alley. Shortly afterwards, KC travelled to the Bailie School at Shuangshipu with George Hogg, the new headmaster. Although he was happy here, KC heard about the Bailie School at Lanzhou, in Gansu Province and wanted to transfer there because it was further away from the Japanese and more secure. George Hogg arranged the move and KC was at Lanzhou for four years in total. It was while he was here that he and another student were selected to join Needham's team to journey to Dunhuang as general assistants; cooking was amongst their duties. After Dunhuang, they all returned to Lanzhou and the party dispersed at the Iron Bridge and KC returned to the Bailie school. Needham stayed for a time at the school as it was more convenient than Lanzhou city centre. In the winter of 1943/1944, KC met George Hogg again. Hogg was passing through Lanzhou with his 60 students who were relocating from Shuangshipu and away from the Japanese and also the Nationalist army press-gang recruiters. They had already marched 400 miles across the mountains and were eventually to reach Shandon about 200 miles further north from Lanzhou, where a new Bailie School was established. Tragically in 1945, a simple accident during a basketball game, led to tetanus and Hogg died at the early age of 29.
KC had made a favourable impression with Rewi Alley and was selected by him to go to England after the war, to continue his education. Needham had promised Alley that he would support the continuing education of Bailie students in England, to train them further to contribute to the development of China. At the end of the war and back in England, Needham sponsored KC, secured the initial funding and ensured there were sufficient resources to enable KC to complete his training in England.
KC travelled to England in early 1947 and attended colleges in Nottinghamshire and gained work experience in British textile factories. On completion of his studies he returned to China and eventually had a successful career as an engineer. When he left England he was unaware that his English partner was pregnant with a daughter, who was to become SACU's chair, Zoe Reed. Back in China KC married and had a new family. In the 1990s Zoe, managed to get in touch with the Chinese half of her family and she met her father and this family for the first time in Tiananmen Square in Beijing in 1997. He had settled in Lanzhou and raised his family there. More details about these and subsequent events are documented in the fascinating and absorbing book written by KC Sun (and Zoe) in his book, ‘An Engineer's Journey’ available from SACU.
Peter Townsend first went to China in 1941 to work with the Friends Ambulance Service. After meeting Rewi Alley he joined the ICCIC and became English Publicity Secretary, taking the place of George Hogg who had become headmaster in one of the Bailie schools. When KC travelled to Shanghai to arrange his documents for going to England, Peter took care of KC and all of his requirements. Peter stayed with the ICCIC for 10 years altogether, travelled to various places, including India and New York raising money for the ICCIC. He later became a contemporary arts writer and editor and wrote a book on called, ‘China Phoenix’.
For the 2013 trip to China, SACU and the Meridian Society decided to follow the route made by Needham in 1943. The tour itinerary has been detailed in previous issues of China Eye. Several of the members of the tour group, knew Needham personally and Peter Townsend's daughter, Catherine was one of the tour members. The SACU/Meridian tour, visited the places associated with Needham, Alley and Hogg, but also took in certain places of interest in the areas in which we travelled, such as the Panda Research Centre in Chengdu and the Museum cluster at Anren.
A map of the itinerary appeared in China Eye issue No 37, Spring 2013 and details of the locations have been described in previous issues. Chongqing is 200 miles southeast of Chengdu the capital of Sichuan province in south-west China. Gansu province is to the north of Sichuan in the north-west of China. It has a border with Xinjiang which is in the far north-west of China. Shandon is in Gansu province between Dunhuang in the far north of the province and Lanzhou, the provincial capital which is towards the south, but further north than Xi'an in neighbouring Shaanxi province.
Travel from the UK was via Finnair by way of Helsinki. Twenty six SACU/Meridian members and their associates gathered in Chongqing and with our guide, Ms Jin Lingmin, first visited the British Council, now situated in a high rise office building in the city centre. Needham was based at the Chongqing British Council which at the time was situated outside the central area. The Director, Bob Easton and Assistant Director, Chen Bing greeted us and they commented that Chinese people in Chongqing seemed to be more ‘British conscious’ than in other parts of China including Beijing. Possibly this was a legacy left behind by Needham and it was mentioned that many of the Chinese staff at the British Council had heard of Needham. There was then an informal exchange of views and information, and business cards were exchanged, see below.
From the British Council, the SACU/Meridian party moved on to the Sichuan International Studies University, where we were given a warm formal welcome by both lecturers and students. The atmosphere was cordial and lively discussion followed on issues such as Chinese students in the UK, teaching methods and methods of examination. The college president explained that, at present, China has limited resources and students and others must compete vigorously to get ahead. He also, declared that ‘in China everyone knows Needham’ and that ‘we should learn from Europe’. One student asked, ‘Why is the West suspicious of China?’ A possible contributory explanation is that westerners assume that China will follow the model of western nations of military aggression after economic success.
Many of the students and staff seemed familiar with SACU through the SACU website and a member of staff (Mr Peng Pai) seemed keen to write for China Eye. Gifts were exchanged and we were taken on a tour of the university. The notice board over the campus, announced, ‘Warm greetings to the SACU delegation’. The Vice President of the university, Yue Yong declared his interest in cooperating with SACU. Before leaving we posed for a group photo in the university quadrangle with the ‘warm greetings’ in the background.
The next day, we were given a brief tour of our hotel complex, the Hongyadong tourist facility by our local guide Jin Ling. This included both shops and bars and also historic exhibits. On one wall was a huge mural depicting China's ancient and modern history. Some of the mural figures depicted Buddhist monks; Jin Ling stated that the emperors used ‘Buddhism to control the people’. We then moved on to Erling Park for a panoramic view of Chongqing from the hill. From here could also be seen the confluence of the Jialing River and the Yangtze River. On the way to the park, we passed several wartime caves which had been used as air-raid shelters, but were now converted into offices, shops and restaurants. In the afternoon we visited the extensive and impressive Red Crag Museum and the surrounding area. This museum is on the site of the Communist Party (CPC) offices during the wartime cooperation of the CPC with the Nationalist government (KMT) and details the events of this period. At the entrance were statues of the wartime Communist leaders, Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai and Zhu De but surprisingly some members of the KMT were also mentioned in the information plaques.
A short distance away was the Stilwell Museum. Joseph Stilwell was an American commander who was second in command of Allied forces in the Pacific region under Louis Mountbatten and was an adviser to the Chinese leader, Chiang Kaishek. The museum, housed in Stilwell's former residence featured the career of Stilwell and other subjects such as the ‘Dixie Mission’ and the ‘Flying Tigers’, a voluntary American air squadron which flew ‘over the hump’ (the Himalaya mountains) and delivered supplies into China from Burma.
Stilwell was not impressed at all with Chiang Kaishek and disagreed with him on numerous issues. Chiang was the head of the ruling party of China, the Kuomintang Party, (KMT) and wartime leader of the entire country. The Communists had agreed to cooperate with the KMT to resist the Japanese. Eventually, under pressure from Chiang, the American President replaced Stilwell. Stilwell had a low opinion of Chiang in his conducting of the war effort. In contrast the ‘Dixie Mission’, which was composed of a group of senior American military figures and politicians who spent some time with the Communist army at Yan'an were favourably impressed with what they saw. They believed that the Communist army was better disciplined, better led and had a higher morale than the KMT forces. (Jung Chang in her book on Mao does not even mention the Dixie Mission).
The Flying Tigers Museum is adjacent to the Stilwell Museum and we spent a short time there. The Flying Tigers were a group of American volunteers who flew in supplies to China, before the US officially declared war. Presumably to contribute to its upkeep, there was an artists' gallery and workshop inside and some of our group bought a number of items.
At the evening meal at the hotel, we were visited by Liao Boqin a professor of physics at Sichuan University who had studied in England at the NRI.
We then moved on to Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province by China's high speed train, the CRH which arrived at Chengdu's West railway, a vast brand-new facility. At the entrance to all Chinese railway stations, all luggage is subject to X-ray for security purposes. The train took two hours to cover the 200 or so miles and never really reached its maximum speed. Whilst more comfortable than a British Virgin train, the Chinese CRH train interior did not seem as advanced as the French TGV train. Although we travelled off-peak (12.00 noon to 2.00 pm), there were quite a few other travellers on the train.
In Chengdu, we stayed at the very central Sichuan Hotel, in the same complex as the Crown Plaza Hotel. Our host was Mr Shen Zaiwang from the Sichuan Friendship Association and his associate Mrs Qiu Yike. Chengdu city centre was new, very busy with scores of high rise towers. The central square, Tianfu Square, was huge with many monuments extolling the city's historic past and was overlooked by a Mao statue. The streets of Chengdu were choked with traffic, including many motorcycles. During the lunch, Zoe presented the Sichuan Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries with 2100 yuan, which had been collected by SACU and Meridian Society members, in London, for passing to the Lu Shan earthquake relief fund. The Chinese guide in Chongqing, Jin Lingmin had added a contribution to this.
Our first visit after lunch was the ‘Wide and Narrow Lanes’, a restored historic area, which has been developed into a tourist attraction comprising shops, stalls, restaurants, art galleries and traditional services, such as ear cleaning.
The next day, the main SACU party visited the Panda Research facility where they saw new arrivals - baby pandas. The SACU party then went on to the Dujiangyan Irrigation Project to the north-west of Chengdu. This irrigation scheme was built over 2,200 years ago, about 250 BC and since this time it has brought great benefits to this area of Sichuan. Good harvests, even in the event of drought, have been produced with the result that this area has become a ‘land of abundance’ - ‘tianfu’. This provides the name to the main public square in Chengdu. The Duiangyan Project will be the subject of an article in the next China Eye, No 41, as Michael Sheringham gave a talk on it in November.
Members of theSACU party who had already been to see the pandas and the Irrigation Project in previous visits, went to see, the Daci Temple, the Wuhou Temple, Du Fu's cottage and the Wenshu Monastery.
I spent the morning at the Wenshu Monastery to the north of the city centre. It was a large functioning monastery with relics of Xuanzang, the Buddhist monk who journeyed to the West to fetch Buddhist scriptures. The monastery houses, the Kong Lin Buddhist Institute and there were several temples within the complex with many worshippers. Within the walls is a famous vegetarian restaurant. To the south of the monastery is a large ‘cultural area’, with dozens of food stalls, restaurants and shops selling souvenirs, paintings, incense and other items. There was also a covered market area with stalls selling books, magazines, posters, coins and Mao memorabilia.
I strolled around the People's Park in the afternoon. It was a public holiday and very crowded with many families taking their leisure. Couples were with their single child, which was invariably well behaved. There were also disabled people and elderly people in wheelchairs enjoying the park facilities. Some people were line dancing or practising Tai Qi exercises individually or in groups. The authorities had arranged a number of performances and activities by national minority groups, singing and dancing in their own native costumes and there was a vibrant and enjoyable atmosphere. Banners informed onlookers of which group the performer or performers belonged to and exhorted, ‘Everybody sing’.
In the early evening Rav Bhoothalingham, who had travelled from India to join us, felt obliged to withdraw from the tour for professional reasons. We were sorry to see him go as he had been a friendly and cheerful member of the group who contributed to the informal lively discussions we had over the meals. We had also, by this time, learned that Jenny Clegg, a SACU Vice-president who had made much of the arrangements with the Bailie School in Shandon and the Bailie University in Beijing would not be joining us at Lanzhou as she had planned. She had had a minor accident and was confined to her hotel in Beijing. (She joined us at Beijing).
In the morning on the way to the Jianchuan Museum Complex at Anren, we stopped at the world's second largest building, the ‘Global Centre’ with 1.7 million square metres of space inside. We were not actually able to enter the building but we were told that inside are up-market shops, restaurants and a swimming pool.
The Jianchuan Museum Complex, comprises 18 separate galleries and has grown out of the private collection of Mr Fan Jianchuan, who is a successful businessman and a member of the local Chinese People's Consultative Congress. At first it was not opened to the general public because it was a private museum and because certain aspects of the exhibits were ‘not popular’ with the country's leaders. However Mr Fan's view is, ‘it is our history’. One gallery acknowledged the contribution of Chiang Kaishek to the War of Resistance against the Japanese and a prominent and fascinating feature of the complex, is the ‘Heroes' Plaza’ composed of life size statues of about a hundred wartime leaders of both the CPC and the Nationalist forces (KMT) including even Chiang Kaishek and his wife Song Meiling.
Other galleries dealt with the Flying Tigers, the Red Era (Mao and the Cultural Revolution), ‘Golden Lotus’ relics (foot-binding), the Sichuan earthquake etc. In a small enclosure near the earthquake gallery lives the pig (Zhu Qiang) that survived for 33 days without food or water. It apparently lived by eating charcoal. Mr Fan heard about the pigs' ordeal and bought it from the owners and gave it a permanent home in the museum.
That evening we stayed at the Jingui Hotel, a ‘Red Age living theme hotel’ nearby which was also owned by Mr Fan. The next day, before returning to Chengdu to catch the overnight train to Lanzhou, we visited a warlord's mansion in the town of Anren. This was of particular significance, because the warlord, Mr Liu was a member of the KMT, who changed sides and decided to support the Communists. He eventually rose to high office in the Communist government. Mr Fan, the founder and owner of all the museums, himself conducted part of the tour for us, before delegating this task to a young lady guide. The mansion, now a museum, had its own gardens and a tennis court. We then travelled back to Chengdu to catch the overnight train from Chengdu to Lanzhou. Most of us were booked into ‘soft sleeper’ class and the train had a restaurant car which served freshly cooked meals in large portions.
Lanzhou is the capital city of Gansu province which incorporates much of the ‘Hexi Corridor.’ This is a narrow long strip of land, with a desert to the north and mountains to the south. The ancient Silk Road and now modern roads and a railway pass through this corridor which links Lanzhou and central China to the Xinjiang Autonomous Region. Lanhzou has been a centre for travellers journeying along the Silk Route for centuries. Gansu is regarded as one of the birthplaces of the Chinese people; Fuxi, one of the original ancestors of the Chinese race, is believed to have lived at Tianshui, in the south of the province. The train journey took about 20 hours and on arrival at Lanzhou, we were met at the railway station by our guide, Stephanie (Ms Ma Meiyun) whose first task was to assist Janice Dickson to buy tickets for our onward journey to Shandon. In the evening we were treated to a banquet by the Gansu Peoples Friendship Association in the Lanzhou Leader Hotel. The hosts were Mr Chen Weizhong (Director-General of the Gansu Foreign Affairs Office) and Mr Liu Xiaolin (Full-time Vice President of the Gansu Provincial People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Counties) and Mr Zhu Yuming (Stephen), the International Relations Coordinator. The banquet was lavish with wine and liquors and included several toasts! We were joined at the banquet by Zoe Reed's Chinese family, who accompanied us on the sightseeing visits during the following day and acted as additional local guides.
The next day we visited, the Iron Bridge, the Waterwheel, the monument to the Yellow River, (which is regarded as the Mother River of China), the Rewi Alley statue (in Bailie Square), and the site of a wartime CIC factory. The waterwheel scooped up water from the river and by a network of wooded conduits used water power to grind corn. Since their invention in 1556, waterwheels were used in irrigation projects along the Yellow River and even as late as 1952, there were still 252 waterwheels in use on both sides of the river at Lanzhou. Chinese people were queuing to be photographed in front of the Mother Yellow River monument. Whether the child held by the figure representing the ‘Mother’ is a son or daughter is the subject of endless but amusing debate!
The Rewi Alley statue, in Lanzhou is in a public square, appropriately named Bailie Square, which at the time we arrived was being used for a festival complete with food stalls, a fun fair and souvenir stalls. The statue was hidden away behind tarpaulins and local knowledge was needed to locate it. Zoe's Chinese sister conducted us to the correct spot.
The Iron Bridge, where Needham's party dispersed was the first bridge over the Yellow River in Lanzhou. This bridge led to a temple complex on a hill at the other side. This was a large complex of pavilions and corridors as well as a pagoda on the hill top, but there was no time to explore this in detail. On the banks of the Yellow River, the famous Sheepskin rafts, a centuries old way of navigation (Needham crossed the river on one!) could be seen and rides on the river were on offer, whilst overhead, cable cars went to and fro from the north to the south banks of the river which was a brown colour, rather than yellow.
We were told that Lanzhou is famous for four items; the Iron Bridge, the Yellow River, which passes through its city centre, Lanzhou beef noodle dish and the ‘Reader’ (Duzhe) magazine, published by Gansu Peoples Press. The magazine has the highest circulation of any magazine in China. Lanzhou is a large city, but not as well-developed as Chengdu. There are, in the city centre, old and brand new buildings alongside each other. Some of the buildings were scheduled for demolition, labelled with the Chinese character, ‘chai’. Traffic was heavy and progress anywhere by road in the centre was slow. At Lanzhou we were joined by a film crew from Tianjin Television who were making a series on Sinologists and they conducted interviews with Frances Wood and Mark Barnard who has worked on conservation projects on Chinese manuscripts. I was told that the recordings will be used in a seven part series on Tianjin TV called Ying Lun Han Feng, (‘England Chinese Wind’).
On the last morning in Lanzhou, despite the steady rain, we took a leisurely stroll to the main square of Lanzhou, about half a mile west from our hotel. The trip was worthwhile as the square was decorated and had a huge inflated moon on one of the lawns.
The moon's craters were accurately marked on the sphere; presumably using the information obtained by the recent successful Chinese moon probe, which photographed the whole surface. The Moon Festival (actually the Mid-Autumn Festival, Zhong Qiu Jie) was being celebrated and there was a vibrant festive atmosphere. At several times during the day, we heard loud fireworks being set off in various parts of the city. On the same morning we visited one of the markets of Lanzhou which was situated just off the square. Many kinds of fruit, vegetables, fish and meats were on sale, as well as spices and other essential ingredients for cooking. In the final afternoon in Lanzhou, we were taken to the Gansu Provincial Museum, a large impressive white building. Inside were a revolutionary gallery relating the Communist revolution in Gansu, an archaeological section, which featured the famous ‘flying horse’ of Wuwei (Gansu) and a quite spectacular gallery reproducing one of the Mogao caves with frescos, Buddha statues and stupas.
We caught the train to Shandon in the early afternoon and arrived at Shandon in the evening when it was dark. We were met by Mr Kang Yinxin (Stephen) who took us to our hotel, the Shandon Guest House. Stephen said that Shandon was only a very small town, ‘only three streets’, but we were to find it was in fact a reasonably sized town. In the morning, we were taken to the Shandon Bailie School which is on the same site as the school where George Hogg was headmaster. In the main school building, there were formal speeches and presentations by Zoe and also by Leslie Freitag who is a member of the Cooperative Society in Harpenden, the hometown of George Hogg. Leslie presented a book about the International Cooperative Movement to the Shandon School. It was entitled, ‘The Hidden Alternative, Cooperative Values, Past, Present and Future’, edited by Anthony Webster, Linda Shaw and others. Chapter 17 in this book was written by Jenny Clegg of SACU, who should have been with us. Our guide Stephen, translated for Zoe and Leslie, but at times, Frances Wood of SACU, needed to make the translations clearer.
At the school Zoe, met a retired teacher, Luo Guozhong who had met her father about 60 years ago. The students at the school, which is a vocational college, are in the 13 to 17 years age group and generally leave to go to good jobs. Unfortunately it was a Saturday and we met only college staff and teachers.
Later, we visited the museum to Rewi Alley, in his former home which was on the same site as the school. Inside were extensive photograph collections of his life and his contribution to the Chinese Industrial Cooperatives and the Bailie Schools. There were several photographs of him with the top CPC leaders in China. We had a group photo in front of the statue to George Hogg on the school campus. In the afternoon, we visited the Shandan Museum centre of Shandon town. This museum displayed 1,000 cultural relics which Rewi had collected during his time in China and which he donated to the town of Shandon.
After a short break, we then travelled the short distance to the cemetery dedicated to George Hogg and Rewi Alley. George Hogg is buried there, but the monument to Rewi Alley, contains only half his ashes, the other half were scattered over the town of Shandon. Zoe Reed paid her respects to Rewi Alley, who had helped her father and Catherine Townsend paid her respects to George Hogg. Catherine's father worked with the CIC and took over Hogg's duties when Hogg became a headmaster. The Tianjin TV crew carefully filmed these solemn proceedings.
Dunhuang is at the north side of the Hexi Corridor and was the gathering point for a number of Silk Road routes from destinations further north-west. It was a Sunday morning when we left Shandon by coach for the eight hour journey to Dunhuang. On the way, we stopped to examine a portion of the Great Wall and later to explore the Jiuyaguan Pass. There is an extensive Ming Dynasty fort here which marked the end of the Great Wall during this period. Much of the fort has already been restored but further work was still in progress. At Dunhuan, we were joined by a two-person team from CCTV who also wanted to film Frances Wood and Mark Barnard.
To make the long coach journey more enjoyable and interesting, four tour members gave short talks as follows; Frances Wood spoke on the Dunhuang caves, Leslie Freitag on the Cooperative Movement, Tony Butler on his personal impressions of Joseph Needham and Linda Rosen on the Jews in China.
Because we arrived in the late afternoon, the only activity possible was a visit to the extensive night market. All manner of merchandise was on offer and one area was devoted to street food stalls and restaurants. An extensive variety of kebabs were available, indicative of the local ethnic minority population.
The next day was the highlight of the trip for many - a trip to the Mogao caves. We divided into two groups of about 10 in each group, and were assigned a guide. Both guides were very knowledgeable and spoke very good English. We visited ten caves each which were representative of the dynastic periods e.g. Sui, Tang and Song. The influence of foreign cultures, Afghan and Tibetan was evident from the dress of the figures in the frescos. We were taken into Cave 17, the cave from which hundreds of scrolls were ‘sold’ to foreign explorers and became exhibits in foreign museums and libraries. The scrolls included the Diamond Sutra, the oldest dated printed book in the world, which is now in the British Library. There are about 490 caves in the area on three levels and so it was impossible to see more than a fraction of what was available.
In the afternoon, we explored the White Horse Pagoda in Dunhuang and then visited a typical rural Chinese family house, that of a Mr Liu. It was quite an education to see how ‘ordinary’ villagers lived but I suspect Mr Liu was probably one of the more better off ones and in any case villagers are in the process of being rehoused into more modern dwellings, probably high rise blocks of flats. Mr Liu mentioned that he was on the local village committee which, is democratically elected by the other villagers. Afterwards, strolling down a country lane we saw a vineyard and cotton farm.
The next day we visited the Sand Dunes, Singing Sands Mountain and Moon Crescent Lake. The lake is a small crescent shaped area of water amid the sand dunes and next to a pagoda. None of the group took advantage of the camel rides but instead explored the pagoda which contained small art galleries. Surprisingly, exhibited in the toilets, were photographs of the lake over the last hundred years and one of them was taken by Joseph Needham. In the afternoon we visited the Dunhuang museum which had been relocated from the city centre to the edge of town. It was a brand new purpose-build modern building less than a year old, which traced the history of Dunhuang and of course had sections on the revolutionary period and the Mogao Caves. It had a large gift and book store together with an art gallery.
The next morning a number of members requested a repeat visit to the Mogao Caves to see, different caves, but with the same two excellent guides. The rest of us had some ‘free time’ to individually explore Dunhuang. In the afternoon, we first went on a short walk along the river in Dunhuang where a new promenade has been set out and then visited a Chinese kindergarten, the Aspara private kindergarten - the same one, in which our guide, Stephen took his son. The children were in the age range of three and a half years to six and a half years of age. We were warmly received by the head teacher and her staff and were given a detailed tour of the kindergarten where we saw the children playing, dancing, assembling toys and doing paper folding. If required, Montessori methods could be used, but this would attract a slightly higher fee.
Late in the evening we left Dunhuang by plane for Beijing - the flight was delayed by one hour - and arrived at 2.00 am the next morning. After a late breakfast we boarded our coach to travel to the Beijing Bailie University in north-west Beijing. Here we were met off the coach by Mr Michael Crook, the Chair of the International Committee for the Promotion of Chinese Industrial Cooperatives (ICCIC) (Gung Ho). Mr Yu Lin, the President of the Beijing Bailie University (BBU) welcomed us and amongst the welcoming party were Mrs Israel Epstein and also an adopted son of George Hogg. Michael's mother and brother, who live in Beijing, were also present. We were each given a ‘Gung Ho’ badge and made our individual introductions over a packed lunch before moving off to a more formal meeting hall.
All translations, from English to Chinese and vice-versa were conducted by Michael. Short speeches were made by Janice Dickson for the Scottish China Association (SCA), Zoe Reed for SACU and Jenny Clegg for the British ICCIC. Each gave a short overview of their organisations and their history and objectives and in addition Tony Butler made some reflexions on the SACU tour in general and on the visit to the Bailie University. Michael Crook then invited both SACU and the SCA to join the ICCIC. Both Zoe and Janice agreed to propose this to their respective committees at the next meetings for approval.
Gifts were exchanged between both SACU and the SCA with the BBU and ICCIC. This was followed by Leslie Freitag's presentation of the book on Cooperative movement values to the Beijing Bailie University. Leslie's home town is Harpenden, where George Hogg attended St Georges' School and where Jenny Clegg gave a lecture last year, the International Year of Cooperative movements. A special presentation was made to Catherine Townsend by Mr Yu Lin, the President of the Beijing Bailie University. Catherine's father, Peter Townsend came to China to work with the Friends Ambulance Service, before joining Gung Ho.
After the formal proceedings, students conducted us on tours of the college laboratories, library and dormitories. The dormitories accommodated two, three or four students; some had air conditioning. However, each level of comfort required an extra fee. The dormitories seemed comfortable, were spotless and well decorated, although perhaps a little cramped by western standards. The tour was a good opportunity to mix informally with the students and staff and exchange contact details. After posing for various group photographs, we took our leave of the school, promising to keep in touch and develop relations further. Before the coach departed we were each given a small gift of Gong Ho soap! It was a warm, clear and bright day in Beijing - our guide mentioned that the smog due to traffic fumes and other pollution could be very bad on some days. The authorities are trying to improve the situation, but every day, a further 1,000 extra cars take to the streets of Beijing. The tall buildings in Beijing are in a variety of designs, some of them quite novel with innovative designs and we passed one building which, it is claimed, has the largest single sheet of glass in the world incorporated into its structure.
We then returned to the hotel for some ‘free time’ before going on to a restaurant where, on our final night together, we enjoyed a delicious Beijing Duck banquet. Unfortunately, the Chinese People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries was unable to see us as planned because they were participating in a major international conference in Ningxia province.
Thanks are due to the organisers, Zoe Reed and Richard Poxton who did extensive research and preparation for the tour and especially to Janice Dickson of Dickson Travel Ltd who made all the travel arrangements. Janice also acted as tour leader and as tour guide at times.
It is sometimes difficult to assess the actual progress in China because the pace of development varies considerably from place to place. To make accurate comparisons, it is necessary to go back to the same place from time to time. Beijing and Chengdu are clearly more advanced than Lanzhou and Dunhuang. Shandon is perhaps several years behind in development than Lanzhou and Dunhuang. However these comments only refer to the central areas of the cities and of course are only my own personal impressions.
Chongqing was very varied: some central areas could have been in Beijing, but other areas were much less developed. There was much reconstruction in progress, especially in some riverside areas. Some of the projects seemed to be on a very large scale. The city is very hilly and elevated roads are quite common and in places the roads were on three levels. The city has a monorail service as well as an underground railway still in the early stages of construction. But there was development going on almost everywhere we travelled in the western region of China: new bridges, new roads and new buildings, both offices and housing developments. Whole new towns were in the process of construction in the Hexi Corridor.
Some of the road bridges and elevated roads were very impressive, supported on enormous pillars and on the train journey from Chongqing to Chengdu we passed through numerous rail tunnels. You had to marvel at the sheer number of tower buildings in Beijing, Chongqing, Chengdu and Lanzhou; many with quite exotic, innovative and unusual designs.
The traffic in all the major cities we visited, Beijing, Chongqing, Chengdu and Lanzhou was very heavy and slow but kept moving and we did not experience total 'gridlock. In Beijing there are double decker buses, bendy-buses and even trolley buses. The underground system is already extensive and still being extended. The cost of travelling anywhere in Beijing by underground is just 2 yuan, which must make it the cheapest fares anywhere in the world.
The streets everywhere were well swept and free of rubbish and litter, even the hutongs in Beijing were clean and tidy. You were never too far away from a street sweeper, invariably clad in high-visibility overalls and a dust mask. They were quite often female, and carried out their work efficiently even on busy roads.
Unlike the UK or many parts of the Western world, we saw few obese people. Although everyone seemed well fed, most people, especially the young women were slim. There are reports however of a growing number of obese children and young people in Shanghai and other affluent areas of China.
There is a growing number of public toilets in Chinese towns in the streets. However one of our guides, Stephen in Dunhuang said that toilets are a big problem in China and unlike the roads, many were in dire need of cleaning! Even some up-market restaurants and hotels have 'squat' toilets. Perhaps many locals prefer them, or is there a cost factor. The American term, 'Restroom' seems to have appeared or become more widespread in the last year or so.
Attitudes seem to be gradually changing. There is a gradual shift in opinion recognising the contribution of Chiang Kaishek in the war of resistance to the Japanese. Was Mr Fan, ahead of his time? One of our guides said that this was indicative of the current rulers' increased confidence.'
Air quality was probably better than anticipated; Lanzhou we heard was the most polluted major city in China. However, it did not seem exceptionally poor. It rained much of the time we were there and maybe this alleviated the worst effects. As for Beijing, our guide did say that air quality could be poor there, but the day we were there, it was bright, clear and sunny.
The markets we saw had a large range of products, including plentiful supplies of meat, fish, vegetables, fruits, herbs and spices. The Carrefour supermarket in central Chongqing (Yuzhong District) was enormous and had more varieties of products than the average supermarket in the UK. The city centres of Chongqing, Chengdu and Lanzhou had many luxury shops selling brands such as Gucci and Louis Vuitton. In fact in Chongqing there were so many luxury shops in close proximity to the Liberation Monument, one of our group commented it should called be the 'monument to luxury brands'.
China's commitment to the environment was always very evident with recycling bins in every location, city streets, parks and tourist sites-even the Dunhuang sand dunes area. There were notices were in public toilets and hotels to save water. We saw a very large wind farm (windmills) on the road to Dunhuang and electric buses in all of the tourist sites, such as the Panda Research park, the Dunhuang sand dunes and the Jianchuan Museum Cluster.
In Beijing, despite western newspaper reports, there are still many hutongs, the narrow lanes and alleys which date from pre-revolution times, in existence. These have been modernised but still apparently overcrowded as is evident from the number of electricity meters which can be seen outside many of the front doors.
China is very safe to walk about at all times of the day and night, although precautions must be taken to prevent petty crime especially in areas where unemployed migrant workers may be living. The streets in all areas of every city or town are free of litter and rubbish and you can usually see a road sweeper even on busy roads.
On a less positive note, there seems no reduction in poor translations into English of public notices and shop signs, many of which caused amusement or in some cases, astonishment! In the Wide and Narrow Lanes tourist area of Chengdu, ear cleaners were offering their skills, but their notices said, to our amusement, 'car cleaning'. It was evident that the 'e' in ear had been miswritten as a 'c' and all those offering this service had all copied this error! China seems to be still disparately short of good English teachers.
Some signs however, reflect Chinese culture and reverence for nature e.g. cherish the grass.
All over China, we saw couplets written on strips of red paper on either side of doorways, with the 'fu' (福 ) character meaning 'luck' in the middle, sometimes it was upside down to indicate 'luck arrived'. More often than not there were two door guardian figures on the doors. Traditional Chinese customs still persist in all parts of China, whether it was Beijing or more rural areas of Gansu province.
Another sign of an increasing standard of living is the increase in pet dog ownership. Although still very few compared to the UK, there seemed to more around than a year or two ago, especially in Beijing and not all wore dog-collars. Many seemed to wander the streets on their own, which you do not see in Western countries. Only once (in Beijing) did I see a dog on a lead being walked by its master. There is a limitation on the size of dog which you are allowed to own in China.
We seemed to see more children in Lanzhou compared to other cities such as Chongqing and Chengdu. Could this be due to the relatively higher number of national minorities in this city? National minorities are not subject to the single-child policy and there are at least six different ethnic groups in Lanzhou. The Moslem Hui are especially evident here and we saw several mosques. There was also at least one mosque in Dunhuang, near the central market area.
In every town or city, Chongqing, Chengu, Lanzhou, Dunhuang, Shandon and Beijing there were very many patriotic, up-lifting posters with messages or exhortations such as: 'Chinese young people are strong'; 'My dream is China's dream,' 'China is in my heart',' China onward!' 'By your own effort, become comfortably off', 'The Communist Party is good, the people are happy'. In the kindergarten we visited, the children, were learning phrases such as these and 'I love China'.
Traditional Chinese customs and rituals have returned. Especially near temples, you see paper money for sale, to be burnt as offerings at family tombs, and there were numerous advertisements for the hire of funeral halls. Fortune-tellers and even specialists for the naming of newly born babies were displaying their services.
© Copyright Society for Anglo-Chinese Understanding (SACU) 2014 : an extract from SACU's magazine China Eye 40, Page 16, December 2013
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the view of SACU.
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