As the Lonely Planet pointed out, Huang Shan has been a tourist attraction for hundreds and hundreds of years, a popular retreat for literati and painters throughout Chinese history.
I don’t really have a lot to tell about the trip, as in this case more than anything, a picture is worth a thousand words. I will (quickly) highlight our journey. They built a new highway into Anhui province, where Huang Shan is, which means that it is now possible to get from Shanghai to the nearby town of Tunxi in just over 4 hours (where, a couple of years ago, it took more than 10 hours!) by bus. Unfortunately, from there it got a bit more complicated. We then had to take another bus for about an hour (and since it is a rural public bus, it was actually an hour and a half because we had to roam around and pick people up and drop people off in random places on the way) to the town of Tangkou, at the foot of the mountain, and then a short cab ride up to the entrance to the trail.
The hike was both easy and difficult. It was incredibly easy to follow as the path was entirely made up of stone stairs. It would be nearly impossible to stray off the path, making it very safe, even when there are no people around, which occasionally actually happened, a rarity for China. That being said, it was one of the hardest hikes I have ever been on. The hike up was about 8 kilometers, not extremely long, but it was 8 kilometers of nothing but stairs. So, while I enjoyed for the first time in months blue skies, chirping birds, and the sounds of silence, I did while huffing and puffing up the mountain, stopping to take more pictures than necessary simply for the excuse to take a break.
When we reached the summit, it was suddenly incredibly cold because there were no longer trees to block the high winds. We found our hotel and stayed in for the night simply because we were just too cold to go out. The next morning, we awoke early (5:30!!!) to see the Beihai sunrise. Huang Shan has always been famous for it’s sea of clouds (while watching the sunrise, the most common word everyone uttered was “yunhai” or sea of clouds. I am already extremely familiar with the battle with Chinese tourists for optimal picture taking opportunities, as no beautiful spot in Asia is free from Chinese tourists’ expensive professional cameras. So, even though the sunrise wasn’t until 7, I made sure to get there by 6: 15.
There I ran into some other Americans we had met the day before, and we all hiked up the nearby peak for an optimal viewing area. The most abandoned one we found only had one man with his giant camera, light sensor, and tripod all set up at the end of a plank like platform. I asked if he would share the edge of the platform, and he gave me a very long sob story about how he got up at 5 in the morning to get the perfect viewing area, and he wasn’t going to move his tripod (which did in fact take up the entire width of the platform). I gave up the battle because I could still see clearly off the edge, but this man’s battles (and mine) were not over. Eventually the platform began to fill with people pressing up against us, even taking pictures over our heads and shoulders. Another man pushed his way almost to the front with his tripod and camera, yelling at the first guy to share his spot. The first guy gave him the same story he gave me, but the second man with his tripod wouldn’t accept it. He then started yelling about how he had let foreigners near the front, but wouldn’t let him up there.
I snapped at him that we were there first, but that didn’t deter his comments. He began calling the first man a traitor to the Chinese race for letting foreigners near the front but not him, which caused me to yell at him, telling him he shouldn’t discriminate like this, we all want to take pictures and we were there first. I’ve heard of this kind of discrimination before, but never really heard it before, and I was very angry. Fortunately, others on the platform began telling him to be more civilized, and he eventually stormed off to another place, leaving us in peace to take pictures.
All that being said, the sunrise was beautiful, as was the hike down. We hiked down a different path which led us up and over some peaks, along narrow staircases carved along cliffs, giving us a fantastic view of the entire mountain range (again, I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves). The stairs we climbed were somewhat treacherous, going up and down, bringing us to the highest point of nearly 1800 meters only to clamber back down again.
Finally, we reached the end and looked for a taxi to bring us back to the town of tangkou. We shared it with a friend we met on the trail as well as two others, and then transferred to a bus that would bring us back to Tunxi. This is where we learned more about the bus system in rural China: they don’t leave until they are full. So we spent nearly an hour going round and round the town looking for passengers (and remember there were dozens of buses doing the same thing. Finally, we got on a private minibus that then took us to Tunxi, where we transferred to a bus that got us back to Shanghai in only 4 hours!
While this hike left me literally bedridden for a couple of days due to sore muscles, this was one of the most spectacular places I have ever been. But don’t take my word for it, check out the pictures.
Saturday the 25th was the day before 出席, or the day before
the night before "official" new year. On Saturday, I took a bus out to Qing Pu, a suburb of Shanghai, to eat dinner with my friend and her family. Her grandma, aunts, uncles, cousins, and nieces and nephews were all there, I believe over 10 people in all, and we shared a few dozen dishes together. They mostly spoke Shanghainese to each other, so I didn't have a great opportunity to talk with people, but they all made sure I had a lot of red wine (which, according to them, is Chinese New Year drink) and would periodically signal to me to "ganbei" or "cheers." The dinner included a lot of seafood, a particularly "lucky" dish, as well as an array of beef and pork dishes (normally, duck and chicken would also be traditional food, but this family stayed away from it because of fears of bird flu). The feast then ended with fresh fruit.
After dinner, we all went back to my friend's aunt's house to play Mahjiang.
My friend told me that in her family, most of her family members do nothing but work and play mahjiang. While I know that was quite the overstatement, they played (I watched, since it is a 4 person game) for nearly 4 hours. While Mahjiang is played with tiles, from what I could understand of the rules, it could easily be a variation of Rummy if played with cards, and watching her family get so excited over it made me think of my family playing cards. For most of the nights of Chinese New Year, this is what her family did, although I only watched it this one day.
The next day, chuxi (or "new year's eve" so to speak) I had dinner with an American friend and his wife, in laws, daughter, and other friends. It was a great mix of Americans and Chinese people; fortunately, his in laws made the food, so we got to have a great Chinese feast, complete with good wine and bourbon. My favorite dishes were the kaofu, a spongy type of beancurd particular to Shanghai, and babaofan, or 8 treasure rice. After that, we watched the Chinese New Years Eve special on TV. I was told that all Chinese people watch this on chuxi (although I later found out my other friend's family did not, they were playing Mahjiang), and one in our company works in Chinese television, so we watched in and out. To me, the highlight of the program was an international riverdance group, as well as a performance by some poor American exchange student they must have plucked off the street to speak pretty poor Chinese in a skit. As the evening went on, the performances and dances got more and more colorful (probably because their audience was getting more and more drunk), and outside, people were lighting fireworks (not illegal in Shanghai).At midnight, I felt like the entire city had come out of their houses to light fireworks, and the scene was spectacular. I wish I could explain what it was like to have literally hundreds of fireworks going off at the same time all around the city, so to better illustrate, I added a video I took at midnight that at least somewhat shows the magnitude of the midnight fireworks show. However, this scene lost its luster when it continued late into the night and then started up again at 7 in the morning, not giving me much time to sleep.
The next day, Monday, I went back to Qingpu to visit my friend and her family. For breakfasts and snacks, we had what was called "gao" or cakes made of sticky rice and then stuffed with red beans (see my friend next to them in the picture)
For dinner that night, it was just me, my friend, her mother, and her 85 year old grandmother, who (other than my Nana) is probably the cutest older woman I have ever met. We ate perch (the fish traditionally eaten at Chinese new year) in a fantastic soup with fish balls along with bamboo shoots, some pork, and other veggie dishes. Then, the next day, we went exploring around Qingpu, which seemed to me a fantastic community. We walked by street vendors, browsed through local shops, and passed by a local temple built in the Ming or Qing dynasty (we are still not clear). Then, for dinner, my friend's mom made 18 dishes for us and her extended family, including more perch, rice cooked in lotus leaves, eel, and chicken strips for my friend's 1 year old niece (although we all had a bit). After that, while much of the family went off to play Mahjiang, we went to sing at Karaoke, which is always a lot of fun and a great chance to practice Chinese.
Overall, I found that Chinese new year is actually a lot like Christmas in America; some go to worship ancestors, some go traveling, but everyone should be with family, and there is a huge emphasis on food. It seems the most traditional way to spend Chinese new year is with as many family members as possible, but some watch TV, some play games, some go to other countries. The traditions seem to vary, something I didn't expect. But while each family has it's own way of spending Chinese new year, it is a good chance to see family and eat a lot of food, something that many people in China don't often get to do. I was very lucky to be able to witness a part of it.
* For those who don't know, the character in the title, 牛, is the character for ox. It is pronounced "niu" and therefore sounds a lot like "new." It is a goofy and overdone play on words.
I remember as a child having, more than once, as an essay topic， or even interview topic： who is your hero and why? The way we define hero varies from situation to situation; oftentimes it is a parent or an adult with whom we had a very close relationship. But hero doesn't have to mean a hero like superman or even soldiers; it can simply mean someone who has inspired us to be better people.
Looking through language textbooks, however, we see that the term "hero" (英雄) was almost exclusively reserved for soldiers in the military. What is more, in some textbooks nearly 3/4 of the stories pertain to soldiers in the military. Sometimes there are female soldiers, but overwhelmingly, nearly all of the stories about battalions who overcame hardship, natural or human, to claim a victory for China.
I asked my friend the librarian about this topic, as he grew up reading these kinds of textbooks (although, if you see my post below, the textbooks he used had significantly fewer of these kinds of stories, as compared to other textbooks from the 1970s which were almost exclusively military stories). He confirmed my theory, that the concept of "hero" was reserved for those who served in the military. He explained this to me, saying that when these textbooks were written, China had been at war with Western powers for nearly 100 years, and only when the Communist came into power did the Chinese finally start winning (let us remember the Opium wars, plural, the Sino Japanese war, the semi colonization, and then WWII in Asia, all of which decimated the Chinese state). However, the Communists won the civil war in the 40s, and (in Chinese accounts) the Korean war against the Americans in the 1950s. These people were the heroes of the new Chinese state. The librarian also pointed out to me that this still exists today because the PLA is involved with such things as Sichuan earthquake relief (which, by most accounts, was a very successful rescue mission, especially when compared to Katrina). He also admitted his bias, having served in the airforce.
Since I've talked about identity beyond a national sense, my first question would be, "what about women? Do they have no heroes?" But at the same time, women were a part of this struggle too. They fought against the Nationalists and the Japanese. So a lot of stories were about women. One in particular comes to mind about a girl who kills herself in front of nationalist troops rather than abandon the 8th road army (the Communist forces).
This also made me think of America. There is certainly an almost untouchable respect for our troops in America (we must support the troops) but it is not the only way to be a hero. This may be because it has been a long time since a large proportion of our male population has served in a war. More importantly, most of the veterans alive today served in wars of which our nation was not uniformly supportive. The Vietnam war, and Vietnam veterans, still serve as a point of contention amongst the population. No longer is it necessary to be a war hero, or even a veteran at all, to be considered a hero in the general sense. Obama's lack of military service was hardly mentioned during the campaign, and while McCain's experience in Vietnam was exhaustively used by the McCain camp, it's significance was largely lost on the younger generation of Americans.
What does this mean in the larger sense of what it means to be Chinese? I don't think that these textbooks are attempting to claim that the only way to be a hero is to be in the military. I think it serves more as a metaphor. The revolution claimed that sacrificing oneself for the cause was the most important thing a person can do, and military stories serve as a much more vivid example of this kind of sacrifice than stories about peasants who spend 12 hours a day farming, or children who collect nails off the street for the great leap forward. Furthermore, the formulaic story of soldiers overcoming harsh weather, dead surroundings, or an evil opposing army serves to demonstrate the common theme of overcoming hardships for the revolution. Even the "enemy" can serve to demonstrate a larger theme. In the many stories about soldiers crossing difficult mountain ranges, rivers, or surviving harsh weather, the writers of these stories send a message to children that through determination and dedication for the revolution, man can essentially overcome nature (a very radical idea throughout the history of China）. And when Chinese soldiers overcome American or Nationalist armies (I laughed a bit when we were called 美国鬼子， or American devils), the authors can make strong anti imperialist or anti rightist statements.
It is still considered a respectful position to serve in the military, just as it still is in mainstream American society\. But I think these stories are not only meant to teach children to join the military; I think they wanted to teach children the greater themes about the meaning of sacrifice and the rewards of dedication.
I thought of this today while having a conversation with the librarian at the Publishing House.When I am finished with a stack of books and leaving for the day, I give the librarian a new list, and he gets them for me either after I leave or before I arrive the next day. When I walked in today, ready to sift through a large stack of 语文 (language) textbooks from the 50s, 60s and 70s, he sat me down and said with excitement that I had requested the book he used when he was in primary school in 1959. He told me he recognized the cover, and then proceeded to show me his favorite parts of the book. He showed me a bright colorful picture of a fox and a hen, telling me about the 童话故事 (fairy tale) it depicted (below), and then showed me a picture of a medieval looking Chinese hero riding a phoenix over a pile of brightly colored jewels (seen to the right). It has been 50 years, he said, since he had seen these books, but he immediately remembered the pages where his favorite stories and pictures were. I told him I thought these books looked much more interesting than the ones I had been thumbing through before; the librarian scoffed and said "of course! Those are from right after the Cultural Revolution (pointing to a set of textbooks from 1972) of course they will be boring!"
The way he remembered so vividly these fairy tales, and the excitement with which he showed me the pictures from his old elementary school textbooks, made me think about my old essay. I spend so much time trying to analyze how various stories, pictures, and textbooks, create a certain sense of identity, nationalism, and selfhood. And while I would like to think that my research is not completely useless, maybe sometimes I overemphasize the meanings and impact of textbooks and propaganda. The pictures at the beginning of the textbooks of Mao helping children, or the pictures of Tian'anmen, equally colorful, didn't stick out in his mind; instead it was the fantastic fairy tales that have nothing to do with Communism or the revolution. And come to think of it, I'm not sure I would recognize my old grammar books from elementary school, but I remember exactly how I felt when I read Roald Dahl's The Witches, and how for my book report I spent hours making a puppet with a wig that could come off and shoes that hid square toeless feet. I don't think The Witches had any strong impact on my identity, national or otherwise, but I still remember that book, and the picture of the Grand High Witch without her mask.
I don't know why it is that these fairy tales stick out in our heads more than what the government perhaps wants us to remember; or maybe it doesn't. Maybe the reason is as simple as children like fantastic stories, not stories about red army members crossing a bridge and being national communist heroes. And maybe the librarian is not like every child. I guess this just taught me that maybe sometimes, I should just relax and not try to over analyze everything; some things are just as they are at face value.
This got me thinking about the purpose of language arts, or English classes in school. I had always made the simplistic assumption that the purpose of an English class was just that, to teach English. But I guess I had never given it a lot of thought. A 语文 (which translates literally to written language, but for our purposes we should think of this as a Chinese, or language arts class in China) textbook I came across recently I think summed up the purpose of language classes quite well. It claimed:
The use of language is necessary in [understanding] economics, politics, culture, and life; it is something that every person every day cannot live without. If we study the correct use of language, the depths and creativity of our thinking and the extent of our productivity will increase and will have more meaning.
It is not about only teaching the mechanics of language. Language is the means through which we understand ideas; without properly understanding how language can communicate, we cannot fully understand the ideas by which we live (and the work productivity clearly shows communist influence from the 1960s). Therefore, perhaps more than any other class (other than history, no bias there) language arts can be a very powerful political tool. But government propaganda aside (and I would like to think that this Wisconsin language arts book was not blatant propaganda) it is also a way to encourage children to explore their own personal identity. The authors, however, have the very important, and perhaps dangerous, responsibility of creating the parameters within which children can explore their own identity.
I've been recently looking at 语文 textbooks from the 1950s, 60s and 70s, and I have found some very interesting trends. One trend that shouldn't be surprising to anyone is the pervasive themes of Communism. In the 1950s and 1960s textbooks especially, the importance of communism and revolution is pervasive. Half of the stories are about Mao Zedong (in ALL of the textbooks), either songs he wrote, stories he wrote, or stories about him, about people going to see him, about his good deeds. There are also occasional stories about communist movements abroad (such as one in Canada; I didn't know there was a communist movement in Canada), or stories about the Korean war. Each textbook, from every time period, began with 1 or 2 revolutionary songs.
There were other trends, however, that I found more interesting. In the textbooks from the 1950s and 60s, there was an emphasis on youth empowerment, both male and female. There were many stories about children who stood up to thieves or landlords, about children who traveled thousands of miles to see Mao Zedong. Either way, the emphasis is on the importance of children. I would estimate (and this is a very gross estimation) that nearly 1/3 of the stories in the early textbooks are about children. Also, it is important to note that the children whom we should be imitating are both male and female.
This trend changes in the 1970s. Gone are the stories of child empowerment and instead we have stories about the greatness of adults, and there are many essays on the importance of child self criticism (a subject absent from earlier textbooks). Mao still writes many of the essays, but they are not about him as a child and a revolutionary, but instead about him as a leader (an adult leader). There also essays about the responsibility of children, which is to study for the purpose of the revolution. And, in a new twist, there is an emphasis on youth movements of the 1920s, thus looking backwards for influence from youth movements that advocated change and reform.
This shows us the parameters within which children should form their own identity. In the earlier communist period, the textbook writers wanted children to feel their own empowerment, to understand what children could do and their place in creating a new society, both men and women (which is reminiscent of stories children in America learn about following dreams and doing the best they can at anything). By the 1970s, China had learned what happened when too much control is given to adolescents, and so they held back a bit on child empowerment.
This is not unlike America. When I read stories from these Chinese textbooks, and the heroine was a woman, a felt a small surge of pride just like I did when we read about female heroes in high school (my favorite, though I can't remember her name, was a woman who during the civil war hiked up her pants and helped load cannons). Literature and language are the means through which we explore ideas, and if students can't identify with any of the literature or the authors, then we have a pretty unsuccessful class. This is why having stories with which black children, Asian children, Hispanic children, and females can identify is so important. Stories like To Kill a Mockingbird, The Color Purple, and The Awakening are important (although I will admit, while I understand the significance now, I never really identified with the heroine of The Awakening. I personally felt more of a connection with Atticus Finch). This is why Obama's memoir is important, to allow minority children, black children especially, to see a current, contemporary hero (Martin Luther King, while important, I would assume is starting to get old) who also struggled with his own place in society. Shakespeare is certainly important to learn, but with nothing to identify with, children have a much more difficult time exploring the potential behind expression through the richness of language.
To connect this back with China, their language textbooks directly correlate with the sense of youth empowerment that we see in the early communist period. According to many memoirs, women had very little sense of gender consciousness, never felt unequal in school. Children felt like they were the center of the revolution, and many of them felt a very emotional and personal connection with Mao and the Communist Party. Literature with which they could identify allowed them to form this connection. Some even went the extra mile to use literature to express their own ideas (the collection Some of Us has a great piece by Xiaomei Chen, a young girl who as a young girl in the 1950s wrote an award winning essay about being a part of the Communist movement).
I never thought about any of this in high school， but it makes sense to me now. I think more than anything this research has shown me how important education is. I never thought of language textbooks being so powerful, but they in fact are.
I cannot for the life of me find this article again on the internet, but I did find a video from Fox News with much of the same information. http://www.foxnews.com/video-search/m/21258867/fair_and_balanced.htm?pageid=47147&seek=9.014
中等专业学校材 语文: 上册. 北京:高等教育出版社, 1959, p 1.
1958 59 学年度上海市高中毕业班复习参考资料语文. 上海:上海教育出版社, 1958 59; 初级中学课本语文。上海：教育出版社，1958; 周建威。 小学课本语文。 上海：华东人民出版社，1952; 上海市中学课本语文。 上海：中小学教材编， 1972; 五年制中学课本语文，上海：教育出版社，1960.
Xiaomei Chen. “From ‘Lighthouse’ to the Northeast Wilderness: Growing Up among the Ordinary Stars,” in Some of Us, ed. Xueping Zhong, Wang Zheng, Bai Di, 55–57.
Right now, China uses a character system that is chronologically and geographically unique. Before the 1950s, the Chinese writing system was (for the most part) unified and consistent, and Chinese people in China and in the larger Chinese empire (at least those who were literate) used the same characters (I admit, I am not an ancient scholar, so I am sure there are exceptions to this, but I'm more interested in modern history, so we are going to stick to this generalization for now). China's spoken language, however, was and still remains largely diverse. While most people who have been through primary school can speak the standard mandarin Chinese (putonghua, literally translating to the normal language), almost every area in China has it's own dialect (with the exception of Beijing, simply because their dialect IS putonghua). Shanghai people will primarily speak Shanghainese. Only 60 kilometers away, in Hangzhou, is another dialect, which is different from Shanghainese, although supposedly from the same family. Each town, each village, has it's own dialect, and it has been that way probably since the beginning of Chinese history. Moreover, these dialects argue over which was the ORIGINAL Chinese; Cantonese speakers will argue probably most fervently for their own cause. We won't even get into minorities in China; while the government will argue there are 55 different minority groups in China, it is much more complex than that, and in fact in some cases, Tibetan probably being the most well known, they not only have a different language, but a different writing system altogether.
Nevertheless, Chinese writing has been largely consistent and unified since the first emperor of China unified it in the 200s BC (I met a man once who went to Guangdong and found that he could not find a hotel because no one would speak mandarin to him, and Cantonese sounded like a completely foreign language to him. He finally wrote down the characters and asked someone, and was then able to find it. He said that was the first time he really appreciated the greatness of the first emperor of China). Then, in 1949, after the communists took over, they decided that the best way increase literacy was to simplify characters. According to one of the textbooks I found, this policy was put into effect in 1956, beginning the shift. Now, I expected to see a complete shift (actually, I expected to see a shift in 1949, until I cam across an explanation in one of the textbooks about the 1956 policy). However, instead of being a complete shift, perhaps half of the characters were in simplified characters, and half in traditional. In language textbooks (similar to the textbooks we would use for middle school English), there was a dictionary in the back that showed traditional and simplified characters so children could easily transition. Then, in textbooks published in the early 1970s, the transition was complete, and it was written completely in simplified characters. I found this half and half thing quite odd, so I asked one of the librarians about it. He explained to me that by the late 1960s, almost all of the children attending school had been brought up with simplified characters, and had been taught simplified characters at the beginning of their education. Before that, many children had been first taught traditional, so the half and half thing was to facilitate the transition. He explained that he had begun school right in the early 1950s, so he began right at the beginning of the transition; therefore, most of his early books were half and half. But for children entering middle school in the 1950s, this transition was more difficult, so the half and half made it easier.
So in a general sense, we see how the transition from traditional to simplified played itself out in the classroom. I still don't know the whole picture, but this is what I was able to glean from textbooks. Spoken language reform was more complicated STILL. I made the assumption that since the Communists took it upon themselves to control and unify just about everything, I assumed that that attitude would apply to spoken language as well. However, I have come across many people (mostly cab drivers) who really can't speak a word of mandarin (makes communication really fun). So I began asking around, and once again Chen Laoshi, the librarian, gave me an explanation. He told me that beginning in the 1950s, everyone had to learn mandarin in school, but it was not a requirement to get a job or anything (although certainly helpful, especially for government positions). However, as he explained to me, many teachers could not even speak mandarin, even though they were supposed to be teaching it (he told me his mandarin teacher in primary school had very poor mandarin). Communication was certainly a problem. I found this interesting; there were still many people who couldn't understand mandarin, yet Mao, who even gave his speeches in Hunanese (although this, to me, sounds like mandarin, I understand some of his speeches), still managed to so closely unify the country in behavior and thought. I asked Chen Laoshi if there were still people who couldn't understand Mao, and he told me "of course!" I then asked why they followed him so closely, and Chen Laoshi told me "that is why local government was so important." And it is true that in a lot of cultural revolution memoirs, countryside people didn't have the time to go on pilgrimages to Beijing to see Mao or follow the Long March route out of political loyalty; all that mattered was what local cadres told them (and that they got enough to eat). They had local meetings and such, but the political fervor that swept the cities and pretty much shut down all major institutions didn't hit the peasants, since their livelihood (and that of the rest of China) depended on their continuing of their every day lives. And besides, most people in China at that time couldn't afford a radio or a TV, so they probably only knew of Mao's words through the local cadres.
However, now, it is a requirement that teachers and government officials not only speak mandarin, but know the mandarin pinyin (the English romanization) and take a test to prove it, but this legislation is only a few years old. And even so, there are still many people who cannot speak mandarin. I assume that through media this will continue to change (although Cantonese may survive through pop songs, Jackie Chan movies, and stubborn Hong Kong people), and most of these dialects will fade away. This still remains to be seen, though.
This is certainly not a complete understanding of language reform, and I would like to know more. Anyone who knows any scholarship about this, I would happily welcome book/article recommendations.