Changing China: The Beijing: the Northern Capital and the indisputable cultural, historical jewel in China’s crown. A journey to the Middle Kingdom would not be complete without a visit to this mammoth metropolis where the locals are known for their no-nonsense manner and where authentic delicacies include tender Peking duck and hearty beef noodles. A place where the pirate-like Beijing accent and dialect reigns supreme and where it does not cost more than 4 pence to use the bus. The sights and sounds to behold in old Beijing are abundant. From the labyrinthine Forbidden City to the peace and tranquillity of Beihai Park, one cannot help but relish the palpable nostalgia and pride China has in taking care of its ancient scenic spots and relics within.
“wander for hours and savour the true unpretentious soul of Beijingers” Yet there is one significant historical part of Beijing that the government is aggressively swinging a wrecking ball through. The hutong, Beijing’s passport to all that is traditional and picturesque about the city since the dynastic period, where one can wander for hours and savour the true unpretentious soul of Beijingers through their rustic arts and crafts, their home-made red-bean cakes and sweet yoghurt. A place where one can authentically explore life in the capital as it used to be, with its one-roomed houses and rather un-private public latrines. The
Extinction of Beijing’s Hutongs motive behind their destruction? The pursuit of modernity. The hutong do not serve simply as homes. They are ecosystems all by themselves. Passing through Dongcheng District’s Dong Gao Fang hutong, on a typical day one can peruse locally made curios, snack on some scrumptious pancakes from a street-seller, wander through the local Confucian shrine and even unintentionally end up at the famed Yonghegong Lama Temple. However, China’s rush to modernise, and even Westernise, the capital has resulted in conspicuous damage being done to these traditional life-systems, all in the name of a metropolitan makeover for which Beijing locals are paying the price. Dong Gao Fang hutong resident Li Dan Yang says she is certain that, should this historic part of the city be demolished, she would sadly miss it, as it serve as the lifeline and heartbeat of Beijing. For example, Li Shi hutong offers cookery classes situated within a converted building, where for an extra fee, one can see a local hutong market in action and browse its fresh produce alongside the chef. If you want to go native and witness a true Chinese master chef at work in his natural environment, it does not get better than this. At £25 per class, this earns cash for the local economy and ensures that the trade and interest in these hutongs will continue to be nurtured. If they were destroyed, and these activities ceased to exist, the livelihoods of the locals would be in jeopardy.
However, Li Dan Yang concedes that the hutongs are in fact govern-ment-owned and thus the authorities have the right to ‘drive the residents away’, as heart-breaking and horrifying a prospect as this may seem. She further acknowledges that it is almost imperative for the government to demolish these areas in order to make way for more East-meets-West trade and commerce. The corrosive force of globalisation is apparent in many areas of the city, which are filled with international chains and the ubiquitous Starbucks outlets, where many rich, middle-class Chinese queue for a latte shoulder to shoulder with their Western counterparts. For Li Dan Yang and other Beijing residents ‘the hutong culture is very important to China and should not be destroyed for business profit’. Astonishingly, there are some places in the city that one would never be able to tell were once part of the hutong, for example the huge open space that is now Tiananmen Square, razed in the 1950s to make way for Mao’s ‘New China’. China has been ushering itself towards a polished, shiny new era as an economic powerhouse for decades and has annihilated many aspects of traditional Chinese life in the process, swept away by the high speed train of modernisation. According to a recent survey, only a third of the original hutongs is now in existence, the rest having ‘given way to modern buildings’. One can only wonder how long it will be until Beijing’s hutongs vanish completely.
Author: Victoria Leigh (3rd Year Chinese Student)
The Cave Dwellings of Lijiashan Author: Ruairi Garvey (Final Year Chinese and Portugese Student) Photography : Julie Laurent The crystal blue sky is piercing and cloudless. The landscape is dry and dusty. Rain does not often visit this part of Shanxi during the spring as shown by the cracked, baked earth underfoot. The mighty Yellow River can just be seen in the distance, snaking away towards the south, the only source of water in this barren land. An elderly lady sits outside her dwelling, a white turban around her head to protect her from the early afternoon sun. Her dark skin is leathery, heavily lined and tough, her hands calloused and strong. She has almost no teeth left and her wrinkles describe a long, arduous life, which shows no signs of easing with the coming of old age. Her family are long gone; her husband passed away over a decade ago and her children have all moved to the larger towns in search of work. She sits outside the
mouth of her cave and waits. She has been waiting all morning, passing the time by weaving a basket to replace the old one at her feet. It shouldn’t be long now. As always she hears them long before she sees them; the excited shouts, the exclamations of wonderment. The sounds of “ohs” and “ahs” carry over the mountain terrain. She never truly expects the tourists’ amazement and it is somehow disconcerting when it comes. Yet it keeps her alive. She stands as the tour group approaches her cave dwelling. In as good mandarin as she can she addresses them, “Chinese dates! Local Chinese dates! Delicious, please buy, delicious Chinese dates!” The tourists laugh and squeal with delight at the spectacle. This adorable old nainai selling her dates from a basket. They simply must get a picture and buy a bag. It’s only a few kuai after all. This carries on until the group loses interest and moves on to the next settlement. The old lady,alone again, sits back on the wall and counts her takings, enough cash for when she next goes to town to buy supplies. Not bad at all considering the slow start to the day. With effort which gives away her years, she walks slowly back to her
cave house to make her evening meal. The city people have gone. Silence once again reigns over the village, her basket of dates lies next to the wall, covered by a thin cloth of cotton, ready for tomorrow and the people it may bring. In Shanxi province alone there are still as many as 3 million people living in cave dwellings. These settlements have existed for thousands of years and many remain largely unchanged with little to no irrigation or running water. Some are also without electricity. As China embraces her development and modernisation, these communities are threatened with extinction. All across Shanxi there are graveyard cave communities; empty shells of whole villages no longer home to anyone. This piece
“Chinese dates! Local Chinese dates!” is written about a lady from Lijiashan, a tiny mountain village in western Shanxi, on the border with Shaanxi. At one point there were dozens of families living in Lijiashan. There were shops, a temple and even a school. Now, nearly all the cave houses have been abandoned and forgotten and the school stands empty, though you can still see the pictures of the final class and their assignments hanging on the wall. Most of Lijiashan’s former residents have left, gone to larger towns in search of work and a more comfortable life. There are no more than 50 residents now, most of whom are elderly and alone, and when they are gone, Lijiashan will fall completely silent, nothing more than a glimpse into China’s past which couldn’t keep up with her present.
Mystifying Yuanyang I was woken by a woman shaking me, her head a silhouette in the wash of lights on board the bus. We had arrived in the dead of night but now, although still dark outside, the bus shook with life. 6.00am and passengers shuffled to their feet, baggage was yanked from the stow and blankets rained down from the top bunks. I watched groggily as the driver shouted orders down the bus, a fag wedged between his teeth. He sucked his last lung-full and tossed the butt to the ground. I watched it tumble, as if in slow-motion, then spark as it hit the floor and was instantly crushed by a hurrying foot, followed by a geyser of dirty spit.
“her deep-set eyes scanning my rucksack and the crinkled map clenched in my hand” The woman was still there, waving a flyer in my face, foreign words clattering from her mouth. I stumbled off the bus and into Yuanyang to discover that the warehouse walls were not brick, but fog.
A minibus took me out of town, the fog so thick now it was like driving through Chinese porridge, the road so bumpy it felt as though we were running over cattle, and we probably were. The road came to a dusty end. I was dropped at the top of Yuanyang’s famous rice terraces, still shrouded by that glutinous, hanging fog. The warm glow of the morning sun slowly burned its way through and soon I could make out roof tops below. As I contemplated my next move, a crease-faced, haggard old woman carrying a whip emerged from the haze. She gave me the once over, her deep-set eyes scanning my rucksack and the crinkled map clenched in my hand, all the while muttering in Sino-Tibetan language. She seemed to know exactly where I was heading and I had no idea, so I followed her beckoning hand down into the village. En route I had the chance to admire her traditional Hani outfit an elaborate coiled headdress and a navy blue shawl with indigo diamonds of fabric hanging
like handkerchiefs from her waist. The colours were as striking as the plumage of a parrot, but I mainly kept an eye on the whip. We passed similarly-dressed locals setting up for market, women bent double with baskets of cabbages hoisted onto their backs, men with machetes, hard-working water buffalo and Kellogg’s cockerels. I glanced behind and noticed a gaggle of giggly children accumulating, curious to see more. With the rising sun had come the lifting of the mist, like a curtain being drawn – the show was about to begin. Finally the rice terraces revealed themselves. Immense shelves of water, infinity edge pool after infinity edge pool, they caught the sunlight and threw it back at an angle. It was breathtaking and when it caused me to stray carelessly off course, the lady with the whip simply urged me along with hand gestures and a friendly toothless smile. Author: Eve Baker (Final Year Chinese (Modern)) Photography: Eve Baker
Where Are They Now?
Rachel Guan (née Grove), BA English and Chinese, 1998
Tim Schwarz, BA Chinese and Russian, 1982 Since studying Chinese at the University of Leeds, Tim has been a TV news reporter and has reported for CNN for the last twenty years. His work takes him all over the Asia Pacific region from New Zealand to Afghanistan. Tim believes in learning languages so one can visit a country and communicate directly with its people, achieving a direct connection with different cultures. After spending his gap year working as a dish washer in a French ski resort he thus initially enrolled onto French and Russian joint honours at Leeds. Despite an interest in studying Chinese, at that time China was a completely closed country and Tim was keen to utilise his language skills. However, during his first term the exciting news emerged that commencing the following year all BA Chinese students would spend their second year in Beijing - Tim changed his degree to Chinese and Russian the very next day! Studying Chinese at Leeds in the early 80s was an extremely different experience from today; the Chinese department was in a detached house at the far end
of the campus. Chinese was considered an eccentric choice and Tim’s year group was extremely small comprising of approximately twenty undergraduates. The lecturers were either trained in Chinese during the Korean War, or were in one way or another, refugees from China. The Russian department still had a few White Russians - including a princess! The initial few weeks of his year abroad in Beijing proved challenging: when he attempted to communicate, Chinese people didn't even realise he was trying to speak Chinese! Due to the rarity of foreigners in China, crowds gathered around Tim, especially when he travelled outside of Beijing. However, the conspicuous presence of Leeds students gave them a strange kind of freedom; they were so unusual and alien that nothing they could do would make them appear stranger. After graduating Tim spent a year in Ulaanbaatar on a British Council scholarship studying Mongolian, but he owes his start in TV to his Chinese language skills. Based in Hong Kong working as an
interpreter and translator, another Leeds Chinese graduate working for the BBC introduced Tim to ITN who needed someone to cover the Queen's state visit to China in 1985. After several years freelancing with ITN on their China coverage and after the Tiananmen crackdown in 1989, the first big story Tim worked on, ITN hired him full time and he commenced assignments in other Asian countries. In 1992, CNN offered Tim a job in Beijing because of his experience and language skills and he worked here for four years before returning to Hong Kong. So what advice does Tim have for current Chinese students? Don't believe it is too difficult, don't give up on characters and don't stop learning when you graduate. Don't slip into the bad habit of relying on Chinese people speaking excellent English and definitely go to China!
Author: Babette Radclyffe-Thomas (Graduated In 2012, BA Chinese Degree)
A graduate of the ‘98 class at the University of Leeds, Rachel Guan is currently based in Hong Kong as a Senior Associate at the leading international law firm Hogan Lovells. Initially enrolling at Leeds to read English, Rachel was unaware of the compulsory arts elective for all first year students or even of the Chinese department’s existence! Eager to study Chinese but hesitant of her own suitability, Rachel decided to seek her personal tutor’s advice. After receiving an encouraging ‘You'll always be able to enjoy reading, but opportunities to learn Chinese don't come about every day’, Rachel signed up for the Chinese language elective. Rachel remains extremely grateful for the electives system Leeds offers and grateful in particular to tutor in the English department who encouraged her so passionately. During her year abroad Rachel chose to study in Tianjin as she believed meeting the local people would be easier there than other places. She was proved correct
during her first week when she and a friend, Rachel White, struck up a conversation with a family sitting on stools on the pavement, earning some extra cash by pumping up bicycle tires. Rachel still knows and visits them. Rachel also made friends with a Chinese student named Frances, and used to sneak into her dorm for overnight stays at the weekends when others had gone home. Rachel remains friends with Frances sharing that Frances is now a proud mother of two lovely half-German boys. Rachel comments that those sorts of friends stay with you for life. Highlights of Rachel’s time at Leeds include living with Li Ruru as her lodger during her fourth year. Rachel reminisces about the delicious smell of Ruru’s freshly cooked bread on Saturday mornings, occasionally swimming together and sometimes, unfortunately, oversleeping and missing Ruru’s 9 am lecture! It was only after Rachel became part of a Chinese family that she realised that she had overlooked
much of the basic etiquette that governs relationships in China. Calling someone older “Nin” It was only after Rachel became part of a Chinese family that she realised that she had overlooked much of the basic etiquette that governs relationships in China. Calling someone older "Nin" rather than "Ni" is a must and giving someone older than you food with your chopsticks is another. On her first visit to Beijing to meet her now husband’s family the importance of these customs was highlighted as, despite Rachel’s’ inlaws being extremely easy going, Rachel became so tense that she spilt hot water all over her grandmother in-law! Rachel’s advice to students is that in addition to learning language rules it is equally important to understand behavioural and social customs too. Author: Babette Radclyffe-Thomas (Graduated In 2012, BA Chinese Degree)
Published on Mar 4, 2013