| Alfred C. Snider | April 15-16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 2001| Other Journals | Debate Central |
I awakened many times during the night. It was hard to rest easily even though the cabin was comfortable. The train, although travelling smoothly, would rock back and forth and it was hard to escape the feeling of movement, making it somewhat difficult to sleep. We stopped numerous times but always started right up again after a few people had disembarked and vanished into the night at exotic rural train stations I could see little of but which sparked my imagination. I would have just gazed out the window had it been light enough to see the countryside. However, when the daylight did begin to come over the horizon, I did stay awake and gazed out of the large window in our cabin.
Rural China passed before me. I could see the intensely cultivated fields, with all available space being used productively. I saw villages pass by, with brick and mortar one-story buildings in them. Roads seemed to run alongside the tracks and they had small shops and establishments along them every few kilometers. As the sun rose I could see people working in the fields, riding bicycles, herding sheep and walking as the activity of the day began. This was the China I had come to see, lacking the common elements found in large cities worldwide.
Several times we passed by major highways, complete with overpasses and multiple lanes, but for the most part it was the countryside I had expected. The day was clear, lacking the haze and pollution of Beijing.
I took out my PowerBook and began working on my journal. It was interesting to be sitting in a train car as the Chinese countryside streamed by, typing on a Mac PowerBook for an audience a world away. But really, I decided, I was writing the journal for myself, trying not to forget the many images and thoughts of each day.
My companions began to awaken with various sorts of reactions. Some seemed pleased, others had streams of complaints, but all seemed energized and excited by our adventure. The morning journeys to the bathroom began for the awakening sleepers, and I found the facilities to be surprisingly modern and sanitary.
Juefei came by and told us that coffee was available in the next car, and all trooped out except me, as I stayed behind to watch over our belongings and besides I had given up caffeine. I munched on a couple of rice crackers that Jim Lombardo had offered to me, and they were delicious, slightly sweet with an unusual flavor I could not identify.
They returned and we were told that we would be arriving in a few minutes, just before 7 AM Beijing time. Of course, it is all Beijing time in China, since it has only one time zone even through it is a massive country. I packed my few belongings into my one small bag, stowed away my PowerBook, and got ready to disembark from the train.
The sun was bright and it was a clear and cool day as we arrived in Qufu. We walked into small but neatly appointed train station, a troop of Americans along with Juefei and Ardong as well as about ten Chinese travelers arriving in Qufu on their own mission. We were met inside by representatives of Qufu Normal University. As we descended the stairs outside the station there were a number of taxi drivers calling out for customers, but we moved quickly to a modern small bus (about 16 seats) and we were on our way.
It was interesting that this was almost the exact same type of bus we had used in Beijing. I am not sure of the make but the "emergency exit" signs seemed to be in Italian just as hey had been in the other bus.
As we drove into Qufu the roads were crowded, but not with cars this time, but with bicycles, trucks, and small buses, as well as pedicabs and motorcycles. People seemed to be hurrying to their appointed destinations, most of them I am sure on their way to work. We passed by a number of what appeared to be small factories with hundreds of bicycles parked outside.
The buildings became a bit more common and the roadside establishments multiplied. I saw several roadside open-air breakfast spots, which steaming cauldrons of tea and offerings of hat looked like tasty stuffed steamed bread,, and these places had crowds sipping, eating, talking, and gesturing all actively as one would expect in any such establishment worldwide.
As we continued the town of Qufu itself loomed in front of us and then we were on its streets, lined with stores and storefronts, punctuated by narrow alleyways which seemed to lead back to dwellings. I saw bicycle repair taking place in the open air, trucks being loaded and unloaded, and always many bicycles taking part in the daily commute.
We cam to a large gate which was Qufu Normal University. I had previously heard it called Qufu Teachers University, and when I asked I was told that they are one in the same. It was a lovely campus, with a huge statue of Confucius looming over the central plaza inside the main gate. Many large buildings surrounded the main front area, most of them very modern and they looked fairly new.
In China they try to encourage people to go into teaching, so attending a university like this, which specializes in teacher training, is one of the least expensive educational alternatives. While there are expenses associated with being a student, there is no tuition. The campus was crowded with students walking and on bicycles obviously going to class or going on errands. The university has about 12,000 students and is growing quickly, and I could see considerable evidence of new construction.
International Exchange Center, Qufu teachers University
We pulled into a complex designated as the International Exchange Center and pulled up to a stop in front of what would ordinarily seem like a hotel based on structure type and design. We trooped out of our bus and were greeted by those in charge of the center who would be our hosts during our stay. The woman in charge of our party while in Qufu had been to UVM on an exchange in cooperation with Juefei some four years earlier, and spoke excellent English. We were assigned to rooms (all singles) and we were helped with our bags upstairs to examine them. My room was cozy and modern and was very much like a hotel room in the USA, except for the ever-present stainless steel thermos of hot water so that I could use the tea service provided whenever I wanted.
I tossed down my bags and immediately took a long bath to wash away the grime of the overnight trip, changed into some clean clothing, and went down to breakfast which was served at 8 AM.
Everyone looked much fresher after an ablution, although some had wet hair because they had tried to use hair dryers and had blown the fuses in their rooms. The breakfast was excellent, featuring a variety of dishes both expected at a western breakfast as well as dishes I had seen served for breakfast in Beijing.
We were told about our agenda for that day: a trip to the Temple of Confucius, back to campus for lunch, an afternoon planning session for the conference, meetings with our translators who would be helping us with our presentations, a tour of the conference facilities to make sure the meeting rooms were adequate for our presentations (projectors, computers, screens, etc.), dinner back at the center, and then a free evening. We had many questions about the conference but were told to hold them until the afternoon sessions.
I went back upstairs and began to unpack. I really came fully prepared, not only with all of the things I thought I would need, but also with everything it would take to do a remote webcast from China. It did seem, however, that internet connectivity was not as good as I had hoped. Well, I was determined to find an Ethernet connection somewhere and give it my best. In any case, I did want to tape at least two segments of Flashpoint, the Lawrence Debate Union weekly television program.
We met in the lobby for our tourist session for the day, a visit to the Temple of Confucius. We piled into our bus and headed off into Qufu center. We traversed the slightly less crowded streets, passing by a number of fairly large buildings, mostly banks (there seem to be a lot of banks in China), a few hotels, some factories, and some government buildings. The stores seemed mostly small and specialized, and the "mall" phenomena does not seemed to have reached Qufu yet. Qufu, I am told, has about 600,000 people, but only about 60,000 live in the city center area, with most people dwelling on the outskirts in an area where city and country come together. There were far fewer high rise apartments than I had seen in Beijing.
Temple of Confucius Gate | Monolith damaged in Cultural Revolution
We came to a huge gate and get out of the bus, for this was the Temple of Confucius [551-479 BCE] . Originally built after his death over 2000 years ago, it had been added to and rebuilt over the years. One of the most troubling parts of its history was that it had been pillaged during the cultural revolution by the Red Guard elements. Our guides told us this with sadness and a recognition of that part of their history.
The temple grounds had many beautiful and ancient trees, man y of which were older than 800 years. There was one tree which sprouted from a tree originally planted by Confucius which had died but then resprouted to form a new, very large and impressive tree. There was also an apricot grove which the students of Confucius had planted in the area where he did his teaching as a salute to him. None of these trees remain, but it is still called the apricot grove to mark the spot where he taught. Confucius also was disturbed that only the aristocratic class would receive education, and he was the first to open a school of his own to serve the brighter students of the poor, and he taught both the children of aristocrats and the poor in different sessions.
The temple complex was beautiful, and besides the trees my favorite part were the many obelisks which featured lovely calligraphy and told stories about Confucius and the history of his philosophy as well as the Qufu region. I was told by Xing, our excellent guide that day, that Qufu Normal University had asked to change its name to Confucius Cultural University as a sign of respect to their favorite son. I found one of the oldest such obelisks which had a small flake of stone at its base and added it to my memory stone collection.
The sad part about the many obelisks is that almost all of them had been thrown down and broken by the Red Guard. They have since been repaired, but the breaks are still obvious when you look at them. Only one such stone remained unbroken, and that is because a large Chinese character at the top of it looked a lot like the Chinese character for "the party" and the Red Guard had been hesitant to break it for far of being ideologically impure. The Red Guard certainly did leave their mark on China. Juefei, for example, had been forcibly moved out of Beijing and been sent to Inner Mongolia to work on a farm, which he did for several years, before attending Inner Mongolia Normal University and launching his distinguished academic career. My translator, whom I would meet later that day, was given the name of "Qingli" (glorious victory) by her soldier father because she was born at about the time of the demise of the Red Guard.
Confucius cartoon | Author with fragment
We saw a display of the 120 traditional paintings of the life and work of Confucius, which Xing explained were the earliest cartoons very made, as each panel tells the continuing story of the philosopher. I did manage to snap a shot of one of the panels I liked the best.
At the center of the temple was a grand building housing a statue of the philosopher. The columns supporting the building were so grand that they were often wrapped in yellow fabric when the emperor or his consort would come to pay homage, because it was thought they might become jealous at their excellence and take them back to Beijing with them, since they were better than any found in the Forbidden City. The dragon is the symbol of the emperor, and only allowed for his use, but Confucius was also allowed to be represented by the dragon (after his death, of course) because he was that highly thought of.
Procession at Temple of Confucius
We saw a traditional musical procession and marching ritual which reenacted the celebrations for Confucius which take place from the last week in September until the first week in October each year, the time of his birth. The costumes were excellent, the ritual movements interesting and the musical presentation (all traditional Chinese instruments) was very nice.
I have some problems with the teachings of Confucius. He taught that obedience to authority was a primary virtue, especially obedience to the emperor and to your father and your family. He taught that authority must be obeyed. I, on the other hand, believe that authority should be questioned and confirmed or disconfirmed by the individual critical intellect, so that puts us at odds. I also strongly disagree with his ideas about the role of women in society. On the other hand, Confucius was perhaps the first of the "social" philosophers, who sought not a religious explanation for organizing society, but one based on human relations. I am also impressed that the central hero of China is not a warrior or a ruler, but a philosopher, and I think that speaks volumes about Chinese culture. As Juefei put it, the work of Lao Tzu is far more popular in the west than it is in China, but it is impossible to begin to understand Chinese culture without understanding Confucius and his teachings.
Main Shrine at Temple of Confucius
We headed back to the International Exchange Center just before lunchtime, and we saw many school children headed home for lunch, quite common in less metropolitan regions of China. Working parents would make arrangements for non-working neighbors to feed their children lunch while some would eat at neighborhood restaurants at a much reduced rate. We also saw many people wearing a similar sort of blue uniform on bicycles, and I reasoned (later confirmed) that they were employees at a nearby establishment on their lunch break. I later learned they were from a major establishment in Qufu which makes the now famous Great Wall wine.
At the International Exchange Center we had another excellent lunch, more variety, and the caramelized sugar potato wedges were a new experience for me. We had some rest time after lunch, as is the Chinese custom, but I was afraid to take a nap because I might not be able to wake up. I worked on my journal for a while and then went downstairs to an organizational meeting for the conference. We found out when we would be making our presentations and what groups we would be in. There would be one Chinese paper and one American paper in each. I would be going on day one, there would be large sessions on day two, and then we would have two more presentations in our group on day three.
I got a chance to meet with my translator, Xu Qingli, and I was very impressed. She had already read and translated my paper, and had even researched my references to debate in Chinese history. She also told me a lot about the current status of debating in China. I had done my best to find out this information but had failed. It turns out that many universities have debating competitions, usually one each year. Then, many send debaters to a national competition, where they have preliminaries and then finals, and last year Nanjing University won the title and a female debater from Nanjing was the top speaker. Of course, I couldn't find out about any of this because it was only reported in Chinese, but she helped me understand the realities of debating in China, especially at the university level. She had only two questions about words in my paper, one was "search and seizure" and the other was "Soros Foundation." She said that my work was very easy to translate, which I attribute to my simple minded ways of expression, but it worked in this instance. She talked about how she had used debating in her classroom on the topic of the importance of money in Chinese society, which I found very interesting.
Wedding picture of Xu Qingli, my translator, and her husband Wang Fuxiang
After meeting with Xu Qingli we went on a tour of the facilities we would be using the next day. We saw the main conference hall and then the rooms for the break out sessions, which is where I would be making my presentation. They were lovely rooms, and the one I would be using was a lovely new conference room which had never been used before because it had just been finished. After finishing the tour we returned to the Center for dinner, and I really began to crash, the fatigue of the trip and the lack of sleep from the night train ride from Beijing had finally caught up with me. I wanted to work more on my journal but I had too many typographical errors for it to be worth it, so I went to sleep at 8 PM, if you can imagine that, but as I drifted off to sleep I actually had worries (and later troubling dreams) that things would go wrong at my presentation the next day. I almost never have worries about a presentation if I am prepared, but then I have never given a presentation in China before.