Roll up those taxi windows, drag your bags through security… this only comes every ten years. Beijing’s bitter wind welcomed 2270 delegates yesterday to shine their shoes and take their seats in a room booked for the “18th National Congress”. While the U.S. lets out its breath to enjoy another four years under Obama’s leadership, China prepares itself for a new president and premier (7 of the 9 current Politburo Standing Committee members are retiring this year). Xi Jinping, the likely candidate to replace President Hu Jintao, emphasized four main questions to be addressed at this year’s conference, namely: What flag will we wave? What path will we follow? And in what state of mind? To continue advancing towards what kind of goals? (我们党将举什么旗、走什么路、以什么样的精神状态、朝着什么样的目标继续前进) Specific, I know. Citizens wait eagerly to see what solutions the committee generates for problems like insufficient health care, inflated real estate, and the growing gap between the rich and poor. As news stations flash snippets of animated discussions over round mahogany tables, the mysterious lure of the national government grows in the eyes of the people. Local and provincial governments may be corrupt or unfair, but loyalty towards the national government is a tradition that stretches back thousands of years, born from the people’s innocent dependency and undying hope in a power that remains faceless. Just as religion presses followers to have faith in what they cannot see, a government too can round up millions of supporters if only by providing a mirage of hope.
This past week we took a few days off from class and ventured to Xi’an (西安), a 13 hour train ride west of Beijing. Most people recognize this city for its Terracotta Army (兵马俑), an array of stone soldiers and horses built for the first Qin emperor of China around 200 BC.
Skipping ahead though- because you know I’m never as interested in museums as one would expect– this vaca was insanely, crazy good for other reasons. Today I have room for story number one of two:
Hopefully you’ve heard a little about the recent feud between China and Japan which started on Sept. 8th when Japan detained a Chinese fishing-boat captain near a set of disputed islands in the East China Sea. Since then, the historic tension between the two countries has worsened, both heightening Chinese nationalism and making our time abroad infinitely more interesting. On Saturday we were lucky enough to stumble across one of many anti-Japanese protests erupting around the country. We had been leisurely wandering the streets to find a park and get in a round of mahjong when a wave of marching chaos descended upon us. Three hours later, there were more people crowding the main roads than vehicles, and the bus that had previously held the intention to drop us off at the train station by 7 pm was completely out of options. Instead, the whole lot of us– 60 ACC students with luggage draped across every limb of our bodies– maneuvered 2 miles on foot through infamous China traffic to catch our ride home.
Definitely check out the video below. But also notice that while protesting Japan was important to most of these young people, taking photos of foreigners was a close second… if not obvious first.