Beijing > NWAFU at Yangling > Yan-an > Harbin
May 17, 2016: The United Airlines trip to China via Kansas City to Chicago O-Hare and then over the Arctic to Beijing is routine; I even recognize and chat with airline attendants that regularly fly this route. The 10–11 hour flight goes over northern Canada and the Yukon, over the Arctic ice and then down through Siberia to Beijing. Clearing customs at Beijing International Airport, I take a taxi to the Chinese Academy of Sciences complex that is near their 2008 Olympic “bird’s nest” stadium & aqua-cube.
There I meet old friends Drs. Ai-ping Liang (entomology head) and Huang
Chengming (primates-mammalogy). My quarters at the CAS hotel. The next day I spoke to nearly 40 graduate students and a few faculty on the problems in scientific integrity in science publishing. It was a smaller group than was planned but the CAS decided at the last minute to conduct all of their degree exams during these few days.
On American campuses, I watch groups of students walking and count the number who are staring at their smartphones—it is usually 7 to 8 out of 10. On most Chinese campuses it is about half. At CAS, the pressure is evident and only 2 or 3 out of 10 have their phones out. Passing the room with entomology oral exams underway, I could spot my colleague from NWAFU sitting on the panel. China requires that an external professor sit on every examination panel at every university.
On May 20, I leave Beijing West Rail Station by high-speed (gao tye) train for NWAFU at Yangling. Every ticket, whether train or theater event, requires an ID. All Chinese have a government-issued photo ID and this is then checked on the train; it prevents scalping and other fraud. [So back in the U.S., I am a proponent of government-issued photo ID for everything including voting. If you want the rights to social security and other services, you have the responsibility to maintain an ID.]
The prior year, the first Chinese scientists to win a Nobel Prize was Youyou Tu; she had worked out the active ingredient in a Chinese herbal medicine used for malaria, artemesin. She was not a CAS researcher and many scientists in China cannot figure out why it did not go to a CAS researcher.
I am thankful to my colleagues Liang and Huang for hosting me during what became a very busy time for them.
I have taken the train from Beijing to Yangling that passes through Shijyazhuang and Xi’an many times. Each time, more of the countryside fields are consolidating the small farm plots into large corporate-style farms (as elderly farm couples retire) and these fields are then being converted into greenhouses. Where they double-cropped, they can now triple-crop. China is very concerned with ensuring they can feed everyone but there is the risk of exhausting the soil. The borders of cities, towns and villages are very distinct, often stoppping at a brick wall. China struggles to keep farmland as farmland. Stanford’s Paul Ehrlich (The Population Bomb) cautioned us about holding housing to cities and not eliminating farmland. China comes as close to following this principle as anywhere.
Northwest Agricultural and Forestry University—Yangling, Shaanxi Province
This was my 18th trip into China, counting Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan, and my last year on my 4th passport (In received my new fifth one January 2017). I had come to NWAFU over 15 years ago when it had just been consolidated from scattered small agricultural colleges into a new university town in the village of Yangling. Always before, my office was in the old north campus but the new agricultural building is completed, huge (two blocks wide and long. The insect collections take up the central “bridge” at the front center of this massive building, and my temporary summer office has a fabulous view of the south campus. My desk is to the side of the walkway into the
insect museum (there are three floors) NWAFU has expanded the collection nearly 60% while the U.S. NSF froze funding for U.S. museums for the first 6 months of 2016!) NWAFU is one of two major national universities devoted to agricultural research; think of it as a double Purdue or K-State...all agriculture (no art, music, etc.).
I was also much more accessible to entomology students who mostly passed through my area. Master’s students get one desk space, doctoral students get two and post-docs get three adjacent desks. –Plenty of empty desks for future expansion. The professors had spacious offices down the inner halls. There was also a coffee lounge for a 10:00am break! In addition to proofreading and correcting professors’ and students’ papers, I also continued proof-editing the English in their entomology systematics journal Entomotaxonomia (which I also edit by long distance via internet year-round.)
However, it is better when I can have the author sit beside me and we can go through the corrections together. I also get to sit in on entomology masters and doctoral exams.
I also take along books (I try but do not succeed in reading a book a week) and then add reviews to Amazon.com (I hate the medium but it reaches far more than most reviews in professional journals). They temporarily ran out of material for me to proofread so I finished a review of “The South China Sea,” an accurate history by Bill Hayton. Entomotaxonomia has staff here that help mail to authors and peer reviewers and also distribute the issues to entomologists. One of my colleagues came in and aksed where I like to go in China in the future. I had schedule to leave China via Unit 731 Museum in Harbin and mentioned that perhaps next year I would leave through Yan’an, which is actually very close by. He left and came back a half hour later to announce that we would go the Yan’an in the next few days. I talk too much.
We took a high speed G-train (G numbers indicate the gao tye che trains) that passed through Xi’an and then up toward Yan’an in the north of Shaanxi Province. My colleague did not speak English, which rapidly improved my Chinese, but was not difficult because we could talk and I could point to what was in front of us. The hi-speed train runs about 200 km/hour on rails on pillars high above the ground but the last part of the trip it dropped down to common rails at ground level and ran at 100 km/hour
and the rails were heavily fenced off. Coming back, we rode the exact same train but it had a D-number (dong che) which just means normal fast train because it starts that way; but as soon as it moved up on the pillars, it became hi-speed.
As we approached Yan’an, the countryside was like the ridges of Tennessee with the train going into and out of tunnels each minute. That is why the troops under Mao and Chu Teh came here at the end of the Long March. It was nearly impossible for Chiang Kai-Shek or the Japanese to move heavy armor and artillery into this area. Yan’an is the “holy land”of the Chinese Communist Party. This is the base where they rebuilt their army and the headquarters from which they were able to launch guerilla warfare against the Japanese and then the Kuomintang (KMT). My colleague who accompanied me had a classmate in Yan’an who greeted us and treated us as family. It is important to remember that in China, university students live in the same dormitory with their classmates (tongxue) who all have the same major and attend the same classes similar to our middle schools. In four years, they become lifelong friends, and I was benefitting from this classmate-friendship with my colleague.
It is hard to provide American’s with an equivalent to Yan’an—perhaps Concord where the first shots of the Revolutionary War were fired, or Gettysburg where the Civil War came to a climax. There is a large meeting hall that appears to be unrestored, still with the seats and drapery from the 1940s. Visitors take turns having their family take pictures of them standing at the podium where Chu Teh, Chou En-lai or Mao spoke.
My interest in Yan’an began with the biography of General Chu Teh by Agnes Smedley, titled The Great Road. Smedley lived at Yan’an and seized short moments when General Chu was free from training and leading troops to take down his life history. Chu was the main military general who, along with Peng Dehuai and Lin Bao, led various segments of the Red Army. Mao was more in charge of the political wing. The hallmark of Yan’an (the name comes from the Yan River and the symbol for peace) is the cave houses cut into the hillsides. Called “yao dong,” the caves also provided the protection needed from bombs from warplanes from the Japanese and KMT. General Chu is featured in just as many photographs in Yan’an as is Mao, although he receives far less hype in the captions. General Chu is fascinating insofar as Smedley’s biography describes how he developed a compassion for the common people that they could easily perceive. Unlike the Japanese and Allied troops that soon developed a take-no-prisoners policy, Chu commanded his troops to take prisoners rather than kill. He then had his officers sit down and talk with them, allowing many who were unwilling conscripts to return home with safe passage and some coins; the result is that he built the Red Army from converts from the KMT. What is amazing is that he attempted and partially succeeded in converting Japanese prisoners who usually fought-to-the-death. It was difficult when his own troops had suffered the cruelty of Japanese atrocities, but he did form detachments of converted Japanese soldiers that were used in translating and combat. Because of this, an American official at Yan’an even asked Agnes if General Chu was Christian—she laughed. Despite the correct reports of State Department representatives John Paton Davies and John Service, and General Stilwell, that we should support the Red Army, the buffoon General Patrick Hurley recommended otherwise, and we supported the wrong side. Here at Yan’an was where we erred.
The following description, along with background music from Yan'an was written for radio, but never aired:
[pop music from dancing] This is the sound of dancing in the city square, in the bustling city of Yan’an in northeast Shaanxi Province in China. Children play on skateboards while citizens, mostly women over age 55, enjoy an Eastern version of line dancing from late afternoon into the night. As you see the joy and freedom they express on their faces, you might overlook the massive statues that are in the background of this square and throughout the city of Yan’an. For this is a pilgrimage city for the People’s Liberation Army and loyal Communist Party members. This is the final resting place of the remnants of the “Long March,” the base where the Communist Army reassembled and eventually moved outward to defeat the Nationalist Army.
During my three days in Yan’an, I saw no other Westerners. What brought me here was Agnes Smedley’s biography of General Chu Teh. Ignored in our history books, Chu Teh was so central to the success of the Red Army that for many illiterate peasants there was one great legendary liberator rumored to be named “Chu Mao.”
Agnes Smedley was a journalist, born into a poor farm family in Missouri. Her family moved to Colorado where her father worked in the mines. The contrast between the rich mine barons and the poor miners including her father–a “Grapes of Wrath” life—gave Smedley the compassion to understand the plight of the Chinese peasants and a justified hatred of the tyrannical rich.
Smedley ended up reporting in China in 1929 and soon was working for the Chinese Red Cross Medical Corps. When she arrived here in Yan’an, General Chu Teh agreed to let her write his biography.
In 1937, Yan’an was a small village. What strikes you are the arched fronts of homes cut into hillsides, called “yao dong.” They provided some protection from Japanese bombardment and housed the command and communications centers, and even schools and a university for troops and families.
It was in these cave houses that Smedley took notes whenever Chu Teh was not at the battlefront or in behind-the-enemy-line bases. Her biography The Great Road covers his life up until 1946.
Old China was still a feudal system, where the one percent made up of landlords, industrialists and militarists kept the ninety-nine percent in endless indentured service and virtual slavery through taxes and tyranny.
From Chu’s earliest military work, he held the attitude that surrendering troops should be given the opportunity to learn and join the peasant’s side. And this was what the Revolutionary Army was built on, including many women soldiers, who had been treated as property under Old China. This “re-education,” became the source of the People’s Army. Those who were captured and did not wish to switch sides were often allowed to go home, sometimes with a travel allowance and note of safe passage. This contrast between Chu’s troops and the cruelness of Nationalist and warlord troops would in the end result in the Communist victory in 1949.
General Chu Teh even ordered his troops to try to convert Japanese soldiers who were taken prisoner, and indeed used these converts in counterwarfare, an action that led one U.S. military advisor to ask if the general was a Christian.
Early in World War II, U.S. military and State Department officials came to Yan’an and understood the difference between freeing Chinese from servitude and the Nationalists who were defending the old order. General “Vinegar Joe” Stilwell understood the situation clearly—and he was soon fired.
Had the United States followed the analysis of its State Department specialists and the many journalists who described in detail the work of Chu Teh and the army at Yan’an, our relations with China today might be as friendly as our relationships with other allies.
[music of China national anthem rises in background, then fades to dance music as narrative ends.]
As I stand watching women and children dance in the square of a modern Yan’an, I wonder what General Chu Teh, who lived a life so simple and austere, would think?
I think he would like this scene.
I think he would join the dance.
After finished editing at NWAFU, I flew from Xi'an to Harbin to be met by friend and host Sun Ping. Formerly head of the Office of Science Integrity in the Ministry of Science and technology, Sun Ping now heads a section of the Ministry of Education that recruits worldwide for international students to come study at Chinese universities, offering scholarships. He meets me at the airport and has arranged hotel accommodations. The following day, we took a bus to the Pingfan section of Harbin, what had been a village 30 miles from Harbin in World War II. This is the location of Unit 731, Japan's notorious biowarfare facility that subjected thousands of civilians to inhumane experiments and developed deadly cultures of bubonic plague and typhus for dispersal via fleas and lice respectively. That required much research on rearing insects on both animals and humans, as well as experiments on design of bombs that would disperse the insects without killing them. In addition, they froze prisoner's arms and then tried different techniques for saving the tissues, experimented with various gas warfare agents, and began to investigate use of agricultural bio-weapons. At the war's end, the Unit 731 staff were never brought to trial, due to an immunity for information arrangement with the U.S. that was conducting biowarfare experiments at Fort Detrick. The following was written that day for radio broadcast in synchrony with Pearl Harbor Day. In addition, two newspaper columns were distributed (EF399a, b).
----------------- As Americans Remember Pearl Harbor, Chinese Remember Japan's Unit 731
Sun Ping got me to the Harbin Airport the next morning for flight to Beijing and onward to the U.S. As I passed through security at Harbin Airport and waited for my fight to Beijing, a Chinese girl entered the waiting room and sat down in the row across from me. She wore heavy make-up, with a nearly white face and black eyelashes to enlarge the appearance of her eyes. She wore a baby-doll outfit and carried an oversized doll that also had the big eyes. This was the “Anime” look, taken out of the longstanding Japanese anime (animation) films, and the fad is sweeping through a segment of young girls in China, Japan and Korea. In addition, there is now the Chinese app “Meitu” (also available on Instagram and Snapchat and as an IPhone app) that allows anyone to alter their online photos to achieve this look of pale skin, big eyes, and elfin features.
Other News from China in 2016
Obesity 'Explosion' In Young Rural Chinese A Result Of Socioeconomic Changes, Study Warns (bbc.com) 153
Posted by BeauHD on Friday April 29, 2016 @05:01AM from the body-mass-index dept.
An anonymous reader quotes a report from BBC: Obesity has rapidly increased in young rural Chinese, a study has warned, because of socioeconomic changes. Researchers found 17% of boys and 9% of girls under the age of 19 were obese in 2014, up from 1% for each in 1985. The 29-year study, published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, involved nearly 28,000 students in Shandong province. The study said China's rapid socioeconomic and nutritional transition has led to an increase in energy intake and a decrease in physical activity. The data was taken from six government surveys of rural school children in Shandong aged between seven and 18. The percentage of overweight children has also grown from 0.7% to 16.4% for boys and from 1.5% to nearly 14% for girls, the study said. "It is the worst explosion of childhood and adolescent obesity that I have ever seen," Joep Perk from the European Society of Cardiology told AFP news agency.
[I would note that the overweight + obesity rate in the United States is about 70%. -JRS]