Semester at Sea Fall 2006 Voyage banner


Contradictory China

By Jane Wiseman

        While many places could be described this way, I found China to be extremely contradictory. One of the pictures I took in China while walking through Tiananmen Square really represented the vernacular and transnational. I think it is a good representation of both the vernacular and transnational because of, not only the things in the pictures but events that have happened there. On the left side of the picture there is a long line of native Chinese people waiting (quite a while in the heat) to go through the mausoleum that houses Mao’s body (although many experts believe that the body in there is a replica to preserve Mao’s real body). In the background of the photo you can see the gate into the Imperial City, and consequently the Forbidden City, which still has a picture of Mao displayed at its gates. In China, Mao is still revered as a national hero. However, most of the world has a much different view of Tiananmen Square and Mao’s presence there. Non-Chinese know of the massacre that occurred in Tiananmen and do not view Mao with reverence, while many of the people living in China still do not know of the events that took place, and still revere him. The difference in meaning of Tiananmen Square for the rest of the world versus what local Chinese think of it lends to a transnational dimension to the space as a whole.
                    Another picture I took in China was in Xi’an. It was taken from the Shaanxi History Museum that houses ancient artifacts from Chinese history, many dating back thousands of years. Its architecture is a traditional Chinese style with the pointed rooftops and a courtyard. However, as you enter into the courtyard you can’t help but notice the very modern high-rise in the background looming over the history museum. It seems that you can’t escape changing times, even while looking into the past. However, while walking through the museum I couldn’t help but think of Edward Denison’s
article “Restoring History in China,” in which he talks about how China’s government was “acutely aware of its perceived poor record of safeguarding the country’s inheritance”. I wondered if this magnificent museum had been built as a way to preserve China’s heritage in an effort by the government to show good faith in maintaining its history.
                    I was also fortunate enough to see a cultural performance while in Xi’an. I went to a dinner show put on by the Tang Dynasty Performance Troupe. I took a picture at the start of the show and in the picture the artists are playing instruments that are no longer in use (except for historical display and performance). The entire goal of the spectacular show was to inform the viewers of music and dancing from a dynasty long past. The Tang Dynasty is part of China’s history and was once a great power giving the show a vernacular label. Yet, it is being represented in a transnational dinner-show designed to entertain as well as inform, it is composed solely of historical things from China’s past. It is a transnational show having traveled to other countries (including the U.S.) and yet the entire base of the show is vernacular. I again thought about Denison’s article and wondered if it was a step by the government to preserve its history. If so, it was fantastic way to bring history to the present.
                Overall, I found China rather contradictory. The contradictions are seen in the juxtapositions of the modern and historic and to the differences in opinions regarding a certain area. China seems to thrive on the yin and yang, having many places and instances that revolve around completely opposite view points and situations.

Return to course home page Please Don't Send Me Your Comments