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Summer 2014, Issue I

CIEE Beijing Newsletter Banner  CIEE Beijing - Walking through the valley

There's no place like Beijing!

Though the 2014 Summer Intensive Chinese Language program is coming to an end, students still have so much more to do before they leave. What they have done already, though in a little over four weeks, though, is impressive.

New Life, New Challenges

After getting here on June 15, students hit the ground running the very next day with a trip to Tiananman Square followed by a welcome lunch of Beijing Duck. After coming back to the CIEE office, they went off with the CIEE tutors for a tour of PKU's imposing campus, maps in hand!

The rest of the week featured lectures by Pat Lucas on intercultural communication, a requirement for students who live in homestays, as well as a lecture on environment, which was a pre-requisite to participate on one of the two themed excursions


CIEE Beijing - Tiananmen Group Photo
Students and CIEE teachers stand for a group shot in front of Mao's portrait at Tiananmen.


CIEE Beijing - Welcome Luncheon
Students enjoy CIEE's welcome luncheon by trying Beijing Duck after touring Tiananmen Square.


New Area Studies courses

On top of regular language courses, students now have the opportunity to take 1-credit courses, including HSK test preparation course, learning Chinese through drama, and Issues in Contemporary Chinese Society. The first two courses, allow students to focus on different language learning techniques. The HSK course gives students the background on how to study for the HSK Chinese proficiency test by introducing the format, going over structure, key grammar points, and strategies for preparing on one's own. Learning Chinese through Drama which in Chinese is literally translates to Performance Chinese (表演汉语), students study to perform scripts from short plays, while receiving instruction on key points of each play. Stand outside the classroom during this class, and all you will hear is non-stop laughs. Though as students giggle their way through scripts, the intonation, and improved speaking techniques they have learned are seriously impressive!

CIEE Beijing - Practicing their skit
Students practice their lines for their performance.

Students this semester have also responded positively to the aforementioned Issues in Contemporary Chinese Society course, taught by our summer Resident Director, Mattew Chitwood. Though more of an overview of China, students have responded enthusiastically to the points covered thus far, including sustainable development in China, China's housing bubble, and Chinese civil society. As part of the class, students are required to attend CIEE's expert lectures. While optional to other students, these lectures fit in with the topic covered in that week's class, and thus far have included lectures by the US Treasury attaché at the US Embassy in Beijing, and will conclude with a talk by a Senior Program Officer from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's Beijing office.

CIEE Beijing - Gates Foundation Lecture
Bin Pei from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation talks about civil society in China.


Field trips

Once again, CIEE students visited the countryside and the ultra-modern port city of Dalian. Students, each time, are consistently contrasting their surroundings with those of Beijing. For CIEE staff, many of whom have been to these locations multiple times, find themselves constantly second-guessing themselves with the rapid change that takes place not only in the Dalian, but also the rapid changes to rural areas in Shanxi and in Hebei provinces.

Countryside - Shanxi, Hebei

In the countryside, students and teachers encountered some of the best weather of 2014. Blue skies welcomed students to rural Shanxi as they climbed a section of great wall made of pressed mud, and unlike when spring students made this trip in May (when it snowed!), students enjoyed perfect weather during their village stays, and many families with their new foreign members, were able to weed potatoes uninterrupted that afternoon.

CIEE Beijing - Weeding Potatoes
CIEE students take to the fields to weed potatoes with their local host families.
CIEE Beijing - Countryside Hike
Students rest after hiking nearly four miles over sheep trails.

The seaside - Dalian City

Things went smoothly in Dalian, where students and teachers examined the foreign influence of the Russian's, Japanese, through architecture, cuisine, and other historical sites. Students hit the big time when they spotted an unclaimed 100 RMB note sitting next to a parked police car, no less, and proceeded to buy everyone pastries and ice cream!

CIEE Beijing - Dalian Lighthouse
CIEE Students stand in front of the lighthouse on their excursion to Dalian.
CIEE Beijing - Selfies by the Sea
CIEE Students take seaside selfies while traveling in Dalian!


CIEE Beijing Welcomes you! CIEE北京欢迎你!

As more of a general news item, the CIEE office finally returned to a state of normalcy as renovations capped the end of CIEE Beijing's half year move to its new location on the southeast corner of Peking University's campus. The Shaoyuan Building #2 was CIEE Beijing's home for decades, is currently being renovated and once complete, will become housing for undergraduate Chinese PKU students. Because of this, the CIEE office is now on the southeast corner of PKU campus in the newly refurbished Taipingyang Building. With a more wide-open office plan, the new office features almost double the size of our old office, for students to study, as well as our very own dedicated classroom that overlooks Beijing's Zhongguancun district.

Students come here for their Language and Culture Practicum course, as well as one-on-one tutorial sessions. On top of that, the free water, air-conditioning and, most importantly, free Wi-Fi, make the office a popular destination for students to come and study or in some cases, simply relax!


CIEE Beijing - Office Shot
The CIEE Office on the southeast corner of PKU campus.



Summer in Beijing: Take the HSK Proficiency Test in Beijing with CIEE

Hey everyone, this is John Urban, Student Services Coordinator for CIEE here in Beijing. This post is about an exciting new program we have here in Beijing. As non-native speaker of Chinese myself, I can acutely understand the rigors of studying Chinese as well as setting goals to compel yourself to study!

Starting summer 2014, we are excited to announce that for students in our Beijing summer program who are interested and meet certain requirements, we will now offer an HSK Test Preparation elective during the summer program, as well as an optional HSK preparation add-on week after the eight week CIEE summer program ends. 

Focus your language learning by taking the HSK in Beijing

The HSK is a proficiency test that can show you have attained a certain level of language competency. In mainland China, this test is called the 汉语水平考试/hanyu shuiping kaoshi, or HSK, which literally translates as Chinese Proficiency Test. This test developed by the Chinese government has become more widely accepted across China and around the world as China's economic influence has spread.

Thus we provide this content in addition to our intensive Chinese language programming. This module contains two separate parts The first part during is a course during the semester will cover less in terms of nitty gritty content, and teach you how to study for the HSK and other similar tests in China. This course is for credit and is open to anyone. During the HSK add-on, the second part, which takes places the week after the language program ends, you will take an HSK cram session taught by CIEE that will offer preparation for the test itself.

Please do note that this add-on is strictly optional. But if you, yourself, are not sure about your goals, this may be a good way to give yourself a goal and narrow your focus, and be useful for some school or job applications (see below).

Why should I do this?

Like I mentioned above, taking the HSK is a great way for you get an independent, widely-recognized assessment of your Chinese language level. For many of our students who plan to have careers in China, the HSK looks great on a resume or CV. If you are worried about transferring credits to your school, this will be something that can help you transfer credits.

Majoring in Chinese at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I was lucky enough to have two chances to study abroad in my college career. One was a summer program arranged by Wisconsin, and the other happened to be here in Beijing at Peking University for the very center I now work for.

One advantage of the Wisconsin program was that since my university designed and ran the program, they could control the curriculum and content. Admittedly, with a program like CIEE, it can sometimes be hard to quantify the progress you make during one of our semester, yearlong or summer programs in relation to your own school's language offerings.

Some schools make students take a placement test when they get back to campus, whereas some students simply put you in the next level - this will really depend on your university's academic and study abroad offices! In this case, by having Wisconsin’s credits transfer, this put me ahead in my major courses. By having an HSK score, perhaps this can be your motivation to come and improve your Chinese, and have something to prove for your time here!

Who's eligible?

Students who have intermediate or advanced level Chinese

How much does this cost, and what does it include?

Cost: 500 USD; this includes:

  • On-site housing in double occupancy hotel for one week after program end date.
  • Fees for written HSK test, levels 5 or 6.
  • Weeklong intensive preparation session taught by CIEE totaling 15 contact hours.
  • Transportation to testing location
  • Mailing of test results to US.

Things to keep in mind:

  • We teach for the HSK-5 or HSK-6 level tests. These are the two highest levels.
  • HSK-class during summer term does not mean you have to take the HSK Add-on course.
  • If you do take the HSK Add-on course, then the HSK class during the summer is required.
  • We will make it clear if we think your language level is appropriate to sit for the HSK, but we cannot guarantee a certain score or that you will pass the HSK for the level you apply for.
  • The 2014 exam will take place Sunday, August 17.
  • Students would then leave Beijing on August 18, 2014.  Students wanting to participate in the HSK preparation add-on should select the HSK Test Preparation elective during the summer (see website), and make sure their plane tickets and visa are good through Monday, August 18.

What about my visa?

Depending on where you apply for your visa, length and number of entries will vary from place of issuance.  You can request a visa through August 18, and if your visa still does not cover the entire stay of the program, you can work with Peking University to extend it once on site for an extra fee.

What about my plane ticket?

If you are not sure about whether you want to take this course, we recommend that you purchase a plane ticket that has minimal or no penalties about changing departure dates.

When do I get my results back?

Results are typically released one month later, and will be sent to the CIEE Beijing Study Center. We will then mail them to you in the US or home country.

Have any questions? Then contact us (jurban [at] with any questions.

-John, and the entire CIEE Beijing resident staff.


A Student's Perspective: Undergraduate life at Peking University

Leslie Dong is a junior from the University of Colorado at Boulder and currently an academic year 2013-2014 participant in the CIEE Advanced Chinese Studies program at Peking University (PKU). Unlike language programs, ACS students enroll directly into one of PKU’s many departments taking undergraduate content courses in Mandarin Chinese, and indeed, to be successful, a participant must not only possess superior Chinese language skills, but also strong intercultural skills as well as the ability to adapt to new social environments all while navigating an academic environment that is much different than what they are used to at home. As she is majoring in International Relations, Leslie chose to enroll in the PKU School of International Studies. We asked her to talk about her experience in the program thus far, making comparisons to her academic experience in the US as well as what she.

Here is what she had to say.


It's like the first major exam during freshman year all over again. It's the same dread for the dark unknowns of the test, the same late-night cramming the night before, and the study sessions that only make you feel more nervous and unprepared. Much of all these sentiments are the same, only this time it's in a room filled with 300 elite Chinese students, at one of the most prestigious universities in China, and tackling a 2-hour written exam in complete Chinese. And did I mention that this midterm is worth 30% of our overall grade and the final is worth 70%? Well, then welcome to my life at Peking University this semester! As stressful and emotionally-draining as this may seem, I've waited for this opportunity for a very long time and have never regretted my decision in enrolling in CIEE's Advanced Chinese Studies (ACS) Program at Peking University. Despite having lived in China for 3 years of my life and devoting an additional year to studying Chinese at Tsinghua University, another top university in China, I still felt so unprepared and incompetent when I first started taking International Affairs classes alongside Peking University students. Thankfully, my CIEE tutors and CIEE-taught writing course have made handling coursework a bit less daunting, but as I like to think about it, with greater challenges, comes even greater rewards. Up to this point in the semester, to me, the two most meaningful things thus far have been experiencing firsthand, the differences between Chinese and American universities (through frustrating at times). The second has been getting a chance to understand a subject from a different point of view, shaped by dynamic factors like history, politics, and cultural identity – something I surely would not have been able to achieve by sitting in classroom in Boulder.

In terms of class organization, China and the US both have professors and TAs, but that may be where the similarities stop! In the US, for example, classes tend to be very efficient and student-centered with the focus being on teaching content effectively and clearly. An average undergraduate 4-credit course in the United States is likely to meet 2-3 times a week for approximately an hour or so. Although each class session is relatively short, professors tend to be very organized and can efficiently disseminate large amounts of information within a short amount of time. For large lectures with 150 or more students, the classes are often broken up in discussion sections where students receive more individualized assistance in reviewing the class material. The repeated meetings during the week also help cement a student's understanding of a subject.

In my time at PKU, on the other hand, an average 4-credit course will only meet once a week for 3 hours straight in the same room with the same professor. Additionally, there aren't organized discussion sections for lectures with more than 150 students and thus, the responsibility of learning the material clearly rests on  students’ shoulders, having to do all of the assigned readings and learn the entire semester's class material on their own. Chinese university students – my classmates – have grown up in this environment and are accustomed to exams where there is no partial credit, and consequently, have adapted to being extremely precise and detailed in their studies.

So how do the professor’s teach? Well, it is different than the US system in myriad ways. What surprised me and other foreign classmates was that while professors have more time to explain class material, compared to my classes in the US, the pace of the class is often very slow and sometimes seems to be unrelated to our readings. Instead of teaching material that I feel is relevant to the class, most professors spend the entire class time lecturing on different topics, going off tangents, or just voicing their own personal opinions about a subject. While this is indeed valuable as I’ll talk about below, some professors may never teach what will be tested on both the midterm and finals. I definitely have found this to be the case in some of my classes, and indeed, it has been a challenge in adjusting!

To be honest, coming from the US academic environment, the academic experience and uncertainty, for example, trying to figure out when my final exam is, or what will be on said final exam, can be downright frustrating sometimes. However, coming abroad and experiencing the same thing as I did in the US would be a waste of my time, and although it has challenged me, I know that it ultimately has been rewarding. One experience that has stuck with me was during a class in modern Chinese history, and the in-depth examinations of history we cover in our class. As an International Relations major, we come to realize that history is subjective and is something that is defined given current political climates for the needs of the time. Thus, what I study in the US will have biases or focus on certain aspects of history that perhaps someone in China would downplay or view as irrelevant. While Chinese professors and courses may provide many challenges and may sometimes seem dry, the experience I lay out below was anything but.


As I stared at my professor, I realized that I was traversing history simply by being in this room. Not only was I staring into Peking University's past, I was also peering into the scholarly side of modern Chinese history. I started to wonder how many people that have changed the course of Chinese history started their careers in this room, or better yet, right in my chair.

I listened attentively to my professor talk about China's engagement in the Korean War. But he would always catch me off guard whenever his Fujianese accent surfaced up or when he threw in a few professional terms or slang jokes that I just could not understand. While the entire class would burst out in laughter, I glanced over at other foreign students and exchanged looks of confusion. Even after a few months of class, these moments still made me feel like I was playing a game of hopscotch, skipping across select words or phrases trying to maintain balance and understanding the gist of what he was saying.

But nevertheless, these things never masked the liveliness and the humanness that my professor was able to give to history. While it is impossible for any foreign policy course to cover all the details and complexities of history, my professor chose to focus on explaining the decision-making processes that lead up to the Korean War instead of the major events during the war. So for two and a half months, he explained China's involvement through a use of stories, narratives, telegrams, and conference minutes. Not only did he uncover the complexities and underlying currents that create history, he also restored color and animation to the “意识形态” or the ideas, beliefs, and aspirations of that era. For the first time in my entire college career, I felt like I was living history, breathing in the traumas of the age and finally thinking in the shoes of the Chinese people.

With a better understanding of the China's psychology, I started to reexamine and reinterpret the Korean War. While the United States believed that it was against China's interests to intervene in Korea, my professor illustrated that from the Chinese perspective, intervention was perfectly rational. As the United States carried out its policy of containment, it unknowingly made itself a direct threat to China's borders. By providing aid to Southeast Asia, Northeast Asia, and the Taiwan Strait, the United States had surrounded China from three different directions and was rapidly increasing its influence in these areas.

He continued telling us that in addition, the United States also lacked a general understanding of the thoughts, beliefs, and ideologies that characterized China at that time. For example, the United States underestimated China's resolve to intervene and ignored China's warning about not crossing the 38th parallel. What the United States did realize was that this was a direct insult to the Chinese people. Despite being destroyed by decades of political unrest, consecutive wars, and social instability, China was tired of being victimized and humiliated. The United States' actions as a result, motivated the entire Chinese society to go to war. A closer and deeper understanding of the Chinese psychology or 意识形态 (ideology) has enlightened me in the events of history as well as China's view of the world. And while a psyche of an era, a society, and a generation of people is the hardest thing to recreate in a classroom, I think it is by far the most important thing to take away. Historic events will pass, generations will move on, but the psychology of a nation will be inherited and continue to play a role in the course of history.

Though I still face challenges and find myself comparing US and Chinese education systems, only by stepping into the shoes of the Chinese and examining their perspective, could I gain a more complete and genuine understanding of the world. As an International Relations major, this is absolutely crucial to understand different points of view. By having my professor paint a literal tapestry of Chinese history, one that I can compare to the one I have painted in my US education, I have gained knowledge that perhaps may not show up on a midterm grade, but that will stay with me for the rest of my life.


A Student's Perspective: CIEE Beijing's Excursion to Qüfu: "Chinese National Imagination, and Personal Pilgrimage"

Rochelle Beiersdorfer is a senior from Youngstown State University in Ohio majoring in philosophy. This fall (2013) she was a student in the CIEE Beijing Intensive Chinese Language program.  Students from the CIEE Beijing Advanced Chinese Studies program also participated on this excursion. CIEE Beijing Center Director Dr. Patrick Lucas, whose research includes historical memory and social narrative, designed and led this excursion that took students to China’s central Shandong province titled “Chinese National Imagination, and Personal Pilgrimage/中华民族的想象与个人朝圣之旅.” In order to properly explore this theme, we visited, Qüfu,birthplace of the philosopher Confucius, Tai’an, home of Mt. Tai, one of China’s most famous mountains, as well as visiting families in a local village and spending the day in small groups harvesting corn. Rochelle agreed to write a blog describing not only what engaging activities they did as a group, but also, as a philosophy major focusing on Chinese philosophy, what meaningful things she took away from the experience of visiting Confucius’ hometown as well as other important sites.


Qüfu (曲阜), located in Shandong province (山东), is the hometown of Confucius (孔子), a philosopher from the Spring and Autumn period (roughly 780 BCE- 480 BCE) that substantially framed Chinese socio-psychology.  As a result of Confucius' influence on the Chinese psyche, and, as an extension, the concept of identity (individual and national), Qüfu has become a popular destination for self-pilgrimage within China.  In a similar manner, Mt. Tai (泰山), also located in Shandong province, is a hot spot for self-exploration for individuals of Chinese heritage.  Being that China is rapidly becoming a global powerhouse, if not one already, the search for self-identity has probably become more critical for Chinese nationals.  To help CIEE participants understand some Chinese ways of thinking, CIEE scheduled a three-daygroup excursion to Qüfu, Mt. Tai, and Dashiqiao Village (大石桥村), titled “Chinese National Imagination, and Personal Pilgrimage/中华民族的想象与个人朝圣之旅”.  What follows is a brief recollection of this voyage of self- pilgrimage through the eyes of an American philosophy student. 

Our pilgrimage started on Sept. 19 at 5:15 AM as we drove through the empty streets of Beijing to Beijing’s South Railway station to take a high-speed train to Qüfu.  The train ride to Qüfu was relatively quick, and the landscape became more and more rural.  When we arrived in Qüfu the first thing I noticed and appreciated most was the clear, blue skies.  During the drive to the hotel, I kept noticing the same Confucius’ saying written on advertisements and banners:  Isn’t it pleasant to have friends come from afar? (有朋自远方来,不亦乐乎?).  This saying was also displayed above our hotel’s entrance.  Even though the original meaning of this quote, according to a few Western philosophers, is the pleasure of seeing different mindsets or viewpoints on an issue, this quote, in a modern sense and connected to our trip’s theme, can be understood as warmly accepting strangers (“friends”) as they undergo their search of self- understanding and their Chinese identity.  After eating breakfast, the day’s activities consisted of visiting the Kong Family Mansion, the Confucius Temple, the Kong family cemetery, some free time, and Mid-Autumn festival activities.

CIEE Beijing - Temple of Confucius
Entering the Temple of Confucius

Visiting the Kong Family Mansion and Confucius Temple was exciting, but truth be told, after visiting numerous temples, they all start to blur into one.  For me though, as a philosophy student, being able to see stone writings of Confucius scholars was pretty awesome.  In contrast, standing on the Kong family burial ground, was breathtaking, especially standing next to Confucius’ tomb and being able to see the hut that his students supposedly lived in and watched over him after his death.  This was meaningful to me because it brought numerous texts I’ve read on Confucius thought into reality.  Plus, on a grim note, it was Confucius’ burial site, a highly influential Asian philosopher of equity.  So standing within 10 feet of what remains of a highly influential thinker was awe-inspiring.  Besides the loud chitchat of other tourists, the atmosphere of the Kong cemetery was peaceful and, with all the lush, green vegetation, had a sense of blissful rebirth; as if when one identity ends another begins.  I would like to add though that it seemed odd that a cemetery would be considered a tourist site.  Shouldn’t it be a place of eternal rest and respected from a distance?   Anyway, after a full packed day of Confucius-oriented sightseeing, we had dinner at a restaurant near our hotel and did Mid-Autumn day festival activities arranged by our CIEE teachers. The activities included teams of students drawing our CIEE teachers’ faces on a blank sheet of paper, with one student blindfolded and others guiding them by yelling directions, and another was where we sat in a circle and tossed around a small bean bag. Whoever had a small bean bag after the music stopped playing had to get up and do something, such as sing a song or dance.   Some sang Chinese songs and others danced.  I was lucky enough not to be caught with the pillow, thankfully!          

After the first day’s activities were done, a few classmates and I went in search of ice cream.  Our search for ice cream was unsuccessful, but, I’ve been told, that the journey is as, or even more, important than the end result.  While we were in search of ice cream, we stumbled across a popular early morning and evening activity for middle-aged/older Chinese:  synchronized, public group dancing.  My classmates decided to participate in two dances, while I stood on the sideline and observed the locals’ reactions.  It was fun for us, but I’m pretty sure they didn’t enjoy us essentially crashing their activity.  In a symbolic sense, this was a means for us, as foreigners, to understand the Chinese psyche and cultural customs through movement.  Everyone’s (excluding my classmates’) movements were perfectly in sync with the music and with each other.  Moreover, nightly dancing in the streets seems to be a Chinese cultural phenomenon.  For instance, last summer in Beijing, I participated in public group dancing against my will on two difference occasions.  It’s definitely a community-building tool, and, you could go as far as to say, it’s a means to understand your national identity and your identity within a group.

The second day of the trip we were either on the bus or in the countryside.  The bus ride was long and the scenery outside was the same thing over and over again:  small villages and towns with corn everywhere on the streets in massive square piles.  After a few hours we finally arrived at Dashiqiao Village, the village where we would be spending the day.  While in Dashiqiao, our CIEE teachers had us divided into small groups, with whom we would harvest corn with our village hosts, eat lunch in their homes, and then as a larger group, visit the Daoist Temple Daiyangguan (岱阳观).

We began walking to the corn fields as soon as we arrived. When harvesting corn, you had to be conscious of your surroundings and your group members’; getting hit in the head with an ear of corn hurts.  Also, it’s a very systematic process (i.e. pick corn, throw corn into the collective pile, repeat) and you usually get lost in thought.   While harvesting corn, I was thinking about home and that maybe I don’t enjoy experiencing rural China as much as I previously assumed I would. In retrospect, I believe these thoughts definitely hinder my understanding of Chinese identity, because rural China is in many ways the, or at least, a defining point of Chinese identity, because China is still largely an agricultural-based society.  Come to think of it, this is probably why going to Dashiqiao was included in the trip’s itinerary: to allow us, as CIEE students, to experience the roots of Chinese life. After harvesting corn, we ate a homemade lunch with our families, and then walked to the Daoist temple Daiyangguan, where CIEE arranged for one of the villagers to tell us the history of their town’s temple.  As I said, this was a Daoist Temple. Daoism (or Taoism) is a Chinese school of thought that, in many ways, is in opposition to Confucius thinking.  Daoism teaches one to follow the natural way (the Dao) and that the Dao that you are able to know is not the real Dao.  The temple was interesting because it blended Daoist and Buddhist ideologies into one artistic expression, which our Resident Director, Dr. Patrick Lucas, described was common all across China.  I thought that the halls depicting the grisly scenes of hell, deities torturing unrighteous individuals, and the statues of the most prominent hellish deities, were some of the coolest aspects of the temple.  It was a little too ominous though, because of the statues’ fierce expressions bearing down on you unmercifully.  In many ways, it was comparable to Chinese people in the subways just un-ashamedly staring straight at you until you or they get off the train.  It’s a little unsettling.     

After the Daoist temple, we returned to the village, and then continued our journey to Tai’an (泰安), the city where Mt. Tai is located.  That night we went to an outdoor performance about the cultural history and significance of Mt. Tai.  According to the story told during the performance, the voyage to the top of Mt. Tai was, in some ways, a means of passage for past emperors and government officials that goes back over two-thousand years, as climbing Mt. Tai was a passage for emperors to receive the mandate of heaven in order to rule. Doing so now, was a way for modern Chinese to connect to that grand past.  The next morning we also went on this means of passage in the rain.  Some of us took a cable car up, others walked up.  Taking a cable car seemed like I would be cheating myself out of experiencing the significance of Mt. Tai, so I climbed to the top in the cold rain.   I think I stopped a few times, to either rest or take photos with Chinese people.

CIEE Beijing - Top of Mt. Tai
Celebrating a victory over 泰山 (Mt. Tai)

While walking up Mt. Tai, because the mist was so dense, you couldn’t really see anything besides what was in front of you and what was behind you.  After an hour of walking in the rain up steep, uneven stairs, I finally reached the top of Mt. Tai, soaked and cold.  Because the mist was unexpectedly thick at the top, there was no scenic view, just grey abyss.  I’m sure there are ways that you can symbolize the fog as an expression of identity, but I can’t think of any besides that maybe self-discovery should be an inward endeavor and not an outward one. Thus, you shouldn’t have to go on an actual, planned voyage to discover who you are as a person, just dive into the depths of your psychological disposition.   In other words, don’t search outward, because there’s nothing there but grey abyss.  Cheesy concept, I know.

After descending Mt. Tai, our planned activities were done and we returned to the polluted chaos that is Beijing.  However, our pilgrimage to understanding ourselves wasn’t over, or maybe it hadn’t even started.  This trip to Qüfu, Dashiqiao, and Mt. Tai allowed us to experience the Chinese pilgrimage, and as a foreigner with no Chinese heritage, I can understand it and respect it, but I once again realized I am unable to fully experience it or to have as deep of an experience as a Chinese person might.  As I mentioned before with the Kong family cemetery, a lot of the places we went to seemed like tourist spots, which seemed to degrade their importance as locations in helping a Chinese national or someone with Chinese heritage understand their identity as a Chinese individual.  On the contrary, maybe these historical sites being easy to accept (just buy a ticket and you’re in) gives the Chinese people going on this identity pilgrimage a sense of self or what it means to be Chinese.

As a philosophy student studying in Beijing, I ask myself, every day, in some way or another, “who am I, who am I really?  What am I doing in Beijing?”

And since this trip I have caught myself questioning when does my pilgrimage start… 


A Student's Perspective: CIEE Beijing's Excursion to the Countryside: "Environment and Governance in Rural China"

Nat Henry is a junior from The Ohio State University triple majoring in Chinese, Geograpic Information Systems, and Geography. This fall he is a student in the CIEE Beijing Intensive Chinese Language program.  Every semester, students have a choice to participate in different excursions around China focusing on a certain theme. See the blog of Nat's classmate Sean about the other optional trip to Dalian. Nat chose to participate on the excursion titled, "Environment and Rural Governance in China/中国的环境与农村管治".  Students from the CIEE Beijing Advanced Chinese Studies program, and the CIEE Beijing Environmental, Cultural, and Economic Sustainability program also participated on this excursion. CIEE Beijing Center Director Dr. Patrick Lucas, whose research includes historical memory and narrative, and cultural survival and endangerment in China, designed and led this excursion that took students to rural Shanxi and Hebei provinces. Nat agreed to write a blog describing not only what fun activities they did as a group, but also what meaningful things he took away from the experience from spending nearly four days in the countryside.

CIEE Beijing - Late Afternoon Hike
CIEE students and staff explore some hills near a sheep farm in rural Shanxi province.


It was the final day of our trip in rural Shanxi and Hebei provinces, and we were headed to an old mountaintop temple, but our van’s driver was more interested in discussing the black sludge covering the surrounding slopes. He filled us in on how the sludge came to be: according to him, several years ago, a corporation managed to pay off the right local officials and illegally moved into these mountains. It stripped the hills of their vegetation and some useful minerals, churned out an undetermined product for a while, and then quietly moved out when the operation was no longer profitable. All that it left behind were huge piles of pitch-black, toxic industrial byproduct. After every rainfall, the gunk washes into the local stream, feeds into a larger river, and from what he said, eventually ends up in Beijing.

CIEE Beijing - Rural mining
Looking down from the mountaintop temple at the mining activity below.

I wanted to know exactly how many people are ingesting this poisonous waste, but right then we arrived at the base of the mountain, and it was time to climb. Our CIEE Center Director, Dr. Patrick Lucas, pointed to a pile of ceramic tiles next to the path and told us each to grab a few: by bringing them to the top, we’d be helping out the old man who was single-handedly rebuilding the temple. As I sweated up the steep dirt path and finally laid my tiles on the temple floor, my thoughts drifted between the sludge and that old man. There was a pretty obvious contrast between a guy who devotes the rest of his life to a place and us foreign students who were just passing through. During this excursion, aptly titled “Environment and Rural Governance in China”, we had been learning about the environment and rural governance for the past few days, but as travelers, what power did we really have to change the problems we were learning about? Were we really just glorified tourists who used education as a pretext to see the sights before leaving?

CIEE Beijing - Nat and classmate carry tiles
Nat, second, in the long-sleeved shirt, carries tiles up to the temple.
CIEE Beijing - Students sit atop temple
Students sit atop the temple. Nat is pictured in the foreground, far left.

My impotence to solve rural problems was particularly apparent two days before, when we spent a day living and working in a village located on a mountainous divide between Shanxi and Hebei provinces.. I and two other CIEE students stayed in a loess-soil earth dwelling (窑洞) with a farmer named Mr. Wang and his wife, Ms. Gao. Since it was only the five of us, we got the chance to really talk – first while making lunch together, and then sharing one of the best meals I’ve ever had.

CIEE Beijing - Nat's Host Mother
Nat's host mother, Ms. Gao, takes a rest from harvesting potatoes.

I figured out how useless we really were when we followed Mr. Wang and Ms. Gao out to the fields and tried to help them out with the potato harvest. After a lot of back-and-forth protesting, they demanded that we first go to the top of the hill to look at the scenery, and when we came back they would have some work for us. We came back once, then twice, and after an hour no work had materialized. I thought that they were just being polite at first, and then realized that we would only have slowed them down. When I went to help out an elderly couple harvest in another field, I was ridiculously outpaced by a grandmother in her late seventies. One lesson I took from the harvest was that I’m an awful potato farmer and, more generally, a fish out of water pretty much anywhere in rural China. If I couldn’t effectively work in the fields with Mr. Wang and Ms. Gao, then what purpose did I serve other than a temporary curiosity?

CIEE Beijing - Students Walk Home After Harvesting Potatoes
Nat, right, and his classmates walk back from harvesting potatoes.

Mr. Wang and Ms. Gao were clearly happy together, and they were rightfully proud of their accomplishments, but their lives were by no means easy.  Their toilet was a hole in the ground next to a goat pen, and their water had to be pumped in from another hillside. They both got up at 5 AM to start the day’s work and had no chance to rest until the sun had gone down. Additionally, their electricity was pretty tenuous: you could have the television on in their living room, or turn on the light, but generally not both at the same time.

It turns out that the electricity could have been a lot better – but once again, a combination of business and poor governance had made things a lot harder for the town. The mountains surrounding the village were covered with windmills, which seemed at first glance to be an idyllic and green way to generate power for the surrounding towns. As my professor later told us, they’re absolutely awful. They were built as a purely money-making operation and provide power for high-demand cities to the east. Their construction (and the construction of the roads and wiring needed to maintain them) destroyed the mountaintop’s fragile ecology, which will never be recovered. To seemingly add salt to the wound, the windmill deal occurred at the provincial level and completely cut local towns out of the deal. When I first asked Mr. Wang whether his town was powered by the windmills, I got a surprisingly curt “no.” In a more ideal arrangement, the villagers could have served as maintenance workers in exchange for minimal free power usage every month. Instead, they get nothing.

CIEE Beijing - Windmills' sillouette in the early evening sky
Windmills sit above potato fields as the sun sets.

So who does this? Well oddly enough, I had met someone who could possibly fit the bill of a government official who could consummate such one-sided deals. We were in the provincial town of Tianzhen (天镇县), and I was out with a few other students looking for a post-dinner snack. We were clearly some of the first foreigners to visit the town, and as we made our way down a local block, local storeowners abandoned their registers to come out and look at us. All of a sudden, an unmarked black Nissan with darkened windows pulled up beside us, and two burly-looking men get out. As the student in the group with the best Chinese, I’m assigned to talk to them.

The man in the passenger seat was named whose surname was also Gao (no relation to my village host mother), and he confided in me with a wink that he’s a former military officer.  All of his friends are higher-ups in Beijing now, he told me, but he decided to come out and work in the countryside. He repeated everything he said two or three times, perhaps because he thought that I couldn’t understand him, or because he had possibly been drinking heavily. While we talked, the driver of the car (who seemed to be intoxicated, too) was making his way around my group of friends and aggressively shaking our hands. After we repeatedly refused to go to the Great Wall with them, Mr. Gao gave me his phone number, promised to call me when he visits his military friends in Beijing, and drove off into the night.

CIEE Beijing - Tianzhen
A view of Tianzhen in Shanxi province.

The contrast between these men and the farmers in the village is stark. Mr. Gao and his pal were seemingly breaking the law in plain sight; Mr. Wang and his neighbors  work for 16 hours a day, only to receive the short end of less than equitable deals made at higher levels of the government. Even writing this back in Beijing, the fact that Mr. Gao, the local government official, is getting rich on the backs of people like my host parents still bothers me.

Looking back, I think that one purpose of the trip was to make us care. While examining rural governance and its effects on the environment and the rural population, when I see two men using a rural city as their personal playground, the problem of corruption becomes patently obvious. When the farmer who kindly hosted my classmates and I is getting treated unfavorably through questionable government deals, it really hits home and illuminates the problem in a way that a textbook or newspaper article cannot. When I haul a few tiles up a mountain, just a few out of thousands needed for the temple, I become invested in that temple’s reconstruction. And when a mountain of sludge is filtering into a stream, traveling downriver, and possibly winding up in the up in the water I drink every day, it’s suddenly apparent how many people are affected by these problems.

As I discovered, I’m awful at harvesting potatoes. I can, however, write and speak Chinese. Before I leave Beijing before I hope to have the opportunity to engage in discussions with my peers, some of whom may eventually inherit China, about what I saw in the countryside. Having gotten a glimpse of how things are outside of Beijing and how they affect every day people, it was really powerful and something I will never forget. Hopefully, because of this, we can think of new ways to go about solving some of the issues I encountered.

Thus, perhaps it is appropriate for me to end this where I began. Back at the base of the mountain, I asked our driver why the locals hadn’t done something about the illegal factories, and he got even angrier. “We have no power here! Who are we supposed to turn to?” He looked up the hillside. “The best hope we have is for that temple to get rebuilt. If a lot of tourists visit, they will notice how badly things have gone wrong here, and maybe there will be a change.”

CIEE Beijing - Nat, Classmates and Family
Nat, far right, and his classmate, Takayuki, second from left, pose for a picture with their host family.


A Student's Perspective: CIEE Beijing's Excursion to Dalian: "Urbanization and Dream for Modernity"

Sean Largey is a junior from Georgetown University majoring in International Politics. This fall he is a student in the CIEE Beijing Intensive Chinese Language program.  Every semester, students have a choice to participate in different excursions around China focusing on a certain theme. He chose to participate on the excursion titled, "Urbanization and Dream for Modernity/城市化与中国现代梦". CIEE Resident Director KuoRay Mao, whose research includes globalization and sustainability in China, designed and led this excursion. Sean agreed to write a blog describing not only what fun activities they did as a group, but also what meaningful things he took away from the experience.


CIEE Beijing - Sean and Classmate
Sean, right, and his CIEE classmate take in the fresh ocean air!

Historically significant port. Scenic views of the Pacific Ocean. Old-style trolley cars plying the streets. Infamous prison now preserved as a museum. Large Chinese population. San Francisco? Wrong! The city of Dalian in China.

Today the fourth-largest port in China, Dalian (大连) has one of the shortest, yet most colorful histories of any major Chinese city. Sitting above China’s northernmost warm water port in Liaoning province, the area that is now Dalian drew the attention of the Russian Empire, which in 1898 leased the port from Qing-dynasty China to serve as a naval base. Not long after, the Japanese wrested Dalian from the Russians in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905. From then until the end of World War II, the Japanese expanded Dalian into an administrative center for their imperialism in Northeast Asia. The Japanese defeat in 1945 restored Dalian to China, though true control of the city fell to the Soviet Union, which demanded a lease of the port and built up heavy industry in the region. Only after the gradual souring of Sino-Soviet relations did China reassume full sovereignty over the city.

Having exchanged hands so often, Dalian witnessed and was transformed by several competing visions of modernization. Over the National Day holiday, I was among the group of students that participated in the CIEE-led excursion to Dalian, to explore this theme. Under the leadership of Dr. KuoRay Mao, a CIEE Resident Director in Beijing, students spent three days exploring the city, and exploring the theme of our excursion: “Urbanization and Dream for Modernity.” CIEE arranged a variety of activities – visiting sites that ranged from over a century in age to just a few years – to let our group see first-hand the different development paths Dalian has followed over its history.

On Wednesday, October 2, we departed from Beijing for Dalian by overnight train. (For those who have never traveled by train in China before, the first night in hard sleeper class is always an interesting experience.) We arrived in Dalian at around 7:30 the following morning and drove to our hotel by van. The Russian goal in designing Dalian was to construct a “Paris of the East.” As such, the street grid resembled the Parisian model: many boulevards crisscrossing and intersecting at roundabouts. My own first impression of the city on that first drive was to note that it is certainly built-up, if perhaps lacking some of the glitz one finds in the architecture of Beijing and Shanghai.

After checking into the hotel, our first destination was Dalian’s old harbor. By the harbor there is an old building in the Western Neoclassical style. In fact, it was constructed by the Japanese, who in the heyday of their empire equated “Western” with “modern.” This building once served as Dalian’s customs office, yet the world has changed around it. Shipping has moved up the coast to the new harbor, and developers have filled in much of the old harbor in order to put up more apartment high-rises. This is indicative of an economic shift in the region: though Dalian is still a large and critical port, as Dr. Mao explained, much of its economy is based upon seaside real estate.

CIEE Beijing - Xinghai Square Construction
Construction cranes tower above park-goers.

The next stop revealed as much. We drove to an overlook in the Dongshan Scenic Area that afforded us not only great vistas of the Pacific Ocean, but also a panoramic view of Dalian itself. From there we saw street upon street of new apartments (like the picture above) and still more sprouting up. Dr. Mao shared the fact that only around thirty percent of those apartments are occupied, meaning that much of the city stretched out before us was essentially a mirage. The Chinese real estate bubble is much discussed in the Western media nowadays, yet here that abstraction was made manifest before our very eyes.

CIEE Beijing - Dalian Scenic Panoramic
A panoramic perspective of Dalian's modernization

We left Dongshan to eat lunch and then proceeded to Xinghai Square (星海广场), the largest city square in the world. Greatly inflating the prices of the surrounding real estate, the square is the brainchild of a recently imprisoned Chinese politician, who got his political start as mayor of Dalian. At one end of the square is a procession of bronze footprints leading to the sea, terminating atop a large structure resembling both and open book and a pair of wings—metaphors for Dalian’s glorious future. The footprints were cast from Dalian residents aged one to over one hundred. A pair of the imprisoned mayor’s own footprints march along with the rest, and had been gilded before his fall from grace. Yet to those who know where to look, other symbols of his challenge to Beijing’s authority remain: the square itself dwarfs Tiananmen and at its center is a huabiao (华表) in mimicry of those found at the Forbidden City. This same man was also the one responsible for the glittering convention center we saw from the old harbor earlier in the morning.

CIEE Beijing - Dalian Footprints-Sean
Park-goers surround the bronze footprints.
CIEE Beijing - Dalian Xinghai Square Kites
Kites being flown in Xinghai Square.
CIEE Beijing - Xinghai Square Huabiao
The Xinghai Square Huabiao towers above park-goers.

Just off Xinghai Square is a museum devoted to the history of Dalian. The exhibit housed artifacts dating from Dalian’s genesis as a fishing village, through the periods of Russian, Japanese, and Chinese rule down to the modern day. Afterwards we made a final stop at the circle that has historically been Dalian’s central business district. This was ringed by more Japanese-built, Neoclassical buildings, nearly all of which have become branches of major Chinese and international banks. Done for the day, students were then free to get dinner and explore the city on their own.

CIEE Beijing - Dalian Foreign Bank
Banking in style!
CIEE Beijing - Dalian City Skyline Panoramic
A view of Dalian's central business district.

On Friday, our group met for breakfast, then set off to drive Binhai Rd. (滨海路). This scenic coastal drive runs atop cliffs overlooking the Pacific. At one point along the road, we left our van to walk around and enjoy the cool sea breeze, a refreshing respite from the air of inland Beijing! From there, we continued our drive all the way down to the southernmost tip of the Liaodong peninsula. The British had constructed a lighthouse here at the point where the Bay of Bohai meets the Yellow Sea. Walking down a long flight of stairs, we descended the cliffs to stand amidst the salt and spray and look out on the imaginary boundary.

CIEE Beijing - Dalian Seaside Shot
Escaping to the seaside off of Binhai Rd!

The afternoon we spent touring Lüshun (旅顺), better known in the West as Port Arthur. Once a separate city, Lüshun was the military port of the old Russian leasehold, before the Chinese subsequently merged its administration with that of Dalian, the civilian port. After a hearty lunch at a local restaurant, we visited the first item on our Lüshun itinerary: the Russo-Japanese prison.

Originally constructed by the Russians, this prison essentially developed into a concentration camp under Japanese rule. Within these walls, the Japanese colonizers abused and executed many Chinese and Koreans, as well as Japanese political dissidents. The prison contained all of the unsavory elements one would expect: dark cells, a torture chamber, medical wards for experimentation on human subjects, and a gallows. The complex stands as testimony to another kind of modernization—the mechanical, social Darwinist modernization of the early 20th Century. Most interesting from my perspective was how the CCP has attempted to co-opt the suffering of the Chinese at this place. As Dr. Mao pointed out, although the mistreatment of prisoners is a historical fact, the prison was never known for having jailed Communists. Nevertheless, the prison museum contains many poems allegedly written by “party members” who suffered there at the hands of the Japanese.

The next stop was the top of Baiyu Shan (白玉山). Atop this hill the Japanese constructed a monument commemorating their conquest of Dalian/Lüshun during the Russo-Japanese War. Looking out from the hill, we could see the entirety of Lüshun and imagine the course of the siege that raged there for months. Below the hill is the harbor, and from such a vantage point it is easy to see why so many imperial powers would have coveted it. Yet where Russian and Japanese warships once fought for regional dominance, the Chinese North Sea fleet now lay quietly at anchor. As the sun set, we made a final stop at the terminus of the South Manchuria Railway, one of the first in China, then returned to Dalian.

CIEE Beijing - Dalian City Port Panoramic
Taking in the breathtaking views in Lüshun.

The group enjoyed a delicious dinner together that featured fresh seafood jiaozi (dumplings). After dinner, students were once again free to explore on their own and the majority of us chose to return to Xinghai Square. We enjoyed ourselves at the small amusement park near the square, which in my opinion had educational value to it—everyone left knowing the Mandarin for “bumper cars” and “let’s go again!”

CIEE scheduled the final day in Dalian as a free day for students to explore as they wish. Possible activities included visiting the zoo, watching dolphins perform at the aquarium, and eating in a revolving restaurant. I personally went with a group of fellow students to explore more of old Dalian. After a breakfast at a quaint café we had discovered the previous night, we went down to the Russian part of the city. This part of the city retains many old buildings constructed in an imperial Russian style and is now the site of a large street market. While similar to many markets found elsewhere in China, this street is unique for featuring quintessentially Russian products: matryoshka dolls, ushankas, and even Vladimir Putin playing cards.

CIEE Beijing - Dalian City Aquarium Penguins II
A penguin at the aquarium swims on over for a closer look.

Dalian’s proximity to Korea contributes to its large Korean population, and we found a Korean barbecue restaurant at which to have lunch. Afterwards, we took a ride on the city’s streetcar system. The Russians laid down the first streetcar tracks at the turn of the century, and they have been in continuous operation in Dalian ever since. There are modern streetcars that ply the lines, but many of the original 20th Century cars are still in service, retrofitted to meet the demands of a 21st Century city.

CIEE Beijing - Dalian Street Car I-Sean
A street car shares the street with taxis, buses, cars and road construction!

Everyone reassembled in the afternoon for departure. We ate dinner of seafood noodles at a restaurant near the train station and then boarded the train for Beijing, soft sleeper class this time. By 7:00 the following morning, we were all back at the campus of Peking University.

Dalian offers something for everyone: modern landscaping for the architect, Great Power battlefields for the historian, scenic views and fresh air for the naturalist. Yet at all sites, the one constant is how profoundly Dalian has been shaped by competing visions of what a modern city and a modern society should be. The Russians, the Japanese, and politicians on the wrong side of the law have all left their marks on this unique city. As Chinese leaders seek to articulate a new path for their country, Dalian will continue to evolve along with this next phase of modernization.

CIEE Beijing - Dalian Group Shot
Sean, second from right, stands with his CIEE classmates and CIEE Resident Director, Dr. KuoRay Mao (far right).


Fall 2013, Issue I

Beijing Newsletter

Back to Beida: the fall semester begins!

CIEE in Beijing welcomed a new group of students, all of whom were excited though a bit jetlagged!

CIEE Beijing - Making new friends at the Airport

Students get acquainted with their new classmates while waiting for the shuttle bus to campus.

Peking University and PKU, Beijing Daxue and Beida--the full and short names for our host insitution  in both English and Chinese. Though students were still jetlagged, and confused, we dove right in with orientations and activities during the first few weeks!

Around Beijing and on campus, we have been keeping busy through many different activities, including visits to sites around Beijing like Tiananmen Square, the Summer Palace, places off the beaten path, like a blind school or autism institute, and CIEE activities like small group themed meals, that between classes and adjusting to a new way of life, students find themselves with packed schedules!

CIEE Beijing - Peking University Alumni Bridge

As always, here is our group picture on the Peking University Alumni Bridge (校友桥), which is a tradition at the beginning of the semester for all CIEE programs held at PKU!

CIEE Language Commitment Week in Beijing

One such CIEE-centric activity we have every semester is "Language Commitment Week". All CIEE language-based programs in greater China all have a Community Language Commitment. This is an agreement amongst everyone to speak Chinese in certain situations. What this isn't is "speak English and you're on the next plane home, buddy!" By creating a welcoming environment, students feel comfortable speaking Chinese, not scared.

We have many ways to remind students to speak Chinese. One of them is we display CIEE Language Commitment posters that pose different (often humorous) situations where it would be helpful or necessary to know Chinese. Additionally, we have a Language Commitment Lottery that has drawings every day! However, to enter the lottery, students must come and talk to the CIEE teachers about something in Chinese. The turnout this semester was outstanding as students got even more excited to speak Chinese than they already were. Prizes this semester included CIEE-branded pens, passport covers, a CIEE backpack, specially made CIEE Beijing Language Commitment T-shirts, and the grand prize of a 300 RMB (50 USD) dinner at a Chinese restaurant of the student's choice to share with friends! McDonald's doesn't count! :)


CIEE Beijing - CIEE Language Commitment Week

Student Services Coordinator, John Urban, poses in a Beijing CIEE Language Commitment sweatshirt.

Mid-Autumn Excursions

In mid-September, after being in Beijing for not even three weeks, thirty six students and five teachers went on an excursion to Qüfu and Tai'an in central Shandong province. The theme of the trip was "Chinese National Imagination, and Personal Pilgrimage". Both of these sites have long been key destinations for ritual visits by scholars, officials, and even emperors, and today these sites have become highly popular sites for pilgrimage of people from across China (particularly Han Chinese).  Both of these sites loom very large in both historical and modern Chinese imagination, Qüfu as the origin of a hugely influential indigenous Chinese philosophy (Confucianism/儒家学说), and Mt. Tai as a richly imagined symbol on the landscape, virtually marking the region as not only being “Chinese,” but at the same time through Mt. Tai’s historical importance, creating an imagined connection to an ancient Chinese past, and thus reaffirming a sense of deep historical antiquity for the Chinese people.  For many Chinese nationals today, visiting this kind of site (each site with its intricate and multiple meanings and symbolisms), is part of a complex process of exploring and affirming Chinese identity. Thus our visiting these sites with the Chinese public (sometimes in the midst of very large crowds!) was a kind of participation in this ritual pilgrimage of identity.

One highlight was a day spent in a village in groups in homes, being hosted, interacting with families, and engaging in farm labor, as well as a taking a short hike and visiting a unique local temple.  Just this one village visit took significant effort to set up, including two personal trips by Beijing CIEE staff to the village in the weeks before our visit, but the satisfaction felt by students, staff, and village hosts made it all worthwhile!  And the food was no less than "Yum!"

CIEE Beijing - Students walk into Confucius Temple

Students enter the Confucius Temple (孔庙), in Qüfu, Shandong Province.

CIEE Beijing - Resting in the Confucius Temple

Students and CIEE Beijing Center Director Patrick Lucas smile for the camera!

CIEE Beijing - Qufu Tai'an Ready to Pick Corn

After seeing Julia's clothing was not suitable for the hard work that goes into harvesting corn, her host mother for the day, Ms. Lei, unprompted and without a word, jumped into action and gave Julia an apron more suitable for harvesting. Their faces say it all.

CIEE Beijing - Qufu Tai'an Corn!Harvested corn dries in the courtyard of a village home.

National Holiday Excursions

During the national holiday break, which spanned nine days from September 28 to October 6, some students elected to travel around China on their own or with classmates, visiting such places as Jiuzhaigou, Chengdu (and the Pandas), Inner Mongolia, and Shanghai. 

For us, a highlight of the break was the two CIEE-led excursions to the port city of Dalian, and to the countryside of Shanxi and Hebei provinces, of which students could select one.... and students were once again enthusiastic about both of the trips to urban and rural settings.

Dalian and the Dream of Modernity

Below are some notable pictures from the trip to Dalian. Led by Dr. KuoRay Mao, students went to Dalian and saw a city steeped in a rich history, which in its role as a major port of trade sees the influence of different cultures not only on its culture, but also the physical landscape with architecture and cuisine from Korea, Japan, and Russia - neighbors of China whom with trade through Dalian was and still is significant.

CIEE Beijing - Dalian Excursion I

CIEE Beijing - Dalian Excursion II

Changing Landscapes of China's countryside

As the theme of this trip is "Environment and Rural Governance in China", going to the countryside, students were able to encounter firsthand one of the issues facing rural Chinese currently. As we have in the past, we arranged a village stay where we spend one day one night living in village homes being hosted by local families. The homes which are made of pressed mud are incredibly energy efficient. The thick mud walls act as superb insulation, which reduces heating and cooling needs by staying cool in the summer and warm in the winter. A home can be heated for an entire day using the kindling needed to cook for the family. However, not only are they susceptible to crumbling from heavy rainstorms, but also the Chinese government sees these dwellings as being outdated or stuck in the past. Thus, in a nearby village, when that village experienced a heavy rainstorm two months back and many homes' roofs collapsed, instead of helping the villagers rebuild, they leveled the village with bulldozers and broke ground on modern brick homes for the villagers. Sadly, these rows of new structures feel more prison-like than a home. In the meantime, the villagers have been living in government-provided emergency tents.

The nearby village who had hosted us before was excited for us to come back, but they knew emergency tents were not suitable for hosting. So the village secretary was able to coordinate with the village on the other side of the mountain - a village that had never hosted guests foreign or Chinese - to host us and our students. And what a fine job they did!

When we arrived, students and teachers split up into groups of three to four to a family. After eating lunch in their homes, we all went to the family's field and helped with the potato harvest. That evening, after a dinner (which in many households included freshly dug potatoes!) the villagers had a potato roast in a bonfire and nearby, hired a local movie cart that projected 《泰山功夫》/"Mt. Tai Kung Fu", a 2009 Chinese film for villagers and students to watch together. Having just been to Mt. Tai, the choice was oddly appropriate!

The last two days of the trip, we went hiking through the mountains, visited a Catholic church as well as a damaged Buddhist temple (seen below).

CIEE Beijing - Loading Potatoes

Villagers and students hoist bags of freshly harvested potatoes onto the donkey card.

CIEE Beijing - Rural Excursion Host Sister and Student make Lunch

On some activities, students from multiple programs participate. In this shot, Ms. Wang and Morgan make lunch together. Morgan is from the CIEE Environmental, Cultural, and Economic Sustainability program at Minzu University. 

CIEE Beijing - Watching a Move in the Village Villagers and students watch the movie 《泰山功夫》/"Mt. Tai Kung Fu", a 2009 film of Kung Fu and love. The movie was brought in on a cart and viewed under a brilliant starry sky, as others roast potatoes in the background.

CIEE Beijing - Rebuilding a Village

The village where we had stayed in some previous visits to the area, alive with construction of new homes as part of a government project.

CIEE Beijing - Exploring a Rundown Temple

Some students explore the damaged Buddhist temple, while others sit quietly. The temple, which was destroyed during the cultural revolution is slowly being rebuilt and repaired by local volunteers


CIEE Volunteers


A Trip back to the Autism Institute

Continuing our multi-year relationship with Hongyuan Qizhi Children's Autism Recovery Center, once again, we brought students from all Beijing CIEE programs to the autism institute in southeastern Beijing. CIEE students interacted with the school's students in organized activities that morning and ate lunch with students in the cafeteria. In the afternoon, CIEE students and their young, new friends had fun free time outside the on the school's playground.

CIEE Beijing - Autism Institute I

A young boy from the institute, Shufeng, checks out some new music with his new CIEE friend, Joey.

CIEE Beijing - Autism Institute II

A student, Bocheng, at the institute does some art with his new CIEE friend, Veronica.

Beijing School for the Blind

CIEE Beijing - Beijing School for the Blind Stone

Also continuing the relationship started last spring, on September 12, we visited the Beijing School for the Blind. We went for two reasons: to see the school and interact with students, and to introduce students who were interested in volunteering as English teacher volunteers. This semester, ten students commited to volunteer teach a few hours weekly all semester. Last semester, only three students volunteered, so you can imagine how excited everyone at CIEE Beijing and the blind school were to have our volunteer numbers triple! As of  late October 2013, The students have been volunteering for over a month, and are learning new teaching styles, communication methods and are adapting well to this unique learning environment.

CIEE Beijing - Beijing School for the Blind Students Observe a Class

Students at the Beijing School for the Blind attend class while CIEE students observe.

Anyone can volunteer!

This opportunity to volunteer is open to any CIEE Beijing program participant. Though this volunteer experience requires a weekly commitment for the duration of the semester, students have found this to be one of their most gratifying experiences. It truly is a unique and special way to give back to the Beijing community.


This CIEE Study Abroad Newsletter, "Fall 2013, Issue I", was prepared by CIEE Beijing Study Center Staff.

We invite you to read our other blog posts and leave a note below if you have a question or comment.

Finally, tune in this November to read blogs from our students about selected experiences with CIEE in Beijing!


A Student's Perspective: CIEE Beijing's excursion "Environment and Rural Governance in China"

During all of our programs, whether during the fall, spring, or summer, some of the most exciting times of the semester are excursions outside of Beijing.

For many students, coming to a city like Beijing is an accomplishment in itself - adapting to a new culture, a new language, and 20 million other inhabitants competing for space at every juncture! While Beijing is a keen representation of modern Chinese life, nearly half of China's 1.3 billion people live in the countryside.

This summer, students had the choice of choosing one of two trips, each with a different theme. Held in late June, the first trip went to the northeastern port city of Dalian, while the other trip took students to rural areas the Shanxi and Hebei provinces.

Doan Tranh, a student from the University of Missouri - Columbia, was one of the participants on this trip and agreed to give a recap and some of her thoughts about what this excursion meant to her.


In order for students to fully experience China as a complex and diverse country beyond the happenings of Beijing, CIEE has provided two very different weekend trips for us to choose from. The first option is a trip to the port city of Dalian to learn about its colonialism and modernization. The second option is an excursion to the countryside of Shanxi/Hebei to explore environmental issues on the rural landscape. Both are interesting but I decided on the latter.

The first day was spent traveling to Tianzhen county where we will stay the night. After we arrived and had lunch, we were off to a section of the Great Wall that fell into disrepair long ago. It lacked the magnificence of the Great Wall everyone knows of but it was quite interesting. Then back to the hotel, dinner, and a trip to a hot spring. It was my first ever soaking in a hot spring.

The second day we headed to the village of Zengjiacha. When we reached the village, groups were formed and each assigned to different families. This was such an amazing experience. The family that I lived with was exceedingly kind. Their hospitality, though, at times was overwhelming. I can't even count the times we have to politely refuse more food during meal times, not that we disliked the food but we physically just couldn't eat anymore. We also offered to help around the house but was repeatedly declined, although we did get to help with the weeding.

One thing that I found very awesome was how efficient the houses were at regulating temperature. Even when it was sweltering hot outside, the inside remained cool and comfortable. At night, the built-in heater under our sleeping arrangement was enough to keep us warm.

The third day was the hike. The whole hike was 10km and should take around 5 – 6 hours to finish. For someone who has no hiking experience, this was a crazy decision. Despite being completely exhausted and in quite a bit of pain after, I did enjoy it and the scenery was spectacular. I did have the option to not do the hike entirely or turn back at a certain point but I didn't and I'm glad I didn't.

The last day we stopped by a Catholic church and a Buddhist temple on the way back to Beijing. Shocked was my reaction when I saw the Catholic church. I expected something humble and quaint, not such a tall and embellished structure. We probably could have spotted it from miles away if the sky was clearer. The Buddhist temple was on the other side of the spectrum, dilapidated and in dire need of renovation. This little tour, however, does require more hiking up a mountain.

Besides getting to experience one day in a rural village, the objective of this trip is for us to gain awareness of the severity that environmental problems poses on these rural communities. It's one thing to hear about it and another to witness just how critical the situation is. If problems remains unresolved, the countryside will bear the brunt of the consequences. There isn't an easy or quick fix but it's better to be aware than ignorant of the issues.

Overall, this trip was far from comfortable and don't expect it to be but it was absolutely eye-opening and life-changing. I do urge people to give it a try and see for themselves.


CIEE Beijing - Rural Excursion Hike IStudents walk across sheep trails during the hike!

CIEE Beijing - Rural Excursion Hike II

Doan, victorious (and tired!) after finishing the hike! CIEE Beijing - Rural Excursion Temple VisitDoan (pictured far right) on the final day of the excursion at the damaged Buddhist temple, which is now being slowly repaired by local volunteers.

A Home away from Home: CIEE Chile meets CIEE China

The entry below was written by a CIEE alumna who studied in Chile, and spent summer 2013 in Beijing. This is what happened when she reached out to the staff the CIEE Beijing Study Center. :)


My name is Fan, and I’m a senior studying comparative literature (Spanish emphasis) and history (modern China emphasis) at the University of Southern California. Counterintuitively, I did not actually study abroad with CIEE Beijing. I did, however, have an incredible encounter with them this summer, the result of a good mix of what the Chinese call “yuanfen” (meaning “fate that brings people together”), globalization, and the CIEE Beijing office’s amazing hospitality and kindness.

I did study abroad with CIEE in the fall of 2012, but in Santiago, Chile. Because I study two different parts of the world and hope to connect the two in both my senior thesis and future career, I’ve spent the majority of this past year split between China and Latin America. Last summer I spent a month in Shanghai before heading off to Chile. This summer I decided to come back to China for an internship in Beijing.

I had such a wonderful and memorable experience with CIEE Santiago, that when I got to Beijing, I decided to contact the Beijing office for local volunteer opportunities. I didn’t quite know what they would make of my out-of-the-blue email, but John, Student Services Coordinator, immediately invited me to visit the CIEE office and even promised some “CIEE swag.”  

As soon as I stepped into the office, the CIEE staff warmly welcomed me. They also offered for me to nap on their classical Chinese furniture, mooch off of their wifi, and fill up my one liter CIEE Beijing water bottle (“CIEE swag”) at their office, even after joking that “our students drink too much water.” They also invited me to join in on their expert lecture series, in which I got to see presentations by KuoRay Mao (CIEE Resident Director) on development of Northwest China and Wesley Jacks on Chinese cinema.

Moreover, after hearing about my interest in NGOs, KuoRay offered to pass my resume to and put me in contact with several NGOs he was in touch with so that I could get a feel for the NGO environment in China. He also encouraged me in a number of post-graduation plans.

Through KuoRay, I also met Zhao Zhong, the director of Pacific Environment, who sat down patiently with me for over an hour to talk about the history of environmental NGOs in China. When I told him I hoped to research the interconnections between China and Latin America, he dropboxed me a long list of resources, ranging from magazine articles to his own research proposals.

When I sent that one email to the CIEE Beijing office, I could not even have imagined the warmth they would show me this past month. The CIEE Beijing staff immediately made me feel at home in Beijing (in fact, they actually told me “you have a home here”). Their enthusiasm in supporting me and making my time in Beijing as enriching as it could possibly be has given me a deeper appreciation for the CIEE family. They’ve shown me that CIEE is so much more than just regional study abroad programs in over 40 countries, but that it is an organization that truly that reflects the increasing interconnectedness of our world, a world in which a student who has found a home in Chile is welcomed to another home in Beijing, half the world away.


CIEE Chile in China Group Shot

From Right to Left, Dr. KuoRay Mao, Summer Resident Director, Ms. Yan Jing, Office Coordinator Ms. Fan, Mr. Hua Ye, CIEE Minzu University Program Assistant, and John Urban, Student Services Coordinator.

A Student's Perspective: Visiting the Beijing School for the Blind

If you have been following any of the CIEE Beijing program blogs, you may have read our post about visiting the Beijing School for the Blind.

Though students did not have an opportunity to volunteer during the summer term, CIEE Beijing was able to arrange a half-day excursion to the Beijing School for the Blind.

Instead of writing any more, we would like to hand over this blog to Zachary Folk. A rising junior at the University of Missouri - Columbia, here's what this special activity meant to him.


The blind school was huge, and had plenty of resources for the students there.  We first observed an English class.  The students there were bright individuals who looked like they were having a lot of fun with the class.  Since a bunch of foreign students were visiting their class, the teacher created a quiz game about America for the students.  During this game, we got to see the students answer questions about what is considered American food, such as pizza, chicken wings, hamburgers, and some questions about the largest American holiday, Christmas.

After the quiz on America, they asked us questions about America in English and we asked them questions about China in Chinese.  After that, we all split up to talk a little bit 1 on 1 with the students. I talked to this one student and asked him questions with the limited amount of Chinese that I knew, and he answered back in the English he knew.  He was a typical boy who was very interested in America. My friend Robby asked him if he had a girlfriend at all, and he said he didn’t have time for a girlfriend and would rather study, which I found pretty funny. His ability to study English so well, even with his disability, was astounding to me.


The school's director explains how they teach students to cook for themselves.

During the tour, we met a little boy who was playing a Suona (a copper or brass-bodied reed instrument). He played with more skill than I could play my saxophone when I was in my high school’s jazz band, and he couldn’t be any older than 7 years old.  He told us that he had been playing for only a year, which is even crazier considering how great he was. I could listen to him play all day, but we had to continue the rest of the tour.  We saw many more rooms that helped the kids learn and adapt to their disability, such as a music therapy room and eye exam room, and we ultimately arrived in their library, which I found to be the highlight of the tour.  In the library, students could use special computers that translated webpages into Chinese Braille so the students could read them.  It also had plenty of books in Chinese Braille that students could read, learn, and enjoy.


This special surface translates what is on the screen into readable Chinese Braille.

I had also noticed that during the tour there were bumps on the floor that students could use so they could get around easier.  I also noticed that most sidewalks in Beijing had these same bumps throughout the city, as well as many other amenities that could assist the blind in living normal lives. With the help of the blind school, it doesn’t surprise me that it is easy for people with blindness to live normal lives.  From our tour of the facility, we learned that many people do graduate and grow up to live normal and successful lives. This school has become a model for blind schools around the world. It is great to see that Beijing has put so much effort in assisting the blind, and I hope other cities around the world adopt this same policy. I wish I had more time during my short visit to Beijing to return to the school to possibly volunteer or see more what the school is like and how the students learn to live with their disability.


During the spring and fall semesters, the school seeks CIEE students to volunteer as English teachers for the entire semester. Students participating in any CIEE Beijing programs who are willing to make a semester-long commitment are welcome to volunteer and give back to the Beijing community.