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Summer 2013, Issue I

A student takes in some scenery during our excursion to the Great Wall.

New Sights, New Perspectives - Summer in Beijing, China

If you have experienced summer in Beijing, you know how hot and humid it can be, much like weather in the midwestern United States. This, however, has not stopped the CIEE students in Beijing from getting out there and enjoying all that Beijing (and China) have to offer!

Up to now, we've had a myriad of different activities and events for students to engage China, including two excursions: to Dalian and the countryside in Shanxi and Hebei provinces, theme meals, our Expert Lecture series, trips to the blind school, and more. We hope this newsletter will give you an idea of what we do here in Beijing!

Orientation Week

As featured in other blogs, we continued our tradition of taking a group photo on Peking University's Alumni Bridge (校友桥). After visiting Tiananmen Square and eating a welcome lunch of Peking Duck, we took this shot to start the semester!


Students enjoy the idyllic northern portion of campus.

Excursions outside of Beijing

During the final days of June, CIEE led two separate excursions each with distinct themes that expose students to different parts of China, and Chinese society. One was to the port city of Dalian, and the other was to the countryside in the nearby by Shanxi and Hebei provinces.

Dalian - "Urbanization and the Dream of Modernity"

This trip, led by Summer Resident Director Dr. KuoRay Mao, took students to the northeastern port city of Dalian.

Dalian was a small coastal outpost in late Qing dynasty before the area was colonized by Russia in 1897 and later Japan in 1905. The confluence of the Chinese, Russian, and Japanese cultures and the history of colonization have made Dalian a unique example of modernization in China. Since the late 1990s, as the fourth largest sea port in China, Dalian has transformed the base of its economic development and has become a hotspot for foreign direct investment, especially from Japanese and Korean companies. To understand Dalian’s colonial history and its recent cosmopolitan development, students explored modern city spaces, walked through plazas built by the Russians, observed the battlegrounds of the Russo-Japanese war,  rode the first railroad in China and saw Dalian's large port, among other activities!

CIEE Beijing - Excursion to Dalian - Shipping Containers

Shipping Containers being moved about at the Port of Dalian.

Shanxi and Hebei - "Environment and Rural Governance in China"

While Dr. Mao was leading students through the ultra-modern Dalian, CIEE Beijing's Center Director, Dr. Patrick Lucas, led students off the beaten path to rural parts of China's Shanxi and Hebei provinces. The focus of this trip were those places outside the large cities—the rural countryside, its people, culture, governance, and the natural environment there. Of course, in China ‘countryside’ is a relative term, since the majority of the population live outside the big cities, and rural population can actually be surprisingly dense, with villages often very close together. In China there are intense pressures on the natural environment, as well as various social consequences and competitions for resources, which are issues of critical importance to China and to our understanding of China as students and seekers of understanding.

Though less than 150 miles away from Beijing, the differences in terms of material wealth are staggering. After spending the night in a village and helping weed the potato fields, the students realized, however, that this lack of "stuff" did not mean that the villagers did not live with dignity. In addition to living in the village, over three plus days we visited a tiny garrison town, and saw an interesting, unrepaired section of the Great Wall crossing flat farm fields. We also hiked sheep trails through the mountains, visited a tiny broken down Buddhist temple, and visited a local Catholic church.

CIEE Beijing - Excursion to Countryside - Ascent

Students climb to get a soaring view of the unrepaired Great Wall seen below right.

CIEE Beijing - Excursion to Countryside - Reflections on a mountaintop Temple

Students take in a view of the valley from the side of a broken down temple.

CIEE's Expert Lecture Series in Beijing

Every semester, CIEE arranges for lecturers to lecture on their topics of expertise. This summer, we had four lectures, highlighted below, given by CIEE staff and other experts.

"Chinese Film: Projecting and Protecting the Nation" by Wesley Jacks

On July 17, CIEE Beijing welcomed Wesley Jacks, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of California, Santa Barbara in Film and Media, gave a lecture our students. Jacks completed his M.A. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in Communication Arts (Film) in 2008 and in spring 2012, he was an adjunct professor teaching Chinese film history at the CIEE Beijing Study Center. Thus, having him back for a lecture was just like old times, even if it was only for a few hours!

In his lecture, titled "Chinese Film: Projecting and Protecting the Nation" Jacks gave a brief synopsis of the history of Chinese film, all the way from the first projected film in China in 1896 to the controversy over the recently released Chinese film, titled "Tiny Times". He also discussed how the Chinese government has toed the line of allowing American and other foreign films to be displayed in China while protecting and building up the local industry. And indeed, as film is a powerful tool for disemmination of messages and ideas, he talked about the use of film by the government to promote or project certain ideals.

Though this was the final lecture in our "Expert Lecture Series" like all of the lectures, it was well-attended, and students asked a lot of questions.

Wesley Jacks - Lecture 02

Jacks used the 2002 wuxia film "Hero"  starring Jet Li, to illustrate some his arguments of Chinese films projecting certain ideologies.

"Cross-cultural Communication" and "Ecological Change in Modern China" by Dr. Patrick Lucas

Previous lectures this semester were given by CIEE Beijing Center Director, Patrick Lucas, Ph.D. He gave two lectures this semester titled, "Cross-cultural Communication and Understanding in China" and "Ecological Change in Modern China: Human Impacts and Human Survival". A trained anthropologist with nearly 20 years of professional experience in China, we offer these two lectures every semester. These two lectures give students tools to examine their surroundings, with in terms of communicating with individuals from another culture, and dealing with new ideas and the pressures of being an outsider.

The second lecture "Ecological Change in Modern China: Human Impacts and Human Survival" gave students an introduction to the perilous environmental Chinese situation faces amidst rapid development. This lecture was required to participate on the excurstion, titled "Environment and Rural Governance in China", as it was a preview of some phenomenon that we would experience firsthand when visiting the countryside. In his role as CIEE Beijing Center Director, Dr. Lucas oversees the study centers at both Minzu University and Peking University, teaching an area studies course every semester at Minzu University.

Aside from engaging students in experiential learning in the trip to the countryside, he also leads a ten day field study to southern China every semester for students participating in the Environmental, Cultural, and Economic Sustainability program at Minzu University.

Pat Lucas - Lecture

Dr. Lucas gives students some tools they can use to engage a new culture.

"Neoliberal Sunshine: The Development of Underdevelopment in Northwestern China" by Dr. KuoRay Mao

Earlier in July, our Summer Resident Director KuoRay Mao, Ph.D., gave a lecture on neoliberal development in Northwestern China. Having worked as a farmer in Gansu province for 18 months conducting research as a Fulbright scholar, Dr. Mao was able to pepper his lecture, titled "Neoliberal Sunshine: The Development of Underdevelopment in Northwest China" with interesting analyses on the political economy in China.  Dr. Mao's speech gave students a good understanding of some of the most pressing environmental issues -  which are existential issues - facing China today.


Given the abrreviated summer schedule, our Expert Lecture Series has concluded. However, we are excited for next semester's lectures, available for students attending all of our Beijing-based programs.


This newsletter was compiled by CIEE Beijing Center staff.  Stay tuned for Issue II at the end of the semester, as well as some other blog posts by some of our summer students about different experiences and activities from our 2013 summer term!


Spring 2013, Issue I


A Semester to Remember!

Better late than never, no? :) We hope you enjoy the highlights of our spring semester of the CIEE Intensive Chinese Language program at Peking University!

Hello, Everyone!: Orientation Week

With the disruptions of Spring Festival finally winding down, our Peking University study abroad students stepped off the plane and into Beijing on Monday, February 25, many for the first time.  CIEE staff were waiting to greet them and help them get safely back to their dorms and settled down, before the activities of orientation week kicked into full gear the next day with a series of health and safety orientations, a visit to Tiananmen Square, and the continuation of a new tradition for CIEE’s Peking University programs: a group photo at PKU’s Alumni Bridge (校友桥).  The rest of orientation week flew by uneventfully, a blur of tours, orientations and presentations, placement exams, and being introduced to a new life in Beijing, from food to friends to living arrangements, and with its conclusion students were finally ready to begin on their new journey in Beijing!

Alumni Bridge 1

Food Counts as Culture, Right?: Semester Theme Meals

Continuing another new tradition, this semester’s students were once again offered the opportunity to attend small (6-8 students), private “theme meals” during one week in March.  Not only does this offer them the opportunity to learn more about a specific style of Chinese cuisine, but also lets students interact with a CIEE teacher on a more informal basis and build a better rapport as the semester begins!  This semester’s meals included Malaxiangguo Mamba (麻辣香锅 is a style of stir-fry emphasizing heavy doses of hot peppers), Journey to the West (featuring food from the Uyghur minority in Western China), Vegetarian Voyage (self-explanatory, one hopes!),  Sichuan Sensation (featuring spicy Sichuan food) and finally, Nanjing Adventure (sampling the local dumplings, in particular). It is the meal pictured below!
Themed Meal

More Cultural Exposure: Art Classes

In addition to food-centric cultural activities, CIEE Beijing also arranges for some activities centered on the traditional arts, the first of which are short, one-time classes in which students get the chance to learn about and then practice a traditional art form.  This semester’s CIEE-provided classes were offered on a Friday afternoon in March, to maximize students’ chances of attending, and included a traditional paper-cutting class and a face-painting class instructing students in the traditional face-painting used to decorate actors performing in Peking Operas.

Face Painting 1

Face Painting 2

Face Painting 3

Learning, à la Carte: Expert Lecture Series

With the success of the last several semesters’ Expert Lecture Series, students were again offered the chance to attend lectures on a variety of China-related topics on Wednesdays throughout the semester.  This semester’s lecturers included CIEE Beijing Center Director Dr. Patrick Lucas (Intercultural Communication, Chinese Nationalism, Environment and Rural Governance), Dr. Ming Li (Geomancy Studies), Dr. Xiuxin Jiang (Chinese Medicine), and Dr. Kuoray Mao (Development in NW China).  The lectures have met with a largely enthusiastic reaction from students, as almost everyone has found at least one or two topics in which they have an intense personal interest.

Service Activities: Blind School and Autism Institute Visits

In addition to the various educational outlets, CIEE students in Beijing are also given opportunities to do volunteer work and build closer links to the communities in which they live.  This semester, for instance, several students volunteered to teach English at the Beijing School for the Blind and several more participated in a day of service at the Beijing Autism Institute.  The Beijing Autism Institute trip (below, top) was as much an educational experience as a service one, as our students met and spoke with the students there and learned about the way in which mental disabilities are viewed and treated in China, more than actually doing teaching work themselves.  At the School for the Blind (pictured below, bottom), on the other hand, CIEE has arranged for students to volunteer as English teachers on a long-term basis, even for their full semester.  This is a program we hope to continue in coming semesters as we continue our efforts to help students branch out and gain a fuller, richer immersion experience in Beijing, and an opportunity to give back to the local Beijing community.

Autism Institute
Blind School

A Historic Capital: Nanjing

Of course, no study abroad experience is complete without travel, preferably extensive travel, and CIEE Beijing views extended weekend excursions a a great way to explore new places and different topics about China.  In addition to whatever travel students choose to undertake on their own, there are several CIEE-sponsored and run trips offered each semester, each revolving around a different theme (usually with either historical, societal, or cultural relevance).

The theme of this trip was “Nanjing, China's Southern Capital: Defining Chinese Identity and History from 1368 to the Present”.  As the title implies, this excursion took students to Nanjing to learn something of China’s several-times-over past capital, and focused on the ways in which Nanjing simultaneously set the trend in China and was influenced by its role as capital.  As part of this excursion, students traveled to and from the city via overnight sleeper train, tried traditional (dumpling-centric) Nanjing cuisine, visited local temples, Republican-Era monuments, and temples, and saw modern industrial development sites and their impacts.

Nanjing 1

Urban Adventures: Shanghai

For the second major excursion of the semester, students got to choose between three options, the first of which was a trip to Shanghai, focused on the urban environment and architecture of Mainland China’s most modern and developed metropolitan area.  Titled “Modern Architecture and Manmade Landscapes”, students visited neighborhoods which have preserved their traditional architecture, saw the Temple of the City God, and photographed Shanghai’s ultramodern cityscape from the observation deck of the 470 meter-tall Oriental Pearl Tower (pictured below, poking into the clouds).  They also enjoyed traditional Shanghai cuisine, built around fresh seafood and soup dumplings, visited a museum which (quietly) displays the relics and propaganda of the Cultural Revolution, and got to experience China’s high speed rail system in a five-hour sprint back to Beijing.

Shanghai 1

Traditional Beauty: Kaifeng and Luoyang

The second of the available trips took students to Kaifeng and Luoyang, in Central China’s Henan Province, with an eye towards giving students a wider acquaintance with the aspects of China that we often refer to as “traditional” or “ancient.” Thus, this trip was built around the theme “Ancient Chinese Capitals, Art, and Re-inventing History.” In a country like China, experiencing a fast-paced economic boom and resurgent power abroad, history and tradition are often renegotiated and reexamined from new perspectives, and this is nowhere more apparent than in China’s most “historical” cities.  In learning about China’s view of its own history in this region, students visited the capital district of the Song Dynasty, several traditional garden parks, and a valley filled, over the centuries, with Buddhist carvings and figures known as Longmen Grottoes.

Kaifeng Luoyang Group Shot

Window on Rural Life: Shanxi and Hebei Provinces

The final excursion option for the semester was titled “Environment and Rural Governance in China” and was tailored for those interested in experiencing more of rural China and willing to “rough it.” Hebei and Shanxi are among the most rural, poorest, and most environmentally overburdened provinces in China today, and students who participated got to participate in some aspects of village and rural life, by helping prepare a meal and planting potatoes (both pictured below) among other activities.  Additionally, they got to witness the state of the environment on which the villagers’ livelihoods so thoroughly depend. Other highlights of the trip included a six mile hike over sheep herding trails through the mountains, as well as a visit to a broken down temple overlooking a dry river bed -  a once important trade route through the mountains.


Goodbye, Beijing!: Last Weeks and Farewell Banquet

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, in time, and this semester’s study abroad was no exception.  Upon returning from Shanxi and Hebei, many students were struck by the realization that their time in China was rapidly drawing to a close; the last weeks, for many, were filled by a scrambling attempt to do and see all the things they’d missed until then.  In an attempt to meet the demand engendered by this final burst of enthusiasm, CIEE Beijing arranged trips to a local rock concert, the 798 Modern Art District, the Temple of Heaven, and the Pearl Market, though pollution forced the scrubbing of a hike on Phoenix Mountain.  Meanwhile, students took it upon themselves to engage in travel both inside and outside Beijing, including local highlights and excursions as far afield as Inner Mongolia.

Finally, on May 31, CIEE students and staff, PKU teachers and administrators, and tutors gathered to celebrate their time and accomplishments in Beijing at our farewell banquet.  Led by student hosts Ellen Larson and Ben Omer, students relived their experiences one last time, thanked all those who made them possible, and received their certificates of program completion from PKU, before engaging in one final round of picture-taking with their classmates, tutors, and teachers.  Over the next two days all but a few students departed for home or left Beijing to travel on their own before leaving China, thus bringing the spring semester of 2013 to a close for CIEE Beijing.

Further Information...

This Newsletter was compiled by staff at the CIEE Study Center in Beijing.


Did you like what you see? Please check the blog for our Summer Intensive Chinese Language program, which is in session through August!

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Have any questions about this program or other CIEE programs? You can contact CIEE via email at or by calling 1800-40-STUDY (78839).


Lama Temple

Yonghe Temple, commonly known as the “Lama Temple,” is a temple and monastery of a school of Tibetan Buddhism. Located in Beijing, it is one of the largest Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in the world.

The temple was built in 1694 during the Qing Dynasty, and it originally was used as a residence for court eunuchs. Later, the temple was converted into the court of the Yongzheng Emperor. After 1722, it became a lamasery (a monastery for Tibetan Buddhist monks).



Old Summer Palace

Brianne visited the Old Summer Palace. The Palace is also known as the Gardens of Perfect Brightness, but was originally named the Imperial Gardens. The Palace is known for its collection of garden and building architectures, and other works of art. It was built in the 18th and early 19th centuries for the emperors of the Qing Dynasty to live and handle government affairs. During the Second Opium War (1860), it was initially destroyed by the British.



Beihai Park

Today, Brianne visited Beihai Park, an imperial garden that was built in the 10th century. The Park has three pools total, so Brianne took a ferry around to visit the different areas of the park. In total, the park is around 69 hectares large so it took several hours to see all the different areas.

At the center of the Park is Qionghua Island, which contains many historic sites on it, such as the White Pagoda and Yongan Temple. This island was the highlight of the Park for Brianne. But, other great spots in the Park she enjoyed include the Five-Dragon Pavilions, Nine-Dragon Wall, The Land of Extreme Happiness, and the Iron Screen Wall.


Inner Mongolia!

This weekend, we went to Inner Mongolia. We arrived at the region’s capital – Hohhot – and then drove to Xilamuren Grassland, where we stayed overnight in yurts; yurts are similar to round tents. Before, the yurts were used by nomadic peoples who roamed the Inner Mongolian grasslands; the yurts were very convenient because they are portable. Today, the yurts are more symbolic and not used for the nomadic lifestyle as much.

Our first activity in Inner Mongolia was traveling around the grasslands on horseback. We visited a herdsman’s family and ate their traditional foods and visited an aobao. Inner Mongolia is known for its dairy products, so we tried their milk tea, milk candies and bread sticks. An aobao is composed of stone piles and scarves, and is used for worship.


After horseback riding, we watched horse racing and Inner Mongolian style wrestling. There were about eight horses in the race, but it quickly dwindled down to three. The horses only needed to complete two laps in order to win.


Inner Mongolian wrestling is different from other styles of wrestling in that you want to throw your opponent down by only engaging the upper half of your body. You are not allowed to touch your opponent’s legs, or strike, strangle or lock your opponent. Some of our friends even participated!

For our second day, we spent the day in the Gobi Desert. The Gobi Desert is absolutely beautiful; the rolling hills of tan sand seemed endless! For all our of adventures in the desert, we went to the Resonant Sand Gorge, or Xiangshawan.

We first saw a traditional wedding ceremony performance at the Art Desert Gallery there; it was very intricate, and there was a lot of symbolism. There was a lot of preparation before the actual wedding, and the bride-to-be was kept a secret to the village and the audience until the ceremony. There were electronic screens on the sides of the stage to aide the audience in knowing what was happening.



CIEE Beijing goes rural!

CIEE took us on a trip to two rural provinces in China – Shanxi and Hebei – for the weekend. For our first stop in Northern Shanxi province, we visited Zhangjiakou city and Tianzhen County. There, we saw old Ming Dynasty watch towers and an unrepaired section of the Great Wall, which was made of compressed earth. We also got time to hike in the area, and we found lots of goats!


On Saturday, we met our homestay families. The village was very small, with only around 50 people total. We spent the day with our families, where we got a taste of rural life. Hannah planted potatoes, and Brianne planted beans. At night, we had a “bonfire,” where we ate burned potatoes (which were surprisingly decent), and slept on kangs; a kang is a raised platform next to a stove, where the heat from cooking food warms the kang for sleeping.

Here is a glimpse of Hannah’s homestay experience!


And, here’s Brianne’s!


On Sunday, we left our families and took a six-hour hike into Hebei province. We walked along a sheep trail and finally made it into Yangyuan County, where we spent the evening.

Fun fact: Brianne had an allergic reaction to something that day.


Dr. Patrick Lucas took us to his favorite Buddhist Temple. It was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, but is currently in the process of being re-built.



Brianne's adventures in Hunan

For the Labor Day Holiday, Brianne traveled to Hunan Province, visiting the cities of Fenghuang and Zhangjiajie. Due to traveling, she also had short stops in the cities Jishou and Changsha. She took the train to Zhangjiajie and arrived Friday. For her first meal, she and her friends had to pick out a live animal to eat – among the choices were boar, snake, chicken, mountain pheasant and badger. They collectively chose the mountain pheasant, which all agreed had not enough meat and was gamey.

Brianne spent the next day in Fenghuang, also known as Phoenix Ancient Town. This well-preserved town has not undergone much modernization, and is built on the Tuo Jiang River. The city is filled with the ethnic minorities Miao and Tujiao, so she bought some of their local crafts. Brianne now considers this city one of her favorite places she has been to in China.


That Monday, Brianne went to the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, which is about one hour away from the center of the city. The park is famous for its pillar-like formations (seen below), which resulted from erosion. A section of the pillars was officially re-named the “Avatar Hallelujah Mountains.” Fun fact: a photographer visited this specific section of the mountains, which then inspired James Cameron’s movie Avatar.


The last historic site Brianne visited in Hunan was The Yellow Dragon Cave, which is the longest cave in Asia. The caves are a karst formation, which is formed by the dissolution of soluble rocks and is characterized by sinkholes, caves and underground drainage systems. Touring the cave took over an hour, but it was worth it – especially since Brianne  got to ride a boat on the Xiangshui River inside the cave!



Baozis - a staple in Beijing


In accordance with the title of our blog, Brianne decided to show what baozis – steamed buns filled with meat and/or vegetables – look like. They are very cheap and great foods to have any time of the day. Usually, Brianne eats them with dou nai (soymilk), which is shown in the bowl in the picture above.


Qingdao for the weekend!

We went to Qingdao for the weekend since we got Friday off of school. We chose Qingdao because it is relatively close and it only takes a few days to see the whole city. We also loved being beach-side again!

Even though it was a little chilly out, we decided to walk along the beach. We were excited to make it to the other side of the Pacific Ocean!


We then stumbled upon a random pagoda near the beach. We climbed to the top and saw a great view of the city!


We went to the aquarium expecting to see different fish than what would be found in the states. To our surprise, the aquarium did not have any live fish, only preserved bodies of various sea life.


A taxi driver suggested we visit the TV Tower, which is essentially an observatory. There were four different floors – the highlights were an outdoor viewing deck and a haunted house. The haunted house was not scary but rather funny; Hannah particularly enjoyed a shaking bridge. The view was not as pretty as it could be because it was cloudy and raining that day.


On our last day, we walked around the city. We to a Catholic church and the Former German Governor’s office but couldn’t get in, and the Old Observatory. Also, we went to the Zhan Qiao Pier and bought some souvenirs.