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Look Closer, Learn More, #GetAtHome In This World

Category: Travel (Page 27 of 28)

Letter to China Daily: Pride in China

Haven’t been blogging for a while, seems like it’s time to bring a few things online… and the following was written mid-March. Oh my… been a bit busy.

So, first, a little opinion piece I couldn’t resist writing. I need the practice, and I felt like presenting an opinion. And it got published, too… (the original title was simply “Pride in China,” and you may chide me for “going native” – there’s still quite some way to that, though):

Time for a proud China to lead the way

I come from Austria, and have been working as German lecturer at Xiangtan University, Hunan, since September.

Most Chinese are probably familiar with parents’ advice not to be proud of personal achievements, but to strive harder. The pride expressed and encouraged is in the country and the strength and influence it is regaining.

From the foreign perspective, especially when looking at the German media, this pride is nationalism, instilled in the people through government policy. And it is described as somehow fake and exaggerated.

Being in China, listening to people and seeing how things are, the pride is justified, and could be even stronger. In the 30 years since reforms began, China has fully returned to the world stage. Now, it is finally at the point where the outside world does not always, only, see modern China as a youngster who has to be told what to do, but as an equal partner with whom to have a real conversation: to speak, and to respectfully listen.

What one can notice then is that the pride in China is quite different from foreign national pride: there is an element of longing for “the good old days”, but also hard work to find one’s own way towards the future, to become yet better. There is pride to be Chinese, but it is open to foreign influences and people, not trying to shut others out just because they are others.

In this time of economic crisis, in particular, this humble pride may bring about an even stronger, better China. Already, one can see that companies are moving from being the mere workbench of the world to being innovators and creators of new products. It is time for Chinese brands to develop into labels renowned for their innovativeness, style and quality.

China is also in a position, given its strengths and its problems, to take its own economic path further, take the opportunity that environmental protection and alternative energy offer for job creation, and support deeper changes towards an economy oriented toward jobs, on human well-being, and on working as a part of the planet’s ecology.

This is an orientation with deep roots in Chinese philosophy, such as the idea of harmony between heaven, earth, and humans; there is a lot of research into sustainable agriculture, circular industrial economy and the like being done in China, and any strong achievements in putting them into practice in the modern world would set an example for the whole planet.

Gerald Schmidt

Published in print, and online at (needs scrolling-down)

20 sec China, Ep. 12: Changing Land

Looking off campus, over some of the small fields mentioned here, towards a hill which is now being leveled… It’s too much of a cliché, but change is constant in China.

Postcard from Xiangtan: Fields and Future

Mao Zedong was born in these parts. Otherwise, there is little of note here in Xiangtan, in the middle of China’s Hunan province. It is typical modern China, as far as China ever gets typical: Apartment blocks and industrial parks, small fields and wide roads. One side of the road, a vegetable market and street food. The other side, fast food joints, a supermarket, and computer shops.

I love it. The challenge of sustainable development lies with normal life – how our desires and practices could contribute to sustainability, and how change towards sustainability would contribute to our–ordinary people’s–well-being.

One noticeable feature of the Chinese landscape are the small vegetable patches. Where there would be a small lawn in the West, nestled alongside apartment blocks, where bushes would be planted on low walls, let alone in the large pit left in the middle of housing development: in China, one often
finds such land used to cultivate a variety of vegetables.

These greens tell a story.

In part, this landscape is a result of China’s position as a developing country. Families are given some land to plant so there is something to fall back on. We tend to overlook how wilderness, too, functions as a potential back-up, as a source of “emergency foods.” This small-scale agriculture also provides some income, or at the very least contributes to variety on the family table. Thinking of “victory gardens” and other urban agriculture, of the present trouble and the good that some fresh, self-grown herbs and vegetables can do for improving nutrition (and decreasing cost), there is something to learn here.

China shows that there is high efficacy – nutrient recycling, food production, and jobs – in small-scale food cultivation, and that it could fit in with urbanization. Local food systems are normal here. On the downside, the effect of environmental pollution is apparent when you can see that it affects the places your food comes from.

Moreover, agricultural activities may be good honest work, but are not good jobs. So, it is predominantly old people who tend such fields. Development progresses the “normal” way: the young study at university and then look for urban jobs and consumerist lifestyles, the government aims for industrialization, pollution decreases environmental health, but lives get better over all.

Returning to the fields, thinking towards the future, there is another lesson in them: These vegetable patches create “cultured nature” with essential functions for humans out of modern marginal lands. They use space and resources effectively, as we will all have to. It is not, however, a behavior borne of a sense of responsibility to the world, or undertaken as a sacrifice for future generations. It is just life. Life based on the fact that we live in this world, as part of it. So, there is little sense in trying to divide it into “culture” here and “nature” there – especially if that meant that we would try to protect unspoiled wilderness far away while forgetting about the impact our “normal” ways of life are having.

China makes this abundantly clear: sustainable development, if it is to be meaningful to us, has to be about making lives better while protecting – better yet, even utilizing – the ecological processes that sustain them. It sounds very commonplace, but not so much has yet been achieved when it comes to integrating ourselves into Earth’s workings. In this regard, the “developed” countries are, at best, at the same level as the “underdeveloped” ones. There is a lot of work to be done – which is just what this time of economic crisis needs.


20 sec China, Ep. 11: Class Migration

Back on campus, back to “20 sec China”… This time, just a quick impression of the “migration” of students in between classes, from classroom to classroom. If this already seems to give a view of the masses of students at a university in China, wait for what’s to come…
Still, it is a sign of the upwards mobility of China and Chinese.

China’s Pivotal Role in Sustainability

Pudong, Shanghai, Skyline

The glitz and glamour of Chinese urban landscapes has come to stand for the country’s rise. Shanghai still runs by the moniker “Paris of the East,” but one sometimes wonders if the time is far away when other cities might be called the Shanghai of the West.
On the other hand, China’s rise has led to increasing awareness of this country’s role in the world, including the central position it will play with regards to sustainability (cp. Liu, Jianguo and Jared Diamond. 2005. China’s environment in a globalizing world. Nature 435:1179-1186). The neon signs and the constant building activity take on a darker meaning in this context. They seem to stand for a future akin to the landscape of “Blade Runner,” with little hope for social development and environmental protection.

In all the lights, a hope and a lesson is hidden. Hidden, literally, in the dark.

Read More

20 sec China, Ep. 10: Li River Quarrel

On the Li River, where people come to enjoy the scenery of the famous limestone hills – except if they can’t quite enjoy it because something went wrong. Which is obviously the case, here…

20 sec China, Ep.9: Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

玉龙雪山, Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, is one of the famous scenic spots close by Lijiang in Yunnan. One climbs from 2500 m (8200 feet) and spring-like conditions to over 4500 m (almost 15000 feet), into the ice and snow of one of the glaciers closest to the equator.

20 sec China, Ep.8: ChuYi Picknick

Chu Yi (初一) is the first day of a month in the lunar calendar. That day, New Year’s day. Traditionally, this is the time to visit ancestral graves and/or friends and relatives, wishing for a good new year. In the video, just a little picnic scene, looking out from Elephant Hill onto Lijiang, Yunnan.

20 sec China, Ep.7: Kunming Processions

Admittedly, China is usually good for lots of people… so also Kunming, where these images were gathered. in this short video, bringing in a contrast: The first impression, a Buddhist temple and walking meditation; the second part, Wal-Mart before Spring Festival.

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