So back from FACES. It was a long long week that I might need a while to recover from, and so much happened I’m probably going to split my reflections into three parts. First the general gist and pictures (of course). Again, for those of you who don’t know, FACES stands for Forum for American-Chinese Exchange at Stanford. It was formed in 2002 after the Hainan spyplane incident (very big news at the time) with the purpose of bettering US-China relations thought more mutual understanding. It annually holds two rounds, one at Stanford (which I went to in October) and one in China (usually Beijing, which I just got back from). The first round was a quasi-life-changing experience, I never felt I could have a positive personal effect on U.S. China relations. I also not only met an amazing amount of amazing people, but actually felt I had the chops to hang with them academically. Seriously, these guys were so cool. This round was hosted by Peking University (one of the member universities), and was slightly different. Slightly less jam packed than the Stanford one, and the speakers more focused on concrete issues such as environmental protection and China’s economy. There was also another speaker who talked about China’s role in the Middle East. Very interesting, if a little logically inconsistent. Freer evenings meant we all had time to go see our various friends around Beijing. For me that three Harbin classmates and a UMass classmate currently there in Beijing. Had some amazing talks and learned a bunch.
Most interesting was probably the revelation that China’s new five year plan calls for even more coal-fired electricity plants, despite China’s promise to clean up its environment. How exactly do you reconcile those two?
As to the Middle East talk, China is taking a policy of support for the independent development of Middle Eastern and African nations via aid and economic development. However, they “have no intention of establishing a sphere of influence”. The inconsistency of these two statements were what stood out to me, as you can’t send in envoys, aid money, and develop infrastructure without building influence. Other highlights included a surveying activity of old Beijingers as to their impressions of key moments in US-China relations. We found one older guy who was a practical bevy of knowledge despite only completing middle school (that’s the Cultural Revolution generation for you). He knew everything we asked about, Nixon, 9/11, China’s first manned spaceflight, and even some stuff off the list questions we had that I asked him about the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, my senior thesis topic). From there we stumbled onto the Anding Gate area, which I had never been to, and turns out to be a massive hipster haen. Overpriced cafes and craft breweries abound (an alcohol nerds heaven), and with plenty of fixed gear bicycles to boot. I didn’t go to any of the breweries, as we had an alumni social planned that night at a brewhouse (decidedly mediocre, but I’m kind of starved for good beer here). However, we did happen by a little hole in the wall store that looked like any other little convenience store in Beijing, except that it very obviously was targeting foreigners. Real cheese and imported beer galore (for reasonable prices too) including Sierra Nevada and Ballast Point, two California beers. So being the beer nerd that I’ve become, I bought a Trappist I had never seen before and two Franiskaner (German wheats) that I’m saving for the right time.
Prior to arriving in Beijing, we also paid a visit to Duke Kunshan University on the invitation of two FACES delegates from Duke. It’s a joint satellite campus set up by Duke and Wuhan University in Hubei. I was excited to visit, not only because of the free food, but also because I knew they were planning on adding a master’s program in environmental policy. Don’t think I’m going to apply for it though. As interested as I am in a career in environmental protection, the degree is taught in English, and I feel as though if I’m going to do grad school in China (which I would like to) I should damn well do it in Chinese. After talking with the other delegates, I’m more and more interested in a career that deals with China, but doesn’t keep me there for my entire career, getting closer to answering my question of the semester, is Chinese my career or just a tool? Right now I’m leaning more and more towards a career in nuclear nonproliferation, and have decided to start looking at that more in the coming months and building up my knowledge on the field.
The last day of the conference we went to the ruins of the Summer Palace (which were conveniently right next door). Beautiful big park with sadly not much left after it was sacked by western armies over and over following the second Opium war. That’s still a rather sore point from China, and the government keeps calling on those countries to return national treasures that were stolen and have now ended up in museums abroad. I have to say I agree with them. It was cool though that we westerners could take selfies in front of a testament to the extent of western imperialism and entitlement in the 19th century and no one batted an eyelash. Look how far US-China relations have come!