13 January 2017 Friday

BIG. It is all so big. Here, in the northwest of Hangzhou, Zijingang Campus of Zhejiang University is big and still being built. Zijingang Campus is one of the five that comprise Zhejiang University, which is one of the three most important universities in China. The streets running through the Zijingang Campus are wide with a green median. To accommodate the distances for the approximately 10,000 students, bicycles are everywhere. Students can use free bikes that are available around the campus, pick up at one spot and deposit at another, and get to class on time. All they need is the password to unlock and go. The student cafeteria is The Largest in Asia. As the Chinese say, Min Yi Shi Wei Tian 民以食为天 , Food is as important as the sky above.

Throughout the campus, stretches of brown where green grass will come in the spring surround a wide stream that winds through the grounds. Ducks, geese, and swans, black and white, enjoy the stream on this comfortably cool day. As do grandmothers with their single charge, students with cell phones (whatever happened to students with books?), infatuated heterosexual couples (did not see homosexual couples or obvious singles), and purposeful striders. These and others dot the brown and go over the graceful bridge with gentle-height steps, just perfect for casual walking. The water, too, is brownish on this brownish-gray day, but the sky is blue and we have sunshine. Last week in Hangzhou, it was daily rain, just as in Ashland, but without the ice. 

The campus buildings are big, as might be expected, and display that same breadth and spaciousness that so impressed me when I first entered Pudong Airport in Shanghai. This time, I did not come into the main terminal area, where the down-pouring, angled ceiling rods, which could feel threatening, only serve as interesting visual stimulation. This time, I simply had my nine-minute sprint through endless corridors to the Long Distance Bus that brought me into Hangzhou at midnight and left me with severe shin splints today and tonight. 

Even though buildings are often designed today by international architectural firms, I cannot imagine the buildings that I saw on the Zijingang campus being in America, although perhaps that is a subjective projection. I am, after all, here, in China. Perhaps the necessity for conformity bred into the Chinese for 5,000 years keeps the spaciousness somewhat grounded, still spacious but less airy than what I see in America. In America, space can be fussier and bristle on the edges with individual bursts. The newer buildings in China, as opposed to the massive behemoths of the Mao years, seem to insist on the limitless possibilities that await the Chinese.

Yet, I met a woman here, who in addition to full-time work and the supporting activities that her important job entails, must cook dinner every night for her in-laws. Her mother-in-law often criticizes her, and she must ensure that her mother-in-law is always accompanied when going out. We have all heard stories of Chinese mothers-in-law. Mary Gamble met such a mother-in-law on the 1908 China trip and insisted that Clarence, in his China Journal, recount the ferocity with which this woman spoke to her several daughters in law. “Fierce in every word she said,” writes Clarence, as instructed. But that was in 1908. This is over a century later.  As an American, it is impossible to comprehend, “Viva la difference!”

But back to Zijinggang campus buildings that were built in the nineties. The Architecture Department Building is a logo for the University, and,unique as it certainly is, deserves logo status. A great whitish building, it stretches parallel to the street in a variety of patterns on either side from its center (I think that must be its center –  a brief area on the roof flanked on either side by horns? funnels?smokestacks without smoke? From a distance, the two “horns” recall the heads of horses rising up and charging over the edge of the building. Inside skylights and great space. .

The striking tower across the way has so many changing facets, a half circle in shape with a flat back and a half circle of spokes at the top. On the bottom floors are the library. Four floors up is a coffee shop with surrounding garden and pool with goldfish on an outside deck. Hard to believe you are several stories above ground. Farther stories up are administrative offices, and the view from the penthouse must be wonderful. 

Despite my concern over Premier Xi’s hard line, my friend Guang Ding, who teaches English at the University (of course she teaches English, for how else can I know anyone in China – oh to learn Mandarin in my spare time) has been studying the Moule missionary family, British, but apparently of French extraction with a surname like Moule, She spent a year researching at Cambridge, and now Guang has received a government grant to continue her work on this Christian missionary family, of which among its fourteen members, most deserve to be written about. Her particular Moue subject took many photos of the Hangzhou of his time and wrote about early Hangzhou history extensively. Her Department is immensely proud of her, and it does much to say that, hard line or not, the Chinese government is supporting the humanities and the study of the history of Christian activity in China. “Publish r Perish” is alive and well in China academia, and the demands on the non-tenured are, as always, immense  Guang and I talked at length about Nineteenth-century China history, the place of Christian missionaries in it, the possibility of her writing articles that refer to and use my Gamble material. We learned a great deal from each other.

My room is delightful. The outside wall is one glass window, allowing light and a great view of this campus and of the almost-skyscrapers across the way. At night, only a a few streets lights, soft golden globes, can be seen along the sidewalk below (I am on the seventh floor). In the quiet of the night campus, the dark is easy and restful. Blackout curtains are not needed. Within the room, the heat comes on, emitting a coarse breathy sound, as though you are sharing the room with a heavy breathing monster, invisible but assuredly in your midst with its gurgling, regular panting. Since the monster is invisible, he is not threatening.

A Fine Friday The Thirteenth. No overbooked airplane. Just some shin splints.

Library & Administrative Tower

Stream & Grounds

Campus Bicycles

Architecture Department Building