30 December 2006: Forbidden City Tour Group

Forbidden City Tour GroupI visited the Forbidden City on this snowy day because I figured that it would not be especially crowded and that the snow would create interesting opportunities to photograph the buildings and interior spaces. I was wrong on both counts. Although it was probably a bit less crowded than usual, there were plenty of people visiting in spite of the snow. As for photo opportunities, by the end of 2006 Beijing’s Olympic facelift was well underway and, disappointingly, I found most of the major buildings within the Forbidden City shrouded in scaffolding for renovations. The day was nonetheless not a loss photographically. Among other subjects, I encountered this tour group of rather disgruntled looking people from somewhere in greater China.

 

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25 December 2011: Winter Swimming, Beijing

Winter SwimmingWinter swimming in Houhai is a cold weather pastime for a (very) small group of Beijing men. I cannot recall what prevented this small area of open water along the north side of the lake from freezing over. But there was more than enough room for a dip and the winter swimmers wasted no time taking advantage of it. I do recall this was a very cold Beijing Christmas day with temperatures below 0°/32°. My hands were freezing holding the camera.

 

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15 December 2008: Reasonably Prosperous Life, Beijing

Reasonably Prosperous Life

The four red characters in the yellow sign at the upper right mean, roughly, “reasonably prosperous life” or perhaps “moderately prosperous life”. Guaranteeing all Chinese a reasonably prosperous life is one of the Communist Party’s stated goals and the expression “小康生活” (xiaokang shenghuo) appears regularly in the Chinese media and Party publications. In any case, I think the expression nicely frames the Beijing street scene going on below the sign.

 

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Tribute Oranges

This is the season for Tribute Oranges – 貢橘 (gongju) – in China. Apparently they used to be delivered to the emperor as tribute and that is how they got their name. Or so a friend tells me. Whatever the case they are really delicious, the kind of treat you can eat by the bowlful.  At this time of year here in the US, I buy the little Clementines from California. These can also be tasty, but they are just not the same. When I stumbled across this photo several days ago, I realized how much I miss the Chinese original.

I haven’t been posting much to this blog recently, but I have been working on photo galleries, so far mostly of work from China. A lot of photos, big job – a work in progress. If you like, please hit the Galleries link above and take a look.

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Golden Week

Leaving the Forbidden City.

October 1 is China’s National Day commemorating the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949. Nowadays National Day begins the seven day Golden Week holiday during which Chinese take off en masse to visit the country’s historical and scenic attractions. Xinhua, the government controlled and run wire service, reports that 34.25 million people visited China’s 119 major tourist attractions (China’s tourism industry reaps golden harvest). A bit of arithmetic reveals that an average of 287,800 people visited each of these attractions during the holiday week. That’s an average of 41,000 people a day. In fact Xinhua reports that on October 2 186,000 people passed through the Forbidden City, historically the home of Chinese emperors in the center of Beijing.

By way of contrast, the average number of daily visitors to several US National Parks and Monuments during July 2011 (the peak month for each of these locales) came to 29,258 for Yellowstone, 23,991 for Rocky Mountain National Park, 22,727 for Yosemite, 21,124 for the Grand Canyon, 17,862 for the Statue of Liberty and 2,470 for the Washington Monument.

In fact virtually any place remotely appealing or interesting in China is inundated with people during the Golden Week. I used the holiday as an opportunity to practice crowd photography and read an interesting book. It is not a week to travel. Most of my expatriate friends and quite a few Chinese friends feel the same way.

One of the reasons so many Chinese travel during this holiday is because they have so few other opportunities to do so. Many Chinese companies do not give personal vacation time to employees. Huawei where I worked for two and a half years is fairly typical. Chinese staff have off China’s ten public holidays each year (though they are required to work the last Saturday of every month, in effect giving back to the company the time off for holidays). The company offers no vacation benefit. Employees can petition supervisors for leave for personal leave time, but taking more than a few days is frowned upon. Some Chinese companies do give a week or two of vacation time, but it is common for employees never to apply to take the time. Chinese friends have told me that management often expects employees not to take their vacation time. The benefit is window dressing only. Even Chinese working for foreign companies in China have told me they have never applied to take the paid vacation time they are entitled to by contract. Holidays with Chinese characteristics.

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Dartsedo, Greater Tibet

The Tsechu River flows swiftly through the center of Dartsedo, a small city nestled in the mountains of the Tibetan region of Kham. In Chinese the city is called Kanding and the river Zhedou. By Chinese reckoning, Dartsedo is located in the western part of Sichuan province halfway between the border of the Tibet Autonomous Region and Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province. You can search for Dartsedo on Google Map, but you will be directed to Garze, the name of the Tibetan autonomous prefecture in which Dartsedo is located. Google Earth renders the rugged terrain surrounding Dartsedo in dramatic fashion.

The photo here, which I took when I visited Dartsedo in 2007, appears in the 2013 Tibet calendar issued by the International Campaign for Tibet. I just received a copy of the finished calendar and it was quite satisfying to see the picture in print.

Donating a photo to a calendar is a rather pathetic gesture when it comes to helping Tibetans save their homeland and their culture from the brutal Han Chinese colonialism that is the core of the Communist Party’s policy towards Tibet. But I was glad I could do it in any case.

It is more than a little disheartening to follow the news from Tibet. Fifty four Tibetans have set themselves on fire to protest Chinese oppression. (Latest Self-Immolation in Tibet Brings Total to 54) The international community has paid scant attention to this tragedy. The kind of outrage one would expect such sacrifice for a cause to generate has never materialized and there has been little pressure put on Beijing to rethink its approach to Tibet.

Within China virtually all of China’s Han majority (about 95% of China’s 1.3 billion people) accept the Party’s Tibet narrative, which begins with the fanciful claim that Tibet has always been a part of China. They tend to believe without question the tale that is hammered home constantly in state-controlled media: China is helping backward Tibet develop. Even well-educated Han Chinese, who are skeptical of much of what their government says, seem unable to connect the dots between ongoing unrest in Tibet and failed government policies towards Tibet. On more than one occasion I was informed in authoritative tones that Tibetans are the ignorant, ungrateful and undeserving recipients of much largesse and many privileges showered upon them by the Chinese state.

I have read some speculation that Xi Jinping, who will become head of the Party and state apparatus next month, may be open to rethinking China’s Tibet policy. Perhaps. But, while Xi will sit at the head of the table during Politburo meetings, any significant changes to Tibet policy would require a consensus among that group. It is difficult to be optimistic.

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