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.

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.

Urban Landscapes

The American way of housing
The American way of housing

Almost everywhere I go in Denver I encounter beautiful urban landscapes with family homes at the center. Houses of the sort pictured here and the neighborhoods in which they exist in the US are simply not to be found in Chinese cities. Chinese urban landscapes are radically different visually.


For most Americans, I suspect photos of houses are hardly remarkable and not very exciting. But I am still seeing my new surroundings through the lens of China. Though my eye will probably become jaded in another few weeks, today I continue to find Denver’s urban landscapes fascinating.