From May 12th to June 2nd, 2021, the Center for Asian Studies hosted a three-week virtual Tang Global Seminar in China. While the Covid-19 pandemic has made it impossible to run our usual study tours in China, our experiment with a virtual tour this year paid off. While we are hopeful that we can return to in-person travel to China in 2022, we are also pleased that we developed a program capable of offering students a meaningful connection with China and giving them valuable tools for their future careers and endeavors.
The seminar – titled “China Speed: Modernity, Memory and Heritage” – was co-taught by CAS Director and Professor of Geography Tim Oakes and Associate Professor of History Tim Weston. On-the-ground content from China was provided by the educational travel company WorldStrides. The course explored questions swirling around history and memory in China today, how memorial sites frame public memory (or erase it), how China’s pursuit of ‘modernity’ over the past century has shaped contemporary landscapes, how rapid urbanization is also reshaping those landscapes, the role of the arts and creative production in China’s development, new digital economies, rural and ethnic tourism, rural and urban gentrification, urban villages and new towns, and history and heritage in Hong Kong. In short, the seminar covered a lot of ground!
The seminar focused on Beijing, Shanghai, Guizhou, and Guangzhou, with a final day spent in Hong Kong. Beijing places visited included Tiananmen Square, The National History Museum, the Beijing Subway, the Forbidden City, and the Great Wall. In Shanghai we visited the Bund, the old French Concession and Xintiandi, and the M50 Arts District. We also spent a day visiting Nanjing and the Nanjing Massacre Memorial. In Guizhou we rode the high speed rail, toured a Dong minority village and explored Gui’an big data experimental development zone. And in Guangzhou we saw the Dongshankou neighborhood, Shipai urban village, and Zhujiang New Town.
Covid-19 still managed to challenge us. The city of Guangzhou went on lockdown just as we were preparing to visit, and this necessitated some quick changes on the part of the local guide. And since 2021 is the 100th anniversary year of the founding of the Communist Party of China, there were some restrictions in place that prevented us from live-stream tours of some key sites. But this in itself provided interesting material for discussing ‘history and memory’ in China today.
In a world where viruses, or other unforeseen developments, may at any time disrupt the study-travel plans of our students, it is good to know that advancements in communication technology have made possible meaningful alternatives to in-person travel. While we are eager to return to China, we are also prepared to maintain our programs in whatever format is necessary. This year’s virtual TGS affirmed that meaningful educational exchange will continue regardless of the circumstances beyond our control.