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2008 China Trip – Part 2

This Blog has been moving to iLook China. As the posts are moved and revised, they will be deleted here until only two remain.


On September 18, 2008, my wife and I flew to China (my ninth trip since 1999). My wife planned the trip and made all travel and hotel arrangements.

During the next twenty-eight days, with my older sister Nancy and her youngest daughter Jenny , we traveled China. Starting from Shanghai, we took a train to Beijing where we visited the Great Wall.

Several days later, we flew to Xian, the ancient capital of China where hundreds of emperors ruled the empire for more than a thousand years before the Ming Dynasty moved the capital to Beijing.

After a few days in Xian, we flew back to Shanghai and took a train to Hangzhou, better known to foreigners as the West Lake, where  the Southern Sung Dynasty (1127-1279) ruled what was left of China after invading barbarians conquered Northern China.

After Hangzhou, we took a slow train back to Shanghai and then to Suzhou, where I got sick. I returned to Shanghai to recuperate before we flew southwest to Guilin near Vietnam.

While in Guilin, we took a slow boat down the Li River and attended a musical and lighting extravaganza “Impressions of Liu Sanjie” near the town of Yangshuo.  

This outdoor show, with a cast of six hundred local people, takes place at night on a stretch of the Li River with real mountains as a backdrop.  The “Impressions of Liu Sanjie” is the creation of Zhang Zimou, China’s famous film director. Zhang is also world famous for directing the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

However, Zhang directed “Impressions of Liu Sanjie” several years earlier.

During the trip, I took a thousand pictures. While America’s inner cities team with street gangs and grafitti, people in China are friendly and courteous. Come back and visit often as I show a bit more about what I have learned about China and this ancient culture based on Confucianism and Taoism.  

I’m sure that what I have learned in the last ten years is what caused Robert Hart, the main character in my novel, My Splendid Concubine, to fall in love with the Chinese culture and people.

What I find amazing about Robert Hart is that he did all this while staying connected to his family in Ireland and to his Christian, Irish, British heritage. After all, Queen Victoria made him a Baron late in his life. In addition, more than a dozen countries honored him with awards including the Pope in Rome.

Read 2008 China Trip – Part 1 — the introduction to this Blog


Rebirth and Revolution Both Hurt

This Blog has been moving to iLook China. As the posts are moved and revised, they will be deleted here until only two remain.


Reborn from the Ashes of Revolution

If George Washington had lost the American Revolution against Great Britain, he and the signers of the Declaration of Independence would have been hung, and crows would have pecked on their corpses. Today, they would have been known as traitors instead of the Founding Fathers of a great nation.

In China, the same thing happened. During the nineteenth century while China was fighting the two Opium Wars with Great Britain and France, the Taiping Rebellion broke out. This rebellion lasted from 1845 to 1864 and more than twenty million died. At one point, the Tapings ruled a third of China. To the Imperial Chinese, the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom of Hong Xiuquan was known as a bunch of longhaired bandits. If the Taipings had won, history would have turned out differently—Hong Xiuquan would have become the emperor of China and claimed he was God’s Chinese son.

Instead, China went through series of wars with Great Britain, France, Russia, and Japan. After being a super power for more than two thousand years, China became a victim of Imperialism.

In 1949, from the ashes of revolution, Mao Tse-tung became the victor when he defeated Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang. In the West, Mao is known as a brutal dictator. In China, however, he liberated the common people from warlords, and economic deprivation and domination by Imperial powers like Great Britain and France. He also made women equal to men. Because of actions like these, to most Chinese, it doesn’t matter that Mao’s Great Leap Forward and The Cultural Revolution killed thirty million people and caused great suffering.

Although I did not live in China during those times, my wife did. She was born in China and lived through The Cultural Revolution. As an adolescent, she survived the Red Guard and was sent to a labor camp for three years. When she came to America in the 1980s, she wrote about these experiences in her memoir, Red Azalea, and went on to write about Mao’s China in three more books: Katherine, Wild Ginger and Becoming Madame Mao. These four books do not paint a pretty picture of that era.

Yet, during one of our trips to China, she joined me to see Mao on display in his tomb in front of the Forbidden City. You see, in China, Mao is considered their George Washington, and that is how he is portrayed in the Chinese history books.

After all, the winners write history, and what counts is that China has become an economic miracle powered by a market economy with an expanding middle class. Both America and China burst into revolutionary flames and were reborn from the ashes of war.  America has had more than two hundred years to get where it is today. China has only had sixty years. Where do  you think China will be in another hundred and forty years?

Rebirth, Chinese Style

China is changing rapidly and every time I go, I discover evidence showing how fast. On the trip to Xian, we traveled eight hundred miles from Shanghai to Beijing by rail in a modern, sleeper car. We spent three days in Beijing before boarding a flight to Xian. This would be my third visit to the ancient, former capital of China. My first was in 1999.

Two hundred years before Christ, Xian was the capital for the first emperor of China. The city would remain a capital for most of the next eighteen-hundred years before the Ming Dynasty moved to Beijing.

After landing in Xian, we walked outside the new airport and saw a line of bright, tiny taxis.  There was one black taxi that looked like a limo. “We’re taking that one,” I said. I’m six-foot-four, and I was tired of being cramped.

We stayed with the same driver for three days. Sun Long’s first words were, “If you have heard about Xian’s bad reputation cheating tourists, it is my goal to change that.” 

Sun had served in the Chinese military for more than ten years as an embassy and consulate driver in a dozen countries in Europe and Africa. He didn’t speak English, but I understand he speaks other languages since he has many German tourists book him in advance.  

If you are not part of a tour group, you will want to hire Sun. If needed, trust him to find an interpreter to show you around. Our first night, he managed to get us great seats for a reasonable price next to the stage for a Tung Dynasty musical in a theater that looked like it had been airlifted from Las Vegas. The food was great.

The next day, Sun drove us the hour to the Terra-Cotta Army and the tomb of the first emperor, Qin-Shi Huangdi. Last time we visited Xian, we went on a two-lane road. This time, it was a freeway. Sun drove past the off ramp to the Terra Cotta Warriors. “I know a better way. This road has bumper to bumper cars, and it will take two hours to reach the tomb.” 

The other way was a road with no traffic. We arrived in fifteen minutes from a different direction.

 A new airport, the freeway, a city that has doubled its population since 1999, and a subway system under construction are a few of the things that have changed. We also saw McDonalds, KFC, and Starbucks. American food has arrived.

Sun said that the underground subway system was taking longer than expected since they kept running into the tombs of ancient emperors and had to go around. In today’s China, it is against the law to disturb an archeological site like an emperor’s tomb.

Our last day, we walked on Xian’s seventeen-mile medieval wall.

Sun even knows where you can buy a hamburger made from Mongolian, grass fed, organic beef. Here’s his cell-phone number: 136-0916-251

Leaving China With Open Eyes in 1984

This Blog has been moving to iLook China. As the posts are moved and revised, they will be deleted here until only two remain.


My wife landed in Seattle in 1984. She was born in China during the Cultural Revolution and was twenty-seven when she arrived in America. She came prepared for the worst with a suitcase full of toilet paper. The state controlled media in China fed the people twenty-seven years of propaganda saying the working class in America was treated like slaves by rich capitalists and were starving. When my wife saw overfed, brightly dressed Americans everywhere she went, she learned the truth.

Fast forward to 1999, my first trip to China. I expected to meet dour people dressed in dull, olive-green uniforms marching in lines like ants. To my surprise, I found the Chinese people as different as my wife found the Americans when she arrived in the United States fifteen years earlier.

Over time, I realized that the mass media in the West, including America, was not reporting an accurate picture of China. That’s still true today. Westerners have been and still are being spoon-fed propaganda from a biased Western perspective.

Since 1999, I’ve traveled to China often. When in China, I don’t hear much about the government there. Many Chinese don’t watch government TV either. There are choices now. The Chinese people are connecting to the Worldwide Web and will soon outnumber the population of North America on the Internet if it hasn’t already happened.

There are a few points to think about before you believe what you read or hear from our media.

1. America is considered the only super power on the earth today.    

2. China was a super power for more than two thousand years. During the Han Dynasty, China was more powerful and technologically advanced than the Roman Empire at its strongest. It was the West and Japan that knocked China off its throne starting with the Opium Wars during the 19th century and ending with World War II.

3. This year, China moved past Japan to become the second biggest economy on earth.

4. China moved seven places this year to rank as the 92nd most developed country in the world due to improvements in education as well as income levels and life expectancy. This ranking comes from the UN Development Programme (UNDP) index that ranks 182 countries.

5. The United States dropped one rank to the 13th spot.

6. China has several hundred nuclear weapons and the largest army on earth close in size to that of the United States. They are modernizing their navy and air force and America is selling them advanced technology to do it.

7. China owns more than one trillion in U.S. debt, and is investing several hundred billion dollars in US companies annually.

8. China is considered the “factory floor of the world”.

9. The Chinese tend to work harder, longer hours for less and save more than people from other countries do.

What is your image of China?

The Truth about China’s Media–So What?

This Blog has been moving to iLook China. As the posts are moved and revised, they will be deleted here until only two remain.


There are two Chinas, and I’m not talking about Taiwan. I’m talking about the Communist Party, the only legitimate political party in China, and its membership of seventy million compared to the rest of China, the other 1.3 billion Chinese that have little or no say in the daily decisions made by the government. 

Beijing Today”, with a reported circulation of fifty thousand, is the capital of China’s only English weekly newspaper and is published under the auspices of the Information Office of the Beijing Municipal Government and run by Beijing Youth Daily. The Beijing Youth Daily newspaper, with a reported circulation of six hundred thousand, is controlled by the Communist Youth League.

 It is no secret that the Communist government of China is notorious for altering historical facts to suit their purposes, and to censor others that disagree with the party-line.

 In the multi-party democratic west, we call that censorship. In China it is an entirely different thing. It is saving face and maintaining dignity or increasing face by altering the facts a bit or a lot. It’s a case of a government making sure that the history books are all politically correct and paint only a positive, glowing image. Since losing face is embarrassing in China, don’t expect things to change soon. The Chinese have been like this for thousands of years.

The Chinese government is not in the business of telling the ‘real story’ to embarrass themselves. The Chinese doctor that reported the SARS epidemic now lives under house arrest, and it was debated if he should be executed or not.

 My wife has said that in China when the government prints or says one thing, the rest of the people believe the opposite.

When Sterling Seagrave wrote ‘Dragon Lady’, refuting many of the facts in Chinese history textbooks still studied in Chinese public schools, he was denied entry into China using his American passport. Lucky him, he also had an Australian passport. He went anyway.

 In “Around the Block” a memoir by Stephanie Elizondo Griest (she worked for one of the English language Communist Party publications in China at one time while living in Beijing), the Chinese people she worked with were proud of their self-censorship (doing what it takes to save face–my words, not Stephanie’s).

2008 China Trip

This Blog has been moving to iLook China. As the posts are moved and revised, they will be deleted here until only two remain.


Part 1

To understand China, we will start with modern China before we travel back in time.

Why am I doing this?  Simple. When the 2008-2009 school year started, our daughter returned home one day to tell us that her history teacher talked about China and said the people in China had to be very depressed to live under a totalitarian government like the Communists.

When our daughter attempted to disagree, the teacher and the entire class put her down, so she shut up.

My daughter was born in Chicago and grew up speaking English. Her mother, my wife, was born in Shanghai and survived Mao’s Cultural Revolution (which killed thirty million). My wife came to the United States in the 1980s when she was twenty-eight. Our daughter has been to China more than thirty times during her seventeen years, and she speaks fluent Mandarin and has been learning Spanish for the last four years.

I wanted to go and straighten that ignorant American teacher out with the truth, but my wife and daughter said not to stir the pot (very Chinese). I’ve been to China many times and have never seen the people depressed like I’ve seen here in the country of my birth. I was born in Southern California soon after World War II. My ancestors come from Ireland, England and Europe.

Other than Western media reports, when in China, you hear little about the government unless you listen to the official, government media. The people are too busy living life and enjoying it to be bothered by a government that is doing all it can to raise the standard of living for 1.3 billion Chinese. I see more depression and anger in America than I have seen in China.

There are seventy million communists in China and more than a billion people that love life and live it to the fullest without chasing one material thing after another with credit card debt.  

As an example, my wife has an American-born friend from her days at the Chicago Art Institute that broke into tears once because she couldn’t buy a two thousand dollar jacket. I’ve never seen or heard of that type of behavior in China. I’m sure it happens, but I haven’t witnessed it. Most Chinese live simple lives in simple, but crowded, surroundings. Over the years, I’ve discovered that family, friends and gaining an education are more important to most Chinese than buying material junk.

This link will take you to 2008 China Trip Part 2