The Oecumene project is travelling in China between 2 June and 26 June 2013. Engin Isin is delivering lectures in Tsinghua (Beijing), Fudan (Shanghai), and Sun Yat-sen (Guangzhou) universities, and the Oecumene research group members are joining with seminars, workshops, and a conference. The research group is also engaged with a Sino-British research exchange programme supported by the Department of Business Innovation and Skills (UK) and Ministry of Education (China) managed by British Council in China. The aim of the programme is to exchange ideas and methods with which to investigate contemporary citizenship struggles.
Here on the Oecumene website we will share our impressions and reflections, the encounters that left imprints, on a daily basis during the journey.
Day One: Arrival in Beijing
We (nine members of the Oecumene research group) arrive in the imposing and massive Beijing International Airport in the early hours of 2 June. The terminal building of the airport looks like a triumph of modernism, with its mirrors and shapes that blends in with the surrounding rural or exurban landscape. Yet, what modernism came to symbolise in our contemporary integrated and connected world is an expression of desire, of having more of the same. Or, we reflect, could it be that it is a reflection of an increasingly globalised production of the built space? All the same, it is impossible to ignore what we were told by our British Airways captain about the mist surrounding the city. We didn't quite feel 'misty' captured it, thinking at best it was hazy, or perhaps smoggy. This so-called mist symbolised its familiarity of being at looked (i.e. industrial development) without being understood when situated within the glass encased international airport which supposedly links the uniform polluted grey skies of culturally distinct cities.
Having dealt with the modern vagaries of communication to ensure that we remain 'connected' we set out for our hotel close to Tsinghua University. After settling quickly in our hotel, we set out for the Forbidden City. We are not quite so intrigued by the prospect of joining international tourism on a relatively warm yet humid day. Yet, walking by the Tiananmen Square to reach the site of the Forbidden City and the passing through the site imposes itself indelibly on us – despite the haze. It is clear that nothing quite prepares one to experience the vast and monumental shape of the Tiananmen Square and the austere architecture that surrounds it. Nobody among us appear blasé when we walk through gate after gate of the spectacular buildings of the Forbidden City and read about the two dynasties and the emperors that built it.
Walking through the street of central Beijing doesn't compare to the Forbidden City experience. We are struck by the off kilter tempo of the quotidien street. Graceful city workers ride slowly by on bicycles. They pass expansive and massive skyscrapers, all blinking local languages in neon, at a frenetic pace. The city holds slow wisdom on the one hand and a rush of adrenaline in the other. All hands seem to be hospitably open.
Beijing is not a city whose complexity – it condensed layers of history and politics – can be captured by impressions. Yet, impressions is almost all what we have. As we embark on our exchange, we hope to place these impressions in proper context and against a nuanced background.
The day is done. We cap it with a restaurant serving up delicious Hangzhou region delicacies. We are ready to immerse ourselves in (or on) the Great China Wall before we prepare for the first seminar and the lecture at Tsinghua University on 4 June.
- The Oecumene Team, 2 June 2012