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Wild Goose Chase

CHINA | Thursday, 11 April 2013 | Views [284]

This blog starts out with a visit to the Chinese museum adjacent to Tianenmen Square, and then jumps around in space and time for a day or two, visiting a wild goose on the way.

The recent 150 years of history in the museum was blatant propaganda, starting with the Opium wars. Accepting my current limited knowledge (in this case a generous description) the British did not appear to help the situation, but the blame seemed to be equally allocated to the Emperor and the British. The English subtitles in the museum were much more sparce post-1840, so it was more targetted for Chinese consumption. There was no mention of Tianenmen Square or anything that might seem negative. Nevertheless, the country is definitely becoming more open, at least in a commercial sense. (Diverging for a moment to Tianenmen Square.. It was near our hotel and we went past it often, but most of the time it was closed to the public, with sentries everywhere, each standing next to a portable fire extinguisher - not sure why. Anyway, coming back to the hotel last night the square was open. We walked up towards the main flagpole, and they has put an Australian flag up beside the Chinese flag especially for us (well thats what we assumed as we could not see any other Australians). We were very pleased with the recognition of our visit.

After the museum we made our way (with some difficulty) to the Beijing art district in 798 St, and it is obvious that considerable freedom is being given there than would have been the case 30 years ago. We did not have a lot of time (we had to catch the overnight train to Xi'an) but the art there started as grafitti as soon as we entered the district. Most of it went over my head (physically, artistically, intellectually and politically), but I detected some implied criticism of the authorities in the art.

The museum had a section on the development of Buddhism, but made surprisingly little mention of confucius (though it is just possible in this large museum I missed it.) There is, less surprisingly, no mention of christianity or Judaism, though I did see a book in the bookshop on Jews in China - a long history apparently. We learned a bit more about BUddhism in Xi'an today (which is the titular reference to Wild Goose chase). The Wild Goose Monastery in India was visited by the Chinese buddhist around 700 (my guess) (The Silk Road started in Xi'an, making India fairly accessible. He spent 16 years there and returned to Xi'an and set up a monastery here, taking the name, Wild Goose. The pagoda is still standing. I met the current abbot. Apparently Buddhist monks have to complete a university degree before entering, and once accepted, they are well paid and drive good cars. There is certainly plenty of evidence of wealth in the monasteries. Our guide did talk about the apparent contradiction of the simplicity espoused in buddhism and the obvious wealth in the temple (which can also be seen in some areas of Christianity). BUddhists even have a special deity you can pray to for wealth.

China was well advanced in technology 2000 years ago, and had advanced irrigation systems running
perhaps a bit later than the Egyptians. The museum had a model of a bellows driven by a water wheel. The artisans were also very busy and produced some beautiful artifacts. There was a claim that weapons from 200BC showed evidence of chromium plating to retain sharpness. They developed paper and writing systems, and systems of government. They had a world leading economy for many centuries before it started to collapse. Why did that happen? The suggestion was that it was due to the excesses of the emperor leading to dissatisfaction in the people. There is plenty of evidence of that excess in the huge palaces and gardens for the exclusive use of the upper class, so that may well be a reasonable thesis. Today (in Xi'an) we went to the Terracotta Warriors, and again saw the extravagant use of resources by the emperor (in this case around 200BC). The place was huge, even with many of the areas still not excavated. Unfortunately our guide, though well meaning, did not have a good grasp of English so could not explain too much. She did mention to Sue that here Chinese visitors do not usually ask questions, but we did not take the hint and kept asking. (Actually, there is a bit more of a cultural story here. The driver met us at the train station and his English was excellent. However, he explained that he did not want to embarass the guide, so he was going to pretend that he only spoke Chinese when she arrived. He kept up that pretence all day, for her sake. Unfortunate for us, but very tho9ughtful on his part. She was only just changing over from being a guide for Chinese to being a guide for English.)

Our final activity for today was to cycle around the old city walls of Xi'an. The weather was perfect, the sky was blue, the birds were singing (well I am sure they would have sung if there were any birds around, but I didn't happen to see or hear them.) We rode the tandem around the top of the walls for a distance of 13.76km. Very easy cycling as the going was flat (except where there were pavers missing), and we took it slowly, stopping for photos on the way.





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