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Coming Home to China

Coming Home to China

Yi-Fu Tuan
Copyright Date: 2007
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 184
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  • Book Info
    Coming Home to China
    Book Description:

    In 2005, distinguished geographer Yi-Fu Tuan ventured to China to speak at an architectural conference, returning for the first time to the place he had left as a child sixty-four years before. In this enchanting volume, Tuan's childhood memories and musings on the places he encountered during his homecoming are interspersed with new lectures, engaging principles of human geography and the changing Chinese landscape.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-5431-4
    Subjects: Geography

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. The Long Flight
    (pp. 1-4)

    7:15 a.m. Bob Sack came to pick me up. His offer to do so was comforting, for I never could trust the cab to arrive on time. The morning was clear and cool, which meant I didn’t worry quite so much about bad weather holding up or—worse—canceling the X ight. Bob, rather than dropping me off at the airport, came in to see me off. A-Xing was already there. Seeing him immediately lifted my spirit. He is a seasoned international traveler. He lives in Madison and teaches at the University of Wisconsin, but also has a research position...

  5. Beijing: First Impressions
    (pp. 5-8)

    We circled over Beijing for a half hour so that we could arrive on time at 9:25 p.m. As the plane hovered a few hundred feet above the runway, I looked out of the window and saw a dark night scene with scattered low-lying houses. That was the China I expected to find, for that was the China I had left behind. Still drowsy, I recalled the smell of manure and the noise of croaking frogs that dark night on the outskirts of Chongqing so long ago. The bump our airplane made as it touched ground woke me from my...

  6. A Walk in the Neighborhood and a Gustatory Shock
    (pp. 9-14)

    A-Xing and I thought we needed exercise. A morning walk around the hotel’s neighborhood, we thought, would be good for us, even though the day, already turning warm and muggy, discouraged it. I was curious as to what I would see and how I would respond. I expected skyscrapers. Nevertheless I was jarred by their presence in a city that, fifty years ago, was a timeless cosmic diagram. A few of the buildings were ultramodern, by which I mean they aspired to lines and shapes that worked against intuition. For example, a building’s flank might flare outward as it rose,...

  7. The Summer Palace
    (pp. 15-20)

    A university car came at 8:30 a.m. to take A-Xing and me to the Summer Palace. The Summer Palace dates back to the twelfth century and assumed roughly its present configuration in 1749. British and French troops destroyed it in 1860. In 1886, the Dowager Empress Cixi (1861–1908) rebuilt the garden and gave it its present name, Yeheyuan—Garden of the Preservation of Harmony. Foreign troops destroyed it one more time in 1900. Again, Cixi had it rebuilt, using money that was originally designated for the navy. Preservation of Harmony? There was precious little human harmony in the garden’s...

  8. A Speech to Architects: A Tour de Force?
    (pp. 21-42)

    One reason I decided to go back to China was an invitation to speak at an architectural conference. Its theme was “Topophilia and Topophobia,” a catchy title under which architects and planners could explore the extraordinary transformation of cities such as Beijing and Shanghai from traditional to modern and, in the past ten years, to postmodern. I was invited, I believe, because two of my early books,Topophilia(1974) andSpace and Place(1977), became fairly in X uential in the training of planners, architects, and landscape architects. I was even credited with the word “topophilia,” an honor I do...

  9. A Busy Day with a Satisfactory Ending
    (pp. 43-46)

    The next morning, I met with another young female reporter in the hotel lobby. (I should slap my own face, Chinese style, for not remembering their names.) We chatted easily in Chinese. She told me that the average age of the magazine staff was only twenty-seven and that although the magazine was new, she and her fellow workers hoped it would soon be recognized as the ChineseNew Yorker.Here is something I noted again and again on this trip—the energy and optimism of the young, their aspirations for themselves and for their country. What they aspired to was...

  10. Another Hotel and a Campus Tour
    (pp. 47-50)

    I packed in the morning in preparation for the move from the Friendship Hotel to the Jingshi Hotel at Beijing Normal University. The architectural conference was to end in the afternoon, and I had planned on listening to Xing Ruan’s talk titled “Discerning the Good in China’s Modern Architecture.” The good. What the concept meant in life and, more narrowly, in architecture was a question of engrossing interest to me. Whereas I attended some presentations more from politeness than from curiosity, my desire to be at Ruan’s was intellectually motivated. Unfortunately, the lecture was held up, and after forty-five minutes...

  11. Showing Off in Chinese and English
    (pp. 51-68)

    Xie Yun, dean of the College of Earth Science, and Zuo Yi-Ou, one of the student-translators from the evening before, escorted A-Xing and me to the auditorium, which I was told, sat around four hundred. We walked into a sea of faces—students and faculty from Beijing Normal, Bei Da, and Tsinghua—and, to my surprise, applause. In other parts of the world, only heads of state and rock stars could expect this kind of welcome. In China, throbbing with the dynamism of modernity and yet in some ways still traditional, it would appear that mere age wrapped in bloated...

  12. My Student Guides
    (pp. 69-78)

    Saturday was a regular workday in Beijing. But Sunday was a day of rest and recreation, and the State Laboratory for Resource and Environmental Information System dispatched a car and two students to take me to the Great Wall. I had already met the students, Zhi Cheng and Zuo Yi-Ou, for they were the principal translators of my lecture on humanistic geography. They were chosen then for their command of Chinese. Now, as my tour guides, they also had to have an intimate knowledge of the city and the ability to speak English. Both of my young guides were born...

  13. Lecture and Tours in Beijing
    (pp. 79-96)

    I was scheduled to give an informal talk to faculty and students at the Institute of Geographical Sciences. Any talk is “formal” to me, so I took the trouble of writing it up with the intention of reading from the prepared text. Almost at the last moment, I thought it a good idea to have the paper translated into Chinese so that the English and Chinese versions could be delivered alternately, as had happened at Beijing Normal University. Once more students were drafted to help. They came even though the request reached them without warning on a Sunday afternoon, when...

  14. Good-bye Beijing, Hello Chongqing
    (pp. 97-104)

    We were to depart for Chongqing late in the afternoon. As the morning was still free, A-Xing suggested that we visit a popular shopping plaza next to the old Foreign Legation Quarter. The name of the plaza? Wang Fu Jing. There is, as with so many Chinese places, a story behind it. I am not sure who Wang Fu was, probably a successful entrepreneur. In any case, a Wang Fu Street existed in the Yuan dynasty (1279–1368). When a well (jing) was discovered there in the Ming dynasty, the name was changed to Wang Fu Jing. By the late...

  15. Touring “Authentic” Chongqing
    (pp. 105-110)

    Rather than have a fancy breakfast in our hotel, which was what we did in Beijing, A-Xing called us to adventure. He suggested that we (that is, he, his family, and I) go out and try one of the food stalls that lined the busy streets. As soon as we stepped out of the cool fragrance of the hotel lobby, we plunged into a world of humid heat and sour odors, the milieu of the poor impinging on the milieu of the rich so characteristic of cities in developing countries. We soon found a food stall, a modest establishment of...

  16. Revisiting My Childhood: Nankai Middle School
    (pp. 111-124)

    At ten the next morning, A-Xing and I had an appointment with Song Po, the principal of Nankai Middle School. When we met, I thought he was about the age of my older graduate students. Increasingly, even the most responsible members of society—professors, deans, directors, and principals—looked preternaturally young. One advantage of being old is that I am now less self-conscious and socially diffident. We sat down to tea in the reception room. A brief ceremony of gift exchange followed: the principal gave me a book that celebrated the one hundredth anniversary of the school, and I presented...

  17. First Day on the Yangtze River
    (pp. 125-128)

    I woke up a little after six and looked out of the porthole to see the Yangtze River X owing by and beyond it green hills. For a moment, I was flooded with the wonder and pure happiness of a child.

    What happened? My guess is that a set of circumstances came together that is unlikely ever to be repeated. Having slept well—a rare occurrence at my age—played a role, and that itself requires an explanation. That first night on the riverboat, I tucked myself in between the clean sheets of my small but comfortable bed and twitched...

  18. Second Day on the Yangtze River
    (pp. 129-134)

    A side tour up the Shennong River, a tributary of the Yangtze, first by ferry, then by sampan, was the scheduled adventure of the second day. Given my poor showing on the previous day, I decided not to go. What if I had to “go to the bathroom” while on the sampan?

    All guests disembarked, including the Zhu family. For the next couple of hours, I had the riverboat and its efficient staff to myself. I was to know briefly what it meant to be royalty, alone in my palace, my every wish catered to by hovering servants. I luxuriated...

  19. Stopover in Yichang
    (pp. 135-138)

    The riverboat attendants put on their final fancy costumes to perform the Dragon Dance as we passengers disembarked at Yichang. We were about to leave our world of affluence for one of poverty, for on the dock, we encountered porters, both male and female, gathered in large numbers, shouting and waving their arms to catch our attention. I was amazed to see that a porter, with just a short stick and strands of rope, could carry so many suitcases and bags. I was also pained that my fellow humans should fight for this backbreaking job. The five of us—the...

  20. Shanghai: Old Memories and New Experiences
    (pp. 139-146)

    My family lived in Shanghai between August 1937 and July 1938. I was six to seven years old. I can’t remember much from that period, yet certain images have stayed with me for reasons I cannot fathom. In one, I am sturdily refusing to hold my cousin’s hand, as we children were told to do, in a group photograph of eighteen cousins who all happened to be in Shanghai in 1938. Normally a well-behaved and obedient child, why did I refuse? I was dissatisfied with something, and it could be that I didn’t like to be placed at the outer...

  21. Last Day: Food Poisoning and Conversation
    (pp. 147-150)

    I woke up in the early hours of the morning, feeling ill. I rushed to the bathroom and vomited on the floor and on my T-shirt before I could quite reach the toilet bowl. Again and again, I had to bend over it. At seven, as we had agreed on the previous night, A-Xing called me from his room to ask whether I was ready for breakfast. When I told him about my throwing up, he said that Samuel was similarly afflicted. Both of us had had several servings of “dragon-well prawns,” which were undercooked but delicious—delicious because undercooked....

  22. To the Airport and Home
    (pp. 151-154)

    If A-Xing had not called me at 6:30, as he promised, I would have slept soundly on, a sign that I was free of the worst effects of food poisoning. The cabdriver told us that, before the construction of the freeway, it would have taken us two to three hours to get to Pudong/Shanghai International Airport. The time now was more likely to be three-quarters of an hour. “But, of course, if you really like speed,” he added, “the speed train—the fastest in the world—would have taken only seven minutes, though you might need an hour to get...

  23. Reflections
    (pp. 155-176)

    Welcomed home by a Chinese student! Don’t I have the right to expect an American student? I know the wrongheadedness of the question, for I never sought to be met: I had made no prior arrangement because, after all, Madison is home; I am familiar with it, I don’t need any help. A-Xing had seen how sick I was, however, which was why he had asked Qiguang to meet me. I was happy to see him, happier than I thought likely. That could only mean that, in the depth of my being, after a journey abroad of this length I...

  24. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 177-178)
  25. Back Matter
    (pp. 179-179)