The cover featured a female Chinese performer adorned in a traditional Chinese opera outfit, complete with full make-up of pinkish white. There was a headline that read, simply, “This is the China I Saw,” a short teaser to a 48-page article written by a Danish journalist named Jorgen Bisch about a country that, at the time, was not seen by many who lived in the West.
As I read through the piece and the many colorful spreads, I wondered how Bisch’s feature article could help me make sense of my own China Road Trip during the 2008 Olympic Games. What, aside from offering a base for comparison showing
The obvious and simple contrasts are certainly there. Bisch toured
Conversely, I will be among the estimated 500,000 foreigners, including 30,000 journalists, roaming the Chinese streets. Though my e-mails might still be read and some websites I try to access blocked, I do not expect a dozen officials carrying out duties of annoyance around me. As opposed to Bisch’s hesitant drivers, I will probably be encouraged to ride through the many new subway stations to my heart’s content, just so I may catch a glimpse of the new and supposedly better and more sophisticated
All of these contrasts, to be sure, are interesting to read, especially to the many general readers who might not know very much about
But realities are rarely classified neatly, and as hard as the Chinese regime may have tried and still try, it is difficult to sever history completely from the present and the future. In
One must bear in mind that changes are sometimes reactions, affirmations, breaks, or connections (or all of the above) to the past. After all, when the Ming Dynasty rulers built the
Revealingly, in all of these cases, rulers, political figures, and architects managed to use the
On Bisch’s six-week
As I explore Beijing and capture its modern and historic urban scene, hit up the glitzy financial capital of Shanghai, tour the rural villages away from the coast, take a train ride with domestic migrants into the crowded and complicated social scene of Chongqing, revisit the international trading port of Guangzhou of yesteryear, and examine how life has changed in Hong Kong eleven years after the British left town, I will keep Bisch’s trip in mind.
And, in doing so, I hope my China trip and the reports that I file will go beyond the “transformation snapshots” narrative, and instead reveal what, exactly, the Chinese have in mind when they think of the 2008 Olympics and the new buildings, social norms, and feelings that come with it.
“You may photograph whatever you like,” Marshal Chen Yi, China’s Vice Premier and Foreign Minister, told Bisch at the time of his visit. Though Bisch had some trouble taking Chen’s invitation literally, I fully intend to take up on the Vice Premier’s offer.