Random Observations from a Short Visit to Beijing

Earlier this month I got to spend two weeks back in Beijing, my former “home town.” My primary reason for the trip was to spend time with a friend undergoing cancer treatment, but I was also able to get out and about to connect with local friends as well.


Here are six random observations noted during my time there:

  1. I talked with academics, house church leaders, Three-Self leaders, and ordinary Christians about their understanding of the church and cross demolition campaign in Wenzhou. None of them believes that it is part of a nationwide crackdown on Christianity; rather, it is a local campaign borne out of the unique political and religious conditions in that province.
  1. There seem to be 2 general responses among Christians. One is that the campaign is an unjust one, and therefore Christians must stand in solidarity with their brothers and sisters in Wenzhou and resist this persecution. Another is that God will use this incident as a means to “winnow” redirect the Wenzhou churches back to the Gospel.
  1. Social media has exploded in China, thanks to the popularity of We Chat. It’s hard to imagine staying connected with Chinese friends without using this. Christians are using it as well, in ever-increasingly creative ways. (Stay tuned for a blog post about that!)
  1. Pollution has become a big deal. I don’t mean that the pollution is necessarily worse than it has been in the past; it’s just that people today are aware that the murky air is smog (the government used to tell them it was just fog), and they are becoming more and more unhappy about it. It is increasingly a reason given for wanting to emigrate.
  1. Things seem to be getting tighter in the area of regulations for foreigners working in China. Special arrangements for visas that have been the norm for years are being discontinued. It is not always the case that there are new regulations; rather regulations that have long been ignored are now being enforced. Many foreign enterprises (especially the NGO variety) are having to re-think how they operate.
  1. Christians are continuing to push the boundaries, whether by doing evangelism via WeChat or live-streaming church services.
  2. Transportation is much more expensive. Gone is the “2 yuan to anywhere” subway fare. 
  3. It still has some of the best food in the world!
  4. It’s still as nutty as ever, and that’s why I love it!!

Note: This is an edited version of a post that was originally published at ChinaSource on February 25.

Nixon in China, 43 Years Ago

Forty-three years ago this week, President Richard Nixon made his historic visit to China. It was 1972, and I was a junior high student at Karachi American School in Karachi, Pakistan. I remember our social studies teacher taking us to the US Consulate where we were able to watch news reports of the visit (some live, some taped). Even as a young teenager I knew it was a momentous occasion.


Of course no one knew at the time (probably not even Nixon himself) how much things would change, not simply in regards to US-China relations, but within China itself over the next 40 years. And I certainly never imagined that I would spend a good portion of my adult life living there!

What we also didn’t know at the time was that Pakistan had played an important role in the trip. The year before, Henry Kissinger had feigned an illness during a visit to the country, and while the world thought he was resting in his hotel, he snuck onto a plane and flew to China to lay the groundwork for the trip. 

Since Chairman Mao was still alive at that time (barely), the changes wouldn’t come right away. Following his death in 1976, and the rise to power of Deng Xiao-ping, however, China would set out to re-invent itself. It’s doubtful that they could have done that without a re-engagement with the world; and the Nixon visit and the subsequent re-establishment of diplomatic relations with the United States was the first step in that re-engagement.

The website All Day has posted a collection of photos of Nixon’s visit. This one is my favorite. Wouldn’t you love to know what the President was thinking as he stared intently at his chopsticks? (“Oh no, not kung pao chicken again!”)


If you’re interested in reading more about this historic week and the changes that followed, I’d recommend the following excellent books:

Nixon and Mao: The Week That Changed the World, Margaret Macmillan.

Nixon and Mao: The Week That Changed the World


About Face: A History of America’s Curious Relationship with China, from Nixon to Clinton, by James Mann.

About Face: A History of America's Curious Relationship with China, from Nixon to Clinton

On China, by Henry Kissinger

On China

Image Sources: wikipedia, allday.com.

Smoking in the Park

I recently stumbled across this short video of things you see people doing in a park in Beijing. Parks in Beijing (and any other cities in China) are where retirees go to hang out. They sing, dance, play cards, and, apparently smoke. A lot!

Seeing all the smoking brought to mind a conversation I had with a tour bus driver in Beijing last year as we were standing around waiting for the group I was leading to board the bus. I had told him that I lived in Beijing for 15 years and he asked me to comment on all the changes I’d seen. Since it was a particularly smoggy day, I mentioned the pollution.

That set him off on a rant about how bad the pollution was and how the government wasn’t doing anything about it and how it was making people sick….all the while puffing away on a cigarette!

“Wait a minute,” I said to him…”you’re standing there fussing about air pollution while smoking a cigarette??”

He chuckled sheepishly.

I have long thought that in a country where upwards of 70% of the male population smokes, the uproar over the smog seems a bit misplaced!

Related Posts:

No Smoking!

No Smoking! Dream On!

No Smoking Room, Please

What are the Characters on that Sign?

Second-hand Smoke

Saturday in the Park

Singing in the Park

Friday Photo: Fireworks and Pollution

Wednesday was the eve of the Chinese New Year, the night that ushers in 15 straight days of shooting off fireworks. In the run-up to the holiday this year, I spotted a poster in a Beijing neighborhood reminding people that fireworks are a source of pollution.


It says (roughly) “How much healthy air is taken away when you set off fireworks?”

The characters in red say “When setting off fireworks, be legal, be civilized, be safe.” “Don’t set them off; set off fewer of them; protect to the environment.”

I missed out on the fun because I left Beijing late last week. Never mind; I can always watch this video taken from my apartment in in 2010 to be reminded of what I missed.

Happy Year of the Goat!! Or sheep. Or ram! Whatever. 


Friday Photo: Blue Doors of Kashgar

Ten years ago I had the privilege of making several trips to the city of Kashgar, in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

I was captivated by these bright blue doors in an otherwise drab neighborhood. As I took the picture two veiled women strolled by. It was only later that I noticed one of them was carrying a big knife!



I would not be able to take this photo today since the government has initiated an anti-terror campaign in Xinjiang whose measures include banning Muslim women from wearing veils.

You can read more about it in this excellent piece on the China File website: Why China is Banning Islamic Veils and Why It Won’t Work. 


Does Anybody Really Know What Time it is?

A Yak Attack

A Silk Road Oasis


Friday Photo: An Old-style Market

Most neighborhoods in Beijing now have gleaming supermarkets or big box stores such as Walmart or Carrefour, but there are still a few of these old-style markets scattered around town. I’m in Beijing for two weeks, and as it happens, am staying across the street from one. Stepping into this market is like stepping into China, circa 1992. I love it!

Beijing market