When China began building its amazing high speed rail system in the early 2000s, Hu Jintao was the leader of China. As with all leaders, he had a slogan or catchphrase that was used (ad nauseum) to symbolize his rule. With Hu Jintao, the slogan was “build a harmonious society.” For his 8 years in power, the word harmony and harmonious were ubiquitous; so much so, in fact, that to this day I still find myself wincing whenever I hear the words.
Even the high-speed rail system got in the act, and the trains were labeled “Hexie Hao”. There’s no good way to translate that term, as it applies to a train, but let’s just call it the Harmony Express.
“Welcome aboard the Harmony Express. The next station is Shanghai.”
In 2011 Hu Jintao stepped down and was replaced at the top of China’s political system by Xi Jinping. His slogan is “national rejuvenation.”
And just like that the train that I was on this earlier this week, which sped along at 200 mph, was now called the Rejuvenation Express.
“Welcome aboard the Rejuvenation Express. The next station is Beijing!”
New leader; new railway slogan!
So, How Fast is this Train?
Hurtling Across the Countryside
200 kph Uphill
On my last few visits to China, I have noticed an interesting phenomenon — the conversion of 3-wheeled motorcycles commonly used by the elderly and handicapped into what I can only describe as fake cars. Someone is making serious money converting these 3-wheeled motorcycles into vehicles that look like they want to be cars when they grow up.
Because they aren’t registered as cars, it seems that most traffic rules don’t apply to them. They can zip up and down the streets and/or sidewalks!
Here are some of the fake cars I spotted on the streets of Beijing earlier this month.
Next time you’re in China, keep your eyes peeled for the fake cars!
In February of 2001, the International Olympic Committee made their final inspection visit to Beijing to see if the city would be up to hosting the 2008 Olympics. In preparation for that visit, the city got a major “spruce-up.” Office and apartment buildings that had been a dull gray since their construction decades before were painted bright colors. Well, three sides of the buildings were painted — only the ones that face the highways that the Committee members would travel on. Every surface of the city was scrubbed clean.
My personal favorite was the grass. During a stroll through Tiananmen Square I noticed that the newly installed grass was green. “Green grass in February?” I was puzzled. Upon closer inspection I discovered that the entire “lawn” had been spray-painted green.
I thought of that today when I read this post in the The Beijinger about the city’s current effort to “greenify” in the run-up to the Communist Party Congress that will be held next month. All the power boxes are being covered with fake vines:
As the British say, “BRILLIANT!”
Where the Grass is Greener
A Grassy Knoll
Photo: The Beijinger
In the Beijing neighborhood that I stayed in last week, I noticed a wall covered with propaganda paintings (in the US, we might call them “public service announcements”). I’m always fascinated by these paintings and/or posters as they give a glimpse into what the leaders are concerned about and what the leaders think the people should be concerned about.
These propaganda paintings are typically done in the style of “socialist realism” — sturdy, square-jawed hero conquering whatever difficulty lies before them.
But these were different. In terms of color and style, they seemed to be evoking traditional Buddhist art instead of socialist realism. I know that the government has been on a campaign to promote traditional culture and cultural values; this was the first I had seen it reflected artistically in propaganda.
Here are a few examples:
More on Slogans
Slogans That Changed China
Slogans That Probably Won’t Change China
When I moved back to the States 5 years ago, I envisioned returning to China often, so even though I closed up my apartment and shipped nearly all of my belongings, I left behind at a friend’s house a small blue bag with some items I didn’t want to haul back and forth. Think toiletries and a hair dryer.
It’s been convenient because whenever I do go to Beijing I stay with that friend, and she always greets me at the door with my blue bag!
Last Sunday morning, as I was preparing to leave Beijing and fly back to Minnesota, my friend said to me, “See you next time. As long as your blue bag is here, I know you’re coming back!”
And of course she’s right!
Last night while at a restaurant with friends in Beijing, I had one of those quintessential China interactions. It was beastly hot, so I ordered a can of Coke to go with my meal.
The waitress responded, “hot or cold?”
Lest you think she was off her rocker, hot coke is a thing here!
Not the Real Thing
China celebrates International Women’s Day every year on March 8. Usually what that means is women in the workplace are hosted to a lunch or perhaps given the afternoon off. When I taught at a university in China, my classes were in the morning, so I always felt a bit cheated when the school officials proudly announced that we didn’t have to work in the afternoon.
When I lived in Beijing I occasionally got to attend a Women’s Day luncheon, hosted for foreign women in the city at the Great Hall of the People, China’s main government building. The event was held in the banquet hall, which can host a sit-down banquet for 10,000 people!
As you can see, this photo was taken awhile ago. The waitresses are all soldiers isn the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
I always enjoyed the chance to visit this historic place where President Nixon dined with Premier Zhou En-lai in 1972.
While visiting a Temple Fair in Beijing during Spring Festival one year, I spotted this street performer having a rest on a park bench. I love the colors.