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October 12, 2005

We Participate in a Chinese Wedding!

The week of October 1 is one of Chinas three take-off-work holidays.

Most people are off work Monday through Friday, but have to work a weekend, so that the holiday is actually only three days. October 1 is Guoqing Jie, or National Holiday, and commemorates the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. The other two holidays are Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) and May Day.

Last year – it hardly seems as though it could be that long – Terry and I went to visit our friends in Zhengzhou. This year, we stayed in Nantong, except for a two-day outing to Shanghai to celebrate Rosh Hashanah (that other New Year). We came back from Shanghai in time to attend an event that we had eagerly awaited all year – the wedding celebration of our friends Tao Hong and Liu Zheng. I say “wedding celebration,” because it works differently here. Couples get their marriage license, at which point they are legally married, and then wait at least several months to have their big celebration. The first event is sort of like an “engagement” in the US, except that it is legally binding. Anyway, like museum openings and much else in China, lots of dramatics accompany wedding celebrations. The host was a combination of judge, stand-up comic, singer, poet, and magician. Life-size wedding photos decorated the hotel restaurant where the even was held. The beautiful bride changed dresses twice, wearing the three very different gowns for three different phases of the celebration.

We have been invited to several friends’homes for dinner, but this was our first invitation to a family event, and we were really excited about it. A little nervous, too. We did not have the opportunity to simply relax and enjoy the show. I was honored to be the “zhenghunren” (witness), which mean I had to give a 5-minute speech – in Chinese. This is the role normally played by a person's "lingdao" (work unit leader), but I don't think many foreigners actually have a chance to do so. After dinner, Terry sang her favorite wedding song, “Annie’s Song” (in English).

Four days later, we were invited to another wedding, but this time we just relaxed and enjoyed the show.

-- Norty

Posted by now at 01:28 PM

New Museum in Nantong

The weekend of October 1-2, the city of Nantong put on a series of events to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of China’s first homegrown museum and to celebrate the opening of a bigger and better museum next to the still-functioning original.

The events coincided with an international museum management conference and overlapped at some points (e.g., banquets) with a conference on foreign investment. I got an invitation to the latter (in which I wasn’t particularly interested) but had to solicit one – which the organizing committee gladly issued – to the museum celebration. In the morning, Terry and I attended the grand opening of the new museum and took the opening-day tour. They do these things with lots of fanfare in China – marching bands, fireworks, etc. The new museum is on a par qualitatively with the Shanghai City Museum, though considerably smaller. Our tour guide moved pretty fast, and we plan to return to savor the exhibits.

In the afternoon, there was a pretty boring panel discussion, in which a dozen speakers gave mostly the same speech about the biography of Zhang, the history of the museum, and the history of modern Nantong. Most of them also got in a few remarks about the “san ge dai biao” (usually translated as “the Three Represents”), former President Jiang Zemin’s nearly-inscrutable contribution to socialist theory. In the evening, there was a pleasant banquet.

We skipped the Friday evening tour boat ride on the Hao River, because we were tired, and the Sunday tour of other local museums, because I had to go to Nanjing for work and research. But we made several interesting new acquaintances on Saturday. During the museum tour, we met a young woman from Nantong who has worked in advertising in New York for the past six years. She happened to be back for a visit. We also met people in museum management from Beijing, Hong Kong, Taipei, and Singapore. The man from Taipei went into museum work after retiring from a career in engineering. His specialty is museums of “miniatures.” Most interesting was a Dutch couple we met in the morning and saw periodically during the day. The guy’s great-great uncle worked for Zhang Jian, taking responsibility for improving the navigability of the Yangzi River near Nantong. There is a statue of the great-great uncle on the bank of the Hao River, just across form the Youfei Hotel, where many out-of-towners stayed. Someone from the city government found the great-great nephew through an internet search, because he has the same name as his ancestor, and sent him an invitation to come for the celebration. They arraigned a special lunch where the Dutch couple could meet several of Zhang’s descendents.

Nantong is rightfully proud of its museum tradition and the museum’s founder, early-20th-century industrialist and civic booster Zhang Jiang. Zhang also founded China’s first technical college, its first woman’s college, and its first public library. He was vilified during the Cultural Revolution, but is treated as a model modernizer during the contemporary period of opening up and reform. In addition to a substantial scholarship in Chinese, several English-language books and articles have been published in recent years about various aspects of Zhang’s civic work. (I was able to add a local touch to my most recent journal article – on Chinese modernization – by referring to Zhang Jian and the growing scholarship about him.)

-- Norty

Posted by now at 01:26 PM

October 06, 2005

Trav's visit to China

We had a wonderful time with Trav when he visited us this summer. We met him in Beijing and spent four days there doing all the tourist stuff. Then we went to Qing Dao for two days, then Nanjing for a day, then on to Nantong for two days. We wound up in Shanghai just in time for Typhoon Matsa, and Trav went home from there. I have lots of pictures from the trip posted in the Photo Gallery. Take a look.

Posted by now at 09:38 AM