Chinese New Year 春节: The Nightmare of Going Home

Chinese New Year

The Nightmare of Going Home

By Train

The New Year Rush
The New Year Rush

Getting train tickets in China has always been a hit and miss operation, especially if you want sleeper berths for long distance trains. At Chinese New Year, getting a ticket becomes something akin to winning the lottery.

Train Mayhem
Train Mayhem

This BBC clip sums the situation up quite well, and shows the growing divide between the haves and have nots in modern China, where just having access to a computer is an advantage。

We've got a seat!
We’ve got a seat!
Glad to be home
Glad to be home

Shangri-La goes up in Flames: The End of Zhongdian/ Dukezong

Shangri-La goes up in Flames

The End of Zhongdian/ Dukezong

Old Zhongdian / Dukezong
Old Zhongdian / Dukezong

Reports from the Chinese Press and Western News agencies talk of the Tibetan town of Dukezong (previouly Zhongdian) being destroyed by fire. It appears that the fire started in a backpacker hostel though this still has to be confirmed.

Old Zhongdian /Dukezong
Old Zhongdian /Dukezong

Memories of Zhongdian
Our first attempt to visit the town in 1991 was thwarted when the police pulled us of the bus just after Tiger Leap Gorge and sent us back to Lijiang. Zhongdian/ Dukezong was still apparently closed to Foreigners then. Eventually, we got there in 2007 on our way to Tibet.

Ganden Sumtsellin Gompa not destroyed by the fire in Zhongdian/Dukezong
Ganden Sumtselling Gompa not destroyed by the fire in Zhongdian/Dukezong

When we visited in 2007 we found an old wooden town (surrounded by a drab new town) that had been well-restored with a low key and laid back feel. There were some wonderful old Tibetan mansions around town as well as some nice bars and cafes in the old buildings. We especially remember Continue reading “Shangri-La goes up in Flames: The End of Zhongdian/ Dukezong”

Sangzi Village Hunan Province: And I thought my Journey to class was bad

Climbing to school (photo from video)

Sangzi Village Hunan Province: Climbing to School

I’d always complained about my journey to work at the University in Madrid. Everyday, having to face the over-crowded underground transporting its cargo of stressed out passengers.  Sweaty and smelly in the summer; germ infested in the winter; it’s standing room only most days. Compounding the misery, there are the strikes and demonstrations, that might delay your journey by up to an hour (and Madrid has one of the world’s best underground systems). Then I saw this video and since then I have I gone into Zen mode. I don’t moan or complain anymore.

School Ladders (photo from video)

I just say to myself how lucky I am. My gripes were nothing more than that of a privileged urbanite who has no idea as to what lengths other people have to go to in order to get an education.

Climbing to School (photo from Video)

It’s an amazing short video.

See in English:

Linxingjianhui 临刑见会 / The Ex(ecution) Factor gets the Chop

The Ex(ecution) Factor gets the Chop


Linxingjianhui 临刑见会

One of China’s favorite TV shows has been axed. The programme, Linxingjianhui 临刑见会, which we can loosely translate as Interviews Before Execution”, or much better, “Dead Men Talking”, is a programme in which prisoners on death row are interviewed, often only a few hours/ minutes before they are killed by a bullet to the back of the neck, or a lethal injection.

The programme was the brain child of the journalist and presenter Ding Yu.

The presenter Ding Yu

“Dead Men Talking” had been running on a Henan TV Channel, unnoticed by the wider world, for a number of years; building up a domestic audience of more than 40 million regular viewers and turning the glamorous Miss Ding Continue reading “Linxingjianhui 临刑见会 / The Ex(ecution) Factor gets the Chop”

Is History repeating itself? Wukan and the Hai-lufeng Soviet

Is History repeating itself?  Wukan and the Hai-lufeng Soviet

The recent reports about the protests in the village of Wukan in Guangdong Province say that the village is continuing to resist the authorities. The police are surrounding the village and an uneasy standoff  is taking place. Out of curiosity I looked up Wukan on Google Maps, and to my surprise I found it was right smack in the area of Lufeng.

As part of my Chinese History Degree at SOAS (London School of Oriental and African Studies) we did a course called Peasants and Revolution, a study of peasant revolutions and rebellions throughout China’s turbulent history.  Special emphasis was focused on how Mao Zedong 毛泽东 was able to galvanize the peasants and convert them into the vanguard of the Chinese Revolution.

Mao was not the first Chinese Communist to discover the potential force of the peasants to serve the Chinese Communist revolution. Another was Peng Pai 澎湃. Peng fired up the peasants in the area of Haifeng and Lufeng during the 1920’s。 In 1927 he created the first ever Soviet, the Hai-lufeng Soviet. One of Peng’s first and foremost objectives was to single out landowners, the rich and corrupt officials and brutally kill them. Something he did with amazing efficiency until the Soviet was crushed by Chiang Kai Shek’s Nationalist forces.

What must the current Chinese leadership be thinking when again they see the area of Lufeng at the forefront of anti-official protests? Perhaps the killing in police custody of the village representative, Xue Jinbo, was an attempt to avoid another Peng Pai from arising out of the protests?
Is history repeating itself?

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Burgundy-Clad Heroes Airbrushed And Kicked Out

Tibetan Monks In central Yushu 2009

Reading foreign news reports about the Yushu earthquake, it was clear that large numbers of Tibetan monks had participated in the rescue efforts in the aftermath of the disaster. If, however, you had only relied on the Chinese state media, you would never have known they were there. In a classic case of Communist style photo-shopping that would make Mao proud, the Tibetan monks have been airbrushed from the picture. In the Chinese media, you can only see Han Chinese rescue workers and the Peoples’ Army, rescuing hapless and grateful Tibetans from the ruins.

To add insult to injury, the government is now actually ordering the monks out of Yushu, for fear that these burgundy-clad heroes might become too popular in an area where 97% of the population is ethnically Tibetan. Most of the monks have come from the neighbouring province of Sichuan, from the huge monasteries of Serxu/Serchul and those around Ganzi. These monasteries are known for their devotion to the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. Something we witnessed last year.

Yushu Main Street 2009

The pity is that the earthquake might have served to bring about a better understanding between the Han Chinese and the Tibetans. Instead, most Chinese will never know that the monks where there helping, and the Tibetans will again feel that the Chinese are now going to move in and control the area even more tightly than before.

There have been very few personal accounts of the tragedy in Yushu. But Losang, the creator of the Land of Snows Website, has written a first- hand account of how he and his family were caught in the earthquake.

Click here:

Thrangu Monastery Destroyed

The reports I have heard from Yushu say that  Thrangu Monastery has been almost completely destroyed and many of the monks are missing.

We spent a wonderful evening at Thrangu Gompa being shown the fantastic murals and wall paintings that had been recently painted by master painters from Tongren. The monks were so enthusiastic and proud of their monastery. We can only hope that they and the paintings  have survived.

Yushu Earthquake

For anybody who has been following our blog over the last few months, you will know that we were in Yushu and the surrounding area last year. It is one of the most stunning and fascinating areas of China we’ve visited.

It’s difficult to express how we feel at the moment. Sitting here in the comfort of our flat in Madrid, the catastrophe in Yushu seems a world a way, and yet so close. We can only hope that the people we met and their families have survived this tragedy.

Yushu is Open

The Tibetan town of Yushu in Qinghai province is completely open (August 2009). There had been several reports that it was closed, or travel in and around the town was being severly restricted. We found it very open and relaxed with no limits on where we could travel so long as we didn’t try to cross into actual Tibet. The only thing banned was the annual horse racing festival.  The authorities apprantly feared what might happen if thousands of Tibetans got together.

The new airport had opened too. With either daily or twice weekly flights (depending on who you asked) for around 1,100 yuan to 1,300 Yuan for a one way ticket.

The 18.00 luxury sleeper bus (16 hours) is probably the best way to get to Yushu. However, the ride is made uncomfortable by the heavy smoking of your fellow passengers. The drivers all smoke as well despite signs everywhere saying it is prohibited. Avoid the last seats on a sleeper bus as you are cramped into a very tight and claustrophobic space at the back with 5 other people.