In November 2023, 2023 Yenching Scholars embarked on a week-long exploration through Chongqing and Sichuan, from the 12th to the 18th. This journey was an intricate blend of past and present, where we immersed ourselves in the ancient history and modern advancements of these regions. The trip provided a unique mix of educational experiences, cultural insights, and opportunities for personal growth. The following narrative captures our experiences, filled with enlightening discoveries and unforgettable moments.
Arrival and Anticipation
Our journey commenced at dawn in Shaoyuan, charged with excitement as we set off from Beijing's historic grandeur to Chongqing, the 'Mountain City'.
Upon arrival in Chongqing, nestled amidst its mountainous terrain, we were drawn to Chongqing Historic Sites Museum of the War of Resistance Against Japan. This space served as a profound tribute to China's resilience during World War Two, detailing the city's significant role as a wartime capital from 1937 to 1945.
As the day transitioned into evening, Chongqing transformed under a sky painted with hues of crimson and gold. This natural spectacle set the stage for some of our Scholars to embark on a self-planned trip to the Hongyadong caves. Situated on a dramatic cliffside, the caves offered a breath-taking view of where the Yangtze and Jialing rivers converge. Here, in this vibrant urban space, the fusion of nature's majesty and human creativity perfectly captured the essence of Chongqing's spirit.
Dazu Rock Carvings and Hechuan Diaoyu Fortress
The Dazu Rock Carvings greeted us with the silent stories of ancient China, eloquently told through intricate stone etchings dating back to the 7th century. These magnificent carvings, nestled in the hillside of Dazu, offered a serene yet profound perspective into the religious and social conceptions of mediaeval Chinese life. As we meandered through the paths lined with statues and iconography depicting Buddhist, Taoist, and Confucian beliefs, the sheer artistry and devotion of the carvers left us in quiet awe.
After a taste of the local cuisine, with the flavors of Chongqing still dancing on our tongues, we ventured to the Hechuan Diaoyu Fortress. Perched on a strategic vantage point overlooking the confluence of rivers, this formidable stronghold has witnessed centuries of history. Here, the stories of resilience and strategic brilliance came alive as we explored the ramparts that once served as a bulwark against Mongol invasions.
Technology and Transition
At Peking University Chongqing Research Institute of Big Data, we glimpsed into a future crafted by data and digitalization. Here, at the forefront of technological research, we saw how big data's intricate algorithms and vast networks are shaping the way cities think and breathe.
Continuing our journey through modern innovation, we visited WICV, a beacon of technological advancement where the integration of smart living and urban development was on full display. The visit was complemented by a tour of Taiji Group, a traditional Chinese medicine industry leader. Together, these experiences highlighted the pivotal role of technology in shaping the cities of the future.
Harmony of Nature and Heritage
During our excursion to the Giant Panda Base, we were warmly welcomed by the tranquil demeanour of these iconic animals. Their gentle nature perfectly embodied China's commitment to natural heritage and conservation. Accompanying this encounter, an insightful lecture on Wild Pandas and Nature skilfully intertwined elements of ecological preservation, enhancing our appreciation for these majestic creatures and their delicate habitats.
Our exploration at the Dujiangyan Irrigation System took us back in time, showcasing the extraordinary ingenuity of ancient Chinese engineering. We were awestruck by the longevity and impact of this millennia-old marvel, learning about its ongoing role in supporting agriculture and sustaining the lives of countless individuals.
Culture and History
Our visit to the Sanxingdui Museum was a captivating journey into ancient mystery. This remarkable museum showcased artefacts from a civilization that flourished over 3,000 years ago. The most striking exhibits were the towering bronze masks, with their enigmatic expressions and intricate designs, offering a glimpse into the spiritual and artistic life of the Sanxingdui culture. Among these treasures, the Bronze Tree stood out, a testament to the advanced metallurgical skills of the time.
Our journey led us to Fiture, the Institute for Care Life, and a session at Xingwang Bank. At Fiture, we gain insights into the developments of high-tech companies in Chengdu. At Care Life, a forefront centre of scientific progress, we discovered ground-breaking methods and technologies aimed at predicting seismic events, a vital initiative in an area well-acquainted with earthquakes. The visit to Xingwang Bank offered us an enlightening perspective on the region's economic and social dynamics, revealing key insights into its ongoing development and growth.
Bailu and Closing Ceremony
Our journey through Bailu, nestled in Sichuan's Pengzhou area, was a captivating mix of historical legacy and modern touristic allure. The town's unique French Catholic heritage, central to its character, was beautifully embodied in the meticulously restored Annunciation Seminary. This edifice, majestically rising above the town, served as a living symbol of Bailu's longstanding ties to French Catholicism. The church's architectural splendour not only provided a picturesque scene but also echoed the town's multifaceted historical narrative.
After a day enriched with informative lectures, we concluded with an evocative closing ceremony in the evening. This significant event was further enhanced by the thoughtful reflections of Dean Dong Qiang from Yenching Academy of Peking University, whose insights offered a deeper perspective on our experiences.
Self-Guided Exploration and Return to Beijing
Our last day began with freedom—some visited the Du Fu Cottage, while the rest of the group others chose to explore the other exciting aspects of the city. The afternoon was spent gathering at the hotel before our journey to the airport, signalling the end of our field study.
The flight back to Beijing was a quiet one, each of us lost in thought, already missing the land we had just left, but carrying a piece of it within us.
This field study was more than an academic excursion; it was a journey of personal and collective discovery. As we ventured through Sichuan and Chongqing, we also traversed through aspects of our own interests and curiosities, each finding something that resonated within.
But beyond the sites and schedules, it was the moments in between that truly defined our experience—the shared meals, the laughter, the collective awe at the sights we witnessed, and the thoughtful discussions on bus rides and over dinner tables.
The spirit of Chongqing and Sichuan is one of resilience and vibrancy, a spirit that has now become a part of our own stories.
Written by Melania El Khayat (2023 Yenching Scholar)