By Yenching Scholar Ilina Anastasiia
As our plane landed in Yinchuan, our first impression was surprise at the new landscape in front of us. The 25 Scholars traveling to the Ningxia Autonomous Region for the spring Field Study chose this destination due not only to an interest in the region’s history and current development, but also because of curiosity about an area that is rarely viewed as a tourist destination.
Driving down the highway connecting the airport to the city, we noticed many crescent moons with auspicious Chinese knots symbolizing the unity of Hu and Han culture in Ningxia. During the first day of our five-day trip, we became acquainted with the history of the Xi Xia people and their relationship with the Song dynasty. The Xi Xia or Tangut people developed an impressive culture and mysterious language. Scholars had the opportunity to admire the Tangut language inscriptions in the Helen Mountains just outside Yinchuan. The site of the Xi Xia Mausoleums allowed us to step back in history to the Mongolian conquests and learn about the nomadic people that inhabited the grasslands of northern China.
Our journey continued with a study of Ningxia’s ethnic composition. Since Ningxia is predominantly populated by Hui minority people, the culture is largely Muslim. Yenching Scholars discussed the government’s policies regarding integration of Muslim culture into Chinese society. We were able to learn about minorities not only from site visits, lectures, and the professors of Yinchuan University, but also from first hand experience.
During our visit to a local village, five households hospitably welcomed Scholars in for a chat on all matter of subjects. An elderly couple we were visiting happily engaged us in conversation. They reflected on the times of the Cultural Revolution, the economic reform and opening period, and the current situation. The most resonant conversation for me personally was one concerning the constant relocations that the family faces. Due to high interest in building newer infrastructure on local land, the family has already moved twice and is looking at another relocation within the next two years. Surprisingly, their perspective remains positive. It first came as a shock to me that the family members were so content, but in their eyes, the facilities they have in their new houses are an improvement over their previous housing.
Another aspect of Ningxia that came as surprise to many - and was a sharp contrast to the area’s history - was the chateau that opened its gates to us. Upon reaching the chateau and garden, or should I say jar din, it was difficult to say whether we had arrived in inland China or somewhere in the wine valleys of France. The wine industry in China is indeed booming. Although it is still behind Europe and other wine-producing regions, there are high hopes for China’s wine market.
Walking through one of the many wineries, we learned about the historical events leading up to the development of wine production in China. Specialists in the economic development of the region shared their thoughts on the prospects of the wine industry. The region takes wine making very seriously—Yinchuan University even has faculty training specialists for this profession. Whilst speaking to them, we learned that they are excitedly anticipating their trips to overseas wineries, and to bringing their newly acquired knowledge back to local wine production.
Thus we concluded our memorable time in Ningxia, where we enjoyed the camaraderie of traveling with our classmates, and were again impressed by China’s diversity.