On the Road | YCA Autumn-Semester Field Study Trips 2023 (II)

Shallow as textbook knowledge may seem to be;

Get down to its essence by doing it personally.

—[Tang] Du Fu

Yenching Academy facilitates diverse experiences for Scholars to deepen their understanding of China during their stay in China. In the autumn semester of 2023, the Academy organized field study trips to the Beijing Ancient Architecture Museum, Old Summer Palace, Shougang Industrial Park, Ayilaile domestic service company, Xinzhuang village in Changping district, Peking University Elementary School, Datong in Shanxi province, Yiwu and Hangzhou in Zhejiang province, and Quanzhou in Fujian province. Led by their professors, our Scholars immersed themselves in experiential China Studies courses, gaining insights into real-life China.

This second section details the field trips for the Cultural Heritage of China course taught by Zhang Jianwei, Li Kuanghan, and Wang Siyu, and Prof. Lu Yang’s Development of Chinese Civilization course.

Conservation and Reutilization of Cultural Heritage

Zhang Jianwei, Deputy Director of the PKU School of Archaeology and Museology, and Researcher Li Kuanghan, Assistant Director of World Heritage Institute of Training and Research for the Asia and the Pacific Region under UNESCO (Beijing), organized several study trips. These include visits to the Beijing Ancient Architecture Museum, Old Summer Palace, and Shougang Industrial Park between late October and early December 2023 for the students attending their Cultural Heritage of China course.

On October 27, at the Beijing Ancient Architecture Museum, housed in the Altar of the God of Agriculture, an imperial altar of Ming and Qing dynasties, the YCA group explored the technology, art, and history of ancient Chinese architecture from the Neolithic Age to the Qing dynasty. Prof. Zhang Jianwei provided detailed explanations of urban planning, construction technology, and architecture types in ancient China. Our Scholars found the Altar of the God of Agriculture complex to be a perfect illustration of the book knowledge of ancient Chinese architecture.

On November 11, the YCA group visited the Old Summer Palace to learn about the excavation, restoration, reconstruction, and conservation of the historic site. At the excavation site, the students had a closer view of the ruins of the European-style palaces and the outer walls. With the teacher’s instruction, they gained insights into the basics of archaeological research and technologies while discussing cultural heritage conservation and restoration.

On December 8, the group toured Shougang Industrial Park, guided by Li Kuanghan and Design Director Pei Weiyi of Beijing Chuangyi Zhilü Technology and Culture Company Limited. They explored the adaptive reuse of old industrial architecture, exemplified by the transformation of the Big Air Shougang into a landmark for freestyle skiing and snowboarding events during the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics. The industrial remains in the park embodies the history and past of Shougang Group, a propeller of China’s industrialization and manufacturing, and house new commercial and exhibition space in the transformed hi-tech industrial park.

In early November, Zhang Jianwei and Li Kuanghan organized a three-day trip to Datong, Shanxi province. The group visited the ancient city wall, Shanhua Temple, and Yungang Grottoes, observing conservation efforts and learning about ancient Chinese architecture and city layout. The group first investigated the external and internal structures of the ancient city wall, and enjoyed the exhibition of the wall’s previous structures in the Northern Wei, Liao, and Jurchen Jin, and Ming dynasties. Atop the city wall, our Scholars had a panoramic view of the reconstructed brick-layered outer wall and the cityscape, gaining a first-hand experience of the architectural features of a fortress city in ancient north China.

The conservation project for Datong’s ancient city wall is a good example, where diverse measures are taken, including adaptive reuse, conservation of original architectural structure, and reconstruction with the original style and technology. The group walked from the ancient city wall to Shanhua Temple, China’s best preserved Buddhist temple of the Liao and Jurchen Jin periods. Our teachers and students were impressed with the magnificent murals, lifelike sculptures, and enchanting Buddhist art at the massive Yungang Grottoes, and learned about the role of digital technologies in the conservation process of Yungang Grottoes.

On November 5, the YCA group visited Fogong Temple in Yingxian county to admire the world-renowned wooden pagoda. Erected in the Liao dynasty (907‒1125), the Wooden Pagoda in Yingxian county is one of the oldest, largest wooden pagodas in existence. Visitors are only allowed to admire it from afar because the pagoda’s structure has grown unsteady over the past millennium. Experts are working on the optimal method to prevent the pagoda from collapsing and preserve the unique wooden structure. The YCA group also went to Huayan Temple, China’s largest Buddhist shrine of the Liao dynasty, gaining further insights into ancient Chinese architecture and culture spanning over one millennium.

Ancient Religious Remains

From December 1 to 4, Lu Yang, Director of YCA Graduate Studies and at professor at the Department of History, Peking University, led the students of his Development of Chinese Civilization on a journey to Quanzhou, Fujian province. The purpose of the trip was to investigate the ancient religions remains and cultural exchanges in China.

The YCA group visited the historic remains of Buddhist, Daoist, Manichean, Islamic, Confucian, and Mazu temples, delving into the landscape of diverse religions and beliefs in Quanzhou during the Song and Yuan periods. Their first stop was the Tonghuai Shrine to Guan Yu, and Yue Fei, where they observed the scene of burning incense and witnessed visitors making pious prayers—the scene looks like a montage mosaic of history and modern life. The Scholars were impressed with the temple as a physical symbol of local belief in Guan Yu, offering new interpretations of the belief.

At Qingjing Mosque, the first mosque built by Arabian Muslims in China, Prof. Lu introduced the mosque’s layout, history, and its role in foreign-China commercial networks during the Song-Yuan period. The group admired the architecture, Islamic scripture, and stone inscriptions, appreciating the cultural diversity and inclusiveness of Quanzhou.

Prof. Lu then led the students to closely examine the sutra pagodas and the hexadecagonal stone pillars of the Song dynasty, explaining the Hinduist motifs. They also attempted to read the Buddhist images on the east and west pagodas and studied the illustrations of the Buddha on the sumera pedestal, delving into the images of Chinese Buddhist art. Their next stop was the Chengtian Temple, an island of serenity in the vast world of noise.

Prof. Lu and the students examined the warrior images on the Song-dynasty stone pagoda and scripture pillar in front of the Maitreya Hall, and admired the copper statue of Amitabha from the Tang dynasty, a treasure of the temple. Immersed in the tranquility of the “woods in the city”, the students pondered over the tension and balance between folk and institutionalized beliefs.

The group visited Confucius Temple and School, Tianhou Temple, and the Site of Deji Gate. At the Confucius Temple, the students delved into the history of Confucianism in Quanzhou, exploring the temple’s architectural standards and evolution. At Tianhou Temple, they examined the dougong (corbel bracket) system and stone pillars moved from a Hinduist temple. The impact of the government’s title conferring policy on the evolution of Tianfei (Heavenly Consort) and Tianhou (Heavenly Empress) concepts was explored, along with the longstanding sea-god belief in Quanzhou. Also, the Site of Deji Gate impressed the students with its ingeniously built gate.

Cao’an Temple, the last stop for the YCA group’s religions trip, is renowned for housing the world’s only extant statue of Mani. Prof. Lu introduced Manichaeism’s dualistic claims on light and dark, and good and evil, emphasizing its essence as a religion of salvation through special knowledge. The professor also gave a brief review on the study of the statue in Cao’an Temple. Our Scholar thus gained a clear outline of the dissemination and evolution of Manichaeism in China.

The group also explored historic monuments related to overseas communication in Quanzhou. At the Quanzhou Maritime Museum, students dived into the history of Quanzhou as a major port on the Maritime Silk Road and a hub of Eastern and Western civilization, as presented in exhibitions featuring overseas communication, folk cultures, religious stone inscriptions, and Islamic culture. At the Luoyang Bridge and its ancillary structures, the group explored the temple dedicated to Quanzhou Prefectural Governor Cai Xiang, on the southern end of the bridge. The Notes on the Wan’an Bridge inscribed on the two stelae narrates the concerted efforts of government and public in bridge construction. Additionally, a stroll through the nearby villages offered the students an opportunity to admire local shrines and dwellings, marveling at their magnificence and ingenious wall-building technique characterized by “protruding brick layers staggering with stone blocks”.

The group left footprints at Jiuri Mountain, Liusheng Pagoda, and Shihu Dock. Jiuri Mountai is known for cliff-face wind-praying inscriptions from the Song dynasty, recording ritual ceremonies by state commissioners responsible for propitious winds to aid the overseas trade shipping business. Liusheng Pagoda, erected in the Northern Song dynasty during the reign of Zhenghe in the early 12th century, as a navigation mark on the Maritime Silk Road and an icon of Quanzhou’s bustling trade. Shihu Dock provided an invaluable piece of physical evidence of Quanzhou Port’s outer port docks during the Song and Yuan periods. Standing at Linluandu Ferry, the student envisioned forest-like sails and masts of receiving Chinese and foreign merchant ships, including the Fleet of Zheng He in the Ming dynasty.

Quanzhou, a major port along the Maritime Silk Road during the Song and Yuan periods, boasts itself as an emporium of historic and cultural monuments and sites, and multi-cultural communities, once attracting merchants, travelers, and religious missionaries to do business and settle down. During this Quanzhou trip, our Scholars visited historical sites and monuments, accessing the city’s age-old religious and commercial histories and delving into diverse aspects of the Chinese civilization that has continuously communicated with and learned from other cultures.

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