Seven thousand buried terracotta soldiers guarding the tomb of the first Chinese emperor make for amazing reading in class. Seeing them in person is breathtaking.
After spring semester ended, 14 Franklin & Marshall students continued their studies by taking “Chinese Life and Culture” with Monica Cable, visiting assistant professor of anthropology. Then, they set off to have a personal encounter with their subject matter.
The students embarked on a 19-day whirlwind tour through some of the most famous—and some of the most remote—sights in China. Cable is well-versed in Chinese culture and planned the itinerary. “It was wonderful going to places that I knew had a strong archaeological or cultural focus.”
Throughout their travels, students kept journals, attended a lecture by one of China’s leading archaeologists and even participated in an ongoing dig from the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.E.–220 C.E.).
The trip followed the ancient Silk Road trading route and ultimately brought students within 150 miles of Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the surroundings are predominantly Middle Eastern, and Muslims greatly outnumber the dominant Han Chinese ethnic group.
Long Ip ’10, one of the students on the trip, found this contrast particularly intriguing: “We learned about the Uighurs, a Muslim minority group, but it was amazing to be able to actually be among them.” After they returned from their trip, students were stunned by news of violent uprisings in the region, highlighting the growing ethnic tensions in China.
Students began their travels in Beijing with a Chinese version of The Amazing Race. Cable divided the students into four groups and instructed each to locate a different destination using public transportation. One group went to the Peking Zoo to see the panda bears, while another traveled to a Tibetan temple to bring back some prayer beads. Students successfully navigated their way around a city where they didn’t speak the language and couldn’t read the signs.
The majority of students agreed the highlight of the tour was a five-hour hike along the Great Wall. “The Great Wall is one of the most beautiful places that I’ve ever been,” Ip says. “It’s so old, and once you’re there, you can’t believe you’re stepping on stones from thousands of years ago. It’s also so well-preserved.”
Cable was pleased with how well the students adapted to the culture. “It was so wonderful seeing the students transform from 'Wow this culture is so unlike our own’ to 'OK, so they do things differently, but it makes sense for them.’ Reading their journal entries was so rewarding as many students said things like, 'This is life-changing. I never thought that I would see anything like this.’”
Cable hopes to lead another trip next year and would like to include a foray into Tibet, if conditions allow.