Civilizations Program 2013: An Intensive Exploration of Beijing

  • East Asian Civilizations students take a break while visiting Beijing's Lama Temple. Photo by Yuxuan Li

  • The East Asian Civ group poses during a behind-the-scenes visit to the private Buddhist academy at Beijing's Lama Temple. Photo by Yuxuan Li

December 5, 2013

The quarter-long East Asian Civilizations in Beijing Program brings 26 undergraduates to the Center each autumn to study Asian history, culture, and politics in a culturally immersive setting. This year, in a change of pace from the pan-Asia-focused 2012 Civilizations program, the students delved intensively into Chinese political history and cultural currents with a special focus on the capital city of Beijing. Three University of Chicago professors traveled to Beijing to each lead a three-week course. Professor James Hevia (Department of History; International Studies) taught the first course of the quarter on History of Beijing; Professor Dingxin Zhao (Department of Sociology) led a class on Revolutions and Rebellions in Modern Chinese History; and Professor Paola Iovene (Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations) taught an interdisciplinary course on Beijing in Literature and Film.

The students traveled independently or in small groups throughout China, Korea, and Japan during a break week between their first and second courses, and also visited historical sites in Shanghai on a November weekend trip with Professor Zhao. The students have also been taking Chinese classes, spending time with language practice partners from Renmin University, and independently exploring Beijing's rich cultural and historical offerings.

The Civ academic program has been bolstered by field trips. Professor Hevia brought the students to Dongyue Temple, which has life-size statues of Daoist deities, and the Lama Temple, which remains a major national focal point for Tibetan Buddhism. The students also visited the Forbidden City and the Great Wall at Mutianyu early in the quarter.

Professor Zhao’s excursion to Shanghai featured visits to the site of the First National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party and the Shanghai Museum. Zhao also led the students around Shanghai’s French Concession on foot, stopping off at the mansion of Zhou Enlai, first Premier of the People’s Republic of China, and the stylish Tianzifang neighborhood. During this trip, the students also had a free day, in which some chose to explore Shanghai and others headed to nearby Hangzhou, Suzhou, and Nanjing.

After the group returned to Beijing for Professor Paola Iovene's course, Iovene took students on a walking tour of the historical Qianmen-Dazhalan area with a scholar who had grown up in the neighborhood.

In their last weeks, the students also enjoyed a Thanksgiving celebration at the Center and independently organized a Peking duck dinner. For the quarter's final excursion, Professor Iovene brought the group to the Culture and Art Museum of Migrant Workers in Picun village on the outskirts of the city.