Civilizations Program 2014: China’s Social History, Art, and Cinema

2014 Autumn Civ participants enjoy the Forbidden City. Photo by Jin Xu

November 13, 2014

Each autumn, the Center hosts the East Asian Civilizations in Beijing program, which brings a diverse group of undergraduates to China to study Asian history, culture, and society. This year, 21 students from the College are learning abroad at the Center while living on the Renmin University of China campus, delving into three classes focused on various aspects of Chinese ancient and modern civilization.

The students began their quarter with an orientation trip to the Summer Palace near Beijing’s western hills. Their first course was taught by Professor Wu Hung (Department of Art History), who led the students through a survey of Chinese art from pre-historical through contemporary times. Alongside Professor Wu, the group visited the National Museum; the Beijing City Planning Exhibition Hall; the Forbidden City Palace Museum; Beihai Park; the art collections at Parkview Green and China Poly Group; and the 798 arts district. After their first course, the students enjoyed a weeklong mid-quarter break. Groups of students independently visited Sichuan Province, Guangxi Province, Thailand, Cambodia, and Malaysia.

The second class of the Civ program has been led by Professor Dingxin Zhao (Department of Sociology), who has taught College students abroad in Beijing several times. Professor Zhao’s class focuses on rebellions and revolutions in modern China. A Shanghai native, Zhao led the students on a three-night excursion to Shanghai, where they visited the Site of the First National Congress of the Communist Party of China, Zhou Enlai’s old home, and the Shanghai Museum. The students also had an exciting opportunity to meet basketball star Yao Ming and take in a game featuring the Shanghai Sharks, which Yao currently owns. Some students also participated in an optional excursion to Yuz Museum Shanghai, a new private contemporary art museum with a main exhibit curated by Professor Wu Hung.

Professor Xinyu Dong (Department of Cinema and Media Studies) led the final course of the quarter. Her class analyzed the sights and sounds of Beijing as represented in cinema. Professor Dong took the students to see a Peking opera show at an historic theater. The course was capped off with  a foot and rickshaw tour of Beijing's central hutong alleyway neighborhoods, with stops in restored mansions and local courtyard homes.

The Civ classes are complemented by Chinese language courses for students at all levels, including those who are encountering Chinese for the first time. This quarter’s students have also been active in organizing supplemental group activities with their Renmin University undergraduate language partners. The students and language partners also went on an official excursion to the Great Wall.