BY PHILLIP WILKINSON
I am heading off to Inner Mongolia tomorrow to spend a week conducting sociological research. I am hoping to compare the Inner Mongolian culture with the American Indian culture in my hometown of Albuquerque. I think there might be some interesting parallels as well as differences. Last semester at Yale, I took a class called Narrations of Native America and wrote a final essay on the evolution of Native American educational offerings in Albuquerque. I want to use my knowledge of the educational opportunities accessible to American Indians and compare them to Inner Mongolian students’ academic experiences. I also want to learn about the Inner Mongolian’s status as an ethnic minority. For a long time, the U.S. government pursued a policy of assimilation toward Native Americans, hoping to integrate them into U.S. society while effectively diluting their cultural heritage. I’m curious to learn to what extent the Chinese government has or is pursing similar policies. It would surely affect the way Inner Mongolians perceive themselves, their history, and their relation to the government.
In addition to my studies, I will be living with native Mongolian people in tents for two nights, ceremoniously slaughtering a lamb to eat, crossing the desert on camelback, visiting Genghis Khan’s mausoleum, riding horses, interviewing Mongolian farmers, and meeting Mongolian college and high school students.
Though I am looking forward to experiencing Mongolian culture, I have also really enjoyed my time in Beijing. This week we celebrated the fourth of July. Our resident director, Liu Laoshi, asked me to lead a rendition of the Star Spangled Banner…. in Chinese! After class on Thursday, I got up on the chair, gave everyone a cue, counted to three, and began to lead the singing. We weren’t half bad! The teachers bought us all pizza and we talked about our favorite aspects of America. Last weekend, we went to the Summer Palace. It was a beautiful place that Empress Dowager Cixi apparently invested large sums of Qing Dynasty funds in. Some say her diversion of naval reconstruction funds caused China’s defeat in the Sino-Japanese war of 1895. It was interesting to compare the Buddha statues in the palace to those I saw in Thailand and Myanmar. The ones in the Summer Palace weren’t nearly as well preserved. I wonder what happend to them during the Cultural Revolution when Mao wished to move forward and erase symbols of China’s colonial past.
I’m currently watching a dust/rain storm roll in. I have an incredible view from my room (when the pollution isn’t bad). Beijing would be quite the livable city if its air were clearer, but the pollution constantly wears on my general morale. Several nights ago, we had a huge rainstorm that cleared away the pollution temporarily and the following night was the first time I could see stars in the Beijing sky. Looking at the big dipper and Venus, I thought about how distinct my vantage point is in Beijing compared to that of Albuquerque or New Haven. All of these cities, however, have become a second home to me. I’m so fortunate to feel at home in so many places on Earth.
Phillip Wilkinson ’16 is blogging this year from Beijing, China. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.