Winding Up the New Year & Presidents Day in China

Hangzhou recently has been eerily quiet, on account of the exodus of many people over the Chinese New Year celebration, which is winding up soon. P1000237 (2)

2014 The Year of the Horse

A student friend of ours, “Zoe T.,” invited us to spend the beginning of the New Year Festival at her parents’ house, in a suburb of Hangzhou. There we ate traditional rice cakes,

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met multiple generations of her family,CNY Zoe T house and shot off fireworks!  

Now bus and train stations, ferry boats, and airports are crowded as more than 100 million Chinese people are returning from visiting their parents and grandparents. China is developing rapidly, but this ritual of returning home, the largest annual human migration, is an important way people here hold onto the past. A great documentary film about this phenomenon is Last Train Homedirected by Lixin Fan.

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And meanwhile…a teaching interest of mine is “America in the World,” which explores how Americans have impacted other parts of the globe. In that light, and in honor of Presidents Day (the real excitement every February!), I tracked down a hotel in China famous for hosting a (former) U.S. president – not Richard Nixon, not Jimmy Carter, but another Illinoisan, Ulysses S. Grant! Grant toured Asia in 1879 as an international military hero. grant and emperor

He and his family visited Shanghai, staying at the city’s Astor House Hotel.

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Grant’s esteem was such that he was asked by the governments of China and Japan to help mediate a dispute over islands in the China Sea – an issue that the two countries continue to spar over. Yōshū_Chikanobu_Sino-Japanese_War-710x358

As Mark Twain said, “history does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”

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