A Walk in the Sky by Emily


Going to the Great Wall of China was definitely on my Bucket List.  Yet I was hesitant to go. I feared that it would be 1) overrun with weeds and all crumbly; 2) overcrowded; 3) overtaken by junky vendor stands; 4) cluttered with debri and garbage; 5) polluted in the air.

But we went and it was NONE of these things.  SX0A5136It was ancient yet intact, and where it was crumbly, it was still walkable.  We were advised to go to a remote place where “few people would be”, but in China, how is few possible? Surely, everyone else would have heard of this remote area and there would be a mob of people.  However, unbelievably, there were moments that we seemed to be the only people on the wall. (One online site said there were 41 million foreigners who visited the wall in 2004.  Another said there are 9 million a year.)

And it wasn’t tainted with commercialism.  It was also clean.  Lastly…. the surrounding mountains, hills and greenery — oh, yes, along with a blue pollution free sky — made it breathtaking and truly a moving experience.             SX0A5075

Here’s some interesting things about the wall:

-It is about 2145 (3469km) long and during its construction, was called “the longest cemetery on earth” because so many people died building it — possibly more than one million people.

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– It has been built, added to and rebuilt over 1850 years by the the Han (206 B.C.-A.D 220), Sui (A.D. 581-618), Jin (115-1234) and, most famously, the Ming dynasty in 1368-1644.  Today what survives are the stone and brick walls from the Ming dynasty.                                                     SX0A5388 (2)

-During the Ming dynasty, nearly one million soldiers defended the Great Wall from “barbarians” and non-Chinese.

SX0A5790 (2)     Experiencing the wall with our dear friend Kathleen

– Before the Ming dynasty, the wall was built with rammed earth, adobe, and stone. About 70% is made from rammed earth and adobe. Bricks were used after the Ming dynasty.  The mortar was made from rice flour.

SX0A5489  The manpower to build the Great Wall came from frontier guards, peasants, unemployed intellectuals, disgraced noblemen, and convicts,  The Chinese invented the wheelbarrow and used it in building the Great Wall.

Contrary to belief, it cannot be seen from the moon without aid.


There are over 10,000 watch towers at intervals along the Great Wall up to 40 feet tall. They were used as lookouts, fortresses and signal stations, where beacons, smoke, or flags were used to send messages.                                        SX0A5259Here are two watchtowers.

To defend the wall, the Chinese used axes, sledge hammers, lances, crossbows, and a Chinese invention: gunpowder.  The last battle fought at the Great Wall was in 1938 during the Sino-Japanese War, which was between China and Japan. Bullet marks can still be seen in the wall.

Walking on the wall was like walking in the sky.  I’d like to walk in the air in heaven, and I’d also like to fly.  Until then, I’ll have the memory of the walk on the Great Wall.  SX0A5295 (2) - Copy - Copy


A student’s query on the Santa Barbara CA shooting

On a visit to Guangzhou in southern mainland China near Hong Kong, I gave a lecture on Thursday at the Guangdong University of Foreign Studies. Coincidentally, the lecture was “Gun Laws and Gun Rights: a History of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.” The next day this shooting happened. Americans’ gun violence baffles much of the rest of the world, especially, perhaps, among those foreigners who like the United States. Chinese people’s tradition with private gun ownership – and gun violence – is virtually the opposite of Americans’.

I have found Chinese students closely observant of American politics, society, and culture – much more so than me of theirs. It’s a myth that the Great China Firewall keeps Chinese people uninformed. There are too many Internet cracks in the mortar for that.

Below is an email I received from a student who listened to my presentation in Guangzhou, and, for what it’s worth, my response. “Lizzie’s” question reflects a typical level of awareness among Chinese college students of American issues, concerning not only specific issues pertinent to Chinese people like California’s debate whether to re-establish affirmative action programs for Asian-Americans (“SCA 5”), but also general news, and a question that I raised in the presentation – regarding gun rights, in any society, how do you balance private ‘rights’ and public safety? Is ‘bearing arms,’ possessing a gun, a ‘right’? What are ‘rights’?

Subject: Hi! I’m Lizzie from Department of Diplomacy, GDUFS ….@qq.com

Dear Tim,
I’m Lizzie, the girl who asked you about SCA 5(Senate Constitutional Amendment No.5).The SCA 5 legislation was aimed at bringing race-conscious admissions and recruitment to California’s public universities, such as UCLA.I’m interested in this and I hope we can share some ideas when I get further thinking.
After hearing your lecture about gun rights & gun laws in American History on Friday, I kept wondering what if the gun holder is a phycho especially when this guy is a well-trainned gunner or veteran who’s been through trauma? It happened. Actually it happened a lot, like the navy shooting case. Besides historical factors, it is cool and rightful to have a gun so that you can defend yourself when it’s needed. But, will you still have the chance to hold your gun after you were shot without warning?
A 22-year-old man stabbed three people to death in his apartment before gunning down three more victims on on Friday night(US time).I really feel sorry about it. I know gun problem is a debating isssue even today. You mentioned exceptionalism, Europeans can’t understand the US, neither. In my opinion, forbidding gun nationwide in America is not a good option as people’s rights should be valued. Would it be better if government passes some laws to avoid selling guns to dangerous people? After all, people’s lives value the most.

Sincerely yours,

Hi Lizzie, thanks for writing. Unfortunately, this topic I talked about in Guangzhou is too timely. There are a lot of angry men in the world, as this young man in California seems to have been, who commit violence against their girlfriends, wives, animals, random strangers, etc.
The problem in America is that angry men have access to guns. The situation in California this week was too familiar – a young man with a psychological disorder still was able to buy guns legally. Given the amount of guns available in the US for private citizens, there needs to be preemptive law enforcement monitoring of people who have a mental disorder, to prevent them from being able to buy a gun. This young man might be able to get a gun illegally anyway, but maybe it would take longer, and he might try something else less lethal, if he’s still angry: resort to a knife, get drunk, etc…. Or even be found out in the meantime by somebody who wants to help, or at least stop him.
Living in China shows me a good example of tight gun restrictions – you don’t hear about random shootings in China (it’s possible they happen, but you don’t see them in the media). As I said in my presentation in Guangzhou, the USA has a particular history of gun laws and gun rights, which contributes a lot to the current predicament. But I would predict – hope – US states are going to start a movement move to at least make it very hard for anyone with a mental illness to hold a gun. That’s the most foreseeable change.

Best wishes, Prof. Tim



A Walk Along a Wall

Highway exit to the Great Wall at Jinshanling.

Highway exit to the Great Wall at Jinshanling. Originally built by the Ming Dynasty 1368-89, rebuilt (or first rebuilt) by the Qi, 1567-70.

Admission ticket. Our view wasn't like that, but nearly.

Admission ticket. Our view wasn’t like that, but nearly.

Zoe on the access path up to the wall. A little too grueling to start the whole day. Whew.

Zoe on the access path up to the wall. A little too grueling to start the whole day. Whew.

View from one of the many towers of Jinshanling.

View from one of the many towers of Jinshanling.

It was a little breezy being on top of the world....

It was a little breezy standing on top of the world….

Locals inhabit some of the guard houses to sell postcards and beverages.  Sumner was intrigued when this fellow rolled his own cigarette.

Locals inhabit some of the guard houses to sell postcards and beverages. Sumner was intrigued when this fellow rolled his own cigarette.

This was a thankfully flat & smooth part. Others were not.

This was a thankfully flat & smooth part. Others were not.

Like this.

Like this.

And this.

And this.

Happy to arrive. Wow what a view.

Happy to arrive. Wow what a view.

Thanks to our amazing beautiful friend and photographer Kathleen, who visited us 6 weeks, took 5,000 pictures, and is now positively a Sinophile.

Thanks to our amazing beautiful friend and photographer Kathleen, who visited us 6 weeks, took 5,000 pictures, and is now positively a Sinophile.



A Surprisingly? Crowded Labor Day

Today is International Labor Day in China. An ancient holiday to celebrate spring’s arrival, now it is a national holiday in about 80 countries.  May 1 was originally picked by socialist and labor parties of the “Second International” meeting in Paris in 1889 to commemorate the Haymarket affair in Chicago on May 4, 1886. The U.S. labor day in September was chosen to disassociate the American labor movement from international communism. So China, but not the U.S., celebrates May 1 to commemorate an event in American labor history.

Some images of workers, imaginary and real, we have seen recently:

CP poster at the Shanghai  Propaganda Poster Art Centre: "Strive to accelerate the achievement of agricultural mechanization"

Old Communist Party poster, captioned “strive to accelerate the achievement of agricultural mechanization,” on display at the marvelous Shanghai Propaganda Poster Art Centre.

shanghai skyscraper workers

Workers commuting down a Shanghai skyscraper. In the background is the Pudong River, separating old and new Shanghai.



An inspector looks at 2014 World Cup scarves made in Zhejiang Province

An inspector checks 2014 World Cup scarves made in Linan, Zhejiang Province.

Accustomed to Labor Day marking the end not beginning of summer, we  find ourselves caught unawares. The alternative meaning of today in China for us is…crowds, even larger than normal, which is saying a lot. Here’s a bird’s eye view of boarding a subway in Beijing, and riding a bus in Hangzhou, not on holidays:

About 7:30 am at the Shuangjing stop, Line 10 of the Beijing subway system. I made it on this car, gently rammed in by people waiting behind me.  Whew.

About 7:30 am at the Shuangjing stop, Line 10 of the Beijing subway system. I made it on this car, gently rammed in by people waiting behind. Whew.


On our way to church on a Sunday morning. Pressed up against the windshield affords  a great view. Try to avoid getting grumpy.

About three-fifths of China’s 1.4 billion people live in cities; on May 1 and this weekend, passenger volume on urban buses, subways, and trains is particularly thick. Our great friend Kathleen, after a whirlwind six weeks’ visit, will leave us, and China, from Beijing on Monday. In our infinite wisdom in March we decided to take her there this weekend from Hangzhou – by way of buses, subways, and trains. Who in China knew  two months’ ago this is a busy weekend for workers getting a day off?