Old and “old” in China

Dr. Christine Royce notes that there is old, and then there is old. And also “old.” China has all three, and the new as well, in a heady mix.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Today we spent the day being “tourists”—and doing all of the things that tourists do—visit sights, shop, eat in good restaurants, shop, board more busses to go to the museum, shop etc. In the past few days we had heard about the “old traditions” of schooling, approaches to instruction, and the mindset of the people as well as the new traditions related to the same topics. Jennifer at one point discussed with us how the influx of money has influenced the people of China. Today was a great example of how old traditions collided with new traditions.

The first part of the morning was a visit to the Jade Buddha Temple, which housed an extremely large Buddha made of a single piece of Jade (thus the name). When entering the temple, it was packed, people purchasing incense of sheets to write wishes on and burn; others folding “money” or at least paper meant to represent money to burn for their ancestors in the afterlife; others were praying. Contrasted with these old traditions, were the new ones—people rushing back and forth snapping pictures; those moving in and out of the myriad of shops. Where old meets new would have been a way to describe the clothing that people wore also—some young people wore stiletto heels on knee high boots where some people who could be my grandparents wore the flat shoes and attire that was reserved and modest. Somehow all of them did have a similar purpose for being there—remembrance of their ancestors and the continuation of sending wishes and good will to them in the offerings they made.

Lunch was in Nanshi Old Town, which Jennifer the tour guide called “China Town”—it is a small village that looked old based on the decor, roof structure, winding paths, and stone walks, however it is relatively new construction—made to look old. One could find anything possible to purchase in this area as well—and it was packed! Today was truly the first day I could feel how many people truly occupied this city based on the street traffic. It was neat to see the “old” structures and have a sense of what construction may have looked like in years gone by. It was also fun to wander in and out of the shops trying to decide what gift to bring home for that friend or relative.

In America, we think old is during the days of the Pilgrims or Colonial Williamsburg, or even during the Civil War. We visit museums and see weaponry constructed during these periods or listen to speeches given by our past presidents. Let’s see that takes us back two, maybe three centuries? As Americans, we have no clue what “old” is until you visit a place like the Shanghai Museum that had pottery dating back to the 1200s. While we didn’t have much time in the museum, we were able to visit a gallery or two and truly have an appreciation for the artistic talents of the people of this country—even hundreds of years ago. All of these original antiques were housed in a beautiful new structure that represented the modern age while at the same time providing almost a reverence for the historical treasures housed here.

Finally, we went to THE SHOPPING STREET of all of China—Nanjing Road. If I thought I felt crowded earlier, this was a wake-up call. You could barely move down the street. I literally got swept up with the flow of the crowd moving from store to store and occasionally had to break free to do some shopping of my own. My purchase this evening—pearls. One colleague on the trip commented that there probably wasn’t a lady in the group who didn’t stop to at least admire the jewels of the sea. Jennifer’s point of the influx of money and the materialistic aspects of some young people rang true on this street. While there were many foreigners among them, it was clear that shopping had its place in the modern world as well.

Old and new, a clash of cultures in a way, but nonetheless both part of the modern China that we had the opportunity to explore over the past few days.

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One Comment

  1. Posted January 13, 2011 at 12:05 am | Permalink

    Long gone are the days of traditional Chinese dress. This is reserved largely for celebrations, tourists and other special events. While bringing some Chinese guests on a tour of American schools, we could only chuckle when one child asked what people wore in China. One of the visitors dressed in casual attire told the class they were looking at the type of clothes worn every day

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