EOU DEAN OBSERVES CHANGES IN CHINA
- Dick Mason
- The Observer
Marilyn Levine, dean of the EOU college of arts and sciences, appeared perplexed as she scanned downtown Beijing, China.
"In the 20 years I had been traveling to China I felt for the first time a sense of mystery Â— what was happening?'' Levine asked herself.
The short answer: everything.
Beijing had taken quantum leaps since Levine had last seen it less than five years earlier.
Beijing has zoomed from an old-looking city of drab colors to an ultramodern state. Today it is a metropolis of massive billboards, towering buildings, luxurious hotels, block after block of new buildings, science fiction-like video advertising and more.
"It happened so rapidly, seemingly in the blink of an eye,'' Levine said.
Levine found that the changes Beijing has experienced were typical of those much of urban China has undergone. The modernization has coincided with an increase in material culture.
"The culture of consumerism is everywhere Â— the Starbucks and KFCs, the jazz music playing in the lobbies, the department stores that have giant ads for Clinque and Lancome on their side walls and the Western mannequins in their window.''
These changes reflect China's percolating capitalist economy, one whose gross national product is increasing at an astounding 9 to 13 percent a year.
Levine observed the changes brought on by China's burgeoning economy this summer while helping lead a National Consortium for Teaching about Asia (NCTA) tour. The teachers on the tour were from the Pacific Northwest.
Many educators in Levine's party had not been to China before. They thus were not as struck by the changes.
Levine muted her amazement at China's changes as a result.
"I controlled my own reaction. I didn't want to influence their perceptions?''
Levine urged her group to take in the changes, evident even to newcomers, but also look past them.
Levine's party later found vestiges of old China in a suburban community.
"Everyone gasped, Â‘This is the real China Â— old men playing chess, people smoking and yakking, children in the doorways, cars and modern clothes but that sense of not being touched by the West nonetheless,' '' Levine said.
The EOU dean found the evidence that China is still basically the same comforting.
"In some fundamental way China is still China,'' Levine said. "I found it refreshing that some of the newness of China is superficial and that deep down the people are still Chinese in their behavior. In some way, I do find it reassuring that material culture can't overnight change a national identity.''
China has been up-scaling its cities in large part because Beijing will host the 2008 Summer Olympic Games. The Chinese have been opening more of their traditional culture to not only foreign visitors but also its own people as it prepares for the Olympics.
This openness is reflected by China's museums. The museums previously had many photographs but few artifacts. Museum operators were afraid to have some items because decades ago, during the Cultural Revolution, people could be imprisoned or exiled just for owning western things, Levine said.
Today museum directors have the freedom to display a wide range of items revealing China's past Â— a past Levine knows well because she has studied China and Southeast Asia for much of her professional career. Levine has a doctorate in modern Chinese history from the University of Chicago and a master's in Southeast Asian history from the University of Hawaii. Levine speaks Chinese fluently and has studied Japanese, Vietnamese, French and Latin. She is beginning her second year at EOU after coming to Eastern from Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, Idaho.
China fascinates Levine because "of its rich, wonderful culture and history and its very gracious people.''
Levine is not planning to attend the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing but is not ruling out the possibility. She never tires of visiting Asia.
"I always keep my passport current.''