Guangzhou’s Peasant Movement Institute

On a warm Sunday afternoon, I visited the Peasant Movement Institute, which in Mandarin is known as nong jiang suo. Located in the Yuexiu district of the old city center, the Peasant Movement Institute is easy to find since it is a stop on Line 1 of the Guangzhou Metro. The entrance is at the junction of Zhongshan 4th Road and Dezheng Road. Admission is free and open to the public.

Inside and outside of the grounds there are signs commemorating the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the People’s Republic of China. It is a busy neighborhood, but once you pass through the stone memorial archway, it is like entering into a space of serenity. Upon entering, I noticed a small stone bridge and a pond. Visitors must cross the bridge in order to enter into the ground’s first courtyard. The architecture was traditional courtyard style, large roofs and tall wooden beams with yellow tiles and red walls.

Panyu Confucian School

The Peasant Movement Institute was based in an old Confucian Temple which also housed the Canton Panyu Confucian School that was founded during the Ming dynasty in the year 1370 A.D. I took note that over one thousand years of history had unfolded at this location before the Peasant Movement Institute was established. Here, Confucian philosophy would be studied, Imperial Exams were taken, and sacrifices were made in honor of Confucius.

The Imperial Examinations were a selection process that enabled people to move up as officials within the bureaucracy of feudal China. The Imperial Examinations commenced in the Sui dynasty (A.D. 581-618) and was well established by the Tang dynasty (A.D. 618-907). However, it would be during the Ming (A.D. 1368-1644) and Q’ing (A.D. 1644-1911) dynasties that it had its greatest influence.

In Minglun Hall, there is a display outlining the Chinese Imperial Examination Culture. It organized the Imperial Examinations into three parts, which included: the History of the Chinese Imperial Examination System, the process of the Chinese Imperial Examination System, and the top scholar in Guangdong province, Zhuangyuan.

Cultural Continuity

One of the interesting observations that I made during my visit is that there seemed to be a high degree of cultural continuity in the Chinese mind down through the various dynasties into the present. This was evident to me in terms of the calligraphy, the writing system that was inscribed in wood and stone throughout the complex. Regardless of the types of character styles, ancient, traditional or simplified, it all came from the same sources of Chinese civilization that anchored the identity of the people who I saw in the museum as well as the students that I teach.

These roots, national consciousness and cosmology, still remained strong, despite the onslaught of Western imperialism and Japanese occupation. Such circumstances and conditions led me to believe that the Chinese identity was not destroyed nor fractured by these forces. Although Chinese society underwent various crises over the past 150 years, it did not make the masses or the elites to turn away from or sever their cultural or cosmological roots. I wondered, why?

Could it be that Chinese consciousness was never colonized, I pondered? While the Chinese state, like all states across Asia and Africa in the nineteenth century, was under constant attack from Western Europe, the Chinese identity has remained largely intact almost escaping the colonial burdens of partition, balkanization and national fragmentation.

Without a doubt, visiting the Peasant Movement Institute is worthwhile for students of history. Here, one can see the development of the Chinese Communist Party in terms of its critical role in organizing the peasants for political struggle. Although it only lasted three years, the Peasant Movement Institute served as an important base where cadres were trained for leadership not only in Guangdong, but across China. In short, it could be argued that the Peasant Movement Institute was the incubator for what would soon become the Red Army.

Peng Pai

An important historical figure who I learned about was Peng Pai, a native of Haifeng County, Guangdong. Peng was born into a wealthy family of landlords. Like a small number of Chinese intellectuals of his generation, Peng was educated in Japan graduating from Tokyo’s Waseda University.

Like many of his generation, Peng’s political consciousness radicalized following the aftermath of World War I. The three events that impacted him greatly were the Russian Revolution, the Tokyo Rice Riots of 1918 and the Paris Peace Conference of 1919. As a result, Peng became more conscious about the conditions and plight of Chinese peasants and saw them as an important class who possessed revolutionary potential.

Class Suicide

As a result, Peng founded the Haifeng County Peasants Society whose chief aim was to struggle and fight for land reform and social rights. Ironically, Peng committed class suicide when he led a revolt by burning the title deeds in public to his inherited land. Pai told the peasants that the land that they worked now belonged to them collectively. Consequently, Pai formed the first countywide Peasant Association in China, the Haifeng County Peasants Association.

Peng joined the Kuomintang in 1924 and became the 1st and 5th term director of the Peasant Movement Institute. It should be noted that it was Peng who suggested to the Kuomintang to establish the Peasant Movement Institute. Peng believed that young leaders needed to be trained how to organize peasants how to struggle against landlords and feudal warlords.

Peng authored a famous study titled, Report on the Haifeng Peasant Movement, which made an important contribution to Chinese Marxism in terms of the vital role of peasants. Peng, like many radicals of that period, was assassinated in Shanghai by the Kuomintang. A statue of Peng Pai sits in one of the courtyards. Peng is regarded as one of the 72 martyrs of the Chinese Revolution.

Other members of the Chinese Communist Party such as Zhou Enlai, Yun Daiying, Xiao Chun, also served as instructors at the Peasant Movement Institute. During its operation, approximately 327 cadets from 20 provinces studied the theories and methods of the peasant movement, receiving strict military training and participated in the revolutionary struggle.

Ho Chi Minh, the Vietnamese nationalist and revolutionary, also trained at the Guangzhou’s Peasant Movement Institute while he lived in Guangzhou. Minh also lectured to Vietnamese cadets at the Whampoa Military Academy, which was established by the Kuomintang in 1924. It attracted a number of freedom fighters from Vietnam, Korea and other Asian nations.

Mao Zedong

Mao Zedong was one of the original founders of the Chinese Communist Party, which was established in Shanghai in 1921. Mao, who also worked closely with peasants in his native Hunan, was appointed as the director of the Sixth Peasant Movement Institute, sponsoring it from May to September, 1926. During Mao’s tenure, there was still cooperation between the Kuomingdang and the Chinese Communist Party.

However, by the end of 1926 the United Front coalition between the Kuomindang and the Chinese Communist Party was broken. Consequently, by the spring of 1927, the Kuomintang mounted a ruthless purge of leftists and Chinese Communist Party members, massacring thousands across China. Both Zhou Enlai and Ho Chi Minh narrowly escaped. This marked the beginning of the first phase of the Chinese Civil War, which lasted until the Xi’an Incident in December, 1936.

Note that the Peasant Movement Institute is also home to the Memorial Museum of Comrade Mao Zedong. Mao is honored as an example of public integrity. A shrine is devoted to Mao, memorializing his tireless sacrifice in assisting in the building of the Chinese Communist Party and his significant leadership role in the Chinese Revolution.

It is important to understand, that what visitors experience in this museum is the young Mao, the years before the Civil War, the Long March and the Second United Front with the Kuomintang following the Xi’an Incident. These and other chapters of Modern Chinese history, including the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, were still in the future for the young revolutionary.

After my visit, I recalled the words of historian John Henrik Clarke who noted, “When we open one door in history, ten other doors can suddenly swing open.” Visiting the Peasant Movement Institute was definitely one of those experiences because many doors opened my mind to more questions about the past.

 

W.E.B. Du Bois’ China Africa Prophecy Part 1

INTRODUCTION

“Come to China, Africa, and look around. Invite Africa to come, China, and see what you can teach just by pointing,” said W.E.B. Du Bois. Du Bois, a prolific scholar and tireless activist, was the first African American to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard University. A pioneer in the field of American sociology, Du Bois was a brilliant social scientist who penned America’s first book on urban sociology, The Philadelphia Negro.

Amongst Du Bois’ many gifts was an interdisciplinary approach to the social sciences and the humanities long before the term was even used. We see the flowering of Du Bois’ artistry and genius in his most consequential and enduring book, The Souls of Black Folk. Even after one hundred years since its original publication date in 1903, The Souls of Black Folk remains the most eloquent testimony about the resisliance and dignity of African American history and culture.

Du Bois first visited China in 1936 a few years after he left the NAACP where he served as the founding editor-in-chief of The Crisis, the official publication of the NAACP and one of the most influential journals in African American history. His second and third visits to China were in 1959 and 1962, respectively. During his final visit to China, Du Bois attended the National Day Ceremony at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, which commemorates the founding of the People’s Republic of China on October 1st 1949. One year later, August 27th 1963, on the eve of the monumental March on Washington, Du Bois died in Accra, Ghana.

 

CHINA AFRICA PROPHECY

Du Bois made his suggestion for Chinese and African cooperation during a speech that he delivered at Peking University on February 23, 1959. On that occasion, Du Bois was honored with an official state banquet hosted by Premier Zhou Enlai where he celebrated his 91st birthday in China. Chairman Mao Zedong also hosted Du Bois at his summer villa. At the height of the Cold War, he and his wife, Shirley Graham Du Bois, spent about 10 weeks touring the People’s Republic of China, which was only a decade old.

Through his eyes, China and Africa were natural allies in the struggle against imperialism and for peaceful development. Du Bois noted: “Africa does not ask alms from China nor from the Soviet Union nor from France, Britain, nor from the United States. It asks friendship and sympathy and no nation better than China can offer this to the Dark Continent. Let it be freely given and generously. Let Chinese visit Africa; send their scientists there and their artists and writers. Let Africa send its students to China and its seekers after knowledge. It will not find on earth a richer goal, a more promising mine of information.”

China, however, had extended the invitation to African students before Du Bois’ suggestion. In 1956, four students from Egypt were sent to China. 1956 also marked the year that Egypt and China established diplomatic relations. It should be noted that the year 1956 internationally was a moment in history which was characterized by intense political struggles. One of these flash points was the Suez Canal crisis, which was triggered when the Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal. The Suez Canal, built in the late nineteenth century to reduce the travel time from the Far East to Europe, was jointly controlled by Britain and France.

By 1960, the number of African students increased to approximately 95 students as the African independence explosion following World War II and the Bandung Conference gained momentum. This group had now included students from fourteen African nations that had just gained their independence. However, those numbers were drastically reduced during the years of the Cultural Revolution when Chinese universities were closed down from 1966 to 1976.

CHINA REPLACES THE UNITED STATES

With the period of economic reforms and opening up ushered in by China’s paramount leader, Deng Xiaoping, those numbers increased dramatically. For example, in 2003, there were approximately 2,000 African students studying in China. And by 2016, there were over 61,594 African students studying various disciplines ranging from accounting to zoology.

According to a 2018 CNN report, China has replaced the United States as the second destination in the world for African students to acquire higher education. However, France still remains the number one destination for African students in pursuit of degrees. Approximately 95,000 Africans are seeking degrees from its universities.

Currently, Ghana is the African country that has the most students studying in China with over 7,000 studying across China’s 32 provinces. It is anticipated that these numbers will only increase as China’s President Xi Jinping announced at the 2018 Forum on China-Africa Cooperation that over the next three years, China will award scholarships to over 50,000 African students studying in China.

African students are studying all across China. Some are studying in large cosmopolitan cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. Many others, however, are studying in smaller cities like Wuhan, Changsha and Wenzhou, amongst others. For example, in China’s smallest province Hainan, there are over 80 students from Ghana.

What is interesting about higher education in China is that a number of degree programs are in English. In some disciplines like medicine, however, students are required to gain Mandarin proficiency. These programs usually provide one year of full-time Mandarin instruction before the students can enroll in the degree courses. Other programs offer Mandarin courses concurrently with the degree courses.

THE HSK EXAM

Many programs like medicine, however, require that their graduates earn the HSK 3 level of Mandarin proficiency before graduation. This is because during their final year, medical students have to consult with patients daily, which means that they will have to be able to communicate in Mandarin.

The HSK exam is an internationally recognized standardized test, which evaluates Chinese proficiency for non-native speakers. The HSK exam is divided into six levels. Levels 1 and 2 are primary level; Levels 3 and 4 are intermediate; and Levels 5 and 6 are advanced. The HSK exam is administered several times a year in China as well as in other parts of the world.

TEACH BY POINTING

One of the most intriguing observations about African students in China is how prophetic Du Bois’ words, “see what you can teach by pointing” have proved to be. For what African students experience in China are not just lectures, exams or laboratory experiments. Rather African students are also witnessing a society that is in the midst of a great transformation.

During various holidays, African students like their Chinese classmates are traveling across China via high-speed trains and paying for tickets and other expenses via We Chat or Ali Pay, all of which are made in China. These rapid developments in transportation, communications and infrastructure are having an impact on the consciousness of African students. Consequently this generation of Africans educated in China will probably gain a new set of reference points and this in turn can impact how they creatively use Africa’s untapped potential.

Indeed, African students are learning so much by just pointing in China. They can point to the Great Wall and they can also point to the high-speed train network, the largest in the world spanning over 25,000 kilometers (15,534 miles). African students can also learn even more by asking questions like: what enabled the Chinese people to develop their society so rapidly in the past seventy years? What lessons can African people learn from China’s struggle for development and modernization?

In “Du Bois’ China Africa Prophecy Part 2,” I will explore some of the reasons why African students want to study in China.

 

My Global Classroom

Zhuhai College US History and Culture 2017.jpgD

Teaching in today’s global classroom should mean that cultural diversity is an important part of the overall function of education. By diversity I mean that the United States is a multi-racial and multi-ethnic society, or what others describe as cultural or racial pluralism. This is largely due to the wide sea of humanity that has been migrating across the earth, especially since the end of World War II. Human migration in the twentieth century has increased not only with the devastation brought by wars, but also with the affordability of commercial flights and other forms of modern transportation.

For the past decade, the two largest groups of international students studying in the United States are from China and India. Most of these students will return to their motherlands and join the expanding middle-class. Moreover they will become a part of the leadership that will develop these nations in the twenty-first century. Today, China’s population, the largest in the world, is 1.4 billion people. India has the world’s second largest population consisting of 1.3 billion people. A large part of what happens in China and India will shape the twenty-first century because together they constitute over one third of humanity and their gross domestic product (GDP) rises each year.

As educators, the rise of China and India means that we should understand more about these parts of the world. For example, professors have to become more culturally conscious about how we construct our syllabi and our assignments. We cannot simply reduce American sociology and history down to a number clichés with respect to Blacks, Native Americans and Whites. Rather we have to include topics like the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the impact of the British East India Trading Company, in addition to critically reassessing how we teach immigration. We have to expand the American immigration narrative beyond the European Ellis Island story.

We must also remember that New York’s Statue of Liberty was a gift to the United States from France as a symbol to memorialize the emancipation of enslaved Africans in America. Visitors are reminded of the statue’s anti-slavery origins by the broken chains at its feet. Therefore, we must break our chains placed on our minds by liberating how we think and how we teach today. We must find new and dynamic ways to teach courses, across the disciplines, relevant to all of our student’s needs and the pressing demands and mounting crises of the twenty-first century.

Throughout my teaching career, I have developed a number of methods and assignments to facilitate the intellectual development of racially and ethnically diverse student bodies. My thirteen years of teaching in China has only enriched my understanding of how important it is to effectively teach a classroom of students who do not share my history, culture or heritage. Teaching and living abroad has many challenges and many benefits, intellectually and spiritually. Above all, it has helped me to grow and to develop into a better scholar and human being.

Differences that matter

By Christopher Williams

Each time that I visit the States, people ask me: “What is it like being a Black man in China compared to the USA?” My response is that it is very different for many reasons. I stress that if the social conditions were similar to the USA; there would be no reason for me to reside in China for over a decade. For example, if I had to endure the arbitrary and capricious harassment by the Chinese police for simply leaving my home and walking down the street, I would have left many years ago.

About four weeks after returning to China from the USA, the answer to this persistent question revealed itself to me. The truth appeared naturally, as bright as the morning sun piercing through the curtains. As I laid there before rising to begin another day, I admitted to myself that there is a huge difference waking up in a society where you do not feel that you have a gun pointed at your head or a knife aimed at your nuts, literally or figuratively. These are the fundamental differences between China and the USA that matter to me. These differences are as wide and as deep as the Pacific Ocean.

Consequently, when I walk along China’s streets, I do not feel that people are threatened or apprehensive by my presence. This does not mean that people do not stare at me because I am foreigner. On the contrary, people stare at me often, especially in places where locals do not expect to see any foreigners, African, European or otherwise. I am use to it now. Yet behind these stares and glances, I do not detect malice, hatred or contempt for my humanity. The vibrant colors of my skin, the helix coils of my hair, make me a foreigner, an outsider. Eventually when our eyes do meet, my difference does not disqualify me from being a human being.

A routine trip to a local market illustrates how natural mutual respect can be. I recall going to buy some vegetables a few days after getting my hair braided. The woman who I usually buy my produce from complimented me on new hair style, describing it as handsome. She asked me how long it took to complete. Inquiring further, she asked me if I braided it myself, and if not, where did get it done. I told her that it took about an hour and a half. She was not alone in her compliments or curiosity.

My experience does not mean that China is a utopia or that Chinese people do not express prejudice or bigoted attitudes towards Africans or other foreigners. Rather my encounters have taught me that being African does not appear to register in the Chinese psyche or its social consciousness, in the same way it may in European or Anglo American mind. These are the differences that matter, differences that have reshaped my life.

Throughout my China sojourn, I have never felt that I have a target on my back. Whether standing on the Great Wall or elsewhere across this sprawling land, my manhood is not under constant physical and spiritual attack. Chinese people usually see me as another African and I can live comfortably and in peace with that reality. To reside in the castle of one’s own skin means that eventually you can find freedom.

Highlights of Vietnam and Laos

shaolin temple

By Christopher Williams

About 10 years ago, when I was about to embark upon my first trip to Vietnam, a colleague shared with me that there was so much to see and do in Vietnam that even a month would not be sufficient time. Well, I gained some more insight into her assessment during my recent sojourn.

During the recent Lunar year celebrations, I traveled to Vietnam and Laos. My sixteen day journey began with a non-stop flight from Guangzhou to Hanoi. After three days in Hanoi, I made my way to Sapa, Dien Bien Phu, Luangprabang, Pakse, Champasak, and Da Nang. I returned to China flying back from Ho Chi Minh City. Each of these places that I visited possessed its own history with many stories to understand.

In China, the Lunar New Year is called the Spring Festival. However, the Vietnamese call their Lunar New Year festivities Tet. Although both the Spring Festival and Tet follow the lunar calendar, both of these annual commemorations take on the particular national characteristics of the two respective countries. In accordance with the lunar calendar, these holidays do not have a fixed date and change each year. Generally, the lunar New Year falls between late January and mid February. Both the Spring Festival and Tet are the most important dates on the Chinese and Vietnamese calendars.

Each day, my trip was an adventure, an exploration into unfamiliar worlds and cultures. Moreover, what I continued to learn in each place that I visited was what historian John Henrik Clarke often described as some of the missing pages of world history. Clarke would usually make this statement in the context of African history. However, I have learned that the missing pages of world history can also be applied to Asia.

Clarke’ observations were especially true when I visited Wat Phou, a Khmer temple in Southern Laos and My Son, the Cham temple ruins in Da Nang. These and many other the monuments and artifacts, especially those that I viewed at the Da Nang’s Cham Museum, provided me with a great amount of intellectual stimulation, greatly enriching my overall experience. Without a doubt, encountering these missing pages of world history tickled my imagination, leaving me with many unanswered questions, more books to read and even more places to visit.

The photographs presented here are just a small part of what I experienced.