Accompanying students to Beijing

During the Spring 2019 semester I participated in the latest edition of AUI’s International Field Seminar, accompanying nine students to Beijing.

Lakeside pavilions at Beijing’s Summer Palace on a Spring morning.

The international Field Seminar is a semester-long undergraduate course that deals with an array of social and cultural issues particular to a given foreign city or region. It is part of AUI’s Liberal Arts core curriculum but also serves our International Studies program. Past editions of the International Field Seminar I have participated in include New York City in 2011 and Istanbul in 2012.

This spring’s Beijing Field Seminar was the work of Prof. Zaynab El Bernoussi (Dr. Z to our students). Dr. El Bernoussi had originally planned to organize a seminar around Hong Kong, where she had pursued graduate studies. However, no university in Hong Kong was prepared to host our group (cover housing costs) for a week, making the seminar far too expensive for our students. Into this crisis of sorts stepped Beijing’s China Foreign Affairs University.

Dr. Zaynab El Bernoussi and the author standing in front of the bust of Chen Yi (Foreign Minister of the People’s Republic of China, 1958-1972) at the entrance to China Foreign Affairs University’s Zhanlanlu campus, Beijing, March 2019.

The China Foreign Affairs University was created in 1955 by Premier Zhou Enlai, the People’s Republic of China’s Minister of Foreign Affairs at the time. Not only did CFAU very graciously offer to house our group, it also assigned several seriously fun graduate students to accompany us in the field and hired a van to take us around Beijing–no small gift given traffic congestion in a city of 24,000,000 people.

Happily for us, we were accommodated on the university’s old campus, in Zhanlanlu district (just east of the 2nd ring road), very near the center of the city.

The AUI group standing in front of the statue of Premier Zhou Enlai (Foreign Minister of the People’s Republic of China, 1949-1958, and founder of CFAU) and Marshal Chen Yi in CFAU’s new campus, Shahezhen.

CFAU’s new campus, which opened in 2012, is in Shahezhen, on Beijing’s northern outskirts (6th ring road). We went there on two occasions, to address students in the English and in the French departments.

Otherwise, most of our time was devoted to tourism and cultural activities. This is what some of that looked like:

Some of the yellow-tiled halls, wooden galleries and marble terraces of the Forbidden City. Like so many tourist attractions elsewhere around the world, this one is crowded with… tourists. I was lucky to get a few shots away from the crowd.

Qian Men Gate on Tienanmen square. Our visit to Tienanmen was a bit of a bust up. Mao’s Mausoleum was closed to the public as our field trip coincided with the annual plenary session of the Communist Party of China as well as of the National People’s Congress, both taking places in the Great Hall of the People next door. Moreover, the line-up to enter the National Museum of China was so long and slow-moving that, after about two hours, we left to pursue other activities.

The Temple of Heaven.

Our morning at the Great Wall’s Badaling Pass was one of the high points of the trip for both the students, who made it to the top, and for this aging professor who did not.

Later that afternoon we visited the tomb of Ming Emperor Yongle (reigned 1402-1424).

Yongle’s tomb contains a small exhibit of imperial paraphernalia, including a bust of one of my all-time heroes, the great Admiral Zheng He…

…and a model of one of Zheng He’s treasure ships.

Wangfujing pedestrian street had shopping options for all, everything from a major Prada outlet to grilled scorpions on a skewer.

Also while in Beijing, our group was received by His Excellency Mr. Aziz Mekouar, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Morocco to the People’s Republic of Chine. Our students were on their best behavior and made an excellent impression.

Whatever nine AUI students may have taken away from this seminar, Dr. El Bernoussi and I hope to build on the experience. First, we have offered to reciprocate, inviting CFAU to bring a group of its students to Morocco for a visit, maybe even as early as this coming October, in shâ’ Allâh. More long-term, we would like to be able to offer some kind of joint graduate program, with Moroccan students completing a year of advanced International Relations studies in Beijing while CFAU students come to Ifrane for advanced studies of the Middle East-North Africa.

The author about to enjoy Peking duck in Beijing’s legendary Quanjude Restaurant (est. 1864) on Qianmen Street.



About ericrossacademic

Professor of Geography at Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco
This entry was posted in cities, field trips and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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