Shanghai has Sprung: Walking through Historic Parks, Remembering Lu Xun and Waltzing with Mao

I thought Saturday was a busy day, and it was (see my previous blog for details), but Tuesday was just as big.  Fortunately I was feeling much better, and the weather was fantastic.  Spring has finally come to Shanghai and it was time to get out and see the flowers blooming in the parks and gardens of this great city.  

My day began with a walk in Zhabei Park, the park located right below our apartment.  Every morning from 7 am onward we hear the sounds of music coming from the park and we can look down from our 18th floor balcony and see several different groups of dancers.  Here's what our apartment looks like to them.

Since last week I've also been watching the trees start to bud and the flowering trees turn their lurid and luscious pinks, whites, yellows, and reds.  So when Hannah, my one year old daughter, came upstairs to play (she lives downstairs with her grandparents), I persuaded her mother and grandma to come out on a walk through the park.  

After enjoying a nice morning stroll in Zhabei Park, it was time to prepare for my afternoon and evening.  I was slated to meet my Modern Chinese History students at 1 pm at the main gate of Lu Xun Park in Hongkou.  I planned to take them on a tour of the Lu Xun museum followed by a visit to the tomb of this great Chinese writer, both located in the park named after him.  We did just that.  

During the visit to his museum, the students were busy taking notes as I gave them some general info about him and about how the museum was organized.  They are going to write papers about this museum or others we visit as a major assignment for the course.  I've asked them to read this great article by Kirk Denton (hope he and the journal don't mind me posting it here) to get an insight into how to write critically about museums in China.

The Lu Xun museum in Lu Xun Park is very impressive and truly a labor of love on the part of the museum organizers.  Every time I take people through that museum I am reminded of what a prolific, dedicated, and original writer, thinker, and intellectual he was.  He could read and translate many languages into Chinese including Russian, German, and Japanese.  He was truly a great man and deserving of the praise heaped upon him by the government here in China.  

It helps that he died in 1936 and didn't have to make some awful choices about where to situate himself in the coming war with Japan.  In addition to having spent a great deal of time in Japan he was very good friends with many Japanese intellectuals including Uchiyama Kanzo, who owned a famous bookstore in that neighborhood where Lu Xun himself lived in the 1930s.  A replica of that bookstore is also situated inside the museum.  

After the museum we made our way over to the tomb of Lu Xun, where I had the students read aloud sections from some of his famous writings.  After reading passages from his preface to Call to Arms (呐喊), his first published collection of stories in 1923, and from his Diary of a Madman (狂人日记), three of the students then performed roles from his story Kong Yiji 孔乙己 while the others read the story out loud in its entirety.  I thought this would be a fun way for them to engage with this famous story and character and it was.  Afterwards we talked about the meaning and message of the story and will talk more about that and other Lu Xun stories next week in class.

After visiting the Lu Xun Park we all shared a van back to the campus of ECNU, where I enjoy walking from the entrance gate to the building that houses the NYU program.  ECNU is one of the nicest campuses in town (the Zhongshan North Road campus that is) and it is always a great pleasure to walk across the campus, passing over two canals until you reach the great Mao statue that reminds us of who did finally unify the country after decades of struggle and strife.

Appropriately I was on my way to teach my seminar on the Mao Years which is going very well owing to the high caliber of students who have chosen to take the course.  This time I had them watch the movie "East is Red," a famous ballet from the beginning of the Cultural Revolution years that was made into a film in 1965.  The film depicts the history of China from the vantage point of the CCP, from 1912-1949.  It's a fantastic film and one of the greatest pieces of Soviet-style propaganda ever made in my opinion.  You cannot help but feel uplifted by the dance performances in this film, even if you regard it with a heavy dose of irony.

Halfway through the film I had to run over to the Xingguo Hotel where I was scheduled to give a lecture for the RAS.  I'd chosen the topic of "Shanghai Nightlife and the Modern Chinese Woman" as my point of departure.  Over an hour and a half I ran through the history of nightlife in Shanghai starting with the courtesan houses of the late Qing era, then the Jazz Age of the 1920s-40s, and finally the resurgence of nightlife since the 1990s.  The talk ran a bit long and seemed to tax the patience of a few people, but overall it went well.  The talk was basically a plug for the book that James Farrer and I have been working on called Shanghai Nightscapes:  Nightlife, Globalization, and Sexuality in the Chinese Metropolis.  It would have been better if James had been there with me of course, but the RAS couldn't wait for him to come or the book to arrive.  

After the talk I headed over to Dr. Wine on Fumin Road to catch up with the Dartmouth Alumni group here in Shanghai.  I hadn't been to one of the events lately even though I came up with the idea of holding a monthly get-together every first Tuesday.  So I figured I was long overdue.  A glass or two of fine Margaret River Chardonnay revived my spirits as I hung out on the second floor of the bar with Micah, or club president, and the other Dartmouth grads.

Today was a restful day, catching up with various emails and other work, taking in a swim at my health club and some piano practice at the Music Conservatory, then coming back to help my daughter Sarah with her homework.  Her Chinese characters are already better than mine (I exaggerate slightly), and she's well on her way to becoming the bilingual person we always hoped she'd be.  Time to tuck her in and say goodnight.  Tomorrow is the third and final field trip for my Global Nightlife class and we are hitting the clubs and bars of Xintiandi.