Open Forum

Opinions, stories, and comments from the Bates community

Back from Beijing

The Summer issue, with its cover story on Professor Margaret Maurer-Fazio (“Inside China“) and review of the Museum of Art’s Stairway to Heaven exhibition, about the changing urban landscapes of China (“My City Was Gone“), prompts me to share my experiences last summer working on a historic preservation project in Beijing.

Currently, the Beijing Cultural Heritage Protection Center, known as CHP, is trying to preserve and raise awareness of the city’s culturally significant alleyways, known as hutongs, that run between traditional residences known as siheyuans. My job was to research the outside perspective on Beijing’s hutongs, and I surveyed foreign tourists in Beijing and foreigners who had visited, traveled, or lived
in Beijing.

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I found that people’s perspectives around traditional architecture and culture differ with age. Older visitors seemed to embrace the concept of preservation. But young foreign visitors seemed to question the need for and legitimacy of these preservation efforts, one likening the effort to the creation of a “Sino Disney Land.”

Historically around the world, response to a social injustice comes from the younger generation, especially from college-educated young adults. While I knew that young Beijing residents prefer high-rises to courtyard neighborhoods, I presumed that young people visiting Beijing would oppose the government’s heavy-handed and rapid destruction of traditional Beijing

So why were these international youth ambivalent about preserving hutongs? Where was the outrage that I thought would illuminate the pages of the surveys?

Young visitors did know that families would be displaced if their hutong was destroyed to build a skyscraper, but many questioned the methods, procedures, and purposes of protection. Some were dubious that preservation was based on the needs of local inhabitants, believing instead that tourism was the true driving economic force, hence the “Sino Disney Land” comment. Others gave what they thought were rational, humane reasons why not all hutongs should remain: “Looks very dirty and not good living for that people,” “not great living conditions,” “not very nice and very dirty,” and “I also see the need to modernize.”

In a consumer-driven world, perhaps immediate gratification is the ultimate goal. Perhaps respondents place greater value on the speed at which Beijing is modernizing. In the eyes of a generation traveling to Beijing because it is a “young city with enormous potential” and because they “like that it is evolving while I’m here,” Beijing is not valued as a historic city. Instead, young people perceive Beijing as a future center of business, economy, and politics, not a city of rich, ancient culture. Sensational architecture, not the functional architecture seen in hutong neighborhoods, is what they crave.

My report suggests that the Beijing Cultural Heritage Protection Center keep sharing information with the Western media to raise awareness, the first step toward activism. CHP must continue to inform, locally and abroad, the history, function, and importance of hutongs. Misconceptions are common: One interviewee compared the hutongs to the poorhouses of America and Europe, not understanding the beauty and culture emanating from the gray brick alleyways. The competing values, between traditional culture and modernization, must be reconciled if young Beijing residents are to take steps to preserve their courtyard neighborhoods.

Christie Schnurr ’11
Sharon, Conn.

Silent Retreat?

As a longtime advocate for Tibetan rights, I was disappointed that your Summer issue’s cover story, “Inside China,” made absolutely no reference to the violation of human rights and repression of religious freedom by the Chinese government against the Tibetan people. I would be less disappointed in this glaring omission had the article not showcased Tibetan and/or Tibetan Buddhist content in five out of a total of eight pictures. For this reason, the article should have addressed the price that China’s economic liberalization has cost indigenous people in autonomous regions such as Tibet.

Linda B. Jones ’78
Santa Cruz, Calif.

Stangle Professor of Applied Economics Margaret Maurer-Fazio responds: I can understand why Linda is bothered to see an article with so many photos of Tibetans with no mention of the issues she cares so passionately about. Prior to my interview with Bates Magazine writer Doug Hubley, he asked if I would talk about China-Tibet relations. I refused, not because I feared potential repercussions but because I, like many academics, loathe the notion that one can gain expertise on an issue merely by being near it. My research focuses on labor market issues in China and includes a recent investigation of how China’s minorities have fared in the transition to a market economy. I have established working relationships with many Chinese counterparts, one of which enabled me and two former Bates students to work with Wang Wei, a Chinese conservationist, on a demonstration ecotourism project in Sichuan in Ganzi Tibetan Prefecture. My brief forays into Tibetan areas, however, do not make me an expert. I have no research experience in the field of human rights, nor do I have expertise in the historical and current relationships between the Tibetan and Han people. With regard to the photos published with the story, I provided thousands of photos to Bates Magazine, some taken by me, some by Wang Wei, showing many areas of China. The magazine chose to emphasize our 2006 Fall Semester Abroad trip to Ganzi Tibetan Prefecture, and I am not surprised that Wang Wei’s compelling photos dominated the layout — he has a very good eye. I am, however, proud and happy that one of mine made the magazine cover!

Making Bates Pay

A recent article in The Wall Street Journal reviews findings from a study by Payscale, a human resources consulting firm, comparing salary outcomes of graduates from many different schools and disciplines. Going to Payscale’s Web site, I saw that Bates is ranked a rather respectable 15th by mid-career median salary.

Liberal arts colleges seem to have a special burden to justify their luxuriously small classes and low student-teacher ratios. Though median salary is just one measure of this success — and certainly a controversial one — it matters. We are doing something right when Bates grads not only get jobs but land salaries near the top of the field.

An interesting tidbit, anyway — just the thing for a recent grad or young alum to keep
in mind while searching for a job during difficult times.

Chris Seneta ’00
Arlington, Va.

Taking Offense

I was chagrined to see Bates Magazine perpetuate the myth that a chain-link fence “encircled the Bates campus” (“Community Fabric,” Summer 2008). As a Lewiston-born local resident for most of my life and as a 1969 alumnus, I can testify that this fence never existed.

The myth, however, has been perpetuated by the College itself, almost always in reference to President Harward’s commendable and well-publicized efforts at outreach to the Lewiston-Auburn community. I have even heard some Bates administrators who are alums — and who should know better — repeat this myth.

There was a section of fence behind the Frye Street houses and Rand Hall at the foot of Mount David. There was also a section of fence between John Bertram and what is now the D’Youville Pavilion on the St. Mary’s hospital campus, and another along Russell Street between College and Bardwell streets. The only area that was ever enclosed was Garcelon Field and the then-adjacent baseball and soccer fields. The purpose was to keep unauthorized people off the fields and enable Bates to charge admission to the football games. When Bates and other NESCAC schools stopped charging admission to football games, and with the construction of Olin Arts Center (1986) and the Residential Village and Mays Center (1992), the fences in that area came down.

Certainly, like many colleges in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s, Bates’ town-gown relations needed improvement. But for the College itself to contend that Bates was surrounded by a chain- link fence that walled it off from the community is a disservice to the staff and students who populated the campus during those years.

I would expect a higher standard of fact-checking before such articles are printed in College publications or submitted to the local paper for publication (as has happened). Bates is not perfect and has had its flaws in town-gown relations, but the existence of this fence was not one of them.

Jeff Sturgis ’69
Minot, Maine

The story “Community Fabric” contains a serious error in the first paragraph that creates a misconception about Bates’ past. The campus was not “encircled” by a chain-link fence.

For a young person living two blocks away, it was a great place to play. We used the Bates toboggan slide on Mount David — no fence there. I walked to high school through the Bates campus, as the school was just beyond Campus Avenue. We played in the woods behind the old boiler room and at no time did we get any feeling of “stay out.”

There was a fence around the athletic fields, as all schools have. This allowed the College to charge people, at one time, to attend football games. Naturally, the tennis courts were also fenced. It is my hope that you can correct this misconception.

Allan Kneeland ’50
Barrington, R.I.