Experiencing China: MU Student Spends Summer Months Exploring Chinese Culture

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Students visiting the Shaolin Temple in Dongyang watched as Sonyang Academy students performed Kung Fu shows. Students of the academy often practice Shaolin Kung Fu, a collection of Chinese martial arts affiliated with the Shaolin Monastery, eight hours a day and nearly year-round.

Photo by Marcus Constantino | The Parthenon


Posted on August 1, 2013


Hiking at Qianling Mausoleum


Every once in a while, we have one of those moments that stands out from the rest. A moment that unfolds so perfectly, you ask yourself if you are having an out-of-body experience or if you are experiencing an overwhelming rush of life. Yesterday was one of those days.


We left our Xi’an hotel at 8 a.m. Tuesday for a two-hour bus ride to the Qianling Mausoleum, a Tang Dynasty tomb on a mountain. The day started with two things I had not seen since I flew out of Detroit on July 8: a blue sky and direct sunlight. Though it made it a little bit hotter outside, it was nice to escape the haze that has shrouded the air since we arrived.


When you enter the mausoleum, you walk down a long concrete walkway lined with large, gold Buddha statues and other smaller stone statues. The path gives way to a mountain, which is actually the buried tomb of China’s only ruling empress, Wu Zetian. At about 11 p.m., I asked one of our professors if we had time to climb to the top of the mountain, almost jokingly.


“It would take four hours,” she said.


Challenge accepted.


As I started walking up the mountain, the nice, concrete walkway turned into a dusty concrete ramp lined with old Chinese people selling colorful, handcrafted souvenirs. The other West Virginia students and a few others caught up with me as I took a break to drink warm bottled water I purchased from one of the path-side sellers.


The concrete path turned into nothing more than a sign pointing to a dirt and rock path up the mountain. It was a steep, rocky climb. I had to be careful with my footing to keep from slipping on a rock or the hard-packed dirt and falling down. Along the way, we passed a boy laying in a hammock looking over the vista and many others just sitting along the path.


I was completely out of breath when I reached the top, but it was well worth it. The view was breathtaking. We had a beautiful vista that featured China’s farmland, industry and urban life in the distance. Several old men were at the top, and one of them generously gave some of our group some tea. He also took a group picture of us with the view as a backdrop. He was smoking something in his pipe and was probably on this mountaintop more often than not, if I had to guess. I could have stayed there for hours.


Monday was also a pretty great day. After touring the Terracotta Warriors, we had lunch, then were given free time until dinner. Other students and I took this opportunity to go biking on top of the Xi’an Wall, a 13.7 km. defense wall around the city. We only had enough money to rent two bikes, so we rented two tandem bikes. It was a little difficult to get going at first, but once we were balanced, it was a smooth, relaxing ride with a great view of the Xi’an skyline.


Kung Fu shows, artwork and theater in urban


Friday, we went to the Henan Museum, which has about 8,000 years worth of historical artifacts. Four of China’s eight dynasties had capitals in Henan Province, so there is still much to be unearthed. I was amazed at how well kept many of the relics were such as pottery, instruments and statues. From primitive weapons and flutes made of bone to large cauldrons for cooking and statues of lions and Buddha, the museum was amazing because of the sheer amount of history inside it.


We also spent some time at Zhengzhou University. The campus is huge, as more than 36,000 students attend the university. We toured the campus’s art gallery, which had oil paintings and sketches of the local landscape by Zhengzhou students. Later, as we were walking around campus, I photographed a child on his scooter, and he came to me very curious about my camera.


We went to Dongyang, home of the Shaolin Temple and Songyang Academy. Set in a breathtaking landscape of tall, green mountains partially obscured in a heavy haze, the temple was our first up-close taste of traditional Chinese architecture. Many statues and tablets are still there, some about 1,400 years old. The area is famous for Kung Fu. While it is not the birthplace of Kung Fu, many types of Kung Fu have originated from Dongyang. There are thousands of children at the Songyang Academy learning Kung Fu in a military-like structure. The students practice Kung Fu eight hours a day and are at the academy nearly year-round. We were able to watch a Kung Fu show at the end of our time at Songyang, and it was incredible.


We watched a play in a mountain valley. The show combined traditional dancing, Kung Fu, and men donning bright lights on their clothing running across zip lines along with an artificial moon that rose up over the valley. The set was literally the entire valley and mountainside with spotlights lights popping up all along the mountains.


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