Discovering History and Analyzing Leadership

We had another long, energetic and educational day here in Hunan province.  The day at the park was wonderful, but now the intellectual part begins.  Here are Chris and Nathan to explain:

“Hello my name is Chris. I am a citizen of Hong Kong but am a British national living overseas. I have done NHD since seventh grade and am currently in ninth grade. I look forward to participating in more national history days.  On this day (September 25th), we stand in front of the very steps leading to Mao Zedong’s University which is known as the “Hunan First Normal School.”  We learned all sorts of trivial and important facts of Mao and the school such as how Mao would shower using cold water in the middle of the winter to build his body.

After the tour, our wonderfully lucky group of thirteen people along with our partners moved on to the actual campus of the “Hunan First Normal School.” It was here that things got interesting. Six people along with Dr. Gorn presented to our local school counterparts about three things in American history: the American Revolution, the American Civil War, and Contemporary America. I was in the group discussing the American Revolution. Our local school representatives presented China between 1840 and 1949.  They talked about the invasions on China and the struggle of power in post imperial China.

What is interesting about American history and Chinese history is the sheer amount of parallels that can be drawn. For example: the battles of Lexington and Concord where the British chased the rebel leaders across the thirteen states before attacking sounds almost exactly like the events of China’s Long March. It is also intriguing to know that the style of fighting used by the American rebels and the Chinese communist rebels were basically the same–Guerilla Warfare.

I would like to end my post by paraphrasing Thomas Paine: It is in times like this, in times of uncertainty and of the unknown, whether it is in the winter of 1776 or September eleventh 2001, that truly try men’s souls.  So ask yourself, what will we make of the future knowing the glories and pitfalls made by people tangible only through history?” — Chris

“Hi my name is Nathan, and I am a Junior from Concordia. Last year, I made it to the finals at the NHD national contest in Sr. Individual Performance.

Imagine having the opportunity to get into the mind of a great leader. In my case, that mind was Mao Zedong’s. We traveled to Orange Island where Mao used to spend time writing poetry. It is obvious to see why he chose this place to write his works. The moment you set foot on the island, you are surrounded by a lush paradise of smells and sights. After taking a relaxing drive down to the coast, where a massive structure of Mao’s head is, we sat down to analyze some of Mao’s poetry. If you listen to his poetry, you can’t even tell that it was written by a political leader. Instead you hear the voice of a great writer whose passion was transcribed through his poems. We ended the day by interviewing some local people about their views of Mao and his work; this of course gave us some interesting insight into how people of China see a past leader.” –Nathan

The poertry session was led by Bryan Munson, who teaches English lit. at Concordia.  Our tour guide, Mars, recited Mao’s poetry in Mandarin and the same poem was then read by a student.  While we sat on the steps overlooking the river and discussed the difference in cadance from one language to another and the impact on the tone and message of the poem, a crowd formed around us to listen and take pictures of a rather odd group of 14 people (of different nationalities and races), reciting Mao’s poetry.  The students then interviewed some of the Chinese tourists/locals on the island, some of whom would later be heard practing poetry recitation!  It seems we started a trend.  In the evening, our students began working on their own poems and I’m hoping one of them will be willing to share it on this blog.  Stay tuned. — CG

P.S.  To complete the day, Mr. Johnson and Mr. Munson treated all to Dairy Queen!

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3 responses to “Discovering History and Analyzing Leadership

  1. As a fellow traveler with Dr. Gorn on this trip, it is very exciting for me to see the students’ activities shared with a wide audience through this blog. These experiences of studying the Chinese Civil War, the Long March, and the legacy of Mao Zedong are truly enlightening for the students (and adults) as we examine what these historic events and themes mean for China today. As our students converse with locals about these topics, many common themes have emerged, but also some surprising intricacies that show the complexity of these subjects. This emphasizes that history is not always a neat, tidy remembrance of past events, but can be a fluid, changing understanding based as much on the situation in the present as the actual events under examination. Tomorrow we go north to Yan’an and stay in the caves where Mao and the other revolutionaries built their base of support after the Long March. I am very fortunate to get to share this experience with Dr. Gorn and the students!

  2. Eileen Bach

    Another bonus – who ever thought of Chairman Mao composing poetry? It’s a reminder that the Chinese revere scholars – and poets!

  3. Bryan Munson

    I traveled with this group as the other teacher sponsor, representing the English teacher’s perspective. I thought Mao’s poetry was surprisingly impressive, considering it was my first encounter with his work. On our last night, we had an English exchange with some college students, and I asked one of them if he could recite one of Mao’s poems called “Snow” (translated title, http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/mao/selected-works/poems/poems18.htm). He eagerly did so as many Chinese learn the poetry of Mao as children. When he was done, I asked him to tell me what it meant to him. After a long explanation of the life of Mao and the coldness of the Long March, I pressed further and asked, “But what do you think the poem is saying?” It proved to be a question he could not clearly voice to me. I have found this as well in working with Korean students when I use Korean poetry in translation. When I seek for meaning from them, I get the explanation that the poems were coded ways to send troop movement information to the army. When I point out the artistry of the structure and symbolism that seems to transcend the utilitarian usefulness of the poem, the students are amused that I would reduce it in this way as the political message seems to be much more salient than the poetic message.

    P.S. One of the other problems in studying a work in translation, as our students pointed out to me, is that the translation does not capture the meter, artistry, or creative message that the original language does. I actually prefer Mr. Andrew Boyd’s translation of “Snow” to the one linked above where the line:
    “On a fine day, the land,
    Clad in white, adorned in red,
    Grows more enchanting.”
    becomes:
    “And on a sunny day
    You will see a red dress thrown over the white,
    Enchantingly lovely!”
    I realize it is speaking of the advancement of the red army, but I prefer to linger on the image of the “enchantingly lovely” red dress on the white snow. I must admit, it is an inspiring image.

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