It’s difficult to find anyone in Chengdu, a laidback city in central China known for its pandas and spicy food, who doesn’t know where they were at 2:28 p.m. on May 12, 2008.

That’s when a massive earthquake, one of the worst ever in China, left 87,000 people dead, 370,000 injured, and five million people homeless in the Sichuan Province around Chengdu.

DaTech3.jpg

The earthquake happened during the school day. Substandard construction of the buildings resulted in thousands of children dying in what become known as “tofu schools” because they were so unstable and toppled during the earthquake.

The mountains around Sichuan rise more than three miles above the neighboring plains and about 40 miles from Chengdu. They form a wrinkle in the earth’s crust caused by the Indian and Eurasian plates pushing against each other. They’re the same forces that formed the Himalayas.

The towns most affected by 2008’s magnitude-8 earthquake—such as Beichuan, Wenchuan, and Mianzhu—were built near the Longmenshan Fault, a tear in the earth’s crust and a hotspot for quakes. The 2008 event shook buildings nearby for nearly two minutes and was felt 800 miles away in Beijing.

The disaster happened just as China was ready to host the Summer Olympics, a sort of coming-out party for the country.

Over the past decade, China worked to rebuild the homes and lives of those affected. Shiny new roads and sturdy buildings replaced the rubble. Displaced families found new homes. Bereaved parents gave birth to thousands of so-called “replacement children.” Earthquake warning systems were put in place throughout the country.

A nationwide initiative was launched to ensure safe primary and middle schools, injecting about $60 billion toward the goal of making schools safe.

Nevertheless, critics say the Chinese government, which they believe should be held accountable for the inferior buildings, have rejected fair compensation for those affected by the tragedy.

The misuse of money also created a huge credibility problem for the government. At one point, a Chinese celebrity’s photos flaunting her lavish lifestyle on social media became the catalyst for exposing the Red Cross Society’s mismanagement of the Sichuan relief funds.

The woman claimed to be working for a Red Cross subsidiary even as she regularly shared pictures of herself posing with luxury cars at upscale resorts and restaurants. After angry online readers dug into her personal life, it emerged that her boyfriend was a shareholder of an investment-holding group affiliated with the Red Cross.

Ultimately, a variety of people were convicted of embezzling funds. As a result of this scandal and others, Chinese remain reluctant to donate funds to charities.

Ten years later, the memories of what happened still loom large. A government desire to declare “thanksgiving” for what happened after the earthquake created a stir on the internet. Many wanted the victims to be remembered rather than what the government did after the earthquake. See DaTimes at https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/10/world/asia/china-sichuan-earthquake-thanksgiving.html

For better and worse, the earthquake changed the region and the country and continues to do so even today.

A young Vietnamese man pulled out his phone and asked me if I knew about what was happening in Korea.

He passed the device to me where the presidents of North Korea and South Korea were meeting on the border between the two countries.

“I feel a lot safer now than I did a few minutes ago,” he told me in Lhasa, Tibet.

DaTech3.jpgFor many people, North Korean President Kim Jong-un is like the crazy uncle who you only see during the holidays. But many like the young Vietnamese man, Kim has loomed over the safety of the region.

Ironically, the Chinese press has spent little time talking about what other countries have labelled an important breakthrough.

In fact, Xinhua, the official government news agency, put the conclusion of a regional government conference as the lead story, with Korea down the list of news events. That story reported on the elimination of loudspeakers spouting propaganda from South Korea along the border, with a note that the Chinese foreign minister plans a visit to North Korea.

More important, The South China Morning Post, a somewhat independent news organization in Hong Kong, posed an awkward headline: “China could be excluded from peace talks.”

Zhang Liangui, a specialist on Korea at the Central Party School, which trains Communist Party officials, said Beijing’s policy on North Korea in recent years could see it excluded from the peace process.

“The stance of China’s foreign ministry has been that [the North Korean nuclear crisis] is none of its business and that North Korea and the U.S. should be communicating directly,” Zhang told The Post. “So now things are out of China’s control, and it is no surprise that it is being excluded from the discussions.”

A senior diplomat in Seoul told The South China Morning Post that both Koreas wanted to dilute Beijing’s influence over the peninsula.

It’s rather ironic since the Korean War was essentially a battle between China and the United States for influence in the region. Moreover, China was a signatory to the armistice that ended the war in 1953.

Whatever the case, those who live near North Korea breathed a significant sigh of relief when the two sides of the Korean conflict met for the first time in more than a decade.

At St. Francis Catholic Church in Xi’an, China, the congregation flowed out into the courtyard for Sunday Mass. Churchgoers include many young parents with children.

The service lasted more than 90 minutes, including a sermon that ebbed and flowed for nearly 20 minutes. Each section of the church has one of the Ten Commandments written in both Mandarin and English for people to ponder during Mass.

The scene was much the same the following week at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Beijing, where the Communist Party allows only state-approved places of worship and the Vatican has withheld diplomatic ties since 1949 when the party came to power.

DaTech3.jpgSimply put, the Catholic Church has endured subjugation and hardship under an atheistic government. It is difficult to imagine how Catholics have survived the vagaries of Communism, imprisonment, economic retribution, and political intolerance. But the church has served as a beacon of resistance for decades.

The status of the Catholic Church may soon change. But it is unclear whether a compromise between the Chinese government and the Vatican will make things better.

The Chinese government and the church have been engaged in discussions to make relations better. In an usual move, the government-controlled press recently published a photograph of Pope Francis meeting Chinese pilgrims in Rome.

Catholics can only legally practice their religion in mainland China in state-sanctioned churches, which are not overseen by the Vatican. Under the current system, bishops are appointed by Beijing rather than the Pope.

The Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association was established in 1957 to ensure state-sanctioned churches toe the Communist Party line, with the state-controlled Bishop Conference of the Catholic Church in China selecting and appointing its clerics.
Most appointments have quietly received recognition from the Vatican over the years, but the Holy See has intervened and excommunicated seven who it deemed to be “illicitly ordained.”

The appointment of bishops has been one of the main sources of contention between the two sides, with Beijing saying it must have a full say in the decisions made by the state-controlled Chinese Catholic Church.

Other issues remain, including whether about 30 “underground” Catholic bishops already approved by the Vatican, but not sanctioned by Beijing, will be formally recognized by the Chinese authorities.

In an interview with The South China Morning Post, Tou Chou-seng, an academic at Fu Jen Catholic University in Taiwan and the island’s former ambassador to the Vatican, said Beijing and the Holy See hoped a compromise over bishop appointments would ultimately lead to a normalization in their relationship. But there was still a long way to go.

“Resolving conflicts over bishop ordination is the first step, but it doesn’t put things right once and for all,” Tou said.“Historically it’s always been a long walk from reaching a bishop ordination agreement to ties being formalized,” he said.

Other Communist countries have tried to establish relations with the Vatican. Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev visited the Holy See in 1989 vowing to build full diplomatic ties, but it took a decade for that to happen.

Vietnamese Premier Nguyen Tan Dung saw former Pope Benedict XVI in 2007, expressing Hanoi’s wish to build full ties with the Vatican, but they have yet to be established.

He added that increased numbers of underground Catholic churches in China would be more, but a critical indication of the success of any deal was whether it would lead to greater religious freedom.

“If they are continuously treated unfairly after going public, the Holy See would certainly feel apologetic to the underground church,” Tou said.

Whatever happens, it is heartening to see just how strong the Catholic Church is in China despite the numerous difficulties the faithful have faced over the years.

Did Chinese President Xi Jinping just blink in trade war stand-off with US?

That exact headline comes from The South China Morning Post, a leading news organization in Hong Kong.

I guess the U.S. media mavens who screamed about the dumb move Trump made against China had already turned their attention to the next round of bashing the president.

Why analyze some important information when you can focus on the salacious statements of a hooker and an FBI hack?

As The South China Morning Post reports:

In his keynote speech at the [economic meeting of the] Boao Forum for Asia—his first to a foreign audience since starting a second term as leader—Xi pledged to open China’s doors ‘wider and wider’ to the world.

The most notable pledges were the easing of foreign ownership limits in the financial and automotive industries, lower tariffs on imported cars, and improved protection for intellectual property rights.

The next day, China’s central bank unveiled a slew of measures to open up its financial sector to foreign investment, including the removal of foreign ownership caps for banks, as Beijing tried to paint itself as an open economy and a key backer of free trade and globalization.

At the beginning of a two-month stay in China, I visited Chengdu, which most people know as the home base for many of the cuddly pandas. But the city is also the home of one of the largest plants that produces Apple products. It is a massive site, where an estimated 100,000 people work.

The plant is owned and operated by Foxconn, which is the largest, private employer in mainland China with about 1.4 million workers. Ironically, the company is actually based in Taiwan, but it is so good at what it does that the mainland government tends to look the other way.

For more on FoxConn, see https://www.recode.net/2015/4/6/11561130/where-apple-products-are-born-a-rare-glimpse-inside-foxconns-factory

But consider this: What if President Trump decided to hit the Apple and FoxConn operations—as well as others like them that ship electronic goods the United States—with significant tariffs? At least, President Xi may not rule out that possibility.

Even though American consumers may complain about price increases on myriad products, the Chinese president knows a trade war would hurt his country a lot more than the United States.

A final note: My complaints about Facebook have nothing to do with privacy. My bone to pick is how the company has ruined any recognition of proper punctuation.

FB puts a period outside of every quotation mark, such as “I like you”.

That’s all right if you’re in the United Kingdom but not in the United States.

I spend countless hours correcting students’ misuse of punctuation in my classes, which is a product of a poor educational system that fails to recognize rules of a grammar and Facebook. Just sayin’.

by baldilocks

When potential World War Three (or Four) antagonists collide:

The Center for Strategic and International Studies Friday released a report calling on officials to urgently pay attention to threats against US space systems and ground stations.

The report, Space Assessment 2018, reviews open-source information on the counterspace activities of other countries, especially China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea, as well as examining the counterspace activities of some other countries and of some non-state actors.

China, the report notes is a “rising space power that is progressing steadily in the development and testing” of anti-satellite systems using weapons launched to intercept a satellite or attacking the target from orbit, as well as having advanced jamming, cyberattack, and other capabilities “that can threaten a variety of US space systems.”

Although Russian space systems have deteriorated since the fall of the Soviet Union, that country is now modernizing its space capabilities, according to the report, “and has revived or developed new counterspace weapons of nearly all types.”

North Korea and Iran are behind Russian and Chinese capabilities, the report says, but “each is making quick progress thanks to technology transfers from other countries and their own ballistic missile programs. “

Battle space. In case you weren’t worried enough.

Juliette Akinyi Ochieng has been blogging since 2003 as baldilocks. Her older blog is here.  She published her first novel, Tale of the Tigers: Love is Not a Game in 2012.

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Apparently George Orwell’s Classic Animal Farm is hitting too close to home for the new Communist Dictator in China:

The Chinese government has banned George Orwell’s dystopian satirical novella Animal Farm and the letter ‘N’ in a wide-ranging online censorship crackdown.

Experts believe the increased levels of suppression – which come just days after the Chinese Communist Party announced presidential term limits would be abolished – are a sign Xi Jinping hopes to become a dictator for life.

Because nothing hits closer to home to an aspiring dictator for life then George Orwell which is why 1984 is banned along with Animal Farm.

This is part of a long list of speech China is banning online under Xi to keep dissent down, the China Times notes several other examples, a few:

  • Another 500 Years for Heaven (向天再借五百年) — Theme song for the CCTV series Kangxi Dynasty (康熙王朝), often used by netizens to mock leaders who grasp for power, particularly the line “I really want to live another 500 years” (我真的还想再活五百年).
  • I’m willing to be a vegetarian for the rest of my life (信女愿一生吃素) — Allusion to a meme inspired by the popular historical drama Empresses in the Palace (甄嬛传). A screenshot of this line, being said by an empress as she makes the Buddhist pledge for lifelong vegetarianism in return for the imminent death of the emperor, has been shared online.
  • Winnie the Pooh (小熊维尼) — Images of Winnie the Pooh have been used to mock Xi Jinpingsince as early as 2013. The animated bear continues to be sensitive in China users shared a post from Disney’s official account that showed Pooh hugging a large pot of honey along with the caption “find the thing you love and stick with it.”

The list even briefly included the letter “N” which reminded PJ Media of the Classic Steve Martin Sketch “Hostages” from his album Comedy is not Pretty where he proposed banning the letter “M”

I’m sure Thomas Freedman heart is going pitter patter but it’s funny how our friends on the left constantly see Trump as a dictator a censor or a Hitler but never seem to have an issue with actual dictators doing actual censorship on a national scale affecting almost a full fifth of the world’s population.

I suspect that it’s because or leftist / Marxist / Progressive students and administrators understand Xi’s efforts and identify with them. I suspect the students who shouted down Christina Hoff Summers at Lewis and Clark University or the Antifa Mob that shut down Yaron Brook in London identify with Xi’s efforts. After all we should not think of this as a repressive regime trying to stifle dissent on a national scale to allow a ruthless dictator to obtain power for life, we should think about it as a person who is being “triggered” by words and phrases meant as Microaggressions against his government.

Of course when you have one of the largest armies in the world to enforce your censorship the words “trigger warning” take on a whole new meaning.

Closing thought, do not think for one moment that these Leftist/Marxist/Progressives would enforce “trigger warning” the same way Xi will in China if they weren’t held back by the 1st Amendment backed up by the 2nd.


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Eagle River, Wisconsin

By John Ruberry

“‘Many are the strange chances of the world,’ said Mithrandir, ‘and help oft shall come from the hands of the weak when the Wise falter.'”
Mithrandir (Gandalf), in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Simarillion.

This week greets the first anniversary of Donald J. Trump’s historic election to the presidency.

Historic? Yes. Trump is first first non-politician–or former general–ever elected to the nation’s highest office. The Manhattan billionaire was one of 17 candidates for the Republican nomination and it’s very safe to say that among the GOP establishment, Trump was the least popular member of this group.

But among the unpolished masses–the folks that Hillary Clinton dubbed “Deplorables” a year later–Trump was their champion. House Speaker Paul Ryan said after Trump’s upset win over Clinton, said that the president-elect, “Heard a voice that no one else heard.”

Clinton, on the other hand, was clearly the choice of the Democratic Party insiders, and that point was driven home last week by Donna Brazile, the interim DNC chair when Trump scored his upset win.

Trump was branded a racist when he said that Mexico was sending “rapists” and “criminals” over the border and he vowed to build a wall at the Mexican border. Was he wrong to say that? Yes. But Trump revealed a glaring hypocrisy among the Republican Party. The GOP’s idea of “getting tough” on illegal immigration was to talk tough about illegal immigration. And suddenly, the emerging Trump base learned, here was a candidate who will do something about illegal aliens–who yes, not only take away American jobs, such as in food service, but also drive down wages.

Barack Obama waxed eloquently–he’s good at that–about the plight of the laid-off workers at a Maytag refrigerator plant in Galesburg, Illinois–the manufacturer shifted that work to a factory in Mexico, both in his memorable keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention and in Audacity of Hope. Trump vowed–and vows–to stop the exodus of blue collar jobs to south of the border. After eight years of President Obama in charge, whose response to these job losses was to offer retraining to workers for scarce jobs in “green industries,” Trump’s message resonated. While Clinton doubled-down on green failure.

Last week Rush Limbaugh praised Trump’s making an issue during the campaign of China cheating on trade deals and its currency manipulation “China is ripping us off on trade,” Trump screamed. At the time El Rusho saw it as too esoteric of a topic for presidential campaign. But the “weak” understood while the “wise” faltered.

And the Deplorables of Iowa, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan–many of whom voted twice for Barack Obama–went with Trump last year.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

The National Congress of the Communist Part of China, which sets the course of the nation’s leadership and policies every five years, opens next week during one of the most critical times in the relations with the United States.

President Xi Jinping, [pronounced she] who will be elected to a second, five-year term, faces some interesting problems, including the probable retirement of some top leaders, the ongoing North Korea nuclear program, and relations with President Trump.

It has been customary for leaders to retire at the age of 68. That would include five of the seven most powerful leaders in China, including Wang Qishan, Xi’s right-hand man and anti-corruption campaign leader.

SupChina, a great source for anyone who wants to follow developments in China, provides as excellent backgrounder at http://supchina.com/2017/09/26/will-happen-19th-party-congress-fall/

As SupChina notes: “Contrary to many who have posited that Wang is too important to Xi’s agenda to be sidelined, the Macro Polo initiative at the University of Chicago has come down firmly on the position that retirement norms will be followed this year. The initiative’s experts assigned only a small chance to the ‘norm-wrecking’ scenario that keeps Wang in his position, saying that ‘even with a very strong Xi Jinping, [this] would face significant criticism and pushback at every level of the CCP.’”

Xi is likely to opt for a selection of loyalists that both accelerates the ascension of some people leading to more attention “devoted to focusing on executing the many economic reforms that have stalled or taken a backseat to politics.”

On North Korea, China has initiated steps to implement the latest United Nations sanctions. That doesn’t mean that China and the United States are on the same page, but the relationship is better than most legacy media types would have us believe. An exception is a recent Reuters story at http://www.reuters.com/article/us-northkorea-missiles-usa-congress/china-support-for-north-korea-clampdown-growing-u-s-official-idUSKCN1C32J2

Only a few weeks after the China meeting, President Trump will visit Asia, where he will travel to five countries from November 3 to 14, attending summits held by both the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Expectations for a shift in U.S.-China relations are high, according to the influential South China Morning Post.

POLITICO also reports that the Trump Administration is conducting an extensive review of policy toward China. See http://www.politico.com/story/2017/09/28/white-house-china-policy-review-243274

During the past three years I have spent visiting China, I found that the Chinese, particularly business people, see Trump as someone they can deal with. It may not be a perfect marriage, but neither is it as vitriolic as it was under President Obama. Moreover, U.S.-China relations would have been disastrous under Hillary Clinton. Simply put, China was rather curious and somewhat relieved when Trump became president.

For the last two weeks the media’s meme on the North Korean issue was a story of spectacle.

We had the spectacle of North Korea making belligerent threats against the United States and specifically targeting the US territory of Guam and the spectacle of the media going after the Trump administration on North Korea and convincing their followers that war was just around the corner.

Now none of this is new, As I’ve written over and over again North Korea makes it’s living off of threatening the west and the payoff it produces when the west gets spooked.  It’s all smoke from a very old game.

And then came President Donald Trump who changed the rules.

He directly answered the North Korean threats promising to release “Fire and Fury and Frankly Power the likes the world has never seen before” and as you might guess the media and the “experts” they employ who have been going after him 24/7 since election day went absolutely nuts:

CNN:

That stance was pilloried by many experts in the foreign policy world as deeply naive. Since then, however, he had significantly ramped up his rhetoric against Kim. He also has hardened his stance against China and that country’s need to exert its influence over North Korea 

Politico:

The seemingly off-the-cuff broadside also reignited concerns raised during the presidential campaign that Trump’s tough rhetoric, including his previous calls to build up the American nuclear arsenal, could be dangerously destabilizing.

 “The greatest North Korean threat we face is not from a nuclear-tipped missile hitting the U.S. mainland but from Washington stumbling into an inadvertent nuclear war on the Korean peninsula,” Siegfried Hecker, a former director of Los Alamos National Laboratory and a nuclear expert who has visited North Korea seven times since 2004, said in an email.

“The president’s statements exacerbate” such concerns, Hecker said.

The Huffington Post

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, criticized Trump’s rhetoric in an interview with KTAR radio on Tuesday.

“I take exception to the president’s comments because you’ve got to be able to do what you say you’re going to do,” McCain said. “In other words, the old walk softly but carry a big stick, Teddy Roosevelt’s saying, which I think is something that should’ve applied because all it’s going to do is bring us closer to a serious confrontation.”

NBC:

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., criticized Trump’s comments as further isolating North Korea — a strategy she says has not worked to advance American goals in the region.

“The United States must quickly engage North Korea in a high-level dialogue without any preconditions,” Feinstein said in a statement, stating “in my view, diplomacy is the only sound path forward.”

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement: “We need to be firm and deliberate with North Korea, but reckless rhetoric is not a strategy to keep America safe.”

Bloomberg:

Representative Eliot Engel, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs committee, said Trump’s latest comments “undermined American credibility by drawing an absurd red line.”

The Washington Post:

With ‘fire and fury,’ Trump revives fears about his possession of nuclear codes

and of course the NY Times:

President Trump’s threat to unleash “fire and fury” against North Korea sent a shudder through Asia on Wednesday, raising alarm among allies and adversaries and, to some observers, making the possibility of military conflict over the North’s nuclear program seem more real.

No less that the deputy head of the Democrat National Committee declared the dictator of North Korea more stable than the President of the United States at the Netroots gathering before backtracking after the panel was done.

In other words the media, the left, the anti-trump pols in short the “experts” were all united.  Donald Trump’s rhetoric was going to get us all killed.

But a funny thing happened, while the media was busy distracted by their latest anti-trump meme the Chinese who have been using North Korea as a way to keep the US off balance and in check for years said this:

In an unprecedented move against North Korea, China on Monday issued an order to carry out the United Nations sanctions imposed on the rogue regime earlier this month.

China made the announcement amid not only Pyongyang’s escalating war of words with the United States regarding the North Korea nuclear missile program, but also as President Trump was reportedly set to order an investigation into China’s trade practice — a probe which could lead the U.S. to levy its own sanctions on Beijing.

and this:

China agreed to ban imports of North Korean iron, lead, and coal as part of new U.N. sanctions on Pyongyang. That’s hitting Kim Jon Un’s regime where it hurts.

But there was also the statement in the Chinese-run state newspaper Global Times on Friday that said that if North Korea attacks the U.S., China should remain neutral. In other words, they’d be on their own.

Less than 24 hours later the same North Koreans, who had been launching missile after missile into the ocean scaring and who we were told would only be inflamed by the rhetoric of Donald Trump suddenly  said this:

SEOUL—North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has decided not to launch a threatened missile attack on Guam, Pyongyang’s state media reported on Tuesday, but warned that he could change his mind “if the Yankees persist in their extremely dangerous reckless actions.”

(For a deeper analysis of the issues in this story, please see “North Korea Backs Off Threat to Hit Guam”)

The report, published early Tuesday, could help dial back tensions that had spiraled last week following an exchange of threats between North Korea and U.S. President Donald Trump.

There is a lot of surprise in the media (at least there would be if their latest “Trump/Nazi” meme wasn’t sucking up all the air) but we at DaTechGuy blog saw this coming the day President Trump hit Syria with the Russians right there:

if Trump wants to make a deal to stop the war on Syria, to stop North Korea or to take the pressure off the Baltic states afraid of a future Russian invasion he needed to demonstrate a willingness to actually strike, not only did he do so, but he did so While the head of China was his guest, meaning he was willing to demonstrate that diplomatic niceties and timing mean nothing to him when he wants to act.

As did Scott Adams who has seen called almost the entire Trump Saga from day 1:

President Trump just set the table for his conversations with China about North Korea. Does China doubt Trump will take care of the problem in China’s own backyard if they don’t take care of it themselves? That negotiation just got easier.

Donald Trump demonstrated that the US is no longer the weak horse of the Obama Years and that his foreign policy is not going to be driven by a panicked media, scolding from professional experts, or lawmakers anxious for a sound bite, it’s going to be driven with one goal in mind, getting results.

Don Surber put it best

Chairman Xi saw The Donald during their dinner at Mar-a-Lago deliver fire and fury to Syria.

And then two days later, Afghanistan

On Monday, China backed down.

Nine politically experienced presidents — Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush 41, Clinton, Bush 43, and Obama — acted presidential and got nothing done, while the Kim Jong clan nuked up and developed intercontinental ballistic missiles.

The amateur – the mad man — the unpresidential one — got China to rein in North Korea.

The US is the strong horse again and our enemies are acting accordingly, the media, American left and #nevertrump are hardest hit.

#unexpectedly

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The sand dunes along the Silk Road

Dunhuang, China, is probably the most important city you’ve never heard of.

Tucked into a corner of Northwest China, Dunhuang [pronounced DONE-hwong] was a major outpost on the famous Silk Road trading route and has become a symbol of the current government’s attempt to rebuild the image and the use of the international connection.

Marco Polo traveled through Dunhuang in the 13th century and spent 17 years as an aide to Kublai Khan, the Mongol leader of the Yuan Dynasty in China and conquered an area from Asia to Europe in the 13th and 14th centuries.

But Dunhuang played a major role in building China’s role in the world long before that.

Buddhist monks arrived in China from India by the first century AD, and a sizable Buddhist community eventually developed in Dunhuang.

The caves carved out by the monks, originally used for meditation, developed into a place of worship and pilgrimage called the Mogao Caves.

One of the Mogao Caves near Dunhuang, China

During a recent trip to Dunhuang, I had the opportunity to see the caves. I actually went back for a second look because they are simply incredible! You only get to see eight to 10 of the more than 700 caves, but they are a breath-taking example of Buddhist art from 400 to 1200 A.D. The caves also kept a secret of thousands of hidden documents about culture and religion through the world—only discovered in the early 1900s when a monk found them hidden behind a wall. A number of Christian and Jewish artifacts have been discovered in the caves, including a Bible from Syria.For more information, see http://en.people.cn/english/200006/20/eng20000620_43468.html

From Dunhuang, you also get a sense of the extraordinary effort and will of the people, like Marco Polo, who traveled through the deserts of the world. The nearby Gobi Desert is the third largest in the world behind the Sahara and Arabian deserts. The Taklamakan Desert, which also sits nearby Dunhuang, is the 16th-largest in the world and is almost the size of Germany and exists almost entirely of sand dunes.

Today, the central government of China is trying to make Dunhuang a major tourist attraction, particularly the Mogao Caves. I hope the leadership succeeds in the effort because the caves are one of the most beautiful sites I’ve ever seen.