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Qingming, lecture on Chinese modernisation and finally exploring Chaoyang

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By Talibeh Hydara
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It drizzles thick and fast on the Pure Brightness Day,

I travel with my heart lost in dismay

“Is there a public house somewhere, cowboy?”

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He points at Apricot Village faraway

Don’t praise me. That is not my poem. It was written by revered Chinese poet of the Tang Dynasty, Du Mu. I have been reading a lot of Chinese poems lately; the translations of course. There is something about poetry that just makes sense and it doesn’t matter in which language it is originally written. You can translate it a million times and into a million languages. The purity just remains eternally untainted. Poetry was very close to my heart. It was my escape when I moved to the city and started secondary school. Most of my classmates were different; privileged, attended better junior schools, looked neater, more confident, and were a hundred steps ahead of me in all aspects. I took to writing poems to escape the inferiority complex. I wrote lots of poems and kept them in my bag. So, until today, I read poems with a different level of seriousness because I always think about how I felt writing mine decades ago. A few days ago, I read a poem by Li Bai titled Thoughts in the Silent Night, and if Gambia was bordered with China, I would have sneaked out of the DRC and gone back home. It’s a short poem and I read it more than 20 times. Each time I felt sadder and related to the poet’s homesickness and loneliness. Anyway, no sadness today. It was Qingming the past Wednesday. I’ve been in China for nearly 40 days and it was the first time I heard about a public holiday. Within that time, maybe Gambia had three holidays. We love public holidays so much that we would still make Monday public holiday if the actual occasion falls on a weekend. You wouldn’t find it anywhere else. But Qingming, or Tomb-Sweeping Day, was interesting to me because Chinese attach similar relevance to the dead like us. Qingming, which dates back to over 2000 years and made relevant by Emperor Xuanzong, the seventh emperor of the Tang Dynasty, is observed by visiting the tombs of the ancestors and sweep the gravesites while making ritual offerings. This is similar to the importance and respect Gambians have for their ancestors. In The Gambia, there are hundreds of families that offer annual prayers and offerings for their ancestors, reciting the Qur’an and visiting the graves. Chinese families go beyond just cleaning the graves; there are other activities like planting willow trees and flying kites. It is a pity I couldn’t go for kiting because it is believed that writing your misfortune on the kite and cutting the string, it flies away with your bad luck. I wish I had done that because I have plenty misfortune to get rid of. Even though the reasons might be different but I have found out that Chinese people have high regard for their ancestors just like we do.   

After the public holiday, I enjoyed a lecture on Chinese modernisation. I have heard “Chinese modernisation” more times in China than any phrase. From the Two Sessions, press briefings of Foreign Minister Qin Gang and Premier Li Qiang, the phrase has been the bedrock of China’s development since it was first mentioned in 1979 by former leader Deng Xiaoping. But what is Chinese modernisation?

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Chinese modernization is socialist modernization pursued under the leadership of the Communist Party of China. It contains elements that are common to the modernization processes of all countries, but it is more characterized by features that are unique to the Chinese context.

Chinese modernization offers humanity a new choice for achieving modernization. The Communist Party of China and the Chinese people have provided humanity with more Chinese insight, better Chinese input, and greater Chinese strength to help solve its common challenges and have made new and greater contributions to the noble cause of human peace and development”

This was the basis of Professor Wang Yiwei’s lecture, aptly organised and interactively delivered.  Armed with historical facts and present realities, Professor Yiwei argued the sustainability of the Chinese modernisation, anchored on a strong and continuous leadership of the Communist Party of China. He contended that consistency and longevity are vital in planning decades ahead, ensuring a holistic development without disruptions.  The professor wasn’t wrong. Being here gives me first-hand insight into China’s growth and it is not limited to only a few areas. There are countries that have big economies but not the best in terms of environmental protection or have huge tech industry but lost its heritage and values to so-called modernity. China is different. This country is moving with pace in all sectors of development; science and technology, environment and marine, heritage, economy, engineering, etc. Like Professor Yiwei confidently said, China can now build anything and that, apart from the clarity of minds and visions, it is due to the longevity of the leadership which is focused on developing the country and the Chinese people. Like President Xi Jinping said himself, because China didn’t start the modernisation process early, “the country’s modernization process must therefore be a ‘parallel connection’ process, during which industrialization, informationization, urbanization and agricultural modernization are developed simultaneously.” That is the definition of Chinese modernisation and Professor Yiwei was effortless in breaking this concept down to my understanding. 

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We capped the week off with a stroll in Chaoyang district. It was long time coming. We’ve been in Chaoyang for more than a month and have been ignoring it. We roamed around different districts in Beijing; Pinggu, Haidian, Shijingshan and even visited a province. Chaoyang has been upset with us but that is over now. Yesterday was Friday and, strangely, I work on Fridays here. Back home, because I work at a newspaper, I am off on Fridays and Saturdays. I would then wear my white ‘haftan’, walk to the mosque in the afternoon for prayers and sit on my rocking chair under the lime tree, swaying back and forth like an 80-year-old waiting for lunch. Beijing seized that freedom from me and it was time to check our surroundings.

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First stop: The Skating Oval, One of the structures of the 2022 Beijing Olympics. Beijing became the first city in the world to have hosted both the summer and winter editions of the Olympic Games. We took a tour of the speed skating oval, watched a local competition and visited the aquatic centre.  The 2022 Beijing Olympics was beyond just the structures. The winter games were held during Covid-19 with nearly 3,000 athletes participating from 91 countries and regions. Knowing how devasting Covid-19 was and the staggering number of people that arrived here, only China could have pulled that off in the middle of a global pandemic. The Beijing winter games became a symbol of bridging differences and forging unity after the world witnessed a dark episode. It was chilling to just walk around and feel the Olympic spirit.      

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Next to visit was IN.GEN Centre, a park in Chaoyang district for venture capital to cluster. It is a sort of incubator that provides services to venture capital institutions, aiming to entice them to Beijing to make the city an international venture capital center. It’s been a hub for the development of start-ups, providing one-stop services for innovation financial enterprises. If Beijing wants to become a national scientific and technological innovation center, then IN.GEN Centre will be crucial in that endeavour.

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Next is 751D. That looks like 751 Dalasis. It is not; it is a fashion park. It was a gas source plant before being transformed into an inspiring creation. Now, it is simply an international fashion industry. 751D·PARK has become a fashion heritage, holding more than 500 cultural and creative activities each year with over 2 million participants. The 79 tanks, the 8-meter-high corridor bridge-air trail, the fashion echo and the train square all give the park a creative vibe.

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Made in the 70s and still preserved, the train square is a stimulus for any fashionista. The 751-PARK shows a genius level of the Chinese people, making something valuable out of nothing. That is art in itself. The tour was stirring and I hope Chaoyang is finally happy with us.   

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