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A Tour Through Historic Yangzhou

CAS and Confucius Institute Co-Host Annual UD-Peking University Distinguished Scholar Lecture

Each fall, the College of Arts & Sciences and the Confucius Institute welcome a renowned Chinese researcher to Newark for the University of Delaware-Peking University Distinguished Scholar lecture on Chinese history and culture.

This year, guests were treated to a description of 18th century Yangzhou in its heyday, a cultural epicenter in the Jiangsu province of China, by Xu Xingwu, professor and dean of the School of Liberal Arts at Nanjing University. Xu has also served as a visiting researcher at the Harvard-Yenching Institute between 2000 and 2001 and his research interests include the history of ancient Chinese literature and philosophy.

Yangzhou, with its history deeply rooted in the centuries-old Grand Canal, continuously expanded to support booming trade in valuable goods like grain, salt and cloth and profited as the taxation point for these items.

“In the Qing dynasty, the salt industry was operated under surveillance of the government of Yangzhou and it was the largest salt sale and management center in the empire,” said Xu. “The wealthiest place used to be where one could find the most salt merchants and officials.”

According to Xu, this role made Yangzhou the stopping place of the Emperor Qianlong, who conducted frequent inspection visits. “These trips had three goals, to inspect the economic lifelines and supervise the management of the Yellow and Huai rivers, to impact and rectify the salt and canal management and to demonstrate the imperial authority, to appease local feeling and win over local support of the commoners.”

Beyond their political priorities, the royal visits invigorated the local economy of Yangzhou, as often-limitless resources were poured into making the city the best version of itself. It was the story of these extravagant tours that Xu told to the audience, calling on traditional records like Cao Xueqin’s well-known classic Dream of the Red Chamber.

Xu started by describing the royal vessels used to carry the emperor and his party on the river, and turned later to the city’s physical transformation with the installation of elaborate gardens, teahouses, temples and villas and the thriving decorated tour boat industry that followed. “There would be a boat dock next to a bridge or a building in every scenic spot where people often gathered to see performers, singers or wrestlers,” Xu noted.

Xu continued, “From a Chinese perspective, any golden age is destined to decline, just like flowers will eventually wither. This is undoubtedly the way of nature.”

While Yangzhou’s best days did pass, today its tourist industry continues to flourish and visitors travel from near and far to experience its lavish gardens, traditional teahouses and boat transportation.

“I think the most interesting part of tonight was learning about how salt was emphasized as a currency that drove the culture of Yangzhou during the Qing dynasty,” said Alex Tran, a junior marketing major. “As a part of my Chinese language classes, we are encouraged to expand our knowledge of culture, too, and this lecture has been a part of that experience.”

About the UD-Peking University Distinguished Scholar Lecture Series

Known as “China’s Harvard,” Peking University is recognized as one of the premier institutions of higher education in China, enjoying a strong international reputation for excellence in academic and research programs. In 2010, UD’s College of Arts and Sciences and Peking University’s National Commission on Classics Editing & Research signed a cooperative agreement to promote active scholarly exchanges and collaborative initiatives.

“The UD-PKU Distinguished Scholar Lecture Series is an important aspect of our partnerships and exchanges with institutions of higher education in China,” College of Arts and Sciences Dean George Watson said. “This series in particular offers an avenue for scholars at both UD and PKU to collaborate on academic and research projects surrounding Chinese culture, tradition and history, among other disciplines. It also reflects cross-campus collaborations with our Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures, and the Confucius Institute, and provides an opportunity to engage our students in global perspectives."

Since 2010 when the first UD-Peking University Distinguished Scholar Lecture kicked off, the partnership between the two renowned institutions has deepened. In addition to the annual UD-PKU Distinguished Scholar Lecture Series, other collaborative initiatives between UD and Peking University have been underway including joint projects such as the UD-Peking University Global Educational Exchange Initiative (GLOBEX) in engineering that enables UD students to participate in an intensive summer program at PKU.

“We are delighted that the Confucius Institute has played an active role in the formation of the joint partnership between UD and Peking University and we look forward to more opportunities to contribute to the globalization at the University,” said Jianguo Chen, Director of the Confucius Institute.


About the Confucius Institute

The Confucius Institute (UDCI) at the University of Delaware, a partner with Hanban/Confucius Institute Headquarters and Xiamen University, strives to promote Chinese language and culture throughout the University community and general public.

In order to facilitate cross-cultural understanding, promote international educational opportunities, and improve academic collaboration in the Delmarva regions, UDCI initiates and organizes a wide array of language and cultural activities, sponsors academic and scholarly exchange programs, and provides information and consultative services in China’s education, culture, and business.

To learn more or to get involved, visit the UDCI website and follow along @UDConfucius on Twitter and Instagram.

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