My name's Jackson Woods, and I'm currently a 3rd year political science Ph.D. student at GWU. I'm here in China for a short seventeen-day stay with the support of the Sigur Center's Summer Field Research grant program, for which I'm very grateful. My research falls somewhere along the boundary between comparative politics and international relations, and I'm very interested in popular domestic constraints on China's foreign policy. In practice this means studying things like nationalism, public opinion, and social mobilization in the modern PRC.
My purpose in coming to China this summer is two-fold. First, I'm doing some initial research and making preliminary contacts and inquiries as I prepare to do long-term field research for my full dissertation in 2013-2014. Second, I'm following up on the work I've been doing as Professor Bruce Dickson's research assistant over the past three years. This means that on a day-to-day basis I've been meeting on my own with Chinese faculty, attending talks and seminars, and working with Prof. Dickson and his collaborators at Peking University.
Rather than keep going with academic talk right now, I thought I'd just share a little bit about my favorite "tourist" part of this visit so far. A bit of fluff, but I promise I'll have more about the details of my project here in future posts.
The past week of weather was among the best sustained periods I've ever experienced in this city, with true blue skies instead the usual smog-choked air. Here's a "before and after" comparison from my hotel window to give you some idea:
So, with the weather being this good, I felt obliged to do a little sight-seeing on an afternoon last week when I had some free time. To that end I headed down to the Houhai and Drum Tower areas of town, northwest of the Forbidden City. Houhai is part of a series of small lakes that run through the center of the city, including Beihai Park and also the Zhongnanhai government compound. To some degree the Houhai area has turned into a tourist trap, but it's still a really attractive spot with a very authentic beauty. Lots of folks come down late at night for the bars and restaurants, but I'd actually never been down during the day strictly for sight-seeing despite my previous time in Beijing.
Here are some pictures, with the CCTV building visible to the east in the first photo and the Xiangshan mountains visible to the west in the second:
It's amazing to me that such lakes exist in the middle of a 20 million person metropolis like Beijing. They're also surrounded by some of the final holdout hutong neighborhoods with traditional Chinese lane houses, which means getting to wander up and down narrow streets busy with foot traffic and bikes but with very few cars. These areas, such as the drum tower neighborhood, have been targeted in the past for massive redevelopment but thankfully (for me as a tourist) have so far been spared that fate.
Anyway, believe me when I say that days like this really are newsworthy in Beijing. For example, there was a recent smog crisis in December 2011 that even caused flights to be cancelled and which you can read more about here and here on James Fallows' blog. It would have been a shame to stay in a meeting room, office, or coffee shop on a day like this one!
I'll have some more substantial posts soon on my research activities and some of the personalities here in Beijing. Thanks for reading!
Ph.D. Political Science 2015
Sigur Center 2012 Field Research Fellow