Elizabeth Flora: Silk Road Adventures and Daily Dictation Quizzes
Through the Weatherhead M.A. training grant, I participated in the Columbia in Beijing Summer Language Program, an experience that not only provided me with intensive language training, but also allowed me to immerse myself in the culture and visit areas relevant to my research interest in Qing frontier history.
In addition to improving my general Mandarin skills in reading, writing, and speaking, the program’s focus on modern Chinese literature contributed to my ability to read secondary academic sources that will be necessary for my thesis project related to Qing Dynasty Tibet policy. In addition to many hours of daily lectures, drills, and one-on-one conversations, the program featured extremely dedicated teachers who were well-equipped to accommodate each student’s individual goals, both academic and professional. One of their arranged activities that I found most helpful was a trip to an academic bookstore in which they guided us through the process of finding Chinese academic materials.
Because of my interest in China’s frontier regions, I travelled on my week break along the Silk Road, visiting Dunhuang, Urumqi, and Kashgar. The Mogao Caves near Dunhuang were especially fascinating due to their excellently-preserved Buddhist art dating as far back as the Sixteen Kingdoms period (366-439) and extending to the Yuan Dynasty (1227-1368). The caves’ diverse artistic influences and manuscripts in various languages including Tibetan, Chinese, Uighur, and Sanskrit make them a superb historical site for examining connections among various peoples along the Silk Road throughout a vast period of history.p>While visiting Urumqi and Kashgar, I was able to view (would be parallel to the rest of the paragraph if “was able to” was replaced with “saw”) both breathtaking natural scenery and historic cultural sites. I experienced precipitous rock hikes, steep mountain drives, and stunning views at the Heavenly Lake near Xinjiang, Shipton’s Arch near Kashgar, and Karakul Lake on the Karakoram Highway. In addition, I visited famous Muslim historical sites such as the Id Kah Mosque and Afaq Khoja Mausoleum in Kashgar.
Beijing and its surrounding area is rich with historical sites relevant to my interest in Qing-Tibet history, and I was especially excited to take a trip to Chengde, the location of the Qing emperor’s hunting grounds and Qing imperial temples that demonstrate the imperial ideology of a multiethnic empire. I was particularly interested in the Putuo Zongcheng Temple, which was built during the Qianlong reign and was modeled after the Potala Palace in Lhasa.
Although it requires effort to avoid distraction while studying amidst China’s countless opportunities for adventure and immense number of historical sites and natural wonders, spending the summer in Beijing was extremely valuable for the development of my language skills and cultural knowledge. I look forward to using Mandarin while working on my thesis in the upcoming year and will be continuously anticipating my next opportunity to return to China.
For more information on the Weatherhead MA Training Grant, please contact Kim Palumbarit at firstname.lastname@example.org.