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Tian-an-men Square
CHINA 1981
The previous three years had been spent pursuing a degree in Chinese at the Polytechnic of Central London (PCL), now part of Westminster University. It was mandatory to spend some time studying in China, and the opportunity arose in 1981 when Renmin University in Beijing started running summer schools for Westerners. As the university also provided a tour of China at rock-bottom rates, the offer was to good to pass up.

The Chinese name for the university is Zhongguo Renmin Daxue 中国人民大学. This actually translates as the Peoples University of China, but presumably because this sounds somewhat politically archaic, the university is now officially known as Renmin University. The Chinese love abbreviations, and the university is also known simply as RUC in English or Ren Da in Chinese.

In 1981, life at the university was a far cry from the insulated and molly-coddled world of the tourist: there was no luxuries such as air conditioning for students. The floors were concrete, and when travelling the group went hard class like almost everybody else in China. But none of us attending the summer school would have had it any other way.

The author owes a debt of gratitude to Professor Beverley Hooper of the School of East Asian Studies, University of Sheffield. The year before going to China, the author had obtained a copy of her book Inside Peking: A Personal Report (Macdonald & Jane's, 1979). It was this book about her experiences studying at Beijing's Foreign Languages Institute that inspired the author to follow suit.

But times had changed since 'Hu Bi-wei' had studied in Beijing. The Cultural Revolution was over, it was the era of Deng Xiaoping, and the Peoples University was emerging as one of the most Western-oriented colleges. At Ren Da in 1981, it was economics that was being studied, not Chairman Mao's Little Red Book.

Most of the summer was spent in Beijing, followed by a couple of week's tour of China, taking in Xian, Wu Han, and Guangzhou. The group left China by rail, passing through the New Territories into Hong Kong, a sudden intrusion of capitalist hussle into what had been the tranquility of China.

There had been other places on the agenda, but the plans were dashed when a rainstorm washed away the railway lines between Xian and Chong Qin. The group never did see the Yangzi Gorges, although they saw an awful lot of Xian while the University Staff tried to stir the bureaucracy into providing new tickets. However it isn't everybody who can say they have stayed in Xian's Chinese Communist Party guesthouse.