The Chinese University of Political Science and Law (政法大学) celebrated its 60th birthday last week. I was fortunate enough to attend the opening ceremony. Although it was a real hike to get out to the campus, which is around 20 km to the north of the downtown Beijing -- it took over an hour in snarled traffic -- it was worth it.
It was an amazing performance. I always underestimate how fancy things like this will be. I did wear a suit, which was smart. But while I was in green, everyone else had dark blue suits. I arrived thinking this would be an event for a couple hundred people, but we went into a big theatre, and I guess there were at least 800 people packed in there. And the stage was decked out like the annual meeting of the National People's Congress, with the most important speakers and guests up there looking very important and sipping from their nice tea cups. They were surrounded by lights, a TV crew, a host with a well groomed voice, and dainty young Chinese girls in uniform keeping tea cups full and escorting speakers from their chairs to the microphone.
Down in the audience, I was led to the "foreign guests" section, and I felt like a prop in a play -- the happy foreigners giving greater legitimacy to the accomplishments of the university, but kept apart from everyone else because we were not Chinese. If they really wanted to show they have an international university, we would have been encouraged to mix and mingle amongst everyone else.
I looked at the program, and there were 13 speeches listed. The current president's took over 20 minutes, and I thought we'd never finish. Luckily, speeches are arranged in order of length, with the longest first and the shorter ones following. Speakers did a great job of staying within their appointed times, all well practiced at turning their thoughts into one hour or one minute. One of the funnest parts of Chinese major public speeches are the cues to let you know they are making a big point and want applause. This happens at the end of sentences such as, "To all our guests, classmates, teachers, let's give them a greAT WARM WELCOOMMEE!!!!!" By the time they say "welcome" (huanying, 欢迎), they are almost yelling. Learning how to speak like this is something foreigners have not mastered, but I plan to find some chances to try out my "speechified" Chinese.
The electronics were cool. They had 2 large screens on either side of the stage that switched between the audience and the speaker. I was worried when cameras pointed at me because I was in green and a little tired. I didn't want everyone looking at me with my eyes momentarily closed or me taking a deep yawn. The host began by reading letters of congratulations to the university, and I was impressed by one from Zhou Yongkang. Not that Zhou's letter was any better than Li Tieying's, but from what I've read in the foreign media, Zhou seems to have recently taken a vacation from his official duties. To dispell this, Zhou is going to need to show up at a meeting or visit some sick people in a hospital or something.
One of the nice moments of the program came when about 10 students from CUPL's first class (actually, it wasn't called CUPL until the 1980's), in 1952, came up on stage and each received a plaque. They were, of course, quite old and moved slowly, but they walked with a great deal of pride and smiled widely out at all of us. It was actually moving.
The speeches mostly made the same points, and everyone got plenty of applause. CUPL has made a huge contribution toward building rule of law in society and government, and there is still much more work to be done. But two speakers got more applause than anyone else: Cheng Siwei, a member of the standing committee of the National People's Congress, and Jiang Ping, CUPL's president during the late 1980's. Both had nice things to say about CUPL, but they took decidedly negative swipes at the overall progress toward rule of law and education. Jiang said China needs to have genuinely indpendent universities with genuine academic freedom, else innovation and rule of law will never materialize.
I was impressed that they were invited to speak, and that they said things that reflect relatively negatively on China's educational and political systems. And no one stuffed a sock in their mouth. As I said, the crowd gave them the largest applause, and they didn't even raise their voices as well as others. I didn'y see the TV news that evening, and so don't know if their comments made it beyond the room.
When the festivities ended just after 11:00 am, I made a beeline for the exits and the campus's main gate. CUPL was nice enough to assign a student volunteer to help me the whole way. She escorted me in, and she escorted me out, and then she made a call and a car showed up to take me all the way back into the city to my next appointment. How cool! As I waited a minute for my car, about 100 black Audis with licenses plates of all sorts, including from the miltary, zoomed by me out the campus gates and on to their next destination.