"The Search for a Vanishing Beijing"
Thursday, 18 May 2006
The Jardine Penthouse, 48/F Jardine House, One Connaught Place
Complimentary Drinks Reception 6.30 pm; Lecture 7.30 pm (please note that additional seating has now been provided at this venue) We are delighted to welcome to Hong Kong Michael Aldrich to lecture on the remarkable history and present of Beijing. In his talk, Mr. Aldrich will explain how Beijing is unique among the world's capitals as it was designed to illustrate ancient Chinese cosmological concepts in stone and brick. The ancient visage of Beijing endured from the early 15th century until the 1950s before succumbing to the twin assault of ideological purity and urban redevelopment. While Beijing's classical appearance is vanishing quickly, traces of its original design can still be found, provided that a visitor knows where to look for them. In the lecture, Mr. Aldrich gives a comprehensive narrative about the cultural mosaic of the capital of China and explores overlooked or forgotten sights showing the elegance of Beijing's imperial past. This includes the palaces, temples, back streets, markets and forgotten or overlooked Peking customs, stories and beliefs, and districts from central Tiananmen Square through the surrounding neighbourhoods and further to sights in rustic settings. Mr. Aldrich tells stories about imperial customs, street food, temple festivals, historic trees, Red Guard struggle sessions, Tibetan and Mongolian customs, hiking trails, political clashes, residences of famous Chinese and foreigners, ghosts, prisons, classical Chinese poetry, iceskating, espionage, old and new embassy districts, courtesans, restaurants and Chinese liquor. Interspersed through the lecture are stories told by such diverse sources as Marco Polo and Bernard Shaw as well as 20th century Sinophiles like Juliet Bredon, George Kates and David Kidd. Commentary from Ming and Qing era travel guides are brought out for a Chinese perspective on celebrated locations in the city. In addition to field research, Mr. Aldrich has used preWar guide books such as In Search of Old Peking by L.C. Arlington and William Lewisohn and other old travel guides to establish the history of the city. His lecture also contains observations on Beijing made by both Western travellers and Chinese writers through the centuries. During his talk, Mr. Aldrich explains how Beijing was based upon urban design principles that were first articulated in the Zhou Li, a Confucian book from the 2nd century B.C. He illustrates how concepts such as a central axis as a base for urban planning, symmetry and primacy for agriculture were reflected in appearance of Beijing until recent times. He also discusses how this medieval appearance disappeared and how a visitor can experience some of the city's disappearing grandeur. Mr. Aldrich's interest in Chinese culture began more than 30 years ago. He is a graduate of the Foreign Service School of Georgetown University where he studied traditional Chinese culture with Jesuits and other scholars who lived in China before the revolution of 1949. He subsequently took a master's degree in History at State University of New York at Stony Brook specializing in ChineseUnited States diplomatic history. After studying law at Columbia University, he has been an international commercial solicitor in Greater China for 15 years and is presently in the Beijing office of a Londonbased international legal firm. During Mr. Aldrich's time in Greater China, he has become wellknown as an expert on East Asian humanities. He began his research on Beijing in 1994 by combing through the hutong and temples of the city that he regards as one of the greatest and oldest cultural capitals and has lectured and published on many aspects of Beijing. This lecture is being held in the fine surroundings of the Jardine Penthouse. Members and their guests are most welcome to attend at HK$50 for Members, HK$100 for Members' guests and HK$150 for others. This includes a complimentary drinks reception prior to the lecture.