TECS 2013: More on Scale from a Cultural Perspective

BusinessChinaTravelTECSStanfordGlobal Perspective

If my first drive through Beijing wasn’t enough to convince me of China’s remarkable relationship with size, then the Great Wall certainly was.

In between our visits on Thursday and Friday our group was lucky enough to squeeze in a few hours at the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square, and the Forbidden City.

Each of these historic monuments was physically overwhelming. On Friday we walked to Tiananmen Square and it took us over 10 minutes just to walk to the center of it. It was truly massive. There were thousands of people surrounding the historic centerpiece and many more near Mao’s resting place. I just couldn’t believe this space could fit over 1,000,000 people.

Everywhere were huge pictures of Mao as well and at first I was inclined to react with feelings of fear and defensiveness, but I tried to put myself in the shoes of the Chinese. While I don’t support Communism, the legacy of Mao, of the blood tied to Tiananmen, I do know that national heroes leave strong impressions on identity and that matters. This point became clearer when I thought of my own attachment to country: In the US we’ve constructed monuments all over the nation to our heroes and we’ve even carved their faces into a mountainside at Mount Rushmore. By putting aside my visceral political reactions I think I was able to appreciate the space more for its ability to generate pride and identity within others. And besides, it was a pretty amazing thing to see. Hopefully I don’t get in too much trouble for saying this!

After our walk through Tiananmen Square we spent the next few hours going through the Forbidden City. Again, the thing I struggled to grapple with was SCALE! The Forbidden City was truly massive. We passed through several gates just to get to the Hall of Supreme Harmony where the last emperor reigned. Behind this were several more gates and hundreds of rooms and alleyways sprawling across many acres. Whenever I visit cultural places like this I love to think of what it felt like 100 years ago to be in the space. In my mind, it’s this thought that makes these places so incredible.

Finally, no trip to China would be complete without a visit to the Great Wall. For us this adventure actually took place the day before, on Thursday, after our business discussion with ZTE.

The part of the wall we visited was over 600 years old and was built during the Ming Dynasty. It was incredibly beautiful and I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed with awe. My inner engineer and nerd wondered: How could such a large and powerful structure been built centuries ago?

In both directions the wall traced the mountain crest as far as we could see. Green canopy surrounded us and provided a stark contrast to the industrial cityscape we had just come from in Beijing. In the distance we could see parts of the forest ceiling bursting through the wall in different places creating a scene out of its time.

By far, the wall is a testament to the power of human endeavor and creation.  To me, it demonstrates that together people have the ability to move mountains and shake the earth, but at significant cost… the lives of millions over many centuries.

*TECS 2013 is short for my adventures with Stanford University's TECS two week immersive business and technology program in China. Over the next two weeks I am travelling from Beijing to Shanghai and meeting with incredible businesses along the way. All posts from the program will be tagged.