For nearly 30 years Orville Schell has been a leading interpreter of Chinese culture and politics, authoring 14 books, including Virtual Tibet, Discos and Democracy, and Mandate of Heaven. Schell, who serves as dean of the Graduate School of Journalism, is now embarking on a Chancellor???s-level initiative to bring scholars from Berkeley and China together to work on environmental issues. In October Schell returned to Beijing for the first time in three years. His wife and two teenage sons will live and study in Beijing during the spring semester.
Q: This was your first trip back to China in three years. What struck you?
Well, China is on an economic tear right now. I don???t think there is any country in history that has undergone such a rapid transformation. I first went to China in 1975 near the end of the Cultural Revolution, when Beijing had only one high-rise building in the whole city. Back then, you???d steer around the city using old landmarks, like temples, walled palaces, and gates from the Old City wall, which had been as wide as Fifth Avenue on top before it was torn down and replaced by a ring road. Now there are five ring roads???like beltways???and they are the new landmarks.
Of the old buildings, the Forbidden City remains a central locus of gravity in the middle of this amazing, sprawling, urban landscape. But the growth has been so fast and so thorough that people get lost in their own city.