China's Manchuria
Along the border to North Korea
Deutsch          WEIRD Magazin
To Harbin University of Technology as a visiting professor, just by the Russian Far East. In stormy weather along the border with North Korea to the eastern end of the Great Wall of China and on to the Yellow Sea. We are often the first foreigners. The police come with blue lights to help. But somehow we always get a room and food.
Being a visiting professor at one of the world's leading technical universities is a great honor. We strange long-noses are welcomed everywhere. Whether from one of Asia's most cited authors, his students, the grocery store on the route, or the locals in one of the many villages that have never hosted foreigners.
Doug Vogel is one of Asia's most cited authors in the field of information systems. As always, I combine travel with field research to understand the impact of digital media in places where few people go.

We are invited to dinner together in the North Korean neighborhood.

Away from the mainstream, it is tediousAccording to one of the most important US rankings, the Harbin Institute of Technology (HIT) is one of the three best technical universities in the world. We have been preparing my guest professorship for several years, and we have had to postpone it several times due to the pandemic. 

As is often the case with my visiting professorships and lectures, I am extending the trip to continue my field research. I travel by bicycle and public transport to remote areas to better understand how digital media is changing business models and the everyday lives of locals. The results are once again very surprising. They differ significantly from the findings from metropolitan areas and from those obtained at a desk. 

I was invited to the HIT because of this laborious research methodology outside the mainstream. This time I was accompanied by Robert, a successful entrepreneur and experienced cyclist, which made a lot of things easier. But it still remains very difficult.
We are in the wrong village and ask for directions to the eastern end of the Great Wall of China. Foreigners have probably never been here before.
“ Without taking off your ethnocentric glasses and your own standards of judgment, you probably can't understand anything here either.

Also a form of traditional Chinese medicine.

We don't find the Great Wall of China
On the tour, we are very happy when we find a small grocery store. The owners always warmly welcome us and give us what cyclists who consume 8,000 kilocalories a day need. They are very interested in our project and we are usually the first foreigners to visit them. We are also amazed when we meet local racing cyclists. They are often loaded down with huge panniers and solar panels and offer us a cigarette so that they don't have to smoke alone.

We are always like illiterate people on the road who can't speak or hear either. But the friendliness of the locals is so great that we always find the right route and a place to stay for the night. Even despite two years of preparation, we don't find the Great Wall of China straight away, but end up in a small village behind many mountains and without a wall at all. In a moment, all the villagers come together to show us long-noses the right way.
Harbin Institute of Technology
According to one of the most important US rankings, the Harbin Institute of Technology is one of the three best engineering schools in the world, on a par with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and just behind Beijing and Singapore. The best European schools are in seventh and fifteenth place.

My presentation uses the pandemic to examine why a country like Austria can have such a distorted view of China. 

Douglas R. Vogel, eHealth Research Institute Director, Chair Professor of Information Systems.

 Honorary visiting professorship at one of the world's leading technical universities.
Harbin and Manchuria 
Following the occupation of northern Manchuria by Russia, Harbin was founded in 1898 as a railroad station for the Trans-Manchurian Railway. Today, the city is home to around 9.5 million inhabitants, well over 90 percent of whom are Han Chinese. 

Just 400 kilometers to the north is the Russian Far East and 350 kilometers to the southeast is North Korea. This border point will be our first destination on the cycle tour.
We will cycle south to the eastern end of the Great Wall of China and on to the Yellow Sea. The Han have a 3,000-year-old, continuous written culture. Every fifth person in the world is Han. Today, Manchuria is still characterized by heavy industry, but also by endless rice fields. We don't meet any non-Chinese travelers.
Along the border to North Korea
We find accommodation in a hotel in Dangdong. The receptionist is the first person on the entire route who speaks English. As soon as we arrive, we ask about good Korean restaurants. She doesn't give us complicated directions, but takes us straight to a wonderful restaurant on 'Korean Street'. 

I ask her to ask the owner whether she is from North or South Korea. The particularly friendly host names a place. Our receptionist explains in passing that this place is in North Korea. However, my question is actually regarded as rather irrelevant. It's confusing. I thought there was no freedom to travel and settle in North Korea and that the borders were completely closed. Once again, everything is different when you're there.
 There is probably no other country about which we in the West have so little, so distorted information as we do about North Korea. Perhaps that is why we have such a clear picture of the country.
Some surprising perspectives
Most of those who explain and judge the country precisely cannot read a line of Korean and have never lived in North Korea. But they copy what others write and continue to use the usual stereotypes. 

One notable exception is Rüdiger Frank, Professor of East Asian Studies at the University of Vienna. He lectured at Columbia University in New York, is a member of the World Economic Forum and lived in North Korea for a long time.Some surprising perspectives:
It is well known that North Korea's ideology is not capitalism. However, it is also not communism, but Juche, which is quite different from communism. 

The main reason for North Korea's isolationist policy is to protect itself from repeated attacks by other countries, such as the Mongols, Manchus, Japanese and Americans in the past (from North Korea's perspective). 

The country has numerous natural resources and special economic zones and the majority of the North and South Korean population are in favor of reunification.
In South Korea (sic!), a law is still in force that forbids saying anything positive about North Korea. In 2013, elected members of parliament were arrested for pro-North Korean activities. In the same year, a man was shot dead with several hundred shots by South Korean military units because he tried to swim across the border river to North Korea.
So it is probably not quite so easy to gain a balanced view of Korea.

North Korea's role model function is also noteworthy. An Austrian political party recently demanded 'close borders' on thousands of billboards. No other country except North Korea has closed borders.
China is the second largest economy in the world. As the strongest exporting nation, it contributes more to the material well-being of others than any other country. Nevertheless, it sees itself as a developing country.

The Chinese system of socialist market economy is not always easy to understand for visitors from the West.

“ The contrasts are enormous. Whether between west and east, urban and rural areas or individual city districts.
China is characterized by contrasts. It has the second largest economy in the world after the USA. Based on actual purchasing power, China is already in first place. It is the largest exporting country in the world, and no other country contributes so much to the prosperity of other countries. Since the 2008 financial crisis, the country has been the growth engine of the global economy. 

At the same time, per capita income adjusted for purchasing power is only 77th in a comparison of countries. Added to this is the great inequality between the regions. Many workers have moved from the western parts of the country with low wage levels to the high-tech companies and innovation centers on the east coast.

In residential complexes, great importance is given to social contact between residents. Whether in outdoor fitness facilities or in places where people can make music together.

From skyscrapers to rice farmers
Manchuria was once the center of heavy industry and steel production. Today, it cannot keep up with the dynamic east coast. We cycle just under an hour from the skyscrapers of the city of Harbin out into the countryside and for days all we see are rice farmers standing in the water all day plucking their plants. Only occasionally are they assisted by a tractor. 
The contrasts between city and countryside are enormous in China. But Harbin is also characterized by contrasts. We stroll along the shopping street with all the luxury brands in the world and within a few minutes reach the simplest huts and markets imaginable with sheep fetes for ghost conjuring. China sees itself as a developing country.

Luxury boutiques and traditional commercial and residential streets are only a few minutes away from each other in Harbin.

One of the few tractors in the endless rice fields on the border with North Korea. 
The trains above him run at 400 km/h.

Vollautonome Roboter bringen das Essen. 

China is different
Understanding instead of going on vacation
In the following lines, I would like to mention a few facts that show a different side of China. A side that is usually omitted in Western media in order to confirm existing opinions as best as possible. In no way am I trying to present China in a balanced way or even judge it - who am I to do that? Simply to encourage you to form your own opinion, perhaps a somewhat broader one. Anyone who divides things into good and bad from their own perspective, based on their own values, and reflexively ends up with themselves - I don't want to do that, I do - can go on a good vacation, but probably can't understand other people and cultures.
Thousands of years in the lead
The majority of economic and social historians come to the conclusion that China was the world's leading economic power with the highest level of social development for thousands of years. At the beginning of the 19th century, British and other Western troops invaded the country in order to violently open China's seaports for their own products. Opium was the main commodity brought into the country. Their debts were too great - they imported a great deal from China, which itself hardly needed anything from Western countries. The invading troops occupied the country for a hundred years. 
Even today, this is still seen as the time of the 'Great Humiliation'. It formed the basis for the Chinese civil war and Mao Tse-tung's seizure of power with its devastating consequences. In 1950, China was one of the poorest countries in the world. 
60 million people are starving
When I was born, 60 million people had died of starvation in China in the previous years, more than the number of deaths in the Second World War. When I graduated from high school, nutrition experts agreed that China would never be able to feed its own population. Today there are no more widespread hunger, China is the country with the highest currency reserves and has long since ceased to be a low-cost producer, the extended workbench of the West. China is an innovation leader in many areas and an international leader in numerous scientific fields.
Hardly any positive media reports
Studies show that there are hardly any positive reports about China in the Western media, and that the negative ones predominate. At the same time, no other country enables the prosperity of the West to the same extent as China. The spectrum ranges from antibiotics and heart-lung machines for intensive care units to indispensable components for cars, smartphones and TV sets. The iPhone is produced in China, not because it is cheaper there, but because the manufacturing technology is not available in the USA. The Chinese economic and social system is shaped by three ideologies: Communism and the market economy originated in Europe, while Confucianism has its origins in China. 
I cover all three in the related Travel Book. 
Across Manchuria
We start from Harbin heading east until just before North Korea. Then we travel south, along the border area to the eastern end of the Great Wall of China. We have a headwind for days and can't speak, understand or read anywhere. We don't meet any tourists. Instead, we get to know people and culture in a depth that would not be possible from a desk or bus.

You should not look at the remaining total distance. The task is to do your best from day to day.

“ We are always illiterate, unable to speak and understand.

We are very happy when we not only reach a grocery store, but also recognize it as such. At petrol stations, we can only replenish the 8,000 kilocalories we burn every day with cookies.

Storm blows in our faces for the first few days
Shortly after the start in Harbin, the storm gets stronger and stronger. At some point it becomes hurricane-like and we just manage to reach a petrol station. The clouds suddenly turn black and we expect to spend the night in the gas station. But they disappear again, the storm remains.
It gets even stronger the next day. The next place to sleep is 200 kilometers away. At the beginning, we don't expect to make more than 70 kilometers. We drive and do our best. Then it's 120 kilometers and at some point we do reach the 200 kilometers and have a roof over our heads.

After just a few hours, we cross only unspoilt rice fields for many days. 
Because of the sharp contrast between city and countryside, China sees itself as a developing country.

Manchuria was China's center of heavy industry. Then came the decline. The mass quarters of the workers are still inhabited. The government is trying to revitalize the provinces. 

We pass the magnificent complex of the Taian Zen Temple in the Changbai Mountain Historical and Cultural Park, which we have been crossing for hours. The similarities between Lao Tzu and Buddha play an important role.

Often we are the first foreigners
On the first day, after a stormy battle over 200 kilometers, we reach the city of Ping Wan with around 400,000 inhabitants at nightfall. We ask a waving motorcyclist for a place to stay using sign language. Yes, they have a hotel. The owners spend an hour trying to enter the names from our passports into their computer system. They keep asking for our Chinese names. 

Desperate, they call the police to help. They come with flashing blue lights, check everything in a friendly manner and explain that their village is too small for foreigners. They have never had any. But there is a hotel 50 kilometers away that will take us. We realize the senselessness of further negotiations, thank everyone for their efforts, switch on our lights and do our work on the bike for another two hours. We are the only guests at the huge hotel in Shulan.

The next day we make it to a mountain pass on the way to Dunhua in an even stronger storm. A friendly lady welcomes us into her little store. We are delighted with the wonderful cookies and water. Then Robert says that she even has a bed to sleep in. On the descent, we understand what her real business is.

As weird strangers, we are always welcomed and kindly asked if we can be photographed. We are often offered a cigarette by other cyclists.

“ The destination of the journey, the eastern end of the Great Wall of China, has been reached. Quite emotional.

Der Blick nach Nordkorea. 

Unit 731 and the Korean War
Unit 731 was a secret unit of the Imperial Japanese Army. From 1932, it carried out experiments on living people in occupied Manchuria to test pathogens for plague and anthrax.

Following the division of the country as a result of the Second World War, each of the two Korean states claimed the entire country. There was a proxy war between China and the USA from 1950 to 1953. As a result, the borders remained unchanged.

Experiments on living people.

High emotionality at the bombed former supply bridge from China to North Korea.

“ A few years ago, I visited the Korean War Museum in South Korea. But from the other side of the coin.
Why it was difficult
Three years of preparation, then COVID-19 and closed borders.

All travel planning and visa procurement without support.
Thinking and saying something that also attracts interest at a world-leading technical university.
From the metropolis to the most untouched countryside.
On the very first day, nothing but a head storm, then being sent on by the police after 200 kilometers to the desired accommodation.
Not being able to understand or speak anything, always being illiterate.
Looking for accommodation, then standing in front of it and not knowing whether it is one or not.
Consuming 8,000 kilocalories a day and usually only getting the same cookies along the way.
Finding the Great Wall of China.
Forty years of work away from the mainstream to get an invitation like this.

But most difficult of all: understanding China at least a little, free of stereotypes.
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