Chinese art and religion (and other issues)

Betsy Lavolette

Director, Language Resource Center, Gettysburg College

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On February 13, Dr. Deborah Sommer from the Gettysburg College Department of Religion was kind enough to lead a discussion on Chinese art and religion and other issues.

Dr. Sommer provided access to some book chapters that she wrote about Confucian spirituality and Taoism.

I took some notes from the discussion, as follows. Please note that this is not a summary, but merely an account of what I wrote down. Please feel free to add points that I forgot in the comments!

General advice for our stay in Beijing

  • Always carry your passport when you are in China. It serves as your ID card.
  • Don’t take photos of military or buildings with Chinese insignia. You risk having your camera confiscated.
  • Always wear a mask because of the heavy pollution.
  • Be extremely careful of traffic, which may not follow traffic laws. Even on the sidewalk, you should be alert for motorcycles and motorized bicycles, which are completely silent. Walk in a straight line so that you aren’t hit by motorized bicycles trying to pass you from behind.
  • Don’t bring up Christianity or other religions.
  • Don’t bring a bible with you.
  • Don’t get involved in activism or protests.
  • Don’t tell anyone that you are a journalist (whether you are or not).
  • Public toilets are generally free, but bring your own toilet paper with you because it is not provided. The style is usually squat, not western.

Food and drink

  • Don’t eat at food stalls because of the risk of dysentery.
  • Look out for mold and insects in food.
  • China has food adulteration problems.
  • Always boil water before drinking it or brushing your teeth with it. Water may be contaminated with sewage.
  • Bring antibiotics with you in case of food poisoning.
  • You may get sick when you arrive because of the different microbes in China, but this is different from food poisoning.


  • WeChat is a popular app that can be used to communicate both within China and with your friends and family in the US.
  • You can buy a Chinese cell phone, but you may need to go to a special shop for foreigners to buy a SIM card.


  • China is basically a cash society. You can withdraw money from American bank accounts at ATMs.
  • You can imagine that Beijing is about as expensive as NYC. Bring around $2000 to 3000 for a month.
  • Many Chinese are currently using WeChat to pay via their cell phones.
  • Only change money at a bank. Otherwise, you are likely to get fake money.
  • If you do get fake money, just spend it.


  • Recommended excursions outside Beijing include Chengde and Qufu.
  • Recommended tourist sites within Beijing include Beihai Park, Temple of Heaven, Panjiayuan Market, Confucian Temple
  • Especially at big tourist sites and markets, watch out for pickpockets and scammers.
  • A good way to see the city is to ask a graduate student at the university to show you around. You offer to pay for the sightseeing and food, and the student gets to practice English for the day.
  • Time Out Beijing is a useful site for foreigners living in Beijing. It provides information on what is currently happening, restaurants, etc.
  • Be careful at night because the nightlife in Beijing is completely different from the nightlife in cities in the US. You may get mixed up in something you cannot handle.
  • Barbershops and massage parlors are actually brothels.
  • The metro is crowded, but cheap and efficient. It costs about $0.75 to ride.

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