SSUE – Experiences in Xi’an Jiaotong University

3 Jun

By Francesca Lee

During the 3 days visit to the Xi’an Jiaotong University, we visited 3 museums; 1 of them being the Xi’an Jiaotong University’s Arts Museum. This museum showcased many interesting and diverse artifacts, ranging from bronze coins to roof caps; from the origins of the Chinese characters to the female wedding dresses of the different tribes in China.


The centerpiece of the museum was the ladies exhibition. The comprehensive exhibits within outlined the progress of females in China, throughout the years. There was a display on how the ladies, whose feet were bounded, go about with their daily routines. Apart from that, a sizeable collection of daily necessities amassed from donations to the museum where displayed. These were shown alongside traditional wedding dresses from different tribes and era, each with their own unique design and properties. Some notable wedding pieces include one made entirely out of fish skin, and another made out of a material that was fire retardant and water proof.  It is through the captivating exhibits and the insightful commentary from the student volunteers in the museum that visitors can immerse themselves into the rich and diverse culture of the orient.


The 2nd museum was Han Yangling, a burial place for Emperor Jingdi of the Han Dynasty and his Empress Wang. It was a refreshing experience as the museum was situated underground and we had to wear protective shoe coverings to prevent further degradation of the tomb. The dark and cold atmosphere created the perfect ambience for the museum tour, as it exudes a sense of unsettling eeriness. However, taking in to consideration that it is actually a tomb, credit should be given to the curators, for constructing the right atmosphere.

An observation made during the visit was that the sacrificial items that were buried with the emperor lacked a lot of details unlike the ones in the tomb of the first emperor of China, Emperor Qin. In Qin Shihuang’s tomb, all the sacrificial items are really intricate, and the intricacies extend even to the designs of the walls. One of the probable explanations for the decline of the workmanship can be attributed to the fact that the entire workforce of craftsmen that worked on Emperor Qin’s tomb was buried together with the king. This led to a shortfall of talents, as well as a gap, in the transference of skills between the craftsmen of the two generations, thus explaining the evident lack in details of the sacrificial items. This made us realize the importance of the passing on of knowledge from one generation to another.

From the Qin to the Han dynasty, we are able to see that the elimination of a single generation of master craftsmen caused the loss in an art and the country’s culture as a whole. Technology and design was also lost together with the craftsmen. Singapore is also facing a similar problem. The younger generation of Singaporeans is not willing to accept the knowledge and skills that their parents are willing to impart. We feel the need to learn from the past and protect Singapore’s culture, heritage, and also economy.

In the museum, there was also a small theatre playing the love story between the king and the queen. The theatre uses holograms and a revolving stage to create different scenes, bringing to life the moving story between the two royalties. Initially it was a surprise when the stage changed in a matter of minutes that the lights were switched off. Everybody was wondering how it happened. As we got on to it, we were quite amazed by how it actually works. It allowed the story to flow seamlessly from one set to another and one scene to the next.

At night we went to watch a pantomime called the “Song of Everlasting Sorrow”, or Chang Hen Ge.  It depicts the love story of Emperor Tang and his concubine, Yang Guifei. The unique thing about this is that the stage is a floating platform with other set pieces from the Tang dynasty. The set pieces of the dance are both intricate and elegant. It showed the prosperity of that era and the abundance of happiness and laughter that was a symbol for that era. The costumes that the dances wore were beautiful and colourful. It really helped in the depicting the tragic love story of the two royalties.

A part that I particularly appreciated about the show was its use of light and sound in projecting different moods. For example, when the general led his army through a war, red light and drums were used to create a fearsome atmosphere. Soft blue light and soothing music was mainly used for the times when the emperor and his concubine were dancing in their love for each other. I was also amazed by the transformation of the stage sets! To create a starlit sky, lights were positioned strategically on the mountain, and lit at the exact same instant – I would have expected that the great width of the mountain would have caused lag in the switching on of the lamps, but much to my surprise, it was perfectly timed. This pantomime is a true depiction of the Chinese’s effort in producing masterpieces that can wow any jaded audience.

We waited for quite some time beyond the show’s intended starting time. It was strange, because usually the Chinese pride themselves on punctuality and efficiency. Out of the blue, people in the audience began to stand and look towards the center of the seating area. Seated at the corner, we could hear jeers but did not know what was going on. Other Chinese around us started to stand as well, and began jeering even though it was evident that they did not know what had occurred either. It turned out that a group of important delegates had arrived late for the show and held up the show for everyone. Through this, we can tell that the herd mentality is very strong in this part of China, and if we may extrapolate, possibly throughout the region. China has gone through multiple revolutions throughout its long history and I believe that this herd mentality could have played a huge role in the process. It is the phenomenon that causes things to go viral, and it will be useful to leverage on if we ever wanted to market a product in China.

We also visited the Art and Cultural museum that is located in the University itself. The museum exhibits many calligraphy pieces that were done by famous masters. These masters will actually have to do the pieces in a single seating, and also their state of mind are totally at peace when they are writing them. It was really interesting to see how the ancient Chinese characters look like and the similarities between them and the modern day Chinese characters. The evolution of the Chinese words is fascinating as it progresses from a pictorial nature to the simplified Chinese words that we are familiar with today.

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The lower levels of the museum housed a variety of other exhibits. One of the exhibitions shows the origins and the development of the Qinqiang Puppet play, from its inception to its proliferation across China. We were amazed by the colourful costumes and the intricate puppets that were used to tell stories to the large masses. We also saw the art of paper cutting. The paper cutting that were displayed there were very much different from the usual red paper cuttings. These paper cuttings have more than just a single colour and are usually not symmetric. They were so detailed that you could actually see a single blade of grass or the embroidery on a lady’s dress. All these beautiful works of art were all done by a single elderly woman who after waking up from a coma, believe that she is the reincarnation of the paper cutting girl, and hence began producing amazing art pieces.


After the museum, we also toured around the school. We first visited the Engineering Labs where all the machinery that the students require to make a product were at. It was compulsory for every student, regardless of their faculty, to create a hammer head using the machines from a rectangular steel block. Also, the students have to dismantle and rebuild an ordinary diesel engine. It is more often than not that the students realize that they have leftover pieces at the end of the rebuilding. They have to pass this module in order to graduate.

After that, we visited their Electronics Lab where we saw a cool invention that turns sound waves into electricity for light. They used a normal speaker to capture the sound waves and then with some addition of wires and energy storing devices on a PCB board, produce light at the end of the circuit. It inspired several design ideas where we can make use of such technology to harness energy and be put into good use.

Following that we also visited their Robotics Lab and saw the centre of the room filled with neatly organized baskets of joints, gears, ladders, wheels and many other building blocks to a robot. It was amazing how they used all the small parts to create a robotic puppet master that is able to dance with the music and also a card shuffler. I think that having such building blocks will greatly help us in producing more design ideas and from there inspire us in creating things that will be able to change the world.

Jiao Da had also purchased a high tech robot from a French company to help their students in developing a similar robot to compete in a robotics competition. We were all amazed at the fluidity of the robot’s movements and also at how well the robot could dance to the music that was coming out from its “ears”! With the almost unlimited resources and the dedication of their teachers in teaching, it was no wonder that Jiao Da is one of the top 9 Universities in China.

Our visit to Jiao Da coincidentally coincides with the closing ceremony of their Art Festival and so we were invited to perform at the ceremony. We decided that singing was the best option as it was the easiest for NTU, SMU and SUTD to co-ordinate and rehearse. We decided to sing the different national day songs from each of the four races in Singapore, ‘Chan Mali Chan’, ‘Home’, ‘Singapore Town’, and ‘Munnaeru Vaalibaa’.

We all had fun doing last minute rehearsals outside the theatre building in front of the school population who were all on their way back after their classes. Even though we barely had any practice, we managed to pull off an amazing performance! The feeling of pride was overwhelming during the performance as we sang the songs about the country that we know and love.


During our last night in Jiao Da, the school organized a farewell dinner for us. Both the Chinese and Singaporean students took turns to go up on stage to perform their items. We partnered SMU to perform an item called ‘杯子歌’ (see lyrics below). Based on the cup song featured in the movie ‘Pitch Perfect’, we rewrote the original song in Chinese infusing our thoughts and experiences throughout the trip into the contents of the lyrics. Although we had some bumps and uncertainty along the way, the Chinese teachers and students were really understanding of our situation, that we had only created the lyrics in the bus a few hours before the performance. They were amazed at our creativity and our skills of creating a beat using only our hands and our Ikea cups. The University also had “live feed” via Weibo and we had from our China friends, cheering us on.

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Lyrics to our cup song





The exciting performances drew the curtain on one of the most informative legs of SSUE 2013.


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