The Fudan Foreign Students Campus

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After the arrival the new students settled down in the foreign students‘ compound.

It was located outside the university campus, had its own wall around it, and there was a gate with a guard, that was closed at 11 p.m. There was still a guard inside, but if you arrived past 11, you were reported and reprimanded. On the map above it is the walled compound in the top-right corner.

I can remember language class placement tests and an official welcome event, with the head of Fudan University attending and welcoming the new foreign students.

Also, we were assigned our final room and roommate. I happened to share a room with a Japanese student – Takabatake-san.

View from my room’s window to the middle school on the other side of the road

This is what the campus looked like:

My room was on the top floor (5th floor – China counts floors the same way as Americans) in the building right from the gate.

Later during the school year an artificial mountain was added in the rubble field you can see on the pictures. The gabled building in the background was the canteen, with an activity room on the top floor which offered, among other things, a table tennis table, board games, and a piano.

Here you can see the lunch tickets for the foreign students‘ canteen and the regular canteen on the campus.

The main university campus was already decorated for National Day on October 1st:

The Chinese students‘ dormitories look beautiful and romantic from the outside. But they had big eight-bed room dormitories with bunk beds. So our two-bed rooms were actually quite a luxury.

An Anecdote

While I was there we experienced a heat wave. Many of the dorm dwellers gathered for the Chinese evening news in front of the color TV in the dorm lobby every night. And as it got hotter by the day we watched the weather forecast for the next day going up from 37 °C to 38 to 39 to 39,5… And that’s where it stayed for the next few days. We were wondering… Until a second year student explained: There obviously was a law stating that workers could stay home when the temperature rose to 40 degrees and above. So, magically, it never did! Can anyone confirm or debunk this?

We were about 400 foreign students at our compound at Fudan from literally all around the world: 200 Japanese students, a lot of Americans, Germans being the second largest group, including three form the soon-to-be disappearing GDR – who would have thought, just two years before the fall of the Berlin Wall?! – Australians, French, British, Belgian, Italian, … as well as a couple of Africans, I think from Benin, two Russians and even two North-Koreans.

After a couple of weeks everyone was fraternizing, except for the North Koreans. The Japanese were mostly keeping to themselves. But as I was placed in the highest language class with the students from the GDR and Russia, and had a Japanese tongwu I was on good terms with them all.

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Arrival in Shanghai

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Frankly, I don’t remember much about the flight to China. It was on September 15, 1987, and it was a Zhongguo Hangkong Gongsi flight – the PRC government airline – from Frankfurt to Beijing, with stop-overs in Rome and Sharjah (for refueling in the gulf states). Every passenger received a plastic model airplane as an in-flight gift. After arrival in Beijing there was a connecting flight to Shanghai.

At that time Shanghai Airport was a bumpy runway somewhere in between cabbage fields in the yet-empty Pudong area. Seriously! I was not the only student on the flight who was bound for Fudan, and I suppose the uni had organized a mianbao che – a tiny minivan in the shape of a U.S. bread loaf, hence the literal translation „bread car“ – to bring us to the foreing students‘ dormitory.

Night had fallen in the meantime, and we were assigned a room for the first night. It was a hot and stuffy night. I remember being woken up at about 5 the next morning by the deafening sound of cars and trucks and bicycles outside the window.

And so my year in China began! Or, as that „traveling China in the 1980s“ cliché goes:


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A Year in China in the Late 1980s



From September 1987 to August 1988 I spent a year as a foreign student in China. I was assigned a place at Fudan University in Shanghai by the Chinese government authority. The Fudan was (and still is) one of the most prestigious universities in China. However, as it turned out, this was not an advantage for foreign students in the late 80s at all, unfortunately: The Fudan was the strictest in keeping foreigners and Chinese students apart from each other. All foreigners were segregated in a campus outside the main campus, making direct contact with Chinese students pretty hard. To be fair: in hindsight it is not clear whether this was the reason, or whether they intended to offer us decidedly better living conditions than the Chinese students on the main campus had.

This little blog is about my year in China.

While I blogged about my trips to Xinjiang and Tibet in spring 1988, as well as the return trip on the Trans-Mongolian Railway before, I only recently decided to get all of my slides from that time digitized. In hindsight, it was a bad and unfortunate decision to do it only now, as the slides have suffered a lot of damage in these 30 years. Some are hardly usable anymore…

Also, I am now disappointed how few pictures I had actually taken during that time – except maybe for during a few extraordinary trips. But remember that this was the pre-digital age! Digicams or smartphones did not exist. Photographic film rolls, especially slide films were a real cost factor. So was photography equipment. Also, the film rolls had to be stored, developed, framed, …

As photography was not a hobby of mine, I just brought my good old simple rangefinder camera. Through the entire year I took 26 rolls of film worth of pictures, 37 pictures per film on average. One of the last film rolls, while I spent a month in Beijing (Peking) before returning to Europe, was destroyed when my camera got soaked in a rain shower.

To sum this up: There are not really a lot of pictures and the quality leaves much to be desired. Perhaps they are still interesting to some. That’s the reason why I am posting them publicly.

A look back on different times

At the time, I was a 21-year-old university student who was not really interested in politics. I was fascinated by the emerging computer technology (remember: it was the 1980s!) and had an obsession with Chinese and Japanese characters and the languages, and therefore started an M.A. program of Computational Linguistics and Chinese Studies. The Chinese Studies required students to spend a year in China. And that’s how I got there. There’s actually a German language blog entry where, looking back, I try to explain why I decided not to pursue a career in China after graduation from university.

So, look at the pictures and comments through the eyes of the naive 21-year-old that I was then. Let’s be honest: All of us young students from Western countries were pretty much spoiled, entitled brats, thrown into this year-long adventure in this threshold country that the China of the late 1980s still was. Draw your own conclusions of what you see in these old pictures, and compare with what you see China has become since then.

By the way, I am blogging in English which is not my native language (as you may have figured out already) so that more people can read it.

Use the table of contents in the Overview on top of this page to navigate.

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  • Pre-existing „autonomous“ blog posts