Where in the world is Professor Mullaney
When the balding Chinese man in his sixties began to pound the information counter repeatedly, his voice growing hoarse from berating the stunned airline attendant, I knew that the situation had truly taken a turn for the worse. It was the early morning hours of July thirty-first, nearing one a.m., and the Taiyuan airport had become a temporary base camp for about five hundred displaced passengers. By slamming his half-empty bottle of Wahaha against the table, the man was engaging in what in Chinese is known as yifen (义愤), or “righteous anger.” In layman’s terms, this translates into (a) a crowd of justifiably perturbed people led by (b) at least one vociferous spokesperson who the larger group openly resents yet quietly endorses (c) surrounding a much smaller number of official personages who (d) endure unceasing emotional abuse from the crowd’s advocate for as long as it takes – but rarely with any outcome that (e) is beneficial to the onlookers.
The official, in this case, was the Deputy Director of Taiyuan Airport, who was flanked by a silently weeping flight attendant, paralyzed with fear, and four completely ineffectual security guards. My traveling companion Emily and I were on our way back to Beijing after a brief, five-day visit to Urumqi, in China’s northwestern province of Xinjiang, and Dunhuang, site of the famous Buddhist caves in the neighboring province of Gansu. Although scheduled to touch down around eight o’clock in the evening, a smooth return was not in the cards. Come nightfall, Beijing was trapped in the heavy embrace of an unrelenting thunderstorm which, when viewed from the window of our Airbus A320-214, invoked memories of the debut episode of the new Battlestar Galactica: one massive nuclear burst here, another there, an even larger one over there. The flight path went something like this: Dunhuang to Lanzhou to Beijing* to Hohhot to Beijing* to Hohhot* to Taiyuan (where * indicates cities which we enjoyed from the air, but where weather did not permit us to land).
But let me rewind a bit, and explain what I’ve been up to in China over the past few weeks. Stay tuned…
Thomas S. Mullaney
Modern Chinese History