The Forbidden City, Beijing, China

The Wonders Of China

University of Reading Vice-Chancellor, Professor Robert Van de Noort, shares with CONNECTED the highlights of his trip to China in 2023 – from archaeological wonders to the Biang Biang noodle.

Professor Van de Noort visited China in September 2023 for meetings and events with partner institutions, new transnational students, alumni and education leaders. Whilst there, he was also able to do some sightseeing and experience some of the wonders of China for himself.

Archaeological wonders

Robert in front of the forbidden cityDuring Professor Van de Noort’s free time in China he was keen to fulfil his lifelong desire of seeing  the Forbidden City and the Terracotta Army.

Professor Van de Noort said: “I vividly recall seeing Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor film, in my mid-20s and it left a very lasting impression on me. Since then, I’ve always wanted to visit the Forbidden City.

“It was a really wonderful experience. It was a warm and sunny day, and when you first go into the Forbidden City there are lots of people. But the place is so enormous that it didn’t feel overcrowded.

“It was quite easy for me to find a quiet spot to really admire the architecture, the symbolism, and the buildings. It is really very impressive.”

As an archaeologist, Professor Van de Noort was also keen to visit the Terracotta Army in Xi’an. He said: “I’ve known about the Terracotta Army for most of my working life and so I decided to travel by bullet train to Xi’an, which was quick and easy. Going there was just magnificent. You can’t not be impressed by the scale of the army itself, nor by the finessing in the statues which was quite beautiful.

“I also got to visit the Tomb of the First Emperor of China, which is set back from the Terracotta Army. The army was there to symbolically defend the tomb from invaders. The tomb is still being excavated – it is enormous and what they’ve found, and are still discovering, creates a whole new perspective on a society and a civilisation more than 2000 years old.”

A welcoming reception

Whilst travelling around China – for meetings with the Beijing Institute of Technology (BIT), the NUIST Reading Academy, at Nanjing University of Information Science and Technology (NUIST), and for the Beijing Alumni Reception – Professor Van de Noort was struck by how welcoming everyone was. He said:

“My favourite aspect of the trip was how friendly everyone was – from the alumni I met, to my colleagues at NUIST and BIT. They were incredibly welcoming and very proud of their relationship with the University of Reading. And for me, it’s always fascinating to see what they are doing there.

Robert and some of the alumni at the Beijing Alumni Reception“I was also really pleased to be able to host over 100 Reading alumni at the alumni evening drinks reception in Beijing, which was also attended by several partners from BIT. Everyone was so warm about their time at Reading. Nearly all of them commented about the beautiful campus and the different way of learning at Reading, where they were co-producers of their learning. It certainly sounded like Reading has left a lasting impression on them.

“It was wonderful to hear how many of our alumni have great jobs in China and are doing very well in their careers. I was heartened to hear from many of the graduates who attended that they would love to return to Reading one day to pursue further studies. As the video we played at the event stated: once Reading, always Reading.”

Sharing of food

Professor Van de Noort found that sharing of food and drink in China was very important for meetings and building mutual trust. During his eight-day trip, he was fortunate to try an array of Chinese cuisine.

He said: “I had many formal dinners where I was served lots of dishes, so I had the opportunity to try many new and different things – including a sea slug. I loved experiencing all the different foods there. But one of my favourites was actually a simple but famous dish called the Biang Biang noodle.

“This was a large noodle, about half a metre long and two inches thick. You tend to have one or two noodles and it comes in a very spicy, cumin-flavoured lamb sauce which was absolutely delicious. I’m very pleased I got to try it.”

Professor Van de Noort also talks to CONNECTED about how his visit was able to help strengthen and grow the University of Reading’s educational collaborations in China. Or, you can read more about the Beijing Alumni Reception here.