Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

In ties with China, DU is the little engine that ‘can’

When The Atlantic magazine correspondent James Fallows spoke at DU in September, he called American universities the “secret engine” for improving relations with China.

But faculty and administrators at DU say their engine has been purring along for some time now — and it’s no secret.

Programmatic ties with China continue to expand as interest by students and academic units increases, says Eric Gould, vice provost for internationalization. A look at some of the DU’s connections with China bears him out. This fall, 340 students from China — 34 percent of all international students — are enrolled at DU. Nationally, China is second only to India in the number of students — 98,235 — who attend American universities, according to the Institute for International Education.

“Primarily the interest (at DU) is in business,” Gould says. In fact, the Daniels College of Business enrolled about two-thirds of DU’s Chinese students for the fall quarter.

Moreover, some 20 DU undergraduate students are presently in China as part of the Cherrington Global Scholars program, 23 Chinese visiting scholars are on campus, and interest in Asian studies, particularly China, is swelling.

The Graduate School of Social Work has run a China Partnership Program for more than a decade, and interest in globalization among a number of other academic units is on the rise, creating pressure for more connections.

Spearheading interest is the Josef Korbel School of International Studies, whose prestigious Center for China-U.S. Cooperation operates in newly minted quarters attached to Cherrington Hall. The addition is also home to the new SIÉ CHÉOU-KANG Center for International Security and Diplomacy, which focuses on global security, policy and diplomacy issues. The long-established China-U.S. Cooperation Center bridges international differences through teaching, learning, research, networking, scholarly exchanges, analysis and public education.

Most recent ties between Korbel and China include a new graduate center affiliation with Peking University in Beijing. The agreement opens new doors for graduate students to study at Peking University’s China Studies Institute, conduct independent research, and land important internships with multinational corporations or international news agencies such as CNN, says Prof. Sam Zhao, director of the China-U.S. Cooperation Center.

“This will be the first graduate center set up by American universities in China,” Zhao says. He noted that while many universities send undergraduates to China, few have organized programs for graduate students.

“This offers a variety of courses on Chinese economy, society, politics, foreign policy and art, plus a very intensive language component,” he says.

The graduate center is open to students at DU and American University, the only two institutions participating so far. It permits students to earn academic credit for study, internships or both. Courses are taught in English, since few American students are skilled enough to take courses taught in Chinese.

“This is a very rigorous academic program,” Zhao says, noting that the first group of students in the program will likely travel to Beijing next summer.

The China Studies Institute is on the campus of Peking University, which was started in 1898.

“It’s the oldest in China,” Zhao says, “because modern higher education in China started only in the 19th century, [and was] brought by western countries.”

Peking University is China’s first modern research university and its first national university. The school is regarded as the “Harvard or Yale of China,” says Yao Lei, a freshman at DU whose home is Beijing.

“It’s the best in China,” she says.

Yao agrees with Fallows that student exchanges can correct misunderstandings.

“When I was 15, I was an exchange student to America,” Yao says. “At the time, all I knew about Americans was from TV and Hollywood movies.” That and news reports of shootings at American universities such as Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois frightened her. But her attitude changed during the year she studied in Houston and since arriving at DU this fall.

“As soon as you’re here you realize that everything’s different,” Yao says. “The best way to know another culture is to go experience it.”

Fallows’ DU speech, a Bridges to the Future lecture, emphasized that plodding diplomatic efforts to engage and affect China could be greatly boosted by “individuals and institutions interacting with their counterparts in China.”

“Probably the most important of all is to entice as many Chinese graduate students as possible to come to the U.S. and study there and live here,” he said. “Two good things happen. Either they stay here, which is great, or they go back there, which is great.”

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