From the Archives: The following was written by Hugh M. Jenkins, executive vice president of NAFSA from 1966-79, and first published in Volume XXXIX, No. 5 of the NAFSA Newsletter from March 1988.
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NAFSA has been honored on three separate occasions by invitations from the State Education Commission of China to send delegations of its members to the People's Republic of China to visit institutions of higher education and learn about the daily life of the Chinese people. Through such experiences, NAFSAns will better understand the Chinese students and scholars on their campuses.
The first delegation visited China from October 14 to November 2, 1985, the second from March 31 to April 17, 1986 and the third from October 20 to November 3, 1987. Complete reports of the visits of the first two delegations are available from NAFSA's central office (for $3.50 each, to cover postage and handling expenses). The report of the visit of the third NAFSA delegation will be available shortly; ordering information will be announced in the NAFSA Newsletter.
Hugh M. Jenkins, former executive vice president of NAFSA, was a member of the second delegation. His impressions of the trip–set down shortly after his return and again one year later–will be of interest to all NAFSA members, and are reported below.
It is presumptuous to offer opinions about a country and its people after a visit of only two weeks. However, it would be discourteous to our Chinese hosts for the members of the NAFSA delegation not to make an effort to analyze the impact of such a visit on our understanding of the People's Republic of China and on our perception of the students and scholars from that country now studying in the United States.
During the stay in China, the delegation was given the opportunity to see many sites of cultural and historical significance that are famous throughout the world. We were able to mix with the people in the great cities, travel through the countryside, and participate in meetings with faculty and students at a number of universities (where classrooms, dormitories, and research facilities were visited). Part sight-seeing, part professional, and totally educational, the visit provided a unique opportunity for Americans and their Chinese colleagues to gain a better understanding of those factors that affect the process of educational exchange between their two countries.
The most pervasive characteristic of the People's Republic of China is its magnitude. One is overwhelmed by the vast expanse of territory encompassed in its national boundaries and by the reality of a population of one billion people. It is not surprising that problems of sheer size, so clearly apparent, are reflected in every aspect of the educational and economic development of the country.
As pervasive as size is antiquity, dramatically displayed by the relics of bygone dynasties extraordinary in wealth and awesome in power. An enormous crowd of Chinese visitors, including large numbers of school children, accompanied the delegation on sight-seeing excursions. Together we visited such places as the Forbidden City, where the Imperial Court lived and ruled in splendid isolation; the Great Wall, which seen from a distance at first appears to be a mirage and is only to be believed when one sets foot on its ancient stones; and the tombs of Xi'an, where 6,000 terra cotta soldiers, outfitted with horses and chariots, were assembled to accompany the emperor on his journey from this world to the next. It is impossible for a visitor to assess the influence of their cultural inheritance on the Chinese people. They are members of a society that can trace its history back through thousands of years. They see that the achievements of their ancestors are a source of astonishment and wonder to the rest of the world. The durability of political potential and authoritarian achievement through various regimes is dramatically portrayed in the incredible display of China's ancient civilization. It seems reasonable to assume that out of this past emerge powerful forces that affect the perspective of today's China.
The New China
It is, however, the ubiquitous influence of the new China that dominates contemporary life and thought. Conversations with Chinese colleagues in the educational community revealed the extent of the plans that are now being developed and implemented in order to cope with inherited problems of enormous dimensions. They involve establishing priorities that call for the exclusion or deferment of many desirable and reasonable improvements in standards of living and convenience. Only thus will it be possible to achieve the goals and acquire the facilities immediately essential for educational and economic development.
There is a realization that accomplishments must be sufficient to maintain the tremendous pace necessary to bring the country up to date. Signs of movement are everywhere: new buildings and new towns are under construction, new roads are linking cities across the country, universities are enlarging both facilities and enrollment to provide the educational infrastructure for this national development. Fulfilling these ambitious plans, especially in the field of educational development, requires a high degree of individual commitment. As we observed at teacher training schools, motivation is instilled at an early age.
There were clearly no problems of discipline in classrooms that were crowded to capacity. Evidence of this zeal, and of a willingness to accept the lack of many comforts and conveniences, was found both in the conditions of some universities and in the attitudes of their scholars and professors. These individuals evinced a singleness of purpose and sense of urgency: the promise of the future is to them sufficient compensation for present sacrifices.
The delegation realized that many of the individuals met on campus visits were part of a select group–persons who had had the opportunity to study abroad. They were a small but important minority of the thousands of Chinese students who desire to share in the promise of the future and, only too aware of the immense competition, are impatient for some immediate participation in the developments of today. While we observed none of the student unrest that has been reported since the visit, we might have recognized some evidence of this in the almost overwhelming response we encountered in the open meetings held on campuses to discuss education in the United States. Where the meetings were announced, the delegation spoke to capacity audiences, with overflow groups standing in the corridors and at the windows.
Delegation members found they shared a number of common concerns with Chinese colleagues responsible for international education exchange at their institutions. In some cases, such as the sharp difference in living standards between the student community in China and the United States, a gulf was recognized that at this time seems almost insurmountable. Only through a great deal of mutual forbearance will differences be reconciled on this subject so that an acceptable solution can be realized. In other cases, such as identifying problems of adjustment and orientation for Chinese students and scholars prior to their departure from China and subsequent to their arrival in the United States, mutually supportive efforts were conceivable to more effectively meet the needs of Chinese students and scholars. As advisers to foreign students of a variety of nationalities in the respective institutions, delegation members and their Chinese colleagues also were able to exchange valuable information about current developments in foreign student affairs on the international scene.
Impact of Visits
There is no doubt the visit to China provided each member of the delegation with increased understanding and sensitivity that will be invaluable in future relationships with students and scholars from the People's Republic of China. It is the hope of the delegation members that we, too, made some contribution to a more complete appreciation by Chinese colleagues of the complexities and characteristics of higher education in the United States. We are grateful for the way in which our visit was planned to illuminate our understanding of the People's Republic of China. The accumulated impressions we .derived from the daily tours, formal meetings, and informal conversations will serve us well as we continue to receive students and scholars from the People's Republic of China at institutions in the United States.
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