Getting To Know Us
After a year at the University of Missouri boning up on American history, a Chinese professor tells what she discovered about us and how she imparts her new knowledge to the folks back home in the People’s Republic.
February/March 1986 | Volume 37, Issue 2
Everything I saw and heard during this trip made me revise previously held prejudices about America.
In addition to lecturing to the students, I have also prepared a reading list. Because most of my students have difficulty reading English, my list consists mainly of Chinese books. One of them is Huang Shaoxiang’s An Abridged History of America . (In China, Huang Shaoxiang is the leading authority on American history. He has studied in America and is now more than seventy years old.) My list also includes a Chinese translation of American Epoch: A History of the United States Since the 1890 s, edited by Arthur S. Link and William B. Catton. I also include a Chinese translation of William Manchester’s The Glory and the Dream: A Narrative History of America 1932-1972 . All three books are required reading. Besides these are a few essays written in English for those students who are interested.
The book that the students like most is The Glory and the Dream . It may not seem the most authoritative American history text, because Manchester relied heavily on his personal experiences, but the author’s vivid style coupled with his humor and objectivity combine to create a work that is worthy of high esteem.
Through my class I hope to make other Chinese better understand America.
As for my teaching methods, they are not that different from methods used in America. However, because Chinese students are conditioned by the traditional axiom which demands that students respect the teacher, practically no one will ever interrupt my lecture to ask questions. Instead, the students wait until the class is over. Although this tradition may seem very polite on the surface, I actually feel it is a handicap for the students. On the other hand, because both the professors and the students live on campus, students can freely go to a professor’s house to visit, and professors often take the initiative to go to the dorms and help solve problems the students may have. In this respect, the relationship between students and professors is much more intimate than in America. I’m happy that my students seem to like my course.
The questions most often asked by students are: “After the turbulent years of demonstrations (1960s and 1970s), what are today’s young Americans like? Are they concerned about their government and politics?” “Is there still racial prejudice among Americans today?” “Where do the American Indians live? How is their living standard?” “What was the social milieu that gave rise to McCarthyism?” “How do Americans view Communism?” There are always many questions. But since the students are very sharp, and their inquiries always stimulating, I really enjoy discussing these questions with them, and I always try my best to give them an answer.
After these young men and women graduate, they will engage in many different occupations, such as politics, social work, historiography, journalism. There will also be those who, like me, will teach at universities and high schools. Hence, through my class, my hope is to make other Chinese better understand America.
I have written so much, I guess I should put my pen to rest. But thoughts are still running around in my head. It’s true this experience was an unusual and special one, one that I will always remember. It would, for instance, be hard to forget the optimism and smiling faces of most Americans. It would be hard to forget the grandeur of Lake Michigan, hard to forget the expansiveness of the Missouri plains, and hard to forget the active, bustling, but, at the same time, organized student life in Columbia. Of course, the one thing I could never forget is the unlimited kindness shown to me by my friends.
These moments are some of the most precious and brilliant of my life.