Through Chinese Immersion Professors Teach from Experience

  Chinese Bridge Competition

Seven Dyson professors and one Lubin professor are returning to the student perspective and pushing themselves out of their comfort zones in an intensive faculty seminar in Chinese language and culture culminating in a trip to China this May.  The goal is for the professors to use their first-hand experiences to develop new courses in their varied disciplines so that each includes a Chinese cultural component. The Economics Department plans to come back with four new courses to create an entire Chinese track within the major. Other courses will be developed around criminal justice in a Confucian culture and contemporary Chinese art, literature, and film.

This seminar program is being sponsored by the Confucius Institute at Pace University, which seeks to foster understanding of Chinese language and culture. If all goes as planned, similar seminars could be built around other countries and cultures in the future.

“Learning one culture is only a start of something much bigger. It’s not just traveling for fun, it’s about changing minds and welcoming the global perspective,” says Confucius Institute Director Weihua Niu, PhD.

Art Professor and Chair Linda Herritt is eager to study the contemporary Chinese art scene and develop a course based on her findings.

“Really coming out of nowhere, there’s been a huge surge in the success and visibility of Chinese artists in the contemporary art scene internationally,” says Prof.  Herritt, whose own artwork has been influenced by Chinese landscape painting. “Being familiar with their work from outside China, I was interested in seeing how their work is received and how their work fits in inside China, and more specifically how the art reflects the larger Chinese culture. They fit seamlessly into the international art world, so it would be interesting to me to understand what it says about the broader Chinese culture.”

Prof. Herritt is no stranger to international travel since she regularly exhibits her work around the world, and just last year taught the course “New Art: New York, Berlin” which included a trip to Berlin. For others, the trip itself and learning the language, in particular, are a bit daunting.

Like most others participating in the seminar, Rebecca Martin, Chair of the Westchester English and Modern Language Studies Department, has never been to China and in her 30 years teaching college courses has never participated in something like this. She says she is looking at it as stepping outside of her comfort zone just like she encourages her students to do.

In 2006, Dr. Martin traveled to India and subsequently created a course called “Literature and Culture of Contemporary India” which was very popular among students, especially those whose heritage traces back to India. She expects to have the same experience with the course she will create on Contemporary Chinese Literature.

“It’s important for a professor to be able to speak from personal experience, and if the course draws in students who also have personal experiences, it enriches what you can learn. It’s more relevant. For these students it helps them tap into their heritage and for others, they tap into a culture that is of growing importance on many levels,” says Dr. Martin.

Criminal Justice Professor and Chair Joseph Ryan will create the course “Confucianism as a Tool in Understanding Justice”. His department has hosted several travel courses aimed at understanding the justice systems of other countries such as Ireland, Italy and Poland, but all have been primarily based around a Judeo/Christian perspective, just like the American justice system.

“One of the largest partners in the global community is China, with more than one billion citizens. China’s system of justice appears to be based on the concept of Confucianism. Confucius thought appears to be based on a concept of honesty and fairness and an understanding of right and wrong. In terms of enhancing the American system of justice, much could be learned from grasping the essence of Confucianism and developing educational strategies to enhance the academic programs for Criminal Justice and Security majors at Pace University,” says Dr. Ryan.

English Assistant Professor Deborah Poe will develop a course entitled, “Raise the Red Lantern: Contemporary Chinese Film and Literature in Translation,” which compares literature and film during various historical periods in China. Dr. Poe has been studying Chinese literature and philosophy for many years and previously taught English in China. She is fascinated by the Chinese language and infuses it into her own poetry. Her personal goal is to translate a traditional Chinese poem before she dies.

“The language itself is poetry,” she says. “The Chinese language is so radically different from English that it makes the culture and the social fabric different from the West, in ways I find fascinating.”

By taking part in the faculty seminar, she hopes to broaden and deepen her knowledge about Chinese culture and the way it is articulated through film and literature.

Economics NY Professors Joseph Morreale, Anna Shostya and Mark Weinstock have created a team effort to offer a new program focused on Chinese economic and cultural development and the increasing role of China and U.S. relations in the World Economy.  All three have already travelled in China over the past five years and have had extensive teaching experience at the University of Shanghai for Science and Technology. The proposed curriculum, which would create a new track in the major, will include courses in: “China and U.S. Economic and Political Relations: Past, Present and Future”; “Rising Powers: China’s Economic Growth and Development”; “Political Economy of Developing Nations” comparing China to other BRIC Countries; “Emerging Financial Markets: Capital Flows, Policies and Financial Institutions”; and a two week travel course entitled “From Wall Street to the Great Wall”. This course sequence will be available to all Pace students regardless of major.

“We believe that the China track offered through our department would provide exceptional educational opportunities to students, create a learning environment that would facilitate cultural exchanges among faculty and students in China and the U.S., and infuse Chinese culture into the curriculum to a much greater degree than any individual course could do. The students will be able to better understand the challenges and opportunities that exist in China today, especially those pertaining to its business environment, financial markets and institutions, and economic development,” says Dr. Morreale. “Our team is extremely pleased to be a part of the Confucius Institute program and looks forward to our full participation in further development of multidisciplinary interest in Chinese studies in the Confucius Institute and the University as a whole.”

Lubin economics and finance professor P.V. Viswanath will develop a course entitled, “Development of Debt Markets in China: A Societal Perspective” which would help students examine the impact of culture and society on the development of financial markets in China by looking at factors such as population policy and its impact on the age structure of the Chinese population; openness and secrecy in terms of how it affects corporate governance; and the direct participation of individuals in financial markets either by buying and holding stocks and bonds or by investing in mutual funds.  All these aspects of Chinese culture are probably also related to other questions that the course will examine, such as the importance of the family in modern China, whether people live in suburbs or in cities, in houses or in apartment buildings, whether they shop in American-type malls or in smaller shops, the movement of the population from rural areas to urban areas etc.

Leading up to the China trip, the professors attend an eight-week course given by the Confucius Institute staff with cultural lectures including history, politics, the justice system, media, and arts as well as language instruction.

“This has also been a great way for faculty to engage intellectually in dialogue with colleagues across disciplines. We’ve discussed recent hot topics in the media, like Obama’s meeting with President Hu and the tiger mother,” says Dr. Niu. “It’s intellectually stimulating for all involved.”