The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

International Development Seminar brings faculty to China

By Lara Avery, Matthew Stone

For Economics professor Vasant Sukhatme, the journey to China began at a local Wal-Mart. On a recent shopping trip, he noted that the DVD player, electric iron and smoke detector he bought all carried the label “Made in China.”

“The growth miracle par excellence is China,” Sukhatme said.

Sukhatme was one of 14 faculty members to spend three weeks in China this past summer on Macalester’s Faculty International Development Seminar. International Center director Michael Monahan led the trip, which included stops in Taipei, Nanjing and Shanghai. Participating professors attended a series of lectures and seminars at local universities and devoted time to individual research, leading some to other areas of the country.

“[The seminars] are designed to be the ideal study abroad program, except for teachers,” Monahan said.

Sukhatme and two other participants, Sociology professor Terry Boychuk and Religious Studies professor Ahmad Ahmad, shared insights from their research Tuesday at a presentation on campus. The college’s Institute for Global Citizenship sponsored the presentation.

The program began in 1994 and, since then, seminars have been held in Hungary, Brazil, South Africa, Malaysia and Turkey. Institute for Global Citizenship Dean Ahmed Samatar organized the first trips.

The Freeman Grant, a $1.8 million sum awarded to Macalester to incorporate more China-related study in its curriculum, funded this past summer’s trip. The Ford Foundation will fund at least part of the 2008 seminar, which will take faculty to the Middle East, Monahan said.

The locations selected reflect areas in which Macalester seeks to strengthen its curriculum, he said.

This past summer’s theme was dubbed “Chinese Worlds: Multiple Temporalities and Transformations.”

At Tuesday’s presentation, Sukhatme recounted key points in China’s economic history that led a country with a Communist government to emerge as a fast-growing capitalist economy.

According to Sukhatme, the most populous nation in the world began a “phased approach” to liberalizing its economy in 1978.

“The Chinese and other peoples came to see the light,” he said.

The first steps of this program allowed Chinese farmers the autonomy over what they could do with their excess produce, Sukhatme said. The incentive “motivated a significant change in agriculture.”

“That success in agriculture provided both the impetus and support for economic liberalization in other sectors,” Sukhatme said.

The downside, according to Sukhatme, is growing inequality between the urban and rural areas of China.

Ahmad spoke of his research on Chinese Muslims, a population of 20 million that is often overlooked in the traditional academic literature.

“It kind of makes no sense that someone should get interested in Chinese Muslims,” Ahmad said. “[But] it shouldn’t be a footnote.”

Of the literature that does exist on the topic, the focus is on rural Chinese Muslims. As China rapidly urbanizes, however, Chinese Muslims are included in the migration. The literature has not yet caught up to the population.

“Even though they’re small numbers, they’re not insignificant,” Ahmad said of urban Chinese Muslims.

Boychuk’s research led him to discover the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) dependence on non-profit organizations.

“The CCP imagines that there’s nothing non-profits can’t do for China,” Boychuk said to the 20 in attendance. “This is an expansive view of the significance of non-profit organizations.”

According to Boychuk, the government’s reliance on non-profit organizations fits with a motto of “Big Society, Small Government.” The proliferation of non-profits can lead to the growth of civil society.

“This is part of an incremental shift that may portend the birth of democracy in China,” Boychuk said.

Professors are expected to develop presentations that involve their observations of the country’s culture.

In order to be chosen to go on the trip, professors had to outline topics that appealed to the theme of the program. The topics professors covered this summer included Statistics Evidence in Criminal Cases, Taxi Drivers on Life in China, and others.

Research from the summer’s seminar will be published in the Macalester International Journal.

Faculty members who attend the seminars are expected to be able to serve as resources for students interested in the countries their professors have visited, Monahan said.

Ahmad said that he plans to use some lessons he acquired overseas in his classes at Macalester.

“I’m really thankful for the opportunity,” he said.

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