A Glimpse of China’s Future

Peking and Tsinghua Universities are considered the Harvard and Yale of China. Both located in Beijing, they are where Dr. Paula Marantz Cohen, Distinguished Professor of English and host of the Drexel InterView here at Drexel, chose to focus her documentary Two Universities and the Future of China, which is being produced by the Honors College. “It is almost inevitable that the leaders of China came from one of these universities,” says Cohen. "So by talking to today’s students at Peking and Tsinghua we are able to get a glimpse of China’s future. The ideas and skills of these students will one day shape how the nation develops." 

Overall the students’ outlook on China’s future is positive. Students cherish their country’s history but are extremely open to Western values. “These students are the privileged,” says Cohen, “they feel that they have the world in front of them.” The students, who Cohen reports, were very open during interviews, are studying most of the same things we study at Drexel: urban planning, social work, and private equity to name a few. Majors that we’ve never heard of, such as a Marxism Major, still result in familiar careers, such as a career in politics. The difference is, students are not allowed to choose their majors. Instead, majors are chosen for them after taking placement exams. Students who were not placed into the area of study they had hoped will sometimes later choose to study abroad for graduate school. It is the time spent abroad that has made students so open to Western ideals on human rights, freed trade, and globalization. When asked about the younger generation’s opinions on communism, Cohen admitted that most were “a little sheepish” when discussing the subject. 

Ning Wang, a Professor in Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies at Tsinghua University, first invited Cohen to visit Tsinghua. It was there, this past October, that Cohen was introduced to Liu Wei, Wang’s PhD student and Associate Professor in Comparative Literature and Translation Studies at nearby Beihang University. Liu was assigned to help Cohen’s project as a translator, though for this task she was often not necessary. “All of the students can speak English extremely well,” said Cohen. This winter, Liu spent a month at Drexel as a visiting scholar in the Honors College. Liu, who is currently pursuing her PhD in Translational Studies, used her time in Philadelphia to continue researching her dissertation; specifically, she was excited to be able to use both the Drexel and University of Pennsylvania libraries for research while she was here. Liu’s thesis focuses on how “theory in [Translational Studies] has been adopted by Chinese academics,” says Cohen. And because Internet access is not heavily restricted here, as it is in China, Liu was able to use the MLA Bibliography online. She also met with Professor Lawrence Venuti from Temple, considered a leader in the field of Translational Studies. Venuti has since been invited to Beijing to host lectures at Liu’s university.  

Liu also had the opportunity to learn about education at Drexel. She sat in on several Creative Writing classes, including Professor Cordelia Biddle’s Honors course "Writing Killer Suspense Stories." When asked why she had chosen to sit in on these courses in particular, Liu said “There are no Creative Writing classes in China.” While visiting, She was also able to educate Drexel students about life in China. She hosted two lectures for the Honors College, one on the Chinese New Year (or the Spring Festival), and one China’s One-Child Policy. Liu’s willingness to explore our culture while maintaining and sharing her homeland’s traditions highlights an important difference between American and Chinese society. “We’re in a free country and we see things closing,” says Cohen. “[The students in China] are in a communist country and see the world opening. Which is better?”