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The Legacy of J. William FulbrightPolicy, Power, and Ideology$

Alessandro Brogi, Giles Scott-Smith, and Snyder David J.

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780813177700

Published to University Press Scholarship Online: January 2020

DOI: 10.5810/kentucky/9780813177700.001.0001

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The Fulbright Program in China

The Fulbright Program in China

(p.261) The Fulbright Program in China
The Legacy of J. William Fulbright

Guangqiu Xu

University Press of Kentucky

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter addresses an important but understudied subject: the Fulbright program in China. Educational exchanges have been among the most significant developments in the US-China relationship. The study of this subject, using a previously underutilized archive, undoubtedly helps readers understand better US-China relations, not just in terms of bilateral educational exchanges, but also in terms of a clearer view of the broader bilateral relationship and its ups and downs since the late 1970s. In even broader terms, this is a story of how the interaction between China and the West has evolved.

Keywords:   China, Fulbright program, United States, Ideology, Education, Culture interaction

After Deng Xiaoping came to power in 1976, the Chinese leaders realized that their country had to open its education system to developments in the outside world so as to help their people learn Western science and technology and thus attain the Four Modernizations in science and technology, industry, agriculture, and defense. To speed up the Four Modernizations drive, in 1979 China opened its doors to foreigners, especially teachers from the West, for the first time since 1949. Many of the nation’s universities and colleges were inviting American and Canadian as well as British, French, German, and other European teachers into their classrooms, mostly to teach basic foreign-language courses. Since 1979, these cohorts have included many American Fulbrighters conducting research and attaining teaching experience in the previously secluded nation.

Do American Fulbrighters have a noticeable impact on the Chinese campus? If so, how? What is the significance of the China Fulbright program? What are Beijing’s reactions to Fulbrighters’ influence in this respect? What are the implications of the Chinese government policy toward Western ideology? This essay explores and seeks to answer these questions.1

Educational exchanges have been among the most significant developments in US-China relations. The study of this subject, using a previously underutilized archive, undoubtedly helps readers better understand US-China relations in terms of not just bilateral educational exchanges but also the broader bilateral relationship and its ups and downs since the late 1970s. This is a story of how the interaction between China and the West has evolved.

As early as in the aftermath of the Opium War of 1842, some Chinese leaders advocated learning from the West because they realized that, while (p.262) their country was vast, it was also militarily weak and could not withstand invasion by the powerful Western countries. When the Western powers posed a threat to China in the latter half of the nineteenth century, the Chinese government started to invite Western educators—advisers, administrators, and teachers—to impart Western science, technology, and other applicable knowledge. After the fall of the last Chinese emperor in 1911, national leaders invited Westerners to introduce advanced technology to the country and, in general, promote modernization. For over five decades, thousands of Western teachers took this opportunity to teach in Chinese universities, and their influence continued until 1949.

Westerners brought to China not only their technology but also their ideology. Many Chinese believed that acceptance of Western ideology meant submission and that that ideology posed a threat to the hierarchical and authoritarian political system in China. They therefore tried to reject Western ideas while adopting Western technology. To them, maintaining traditional Confucian virtue was paramount. The Communist takeover of mainland China put a halt to this ambivalent process, ending both its technical and, more understandably from the regime’s ideological standpoint, its political influence.

Scholars differ over the impact Westerners have had on Chinese society. Some historians believe that the Westerners who labored in China had great influence. For example, after studying sixteen Western advisers in China from 1620 to 1960, Jonathan Spence concluded: “If their wider goals were not realized, the Western advisers nevertheless left their imprint firmly on Chinese society by compelling some form of confrontation with the most advanced levels of Western technique.”2 According to Spence, the Chinese adhered steadfastly to their own religious and cultural traditions, but they eagerly accepted Western technical advice.

Other scholars argue that Westerners in China have had little impact. Edgar Porter, for example, found that foreigners have had limited roles in Chinese education. After studying foreign teachers in China from 1979 to 1989, he concluded: “I can … attest that no foreigner lives long in China without realizing that he or she makes little or no impact on the Chinese people without permission to do so from those same people.”3

The issue of cultural encounter, with its political implications, can best be assessed by framing this focus on ideology and the younger generations of Chinese students within a general overview of the Fulbright (p.263) program in both China and the United States. The study of the impact of American Fulbrighters on China will illuminate the influence of Westerners in general and Americans in particular on the Chinese.

Origins of the Fulbright Program in China

China was the first country to establish educational exchange programs with the United States after the Second World War. The postwar period was not the first time Americans had instituted an international educational exchange program there. At the beginning of the twentieth century, following the failed Boxer Rebellion of 1898–1900, Americans established the Boxer Indemnity Scholarship Program. The weak Chinese government was forced to sign a final settlement to various foreign powers agreeing to pay about $330 million in damages in 1901. In 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt became interested in a plan to establish a scholarship program to send Chinese students to the United States. After conferring with Chinese authorities, he suggested the plan to Congress, which in 1908 passed a bill authorizing the president to modify the Boxer indemnity so that the balance would be returned to China and be used for Chinese students’ education in the United States.4

The Boxer Indemnity Scholarship Program was set up in 1909, and part of the first remission of money included the establishment in 1911 of a preparatory school in Beijing for the Chinese graduates pursuing further studies at American universities. In 1911, the first eighteen American teachers arrived in Beijing. About fifty or more students chosen from among the graduates were sent to the United States for higher education annually in the following years. The school was later expanded to offer four-year undergraduate and postgraduate programs and renamed Qinghua University, which has become the number one university in China today. A second remission in 1924 provided for the establishment of the China Foundation, which would in turn fund the China Institute in New York City in 1926. Approximately thirteen hundred students were able to study at the institute from 1909 to 1929. A total of five groups of scholars were educated in the United States before the Japanese invasion of China in 1937.5 This program was the most important scheme for educating Chinese students in America and arguably the most consequential and successful in the entire foreign study movement of twentieth-century China. (p.264) For the first time, Americans instituted an educational exchange program with a foreign country, creating a precedent for international educational exchange programs in the following years.

The Boxer Indemnity Scholarship Program had an impact on freshman senator J. William Fulbright from Arkansas. On September 27, 1945, Fulbright introduced to Congress a new bill to amend the Surplus Property Act of 1944. This bill “authoriz[ed] use of credits established through the sale of surplus properties abroad for the promotion of international good will through the exchange of students in the fields of education, culture and science.”6 As the main initiator of this debate, Fulbright reminded members of Congress of the Boxer Indemnity Scholarship and the importance of the international educational exchange advocated. Before the debate, he frequently mentioned that technology and science had made the world smaller and more mutually dependent. On April 26, 1943, delivering a speech at Gettysburg College, he proclaimed: “In this modern world of instantaneous communication and swift transportation, isolation is a figment of the imagination.”7 He also believed not only that Americans had a moral obligation to engage in international affairs but also that the postwar realities of power required it. Three years later, in another academic address, he stated: “It is peculiarly the responsibility of Americans to take the lead in the creation of a peaceful world. Not only is it to our selfish material interest because we have more to lose by chaos than any other people, but it is also our moral duty to give direction and strength to the bewildered people of this earth who are groping helplessly for peace and a decent life. If for no other reason it is our duty because we are the favored heirs of western Christian civilization.”8 On August 1, 1946, President Truman signed Fulbright’s amendment into law because, as he noted: “If we do not want to die together in war, we must learn to live together in peace.”9 After Congress passed legislation proposed by the Arkansas senator in 1946 to advance international understanding through educational exchange, the US government established the Fulbright program to promote mutual understanding between American people and the other peoples of the world.

The Fulbright Bill was passed through the ingenious reworking of wartime debts and loans to foreign countries, which helped sell surplus war material abroad quickly.10 Since the new Fulbright program was not funded, the US government negotiated executive agreements with foreign (p.265) governments to sell surplus war materials to other countries to carry out exchanges in countries with minimal surplus property sales.11 In September, 1946, 1.5 tons of material were sold to China in return for the cancellation of American war debts to China, including $20 million for cultural and educational exchange, which benefited the devastated country enormously.12

The surplus sale to China proceeded slowly until US administrators hit on the idea of a bulk sale, and Americans became “optimistic that the Chinese will buy a lot of the stuff that is unsaleable.”13 Progress toward this end was being made, and American army officials in Beijing successfully offloaded surplus candy, a deal suggesting the extent to which all surplus was considered salable in China. However, in July 1947, almost a year after the bulk sale to China, Tillman Durdin reported in the New York Times that negotiations had “hit a snag over the question of who is to control expenditure of the money involved.” The Chinese Foreign Office wanted a Chinese majority on the board controlling such sales, “but the U.S. [was] unwilling to concede this, since the Chinese then would have the deciding voice in the allocation of the funds.”14

A separate board was established to administer the Chinese exchange program, chaired by US ambassador to China John Leighton Stuart. Its members included the second secretary of the embassy, the cultural relations officer of the embassy, the chief US Information Service cultural officer, a representative of the Rockefeller Foundation, and a representative of the National City Bank of New York in Shanghai.15 As the board wrapped up proceedings on the final day of its meeting in October 1947, news arrived that a Fulbright agreement had been finalized with China.16 By that time the US government had established academic links with twenty nations, as the New York Times declared: “The United States has embarked on the most comprehensive program of student exchange ever undertaken by any nation.”17

China was the first country to join the new Fulbright program. An official Fulbright accord was not signed by both Nationalist Chinese foreign minister Wang Shiqie and American ambassador Stuart until November 10, 1947. This accord was significant in the history of US international educational exchange, as a persuasive brochure for the program commented later: “[It is] obvious that the Fulbright Act makes possible a program of educational exchange on a scale without precedence in modern times.”18

(p.266) The academic exchange program was in business. The first participants—47 Americans and 36 foreign nationals in exchanges with China, Burma, and the Philippines—started their travel in the fall of 1948. The pace of binational negotiations soon quickened. Within a year, agreements had been signed with New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Belgium (including Luxembourg), France, Italy, the Netherlands, and Norway. In all, 823 Americans and 967 foreign citizens were selected to participate in the exchange program in academic year 1949–1950.19

The geographic distribution of the surplus material determined the geographic distribution of Fulbright grantees. Since China bought the second largest amount of surplus material in the first two years of the Fulbright program, 148 of 1,934 grants were made for exchange between it and the United States. But, by August 1949, only 27 American scholars and students and 24 Chinese students and scholars had taken part in the exchange.20 And, while the Fulbright program was expanding rapidly in other countries, it came to an abrupt halt in China when the People’s Republic was established in October 1949.

A Soviet Model for Chinese Universities, 1950–1978

After 1949, the Chinese government tried to achieve two goals for its higher education system: first, that system should have the right political nature and belong to the new government led by the Chinese Communist Party; second, it should directly serve the needs of the rapid economic development taking place in the new country. The major focus was on building a national education system.21 Since the Communist Soviet Union already had over thirty years of construction and development under its belt, the Chinese government adopted not only the Soviet model of economic development but also the Soviet model of educational development because it lacked experience regarding education reform.22

More importantly, the Chinese leaders tried to learn from the Soviet Union how to impose on Chinese students the ideological orthodoxy of Marxism-Leninism and thus protect them against the penetration of Western ideologies and values. In 1952, a countrywide adjustment of colleges and of university departments took place that followed the Soviet concept of remodeling education, leading to the restructuring of the higher education system itself.23 Much depended on Soviet assistance. In (p.267) the 1950s, 861 education experts from the Soviet Union were sent to China to participate in the reform of higher education and the establishment of new universities. Russian became the major foreign language taught at the universities.24

However, from the late 1950s to the mid-1960s, China established a mixed Confucian-Western style of higher education. The reasons for this change were more political than scientific. China was on less than friendly terms with the Soviet Union by the end of the 1950s, and, therefore, it might not have seemed politically expedient to follow the educational model of a state that was out of favor with the Chinese government. Thus, the Western-style model came back, although for only a short time. The blossoming of Western-style higher education came to an abrupt end in 1966 with the Cultural Revolution and the subsequent eradication of all formal education. A decade of deterioration set in, leaving an entire generation largely uneducated. This was a great disaster for the Chinese education system, and its repercussions were felt for a long time.25

With the passing of Mao and the downfall of the radical Gang of Four in 1976, China ushered in a new era, one that saw the pragmatist faction in command. The national emphasis shifted to the Four Modernizations. The Chinese referred to this endeavor as the New Long March, which was meant to take China to the front rank of nations by the end of the century. Again, higher education was asked to play a significant role, but it was not up to the task, the years of political upheaval having taken their toll, especially on the social and behavioral sciences, but on science and technology as well. Therefore, an adjustment was needed if the higher education system was to rise to contemporary international standards.26

To strengthen its science and technology programs as well as international scientific exchanges, the Beijing government in 1978 decided to send ten thousand students to various countries. An initial five hundred were to come to the United States. This trend was given formal recognition by the scientific and cultural agreement signed between the US and the Chinese governments during Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping’s historic visit to the United States in January 1979.

With Chinese-American relations reestablished, the Fulbright program made a reappearance, and exchanges of Chinese and American scholars began anew. The US government remained interested in sending teachers to China. Using educational exchange as a tool of its China (p.268) policy, it had been trying to influence a generation of young Chinese since the Communists came to power. The Fulbright program having been created to promote mutual understanding and contribute to scholarly intercultural knowledge, it encouraged the Chinese government to participate. Washington hoped that the China Fulbright program with its emphasis on theoretical work in the social sciences would help promote an understanding of US scholarship and the American way of life as well as developing the skills of the Chinese students. It also hoped that the program would offset the strong focus on the sciences and technology of the Chinese students and scholars who were sent by Beijing to American campuses.27

The Return of the China Fulbright Program

In the fall of 1979, the Chinese government agreed to join the Fulbright program, but it required the US government to send only English teachers at first because it was still concerned about the ideological impact of Fulbright exchanges on the social sciences and humanities, formally requesting American assistance in the recruitment and support of about twenty specialists in English-language teaching over a three-year period. The Council for International Exchange of Scholars, a private agency cooperating with the US government in the administration of Fulbright scholar grants for advanced research and university teaching, selected four specialists in teaching English as a second language and assigned them to Beijing University. For the first time since 1949, American scholars selected solely on the basis of their academic qualifications taught regularly enrolled Chinese university students. In March 1980, four Fulbrighters, led by Richard Light of the State University of New York at Albany, taught English at Beijing University. Because of the enthusiastic support of the Chinese government, the Americans encountered great responsiveness and hospitality from the Chinese. Their students were experienced university English teachers, selected by competitive examination from twenty-six universities all over China. The Americans were successful in providing information on American literature, history, and culture as enrichment and background in their program.

That first American group returned to the United States in time to orient a second group of eleven who were assigned to three different cities (p.269) in China—Beijing, Shanghai, and Tianjin. The first year’s program was limited to lectureships in the teaching of English as a second language; the second year included lecturing appointments in American literature, history, economics, and law. After 1980, the number of American Fulbrighters teaching in China increased substantially.

By 1989, the China Fulbright program had grown into one of the largest in the world, with twenty-four American professors teaching on Chinese campuses and a like number of Chinese graduate students and scholars studying at US universities. Following the Tiananmen Square uprising in June 1989, however, the Chinese government put the whole program on hold. After the suppression of the student movement for democracy, Beijing announced in July that it would withdraw its invitation to Fulbright professors to teach at Chinese universities for at least one year because of their late opening.

It is not surprising that, after Tiananmen, the Chinese government immediately suspended the China Fulbright program. Delivering a speech before a national higher education meeting in July 1989, Li Tieying, commissioner of the State Education Commission, connected bourgeois liberalism with courses in the social sciences and humanities, which, he asserted, uncritically introduced bourgeois social theories. He implied that American social science and humanities professors were responsible for the flood of bourgeois ideas onto Chinese university campuses.28

The social sciences and the humanities were once again subject to tight control; Chinese professors and graduate students had to strive hard for professional survival—their own and that of their departments. Americans also took action. In July 1989, the trustees of the Yale-China Association (established in 1909) voted to cancel the English-language teaching program at three colleges in China for the 1989–1990 academic year, given that the Chinese government would not ensure the safety of American teachers in such an unstable situation. Some American institutions and organizations, however, continued to send teachers to China—for example, Johns Hopkins University, which continued to operate its Nanjing center, and the Christian-oriented English Language Institute.29

At the same time, official attacks on US educational exchange policy toward China began. On August 24, 1989, the official Renmin ribao (People’s daily) published an editorial welcoming the early returning students back to China, criticizing the 1989 student demonstrators for understanding (p.270) little of China’s “essence,” and claiming that bourgeois liberal ideology from the American-led West had poured into Chinese universities in recent years to fill an ideological vacuum created by the lack of study of Marxist-Leninist thought.30 The Beijing government saw the far-reaching Western influence on Chinese university campuses in the 1980s as a clear consequence of conscious cultural imperialism and an effort to bring about “peaceful evolution.”31 The official attack on US cultural and educational policy toward China also indicated the impact of Americans, including Fulbrighters, on the Chinese campus.

Washington was not happy with Beijing’s policy toward the China Fulbright program. The US Information Agency reported in a news release on August 16, 1989, that Beijing had informed Washington that no American Fulbright professors would be permitted to teach in China. The US government deeply regretted this decision to suspend the program; the mutual benefits of the academic exchanges, Washington reiterated, should have been apparent to both nations. China canceled exchanges in reaction to America’s criticism of its military suppression of the student movement, but, in March 1990, the China Fulbright program was restored on a limited basis. In the following years, the number of Americans sent to China increased annually, their numbers ranging from thirteen to thirty every year.32

Originally, the US research scholar and graduate student components of the program were conducted under a grant given to the Committee on Scholarly Communication with China. A new formal US-China educational exchange accord was signed in Beijing in March 2000, according to the terms of which the US Department of State and China’s Ministry of Education were named as executive agents. Beginning with the 2000–2001 academic year, these two programs were placed under the Fulbright umbrella and included grants for senior scholars and doctoral students. Five recent American graduates were included in the 1999–2000 program and were the first graduating senior Fulbrighters sent to China since the reestablishment of the program in 1979. Since then, graduating seniors have come to form the largest group of US Fulbrighters going to China each year.33

Today, the Fulbright program has expanded to include many of the major higher education institutions and research academies in China. Many of them are universities under the direct jurisdiction of the Ministry (p.271) of Education, which is responsible for formulating and implementing educational policy at all levels. In addition to higher education, the China Fulbright program serves the institutions directly under the Ministry of Education, which are authorized to send and receive Fulbright grantees. Other institutions that are under provincial, autonomous, regional, or municipal authorities or other central ministries take part in the Fulbright program as well.

Significance of the China Fulbright Program

Today, the China Fulbright program consists of three parts: American lecturers and research scholars in China, American graduate students in China, and Chinese visiting research scholars and graduate students in the United States. Currently, approximately ten to twenty US lecturers, five to ten US research scholars, and fifty to seventy American graduate students and recent graduates come to China each year. In the academic year 2012–2013, thirty American Fulbrighters were teaching and conducting research in China. The teaching locations have increased, expanding beyond Beijing to Shanghai and cities in Fujian, Jiangsu, Liaoning, Guangdong, Hunan, Sichuan, Shaanxi, Gansu, and Zhejiang Provinces. The number of American professors’ teaching disciplines has also been increased to include American history, literature, law, journalism, business, economics, political science, sociology, philosophy, international relations, music, anthropology, library science, environmental sciences, agriculture, public health, public administration, urban planning, and the humanities. From 1979 to 2014, more than seven hundred American scholars taught and conducted research in China.

Mutual Understanding

The Fulbright exchange program was developed to ensure cultural immersion and interaction. Approximately one hundred Chinese visiting research scholars, professional associates, and foreign-language teaching assistants are in the United States each year under the program’s auspices. Their studies and research in the United States help them not only uncover new knowledge in their fields of study but also familiarize themselves with American culture and society.

(p.272) Most Chinese scholars and students were shockingly ignorant about the United States when China opened its doors to Western society in 1979. They lacked basic knowledge of the American political and legal systems, federalism, the US Constitution, the structure of the American welfare state’s working and living conditions, and the social reality of a multiracial, multiethnic society. Under the influence of powerful official propaganda, many Chinese scholars and students still had negative perceptions of the United States when they first entered the gates of American campuses. Their stereotypes of Americans were often of a hedonistic, violence-prone, and restless people who indulged themselves in all their desires and neglected their family responsibilities. American professors promoted a better understanding of American society and culture and the country’s political and economic system among the Chinese students and professors. And most of those Fulbrighters were eager to learn and remained fully capable of absorbing virtually all ideas that American professors aired in their classrooms. They heartily welcomed the courses. The American teachers noted their Chinese students’ and scholars’ eagerness to learn, despite the problems involved in attending classes taught in English and conducted in a very different teaching style. Such enthusiasm impressed the Americans, and some professors reported that the Chinese students and professors were the best they had ever encountered.34

Professor Li Guo, of Sun Yet-sen University in Guangzhou, was one such example. He was a Fulbright visiting professor at Harvard University during the academic year 1994–1995. He remembered that, before coming to the United States, he was taught that Americans were haunted by the specter of joblessness and enjoyed no social security and that the white people had carried out the genocide of Native Americans and discriminated against black people. He also said that “the Chinese textbooks often identify American women’s liberation with divorce and sexual license” but that “after several months in the U.S. he no longer believe[d] such stories about American society.”35 It is clear that many Chinese Fulbrighters in the United States began to appreciate and value American customs and gradually took responsibility for creating a constructive image of Americans.

American Fulbrighters’ experience in China also helped them understand Chinese culture better. A case in point is that of Amy Werbel, a professor of art history at the State University of New York—Fashion Institute (p.273) of Technology. Werbel was a Fulbright scholar teaching at the Guangdong University of Foreign Studies (GDUFS) in the city of Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong Province. From August 2011 to July 2012, she taught such courses as “Culture in the United States from the Civil War to World War I” and “America in the 1960s” to graduate students at GDUFS. She and her students discussed subjects such as race relations, the counterculture of the 1960s, censorship, the undercurrents of reform, and the Vietnam War. She introduced them to the practice and skills of dialogue, critical thinking, and the use of primary sources, which, in turn, raised important questions about the nature and future of both Chinese society and American society. She traveled throughout China as a guest lecturer, mentored and befriended several graduate students, learned the ins and outs of negotiating ethnic and linguistic divisions and barriers within China; and absorbed much else about contemporary China’s cultural, intellectual, and political environment.36

Enrichment of Americans’ Education Experiences

American professors in China have been very welcomed by Chinese students. Many universities adopt liberal policies, and thus the Americans are free to teach their subject matter. As a result, most American professors enjoy their time in China. The main merit of their educational experience in China, however, lies with their learning experience. The benefit that American Fulbrighters bring to Chinese students is mirrored by their own opportunity to explore their disciplines in a new environment and a different culture. In 2002, for example, a team of American Fulbrighters visited China under the leadership of Professor Zheng Zhou, the project director, of St. John’s University. The twelve Fulbright participants included six psychology faculty members from five universities, two clinical psychologists affiliated with universities in New York, and three teachers from New York City public schools. For more than a century, Western philosophers and psychologists have based their discussions of mental conditions on a fundamental theory that the same basic processes underlie all human thought. By examining China, whose culture is profoundly different from that of the United States, the team identified essential differences in the psychological processes of Chinese and American children. Such information is key to acquiring a theoretical framework on which (p.274) models of assessment and intervention in the reasoning, behavioral, and personality domains can be constructed. As Zhou wrote: “The Fulbright seminar provided us with the opportunity to examine Chinese children’s educational and psychological functioning in a variety of environmental and social contexts. This enabled us to develop a deeper understanding of Chinese children and of our own assumptions and past experiences.”37

China’s Higher Education Reform

American professors have played a key role in Chinese higher education reform. First, they have developed new disciplines. From 1949 to 1979, disciplines in the social sciences and the humanities, such as political science, law, sociology, and psychology, were criticized or ignored in the Chinese classroom for political and ideological reasons. Initially, in 1980, priority was given to lecturers in English, American literature, and history to help China in its move toward the Four Modernizations. In 1983, the Chinese Ministry of Education decided to focus Fulbright exchanges in areas related to American studies, including American history, American literature, law, journalism, business, economics, political science, sociology, philosophy, and international relations. Now many universities in China have developed more courses in more disciplines than were available in the 1980s, courses that have become increasingly popular.

Second, American lecturers offer new courses to Chinese students, although many courses contradicted official Chinese ideology. During the 1980 academic year, Anthony G. Trimarchi, teaching the history of early American political thought at the Beijing Institute of Foreign Languages, said that the course was “the first of this kind in China since 1949.”38 Henry Rosemont noted: “I am the first Western philosopher to offer a year-long course in the history of Western philosophy in China since Liberation.”39 Teaching courses in political science and American foreign policy for both undergraduate and graduate students at the Zhongshan University in Guangzhou, Kent Morrison wrote in 1983: “Only those students who had taken my classes last semester had any previous exposure to courses in political science. There has been no political science in this country for 30 years.”40 Peter Chang, teaching economic management at Shangdong University in 1984, wrote: “My mission also calls for an introduction of new courses: Quantitative Analysis in Economics and Management Science, (p.275) which Chinese scholars have lacked for three decades.”41 After offering a two-semester graduate seminar in literary theory, Bruce Wilson, a 1984–1985 Fulbright lecturer in Fudan University’s Department of Foreign Languages and Literature, learned that “the department leaders were obviously proud that Fudan was the first university in China to offer such a course.”42 Americans thus played a crucial role in filling the gaps in knowledge in these and other areas that had been off-limits in China for many years.

Third, American scholars have introduced novel teaching methods, methods that usually stress the kind of individual-centered learning discouraged by the Chinese government, which promoted action by the collective in line with traditional Confucianism. These new methods have helped students develop independent thinking, which was far removed from the traditional Chinese education methods of rote memorization of classical texts. When teaching American literature, Mary Louis Buley-Meissener encouraged students to participate in the learning process: “I resisted assuming that kind of authority over the students and stories. Instead I depended on the students to assume new roles as leaders. Rather than studying their texts in traditional ways, they were encouraged to be active in questioning their texts, their teacher, and each other about possible ways to put meaning together.”43 Some American professors have their students make comparisons between East and West. When Thad Barnowe taught business administration at Zhongshan University, he tried to make comparisons between the American and the Chinese economic systems while noting that both China and the United States were facing some common basic problems. He presented facts about and possible solutions to the management problems American organizations faced, and he told the Chinese students that American enterprises’ success resulted not only from their management techniques but also from their treatment of employees and their socially responsible policies. He concluded that China needed to learn not only the technologies of the West but also its economic theories.44

Establishment of Academic Links

Both American and Chinese Fulbrighters have helped establish academic links between universities in China and the United States. In fall 2006, for example, Professor Li Benxian of Xi’an International Studies University in (p.276) Xi’an had the honor to teach Chinese literature as a Fulbright scholar at the University of Cincinnati. After returning home, he helped establish academic links between these two universities. Since 2006, both Xi’an International Studies University and the University of Cincinnati have exchanged professors and students every year. As Li noted: “Great opportunities are there for increasing academic cooperation between Chinese literature programs in the United States and China.”45 In fall 2007, Professor Donna Infeld of George Washington University had the privilege of teaching public administration as a Fulbright scholar at Renmin University of China in Beijing. After returning home, she started exploring several jointly sponsored research projects related to master’s of public administration programs in both countries.46 Today, with Fulbrighters’ help, many universities in China have established durable academic links with universities in the United States.

Ideological Impact on Chinese Students

American professors not only play a role in higher education reform but also import into broader Chinese culture Western values and ideology. American professors in China see the importance of teaching Western culture in addition to their academic subjects. Learning US technology, they often suggest, cannot be separated from learning US values and ideology. However, the overwhelming majority confirm that they have no intention of imposing Western notions on Chinese students. Since American Fulbrighters create an environment of academic freedom in their classrooms, that environment helps Chinese students question their own values and political system. Eugenia Kaledin, who was teaching “Themes in American Life: Individualism and Dissent,” received in 1986 a final paper called “Twenty Years at Hull House,” by a third-year student at Beijing University, “that seem[ed] to make all the hardships of a teacher’s life worthwhile.” The student argued that both the great men and the masses were shaping history, challenging the Marxist opinion that the masses and only the masses did so.47 In such an environment, Chinese students began to reject blind acceptance of customs and tradition and question and challenge official ideology—both Marxism and traditional Confucianism and the Chinese political and economic systems. Some students became dissatisfied with their own country and began to demand Western political and (p.277) social values. The American Fulbrighters’ ideological impact on the Chinese students is clear. Anthony G. Trimarchi remarked: “The Chinese are not interested in any strong anti-American views of America. They had their stomachs filled with this before. Now they are interested in a less biased approach.”48 William Whiteside, teaching at Beijing University for the academic year 1982–1983, noted that the students’ “view of Americans is not that of the purveyors of anti-American propaganda.”49

To complement the existing records, I conducted interviews at several universities in China, interviews that indicate that Americans played a significant role in introducing Western ideology to those Chinese students who were taking their courses.50 For example, after taking a course taught by Kent Morrison, Liang Xiaofan, an undergraduate student in the History Department at Zhongshan University, said: “We learned a lot of new political concepts and ideas that changed our opinions of our political and economic systems.”51

It seems that some courses taught by Americans have offset some of the official Chinese rhetoric about capitalist decadence, the demise of the Western economic system, the oppressive exploitation of workers in Western companies, and so on. Western values and ideas seem to be gaining strength on Chinese campuses. Still, however open Chinese students, academics, and universities are to American influence, the official ideology still casts a jaundiced eye on the Fulbright program, and the official attack on US educational exchange policy with regard to China continues. In 2015, China’s education authorities still pledged to redouble efforts to limit the use of foreign textbooks in universities to stem the infiltration of Western values. In January 2015, Education Minister Yuan Guiren urged tighter control over the use of imported textbooks “that spread Western values.” Universities in China have been told to step up propaganda efforts and the teaching of Marxism and Chinese socialism to ensure that such values “get into the students’ heads.” The institutes would be assessed on their use of standard textbooks on Marxism.52


China was the first country to establish an educational exchange program with the United States and the first country to join the Fulbright program. The Beijing government restored the China Fulbright program in 1979 to (p.278) speed up its Four Modernizations drive. Since 1989, the China Fulbright program has become one of the largest Fulbright programs in the world. It offers an opportunity for American and Chinese academics to explore both their countries and their disciplines in new environments and establish academic exchange programs between Chinese and American universities. Americans are able to learn to work together with Chinese scholars on shared global problems, and a Fulbright experience is one small step in that direction.

The China Fulbright program emphasizes dialogue and exchange and the promotion of mutual understanding between the Chinese and the American participants. It helps the Chinese students and professors understand American society better and US foreign and domestic policy more deeply, thereby developing a more positive image of the United States. Thus, it helps strengthen and expand contacts between Americans and Chinese and encourages more extensive and durable educational links between these two countries, links that contribute to the improvement of the US-China relationship.

When Chinese come into contact with Western ideas, cultures, practices, and institutions, having no critical perspective, they are willing to absorb whatever they regard as useful, expecting Western knowledge and methods to be useful in handling the practical problems of China. The China Fulbright program, however, brings to the Chinese scholars and students not only Western technology but also Western ideology and values. This intellectual influence plays a role in helping shape the perspectives of the rising generation of Chinese. It created increasing discontent among Chinese students, culminating in the growth of Western values on Chinese campuses. That unavoidable and unexpected side effect of inviting American lecturers to China and the return of the Chinese Fulbright scholars from the United States is especially significant there. The Chinese leaders see Western ideology as posing a threat to the existing hierarchical and authoritarian political system; they are therefore faced with the dilemma of rejecting that ideology (in order to maintain traditional Confucian virtue) at the same time as Western technology is being embraced.

The China Fulbright program seems to aggravate political and cultural contradictions within China and may help transform China in the future. Despite the long hiatus between exposure to Western values and the serious concerns about those values harbored by some officials, the (p.279) China Fulbright program is functioning exactly as its primary architect intended when establishing it seven decades ago.


(1.) For a comprehensive study of the China Fulbright program from 1979 to 1989, see Guangqiu Xu, “The Ideological and Political Impact of U.S. Fulbrighters on the Chinese Students, 1979–1989,” Asian Affairs (Contemporary US-Asia Research Institute, New York) 26, no. 3 (2000): 139–59.

(2.) Jonathan Spence, To Change China: Western Advisers in China, 1620–1960 (Boston: Little, Brown, 1969), 291.

(3.) Edgar Porter, Foreign Teachers in China: Old Problems for a New Generation, 1979–1989 (New York: Greenwood, 1990), 92.

(4.) See Weili Ye, Seeking Modernity in China’s Name: Chinese Students in United States (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001).

(5.) Larry Clinton Thompson, William Scott Ament and the Boxer Rebellion: Heroism, Hubris and the “Ideal Missionary” (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2009), 219.

(6.) “Statement by J. William Fulbright of Arkansas,” Washington, DC, September 1945, file 6, box 8, J. William Fulbright Papers, Special Collections Division, University of Arkansas Library, Fayetteville. I would like to thank the Special Collections Division of the University of Arkansas Library for allowing me to use the Fulbright Papers and the records of the Council for the International Exchange of Scholars, from which most of the professors’ comments on the Fulbright program have come.

(7.) J. William Fulbright, “Isolation and Foreign Policy: Commencement Address at Gettysburg College,” Gettysburg, PA, April 26, 1943, 5, file 1, box 2, ser. 72, Fulbright Papers.

(8.) J. William Fulbright, “Charter Day Address,” College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, VA, February 8,1946, 2, file 6, box 4, ser. 72, Fulbright Papers.

(9.) Harry Truman, “Address to the United Nations Conference in San Francisco,” August 25, 1945, https://www.trumanlibrary.org/publicpapers/index.php?pid=17.

(10.) Department of State, Office of the Foreign Liquidation Commissioner, Report to Congress on Foreign Surplus Disposal, State Department Publication 2571 (Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, July 1946), 8.

(11.) For a study of the sale of war materials and the origins of the Fulbright program after World War II, see Sam Lebovic, “From War Junk to Educational Exchange: The World War II Origins of the Fulbright Program and the Foundations of American Cultural Globalism, 1945–1950,” Diplomatic History 37, no. 2 (2013): 280–312.

(12.) Wilma Fairbank, America’s Cultural Experiment in China, 1942–1949 (Washington, DC: US Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, 1976), 154.

(p.280) (13.) Notes from Staff Meeting, Tuesday, May 7, 1946, File: Pacific Area Reports of Conference, box 10, National Archives and Record Administration, Record Group 59; General Records of the Department of State, Office of the Foreign Liquidation Commissioner, Miscellaneous Files, 1945–49.

(14.) Tillman Durdin, “U.S., China at Odds on Cultural Fund,” New York Times, July 10, 1947, 11; Fairbank, America’s Cultural Experiment in China, 155–56.

(15.) Tillman Durdin, “Educational Aid to China Mapped,” New York Times, December 18, 1947, 16.

(16.) Kenneth Holland to Senator Fulbright, October 20, 1947, file 13, box 12, Fulbright Papers.

(17.) “Student Exchange Enlists 22 Nations,” New York Times, October 10, 1947, 27.

(18.) “Current Information Regarding the Fulbright Educational Program of Interest to University Professors and Scholars,” December 20, 1949, 1, file 2, box 94, MC 703, Council for International Exchange of Scholars Records, Special Collections of University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville (hereafter CIES Records).

(19.) See Jack Nac-Chyi Hwang, “Internationalism with Different Face: The Evolution of J. William Fulbright’s Beliefs in China Policy (1943–1974)” (PhD diss., Tammang University, 1999).

(20.) “The Fulbright Program in China Is Stalled,” New York Times, September 7, 1949, 19.

(21.) Kang Ouyang, “Higher Education Reform in China Today,” Policy Futures in Education 2, no. 1 (2004): 141–49.

(22.) Mingyuan Gu, “Influence of Soviet Union’s Educational Theory on Chinese Education,” Journal of Beijing Normal University (Social Sciences) 181, no. 1 (2004): 5–13, 6.

(23.) Kathryn Mohrman, Higher Education Reform in Mainland Chinese Universities: An American’s Perspective (Hong Kong: Chinese University Hong Kong, 2003), https://www.bpastudies.org/bpastudies/article/view/2/9.

(24.) Hui Chen, “Adjustment of Colleges and Departments of Universities in 1952” (in Chinese), Modern China Studies, vol. 82, no. 3 (2003); China Education Newspaper, June 7, 2007, http://www.jyb.com.cn/zs/gxzs/ptgxzs/zszx/t20070607_89340.htm.

(25.) See Ruth Hayhoe, China’s Universities, 1895–1998: A Century of Cultural Conflict (New York: Garland, 1996), 71–110 (“The Socialist Story, 1949–1976”).

(27.) For the goals of the China Fulbright program, see Committee on Scholarly Communication with the People’s Republic of China, American Studies in China: Report of a Delegation Visit, October 1984 (Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1985).

(28.) Zhongguo jiaoyu bao (China’s education newspaper), August 30, 1989, 6.

(29.) See Xiao Cai, “Higher Education in China: Outward Conformity, Inner Despair,” Education Digest 56, no. 6 (1991): 8–11.

(30.) Renmin ribao (People’s daily), August 24, 1989.

(p.281) (31.) See Sun Renjian and Bai Zhongkao, “Xifang zhexue sichao shentao gaoxiao sixiang jiaoyu” (Western ideology penetrated into political education of universities), Jiangsu gaojiao (Jaingsu higher education), no. 4 (1990): 7–9; Guo Xiaocong, “Cong Xifang sichau dui daxuesheng de yingxiang fansi gaoxiao sixiang zhengzhi gongzuo” (To reexamine the political ideological work in universities with regard to the Western influence among university students), Caojiao tansuo (Higher education study) (Guangzhou), no. 1 (1990): 34–39.

(32.) “U.S. and China Resume Fulbright Program,” New York Times, March 6, 1990.

(33.) See “The Committee on Scholarly Communication with the People’s Republic of China,” https://library.gwu.edu/sites/default/files/grc/CSCPRC.pdf.

(34.) For the comments on American society and culture by the Chinese visiting research scholars under the China Fulbright program, see Zhongguo Fubulaite xueyouhui lunwenji (A collection of the Chinese Fulbright alumni’s articles), ed. Chinese Fulbright Alumni (Beijing: Zhongguo renmin daxue chubanshe, 2014).

(35.) Li Guo, interview with the author, Boston, June 6, 1995.

(36.) See Amy Werbel, Lessons from China: America in the Hearts and Minds of the World’s Most Important Rising Generation (self-published, 2013). Werbel’s book is an engaging, thoughtful, and stimulating account of her experiences in and out of the classroom in China. See also David Caragliano, “What Do Chinese Students Think of American History?” The Atlantic, July 2, 2013, http://www.theatlantic.com/china/archive/2013/07/what-do-chinese-students-think-of-american-history/277480.

(38.) Anthony G. Trimarchi to CIES, March 1981, box 153, CIES Records.

(39.) Henry Rosemont Jr. to CIES, July 1983, box 154, CIES Records.

(40.) Kent Morrison to CIES, August 1984, box 154, CIES Records.

(41.) Peter Chang to CIES, August 1985, box 154, CIES Records.

(42.) Bruce Wilson, “Thoughts on Teaching at Fudan University,” China Exchange News 13, no. 3 (1985): 13–15.

(43.) Mary Louis Buley-Meissener, “Teaching American Literature in China,” English Education 22, no. 3 (October 1990): 192–99.

(44.) Thad Barnowe to CIES, July 1983, box 153, CIES Records.

(45.) Li Benxian, interview with the author, June 6, 2011, at Xi’an International Studies University.

(46.) Donna Lind Infeld and Li Wenzhao, “Teaching Public Administration as a Fulbright Scholar in China: Analysis and Reflections,” Journal of Public Affairs Information 15, no. 3 (2018): 333–47, http://www.naspaa.org/jpaemessenger/Article/jpae-v15n3-05Infe.pdf.

(47.) Eugenia Kaledin to CIES, July 1986, box 154, CIES Records.

(48.) Anthony G. Trimarchi to CIES, March 1981, box 153, CIES Records.

(49.) William B. Whiteside to CIES, July 1983, box 153, CIES Records.

(50.) Yang Dong, interview with the author, August 10, 1986, Beijing University; Hong Yu, interview with the author, August 27, 1986, Fudan University; Song Yao, (p.282) June 1, 2012, Xi’an International Studies University; Wang Nan, interview with the author, July 10, 2013, Jinan University; Deng Wu, interview with the author, June 10, 2014, East China Normal University.

(51.) Liang Xiaofan, interview with the author, July 4, 1986, Zhongshan University.

(52.) Andrea Chen and Zhuang Pinghui, “Chinese Universities Ordered to Ban Textbooks That Promote Western Values: Universities Told to Clamp Down on Use of Foreign Textbooks and Criticism of the Party,” September 27, 2015, South China Post, http://www.scmp.com/news/china/article/1695524/chinese-universities-instructed-ban-textbooks-promote-western-values?page=all.