When the subject turned to China and globalization in his introductory sociology classes at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, David Strong realized two things: His students wanted to learn more about China, and so did he.
When an opportunity to see China first-hand came along, Strong seized it. The sociology lecturer in the IU School of Liberal Arts applied for and was selected, along with other educators from Indiana colleges and universities, to visit China in May 2012. The trip was designed for faculty members who don’t specialize in issues surrounding China but want to incorporate material about China into their teaching.
The trip was sponsored and financed by the Indiana Consortium for International Programs, the Confucius Institute and IUPUI’s Office of International Affairs.
Strong said the experience, which also included a visit to India, underscored the reasons everyone should keep an eye on China and its future, including intellectual reasons and simple curiosity.
But even if none of those reasons apply, he said there is another consideration for Hoosiers: their jobs.
Strong said he was surprised by the speed of new construction in China and how quickly the country is modernizing itself. “You really can, in some respects, very palpably feel this ancient society sprinting into the 21st century.”
Going to China left him with a more nuanced view that he will share with his students.
Among the impressions he took away:
- “Intellectually, you know China is a big country, but when you are there you realize how damn big it is. The capital city of Yunnan Province, Kunming, where we visited, is in southwest China. Kunming is considered a smaller, provincial capital in China. Yet the population of Kunming is greater than Los Angeles.”
- “China is a land of contrasts — where farmers in rural areas still use no more technology than they did 500 years ago to grow rice in a country that has a space program.”
- “In Beijing, we drove past sophisticated, modern skyscrapers on our way to the Great Wall of China.”
- “Globalization has had its winners and losers in China. In rural areas, so much of the country seems unaffected.”
- “As long as central power isn’t challenged, you don’t see or feel the power of the state as nearly as much as I thought you would.”
China has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, Strong said. “But what will be the future for the poorest Chinese?” Whether the well-to-do in China are able to live a peaceful, secure life depends upon the answer to that question, he said.
“I remember coming back after this three-week experience and Indiana seemed so small,” Strong said. “We know only a small percentage of the world’s population is American. But it is one thing to know that and another to see it in such a profound way.”