New center to bridge distance between US, Chinese cultures
Arizona State University partners with Sichuan University in new enterprise
Mutual understanding between the United States and China, along with an exchange of ideas, language and literature, are at the core of a new educational partnership between Arizona State University (ASU) and Sichuan University (SCU). The SCU-ASU Center for American Culture, officially launched Dec. 13 at Sichuan University in Chengdu, China, is designed to be a model for Sino-American cultural engagement through university-to-university collaboration.
“I congratulate Arizona State University and Sichuan University on the opening of the Center for American Culture,” said U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman. “I believe that the center will help build bridges of understanding between the people of the United State and China, which will ultimately allow us to work together more effectively to tackle the global issues that we face.”
“The U.S.-China relationship is the most important bilateral relationship in the world,” said Thomas Skipper, minister counselor for public affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. Skipper spoke at the opening ceremony for the center, noting that it “is already generating a lot of interest and excitement in academic communities in both our countries.”
The United States has about 2,000 people working in China, at the embassy in Beijing and in five consulates, including one in Chengdu, Skipper said.
“We work with our counterparts in the Chinese Government, on the national, provincial and municipal levels on a complete range of issues, from economic and trade issues, to political, the environment, agriculture, education, regional security, science and health,” he said. “But our ability to work together on all these issues is dependent on our ability to understand each other – not just our languages, but our histories, our cultures, our traditions and values.
“We hope that the Center for American Culture will quickly become a place that students will want to visit, to learn, to grow, and take part in programs that will increase understanding about the United States,” Skipper said.
“I believe it will become a model for other university partnerships in China,” Skipper said. “But it’s no surprise that Arizona State University and Sichuan University are leading the way in this effort. Both schools have reputations for academic excellence and long records of promoting international exchange. My hope is that this new center will become a bridge to help create bonds of trust between our two countries.”
Sichuan University President Xie Heping attended the ceremony and provided remarks about the newest partnership between the two institutions. Arizona State University President Michael Crow sent a video message that was played at the ceremony.
“Sichuan University is one of our closest university allies in China,” said Crow in the video message. “Universities are now working together on what we think are some of the greatest intellectual challenges of our time. There’s so much to learn from each other, there are so many experiences that our two countries have had that we don’t really deeply understand.”
The new SCU-ASU Center for American Culture, the first of a kind, will take the complexities of American culture and the history of American culture and make it a part of the teaching and learning discourse at Sichuan University, he said.
“It’s only through that deeper understanding that relationships can be advanced, that mutual understanding can be improved, that a deep appreciation can be developed,” Crow said.
The SCU-ASU Center for American Culture will be the newest component within the larger sister university agreement between the two universities, which includes a Confucius Institute and nearly 20 joint projects on topics ranging from creative writing to sustainability and earthquake relief.
“Chinese students will study the underpinnings of American culture and history at the Center for American Culture just as American students acquire competence in Chinese language and culture through their intensive study at the Confucius Institute,” said Crow.
Neal Lester, a professor of English and dean of humanities in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences represented ASU at the center’s opening ceremony. “We are very excited to participate in this moment of global collaboration,” he told a gathering of more than 200 students, faculty, deans and staff from Sichuan University, along with members of the public and business community.
Initiatives of the new SCU-ASU Center for American Culture will include:
• Public, socially embedded English language and culture programs.
• Symposia and lectures related to U.S. history, culture and the arts.
• Professional training programs for English teachers in writing and English as a second language programs.
• Increased attention to intensive English language, American culture and history programs in China and at ASU.
• Collaborative study of works of literature, language, media, arts and history.
The dialogue between the two universities began earlier this fall when ASU scholars visited Sichuan University for an academic exchange. Among the lecture topics during that visit, dubbed “2010 ASU Week: Place and Identity,” were:
• Advertisements, cars and 20th century American women’s fiction, presented by ASU English professor Deborah Clarke.
• Reflections on ancestry, history, land and imagery of the Navajo, presented by Diné author Laura Tohe, an English professor who teaches Indigenous literature, poetry and film.
• Race, Hurricane Katrina, and hip hop and the American culture, presented by Matthew C. Whitaker, an associate professor of history.
Scheduled this week are a series of lectures and educational exchanges led by another group of ASU scholars, including Joe Cutter, a professor of Chinese and director of the School of International Letters and Cultures; Joe Lockard, an associate professor of English; Kathryn Mohrman, director of the University Design Consortium at ASU and a professor of practice at the School of Public Affairs in the College of Public Programs; and Lester.
Among the lectures to be presented, Lester will talk about African Americans and the politics of hair, and the lives and experiences of African American women writers. Lockard will present a lecture on the history and literature of slavery in the U.S. and another lecture on literature and prisons in the U.S. Southwest.
“As Americans teach Chinese about America, Americans learn about ourselves as Americans,” Lester said. “We hope that Chinese teaching Americans about Chinese culture will also teach Chinese peoples about themselves. Through this very interrogation of difference, we will inevitably come closer to understanding and appreciating that, as poet Maya Angelou has said, ‘we are more alike than we are unalike.’ We fully embrace this new opportunity in the spirit of global unity, cultural discovery and excellence.”
Carol Hughes, email@example.com
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences