Monday, August 2, 2010

This May, Furman Alumni and Friends Traveled to China with Furman's Asian Studies Department Chair, Kate Kaup, to experience first-hand how Furman approaches Asian Studies. The travelers agreed to keep the Furman community posted via blogspot. Unfortunately, the site was being censored at the time by the Chinese government. Undeterred, our bloggers sent emails to Furman, and were published in (almost) real time. Here at long last is the final, entire blog.

The group included:

David and Frances Ellison
Kate Kaup
Ron and Kathleen McKinney
Jason and Marie Richards
Coleman Shouse
Carrie and Richard Tucker
Diane and Tom Triplitt

Please send any comments to We are hoping to create more of these learning opportunities for alumni and friends and would love your input on the trip, the blog and where you might like to see Furman alumni travel next!

Thanks to our bloggers for sharing their adventures!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Itinerary for China In Depth May 2010

China In Depth
May 14-28, 2010

May 14
12:38 pm Depart Greenville on Delta 4116

May 15
Cross the international dateline and arrive in Shanghai at 6:30 pm. Board our luxury coach for the 2.5 hour transfer to Suzhou.
Soffitel Hotel

May 16
Discuss Suzhou City’s history and current developments with Suzhou Municipal Foreign Affairs Vice Director, Chen Gao.
Explore Suzhou and enjoy a home cooked meal with your Chinese “host family.”

Tonight, enjoy an optional evening cruise along the Grand Canal.
Soffitel Hotel

May 17
Begin our two-day seminar on “Engaging China: What We Need to Know Now” with Kate and SuDa faculty.

This afternoon engage in a discussion on traditional Chinese medicine and contemporary health reform issues, before joining Furman alumni and friends for a banquet of Suzhou specialty cuisine.
Soffitel Hotel

May 18
This morning continue our discussion of “Engaging China” before we join SuDa friends for the University’s 110th Anniversary Celebration.
Soffitel Hotel

May 19
Early Departure for Shanghai
This afternoon visit the gorgeous Yuyuan Gardens and Shanghai Museum before visiting the ultramodern Shanghai Urban Planning Museum.
This evening enjoy a Shanghai Acrobats performance.
Jinjiang Tower‎
Shanghai, China

May 20
Depart early for the 7:50 am flight to Lhasa via Xian.
After an afternoon rest, explore Barkhor Street and the Jokhang Monestary.
Four Points by Sheraton
Lhasa, Tibet

May 21
Explore the majesty of the Potala Palace and the Summer Palace of the Norbulinka. In the afternoon visit Sera Monastery.
Four Points by Sheraton

May 22
Cross the gorgeous Yalungtzangpo river to Samye Monastery and return to Lhasa for an evening Tibetan dance Performance.
Four Points by Sheraton

May 23
Visit Drepung Monastery before our afternoon flight to Xian.
Sheraton Xian

May 24
Visit Emperor Qin Shihuang’s tomb and see the spectacular Terracotta Warriors. Gain further insight into the period at the Shaanxi History Museum.

Explore the Islamic Great Mosque and neighboring art district before indulging on a twenty-course dumpling feast at Defachang.
Sheraton Xian

May 25
Depart early this morning for Beijing.
After lunch visit the Temple of Heaven.
Experience the Beijing Opera tonight.
Jianguo Garden Hotel
Beijing, China

May 26
This morning visit the site of so much of China’s modern political history, Tiananmen Square followed by a visit to the Forbidden City. Feast on a Manchu style lunch in Beihai Park.

This afternoon visit the new American Embassy for a private briefing. We are joined this evening by Virginia Palmer, DCM in Vietnam and former foreign service officer in Beijing & Hong Kong.
Jianguo Garden Hotel

May 27
Enjoy the splendor of the Great Wall at Badaling.
Enjoy some free time this afternoon before our farewell Beijing Duck Dinner at Quanjude.
Jianguo Garden Hotel

May 28
Depart early this morning for our return flight to Greenville.

"Until the Next Adventure....The Final Entry" - Tom Triplett

We have been back from China for about a month now. I am still basking in the glow of that amazing experience. I am almost embarrassed to admit that the trip to China was my first trip across either the Atlantic or Pacific oceans. I don't think I could have scripted a more amazing adventure for my first trip so far from the comforts of Upstate South Carolina. People always tell you that travel abroad is such an enriching experience and I have always agreed, even based on my limited foreign travel experience to South America, but my China experience has changed me forever. We were only in China for two weeks, much too short a time for a country that is massive in so many ways, and I want to return to continue my education. I am amazed at how differently I read articles about China now and how my attitude toward stories on the news about China has changed. As I wrote earlier, Furman students who take advantage of our Asian Studies departments are very fortunate to study and travel with such bright and passionate faculty members. I have always considered myself one of the luckiest people I know and the way this trip turned out continued that trend. Our group was compatible, adventurous, diverse, fun and passionate. The conversations we had on various topics about China could not have been scripted. I learned so much that sometimes my head hurt. We bid farewell to Kate and our national guide early in the morning on May 29th and had three close connections all the way our final connection in Atlanta 18 hours later, but all of us made it safely to our destinations all richer because of our individual and shared experiences. I am looking forward to my next adventure with Furman travel.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

"When Can We Do This Again??" - Kate Kaup

Who would have thought I’d be asking this already..???---but when can we do this again??

I had such a great time travelling with this group. Everyone came on board excited to learn as much as possible, and game for my crazy schedule, which aimed to show as much as possible in our brief time! Our group was as excited as I am about Furman's eight separate exchange programs with our partners in Suzhou, and about exploring new avenues for Furman to expand its Asian Studies Department and Chinese studies programs. We had fun and intense brainstorming sessions, and we came up with a host of great ideas!

Currently, I’m sitting here in the Nanning Airport in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, trying to enjoy the breeze despite the flood of smokers gasping their last cigarette before entering the now smoke-free airport, and reflecting back on our trip. Though I have a chance to travel to China almost every year, I’m still stunned each time by its rapid growth, the tremendous national potential, and the pull of tradition as the nation moves forward. The developed Chinese cities, once you can see them through the smog, often have extremely modern architecture and infrastructure and the sheer prowess of city managements’ handling of millions and millions of urbanites crammed into small spaces is mind-boggling. Development even in the relatively smaller interior provincial capitals has also been rapid, though one is constantly reminded of the extremes in wealth as peasants come into the cities to perform menial manual labor and sell their wares.

Furman has been working hard to recruit Chinese students this year, primarily in the larger cities along the East Coast. There is a huge pool of talent here and we’ll benefit immensely from having a stronger Chinese presence on campus. It was hard to see longtime professor friends in Nanning this week, though, whom I know are making less than $800 a month (about ten times what they were earning when I was last here in ’99) and have little hope of sending their children abroad. The tuition at the Nationalities University here is less than $4,000 RMB per year (around 600 USD) and most students are on need-based scholarships. When our group was in Tibet, we chatted with a group of peasants on our way to Samye and learned that they made about 4,000 RMB PER YEAR (their cash earnings, not including the value of their crops they had consumed). Though the government is better now about not allowing “miscellaneous fees” to be imposed on primary school children, the tuition for HIGH SCHOOL in Lhasa, according to these peasants, is about 2,500 RMB per year. Most of the students in these peasants’ village simply drop out of high school because they can’t afford the high fees, and they certainly don’t believe they can test into or afford college. As one travels further away from provincial capitals (like Lhasa) in the border regions, poverty rates increase dramatically. The gap in East-West is huge, as is the gap between rich and poor. Despite Hu Jintao’s efforts to promote a “harmonious society” and address the huge disparities in wealth, the discrepancies between haves and have-nots are increasing rapidly. I hope as Furman recovers from our own nation’s financial difficulties, we may be able to consider offering a need-based scholarship to a student from a less developed area as we simultaneously recruit those with increasingly rich opportunities in the cities.

I tried to design this trip to give our Furman travellers a feel for the huge variations in China—to allow them to experience modern city life, the nation’s financial capital, a poor minority region well garrisoned with Han police, and the loess plains of Xian. Though we saw some farming areas surrounding Suzhou, one thing we did not see much of was rice agriculture in the south and I wish we had had a chance to see more of the rural undeveloped areas. The homes that we entered, including one just outside of Lhasa, were well appointed and didn’t give enough of a feel for the harsh conditions under which most peasants still live. So…this group will have to join us for the next trip, and head to Guizhou and Yunnan!!

I would be remiss if I didn’t take a few moments to reflect on the importance of Asian Studies, not just at Furman, but across the United States. It is impossible to understand much in Asia through a single disciplinary lens. Only through understanding the region’s history, religion, politics, social structures, cultural heritage, economics, hopes and disappointments can one hope to understand any given government policy, literary work, or business strategy. I recently had someone ask me “what do you mean by ‘Chinese economics?’ Isn’t economics based on scientific principles---isn’t supply and demand just supply and demand anywhere?” Though economists examining China needs to be well grounded in economic principles, these principles cannot be abstractly applied in China without taking into account a wide array of uniquely Chinese considerations. What exactly constitutes “rational choice,” for example, will be wildly different in a US setting than as seen through the eyes of economic policymakers in Beijing who are attempting to address a host of political, economic, and social demands that may lead to decisions unexpected by economic analysts unfamiliar with the Chinese context. Similarly, by exploring Chinese economic strategies carefully, economists with strong area studies training will be able to contribute to and enrich broader theories that may require adjustment after considering the Chinese case.

I’ve heard some challenge the expansion of Chinese language offerings with comments like “what happens if China collapses like the Soviet Union? What if there’s not such huge development in China as predicted?” I could recount all of the common justifications for studying China; it’s rich and expansive history, its importance on the international scene as a permanent member of the Security Council and its influence in areas of the world that the United States has trouble reaching, its record as the longest and fastest growing economy in the history of the world, its population that accounts for a fifth of the world’s total, …and more. I could also recount how the study of China contributes and enriches broader theoretical discussions across disciplines in political science, economics, history, philosophy, religion, art, sociology, and more. It’s also important to keep in mind, though, that the possibility of China not succeeding the way most analysts predict makes it perhaps even more imperative to study. What if China can’t clean up its pollution problem? What if the disparities in wealth, pervasive corruption, risky banking policies, nationalistic rhetoric, unnaturally distorted demographics and the host of other challenges facing the regime lead to the undermining of state power and the weakening of China on the international stage? Such a scenario would be dangerous not only to Chinese, but to the rest of the world, and to American interests. It’s imperative that we train a corps of students able to embrace all of the potential opportunities that a developing China presents, study and reflect on the rich cultural heritage that is only recently being fully explored, and prepare for addressing and formulating new policies for the myriad issues that will inevitably arise out of either China’s rise or its stagnation.

Finally, as we’ve been exploring China on this trip, nearly all my reflections have focused on China and US-China relations. The Asian Studies Department at Furman has quite rich offerings outside of our Chinese studies courses, however. We have outstanding specialists on South Asia and Japan, and offer dynamic study away programs in both India and Japan. The China-side of our program has benefitted immensely from Ravenel Curry’s generous support and our Summer China Experience has introduced China to more than sixty incoming freshman thanks both to Ravenel’s and Carrie and Richard Tucker’s financial support. The AS Department is quite pleased with how we’ve utilized these generous gifts and been able to triple the number of our majors, exponentially expand our overseas offerings, add talented faculty to the department, and attract federal funding. We’re hoping to build on this record of success and turn to further strengthening of our South Asian and Japanese offerings.
Thanks to our great group, and thanks for dragging me into the 21st Century with this, my first blogging effort!

Monday, May 31, 2010

"In Summary" - Marie Richards

While at Furman Jason and I both participated in foreign study programs. As did my roommates and most of my other friends. We all consider those experiences to count among our very best times at Furman, even if we do argue over whose trip was better. This China trip offered us the opportunity to travel again in a similar manner complete with lectures, foreign students, and even a reading list. Our small group also replicated foreign study. People from many different backgrounds, jobs, and ages, but who all had Furman in common.

China has long been on our short list of destinations, but the Furman trip offered many unique opportunities - most of them due to Dr. Kaup. Kate Kaup is a superhero. She provided a historical and cultural context for the places we visited and the people we talked to. She served as a translator, tour guide, money changer, professor, therapist, airline reservation clerk, and fixer. When a question was not answered to her satisfaction, Kate would stare at the person and say, "What is to be done?" In Chinese, of course. Then she would wait until she got the answer she desired. She organized meetings with alumni, university officials, embassy staff, and local villagers. Have an interest in health care? Kate found a traditional Tibetan medical doctor. Like rugs? She located a rug factory to well as a showroom to buy the rugs. Kate is a renowned scholar on China, but she never acted as though she was too important to answer our basic questions.

Thank you to Dr. Kaup for hosting our trip. Thank you to the many people at Furman who helped organize the logistics. Thank you to Furman for putting an emphasis on Asian Studies and for hiring Dr. Kaup. We look forward to more trips and opportunities like this in the future, although it will be almost impossible to match the majesty of China.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

"Child-rearing in China" - Marie Richards

Most people in China do not use diapers. Children have a slit in their pants to allow them to poop when the need arises. Kate said that in some areas the mother whistles in a special way to signal to the child to defecate. And my child won't even use the potty....

The people we encountered on our trip put a personal face on China's one child policy. Our host family described to us how they desperately wanted a second child. Some families are able to have a second child and pay a fine. This was not a possibility for our hosts because they worked for the university and a government agency, and would lose their jobs if they had another child. They expressed hope that the regulations may be loosened in the future.

The policy seems to have great variability. At one time minorities were allowed to have more than one child, but this is no longer the case. Yet our tour guide in Tibet has two kids. Another person informed us that since she and her fiance were both only children, they would be allowed to have two kids. In some rural areas, it is acceptable to have more than 1 child if the first one is female.

There are concerns that China is cultivating a society of overindulged "little emperors" with their one child policy. After meeting our host families, some group members described spoiled kids and rooms overflowing with toys. But as the parent of a young child, I am often ashamed of the excess toy supply at my own home. However, the social consequences of this government policy are likely to be long-reaching. What type of effects result from a society of predominantly male only children remain to be seen.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

"Beijing" - Dave Ellison

This is a beautiful city. Wide avenues, lots of parks and flowers, and landscaped. It's also huge with about 18 million people. I like it a lot better than Shanghai as Beijing feels much more open visibly. We are having a great time but tomorrow - last day in China - should be the best with visit to Tiananmen Square, Mao's tomb and The Forbidden City. That is in the morning.

Today, Kate Kaup's sister Virginia, Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi (she's the #2 person at a 700 person operation) arrived in Beijing in time for drinks and dinner. And tomorrow she will accompany us in the afternoon to our embassy here for a private briefing. Tomorrow night we have our final dinner together of Peking Duck.

Tonight we went to a delicious meal in a private restaurant room in a quaint shopping district and were joined by Adrian ?, a Chinese-American who is a young lawyer (probably about 30) with the Natural Resources Defense Counsel here. He holds degrees from UT-Austin in electrical engineering and Harvard Law. He grew up in Houston. He explained to us what is going on in China regarding environmental and energy policy. Basically, the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) is driven to become energy self-sufficient. A coal-dependent country, 2007 was the first year China became a net importer of coal. It was a wake-up call. So lots of alternative energy investment is happening, plus a Chinese Clean Air Act is moving to become law to help on the environmental front. Dinner took an interesting turn. Even though we had two "experts" on U.S.-Asia relations present in Kate and Virginia - we spent time discussing urban planning in the U.S. led by Ron McKinney, Coleman Shouse and Jason Richards who have varying disciplines and perspectives on the subject.

This trip mimics what I expect Kate is trying to accomplish with Furman undergrads: it's primarily about learning rather than pure sight-seeing. We are all ignorant about China, so pretty much sponges every day. A lot to learn, but what a way to learn it!