2008 Student-Faculty Fellows: Maryville College

Prosperity and Preservation:
The Impact of Globalization on Rural China and Minorities

Mentor: Scott Henson
Students: Amanda Brooks, Whitney Downing, Cory Everett, Ally Ketron, Josh Phillips


Maryville group with host family in Zaidang (Yang Family) – Scott Henson not pictured

Project Abstract

Yang family grandchildren sing traditional Dong songs

In the two locations we studied, our team was granted complete access to study the lives and challenges faced by individuals in a rapidly industrializing, urbanizing, and globalizing China. Through observation, extensive interviews, and expert testimonies, we attempted to evaluate the impact of globalization on minority groups in the rural regions of Western China. In the Dong village we studied, there is now a better means of communication between relatives of various villages, increased availability of cash, the means to record Dong culture on video and in written language, and improved basic services such as roads, schools and housing. At the same time, there are also threats to Dong society such as the loss of family coherence due to migration, generational gaps based on different educational levels and knowledge of Mandarin, and economic competition from the outside. While the village is successfully managing changes to date, it does not seem to comprehend the potential scale and magnitude of changes yet to come.

The Tibetan seem to have more options economically and socially than the Dong based on more business opportunities, a higher current standard of living, better healthcare, and greater mobility. This is the result of their owning more productive land and being better linked to the tourist industry. A more developed communication system, trade network, infrastructure, tourism industry, and cash based economy is indicative of a region more heavily integrated into the broader Chinese and global environment. Tibetans also have a stronger cultural identification, and their culture is a marketable commodity for tourism. Migration of Chinese and other minority business owners and workers into the region is the greatest threat to Tibetan communities.

The opportunity to lead a team of student researchers to China opened a new chapter in my professional life as an educator. I have led student groups on academic trips abroad before, but the close mentoring relationship and joining with students to conduct substantive and meaningful research was an intensely rewarding experience. We established a benchmark for us for research on minority studies in China and on the impact of globalization, and more personally enriching, we established deep friendships and empathy with the people living with the realities of globalization’s opportunities and threats. This experience has transformed the apathy that comes from distance and unfamiliarity into an intense interest in the future challenges faced by our friends and colleagues in a remote village in Western China. It has also given us the confidence to make a difference and the knowledge to engage those challenges, challenges that ultimately confront us all.

Amanda Brooks

Amanda Brooks shares her excitement with translators Xiang Wei and Xiang Xiao

Visiting China made me reexamine my America centered worldview. Through my interaction in the small rural communities, I was able to notice the differences and similarities that exist between American children and children raised in rural Dong villages. I was amazed by the openness of the people and their willingness to interact with someone who might appear to be different. I learned quickly what they seemed to know all along. People need not let cultural differences get in the way of communication and learning from one another – even when a common language is not present.

Whitney Downing

Whitney Downing and Amanda Brooks get a lesson in the Dong language

My inner traveler was awakened by this trip. By studying the communications systems in China, I grew more as an individual and as a professional. As I talked with people and interviewed them, I found that the experience was shaping my personal goals and desires. I no longer felt that I wanted to find that one place in the United States to settle down in; instead, I was imagining myself working and travelling in China. The culture and the personal interactions fascinated me and really made me rethink my preconceptions about people and how we communicate.

Cory Everett

Cory Everett rides a Yak in Shangri-La

I never would have guessed that I would have such access to the healthcare infrastructure and professionals in this profession in China. However, through the student-faculty fellows program, I was able to learn a lot about rural medicine in China. I came away from the trip even more excited about pursuing my master’s degree in healthcare administration after I complete my undergraduate training. It was interesting to observe a system of healthcare so different from ours in this country, but also to recognize similarities. We have much to learn from each other as we seek to find better ways to solve mutual problems.

Ally Ketron

Group walks the main avenue in Shangri-La

Despite this being my second time to China, I was amazed by the amount of new information and my understanding about Chinese culture that I discovered during the trip. The exposure to rural areas reinforced my interest in community organization and issues related to improving the environment and more specifically water quality. I was able to see connections between my home in Eastern Tennessee and Western China that I would never have imagined existed. This experience made me appreciate both Chinese culture and China as a potential place to work as I develop professionally.

Josh Phillips

Group with host family in Zaidang (Yang family) – Ally Ketron not pictured

My visit to China was unlike any experience I have ever had. I was able to observe a variety of levels of economic development ranging from industrialized urban centers to simple village life. This was invaluable. I was especially grateful for the human interaction that occurred between me and the Chinese people in the communities that we visited.

Interviewing family in Zenang, Tibetan village, Yunnan province