2009 Student-Faculty Fellows: Lake Forest College
China through Students’ Eyes:
Three Case Studies of China’s Economic and Educational Development
Mentor: Shiwei Chen
Students: David Esturain, Ryan Glowacz, Caitlin Smith, Ian Tinley, Kylie Trotman
The summer research we conducted through our visit to Wanxiang’s China headquarters in Hangzhou, interaction with students and administrators at Xian International University, and investigation of the outbreak of the A/H1N1 virus in Beijing provided us with excellent sources to analyze China’s post-Mao reform and its road towards globalization. The data we gathered from these activities not only advanced our comprehension of the Chinese educational legacy, Communist political system, and Asian business pattern, but also enabled us to utilize interdisciplinary research methods, and at the same time achieve a better cultural appreciation of China.
We landed in China at a crucial moment when the whole nation was mobilized to cope with the internationally developed A/H1N1 influenza outbreak. As a consequence, our prescheduled plan to travel to Shijiazhuang People’s Commune to study the Communist system of collectivization was cancelled. Under these conditions, we readjusted our research project in order to accomplish our mission. As demonstrated during Beijing’s hosting of the 2008 Summer Olympic Games, China is eager and ready to show the world that the country, with its economic and political power, is playing a responsible leadership role in the global community. Using Beijing as our base, we engaged in a series of investigations on the working model of China’s new disease prevention protocol by interviewing various groups, ranging from doctors and journalists to university students and foreigners. This, coupled with our own personal experiences, provided us with a comprehensive and in-depth understanding of China’s increasing ability to handle national crisis.
My research responsibility during this trip was to examine the business pattern of the Wanxiang Group in China to understand how Chinese companies are transforming their manufacturing-based local industries into ones that are more diversified and capable of competing in the fast-changing global economy. To facilitate this study, we visited the Wanxiang company headquarters in Hangzhou, interviewed the chief officer of cultural publicity, toured the industrial complex, and viewed the massive array of buildings that house thousands of workers and provides stores, restaurants, and other essential services to them. We discovered that Wanxiang produces an array of products most notably advanced lithium ion batteries. It has recently opened a solar power cell factory in Rockford, Illinois. It is diversifying its range of new products to include an organic almond extract drink, called Lulu, for sale domestically. The company plans to limit its international business to high value added products and focus more on the domestic market in China. This research trip to China was my first international traveling experience and the most unforgettable three weeks of my life.
The research I conducted at Xian International University (XAIU) was based upon site observations, interviews with the president and vice president of the university, and the administering and collection of student surveys. XAIU’s long term objective is to develop a large number of franchises in major Chinese cities and throughout the world and to become the largest educational group in all of China. The model utilized by XAIU best compares with that offered by Phoenix University in the United States. Franchises may offer degree and non-degree programs, foreign language study opportunities, courses focused upon entrepreneurship, and educational research centers. XAIU has become a leading player in moving China towards a commercialized version of mass higher education. This trip to China was transformative. I have a strong desire to return to China once I graduate, and as a future high school history teacher, I plan to incorporate much of this experience in China into my teaching of world history.
During our three weeks in China, discussion of swine flu (A/H1N1) was front page news, while in the United States the media treated it as if it never happened. After conducting numerous interviews with doctors, scholars, businessmen, reporters, students, and foreigners in China, it became readily apparent that Chinese concern about A/H1N1 was prompted by the failure of the Chinese just a few years ago to effectively deal with SARS, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. Misinformation, corruption, lack of communication, and fear contributed to this failure. The handling of this A/H1N1 outbreak shows that the Chinese government is moving towards a more open stance on critical matters related to health issues, and that it is seeking to play a more important role in addressing serious world concerns. Due to this experience, I plan to return to China through a study abroad program, and perhaps one day live in China as both a business woman and supporter of social reforms.
Originally one of the three topics that our research group planned to investigate was that of the last surviving people’s commune at Zhoujiazhuang. However, once we arrived in China, we were informed that we would not be allowed access to the commune because as foreigners who may have had contact with the A/H1N1 virus we posed a threat to these rural inhabitants. As a consequence, we were forced to abandon this study, and instead we shifted our research to that of exploring the Chinese response to the potential swine flu outbreak. Our investigation was centered on several key interviews with a doctor, journalist, graduate students, professors, and a wealthy businessman. We also carefully monitored Chinese and Western newspaper coverage of the outbreak and various magazine articles, and carefully studied earlier attempts by the government to prevent the spread of viruses, especially the haphazard response to an earlier SARS outbreak. The Chinese government response to this outbreak is thought by many in the West to have been too strict, but given their recent experience with SARS, the Chinese themselves are much more supportive of a quick and all inclusive response to A/H1N1. Having this in depth experience in China enabled me to understand the mindset of the Chinese people in a way that no classroom instruction could have done. This summer’s trip to China was my first visit, but it will definitely not be my last.
My research focuses primarily on the Wanxiang Industrial Group and has been facilitated by interviews conducted with company officials and onsite inspection of their headquarters and production operations. Our group was all impressed by the rapid emergence of this Group from what had been a simple bicycle shop. We also discovered that the impact of the recent global recession was not as disastrous as one might have expected because the Wanxiang Group is committed to building a strong base in the Chinese domestic market and a diverse range of products. We were impressed by Wanxiang’s efforts to create a merit system among its employees, and to reinvest company profits in its work force. It was also evident that the close connections of Wanxiang Group to the Chinese Communist Party has been central to its success. I found this research to be very rewarding, especially after the months we spent preparing for interviews and doing preliminary research on our topics.