2011 Student-Faculty Fellows: Swarthmore College

Mentor: Lala Zuo
Students: Tiffany Barron, Emma Saarel, Eugenia Sokolskaya, Abigail Starr, Rebecca Teng

Pilgrimage to Shanxi Historical Villages:
Making Connections to the Past and Comparisons to China’s Urban Future

The Swarthmore group in Shanxi

Project Abstract

The research group from Swarthmore College spent five weeks in China to conduct five individual research projects focused upon China’s urban-rural relations. We spent three and one half weeks in Shanxi Province, one week in Shanghai and three days in Beijing. Student fellows distributed hundreds of surveys, interviewed dozens of people of different ages and backgrounds, observed classes in all levels of educational institutions, and investigated several historical sites in both urban and rural areas. Emma Saarel’s findings suggest that many stereotypes of Chinese female society held by Westerners are false. Abigail Starr’s findings throw doubt on the common assumption that young Chinese people care more about new economic development than about history and traditional culture. Tiffany Barron has found a disparity much like in the U.S. existing within the Chinese system of education. Rebecca Teng has discovered that community health centers are widely received in China and convenient for the public, but they only provide basic care. Eugenia Sokolskaya was surprised by the diversity of dialects in Shanxi Province and her data will tell us how those dialects were supplanted by Mandarin. We will publicize our finding and reflections this fall at the study abroad fair at Swarthmore and then present our findings to others in our local community. We also anticipate submitting some of the research papers produced by members of our group to academic journals for publication.

Tiffany Barron

Visiting the library of Zhangjiang Middle School

My research examines the effects of educational policy and its manifestations in Shanghai and Taiyuan. I began my research in Shanghai, visiting the two middle schools of Zhangjiang and Huayu. Huayu is known as the top-ranked middle school in the city. I interviewed many students and teachers as well as two deans and a principal. I had the opportunity to teach an English class of sixth graders, and I was startled by the questions about America asked me after class. In Taiyuan, we lived at Shanxi University. Here I was able to conduct surveys and interviews with the university students and observe university classes. I also visited an elementary school and repeated my experience teaching English and interviewing a principal. Although my research is yet to be completed, it is safe to say that much as in the United States a marked disparity exists within the Chinese system of education.

Emma Saarel

Shanxi University students walking with friends on campus

My research focuses upon the lives of university-aged women in Shanxi Province and was made possible by a three and a half week stay at Shanxi University in Taiyuan. Here I was able to observe parallels between my own life as a college student in the United States and the lives of female college students at Shanxi University. I conducted my research by utilizing surveys and interviews designed to gather both quantitative and qualitative data. The survey consisted of two parts, multiple-choice questions designed to generate parameter-regulated responses, as well as free-response questions left open for the purpose of gathering more individualized, flexible information. Women who answered the survey were then interviewed. Through this process, I found that levels of education of female family members have increased over the past three generations in my subject pool; that girls are encouraged to study hard but are also encouraged to participate in extracurricular activities; and that ideals of masculinity expressed by my subject pool are quite similar to ideals of masculinity in the United States. All this suggests that many stereotypes of Chinese females held by Westerners are false. I discovered that these young women are in many ways not much different from myself. Almost all have played sports at some level, have differing ambitions and interests, and haved wished to attend college since very young.

Eugenia Sokolskaya

“Please speak putonghua” — a reminder to middle school students in Shanghai

My research focuses upon the successes and failures of introducing the Putonghua standard language policy in China, and on the specifics of Northern Mandarin dialectology in particular. I interviewed middle school teachers in Shanghai, elementary school and kindergarten teachers in Taiyuan, and students and staff on the Shanxi University campus. All I talked with expressed a solid belief in the usefulness of adopting a standard language, and all had spoken Standard Mandarin from a very early age, but many also spoke another dialect at home and with close childhood friends. I was pleasantly surprised by the diversity of dialects in Shanxi province, where each village, city, and town seems to have its own dialect. I collected samples of twelve dialects and will now do a thorough phonetic and morphologic analysis of these samples, trying to identify regional variations within the province – the contours of dialects being augmented by Putonghua.

Abigail Starr

“Let’s all unite to protect cultural relics, and work together to establish a harmonious society”

My research was based at Shanxi University and conducted in Shanxi Province. It focuses upon how national identity and materialism shape the understanding of Chinese youth about local historical sites as well as national cultural sites that have a broader symbolic value. I relied upon surveys of young people, tailored to a particular location, at a number of sites and also upon circumstantial informal interviews. This empirical data will now be assessed to weigh the common claim that the younger generation in China has developed a national identity that is grounded more heavily in China’s burgeoning materialist culture rather than in its shared national history.

Rebecca Teng

The Xiaodian District of Taiyuan city Shanxi University Community Health Service Station

My research project is titled “The Efficiency of Community Health Centers in both rural areas and cities in Shanxi Province.” To study this, I surveyed middle-aged Chinese citizens to gauge their views about the establishment of Community Health Centers and existing hospitals in their hometowns. In addition, I visited a Community Health Center and four small clinics to observe their operations. The medical professionals that I interviewed were very comfortable speaking to me and were the most valuable source in my research. They shared with me their reactions to the changes being implemented in the medical field and their effects on patient care. Long queues and dishonesty among doctors at hospitals were continuing problems expressed by participants in my survey. On the other hand, Community Health Centers are fairly well received and convenient to the public, but they are providing only minimal care.