2019 Student-Faculty Fellows Program: Union College

Between State and Populace, Chasing the China Dream

Faculty mentor: Megan M. Ferry, Professor of Chinese and Chair of Modern Languages and Literatures Department
Student fellows: Trevor Atkins, Jeremy Rausch, Meghan Reilly

Project Abstract

The Project Team considers the important role media plays as a communicative apparatus between the state and its people, and we want to measure the effectiveness of the China Dream message, the topics it covers and the ones it ignores. Is the China Dream a commercialized nationalism, as one Chinese scholar would put it; a nation-branding initiative driven by profit-driven industries? The students will meet with academic scholars in Shanghai for a more nuanced analysis, as well as engage with a diverse spectrum of people in Shanghai, Zhengzhou, and Beijing. The Team wants to know what Chinese individuals make of the Dream, and if it is in accordance with their local situation and individual goals for their future. In addition to analyzing a variety of media, the Project Team will engage with citizens across a broad spectrum of class and educational differences to learn their understanding of the China Dream’s message and to what extent it measures with their individual aspirations. This project joins in the discussion on the China Dream and popular interpretations of it with Chinese and Western scholars and policy institutes. 

The project focus arose from discussion with the Project Team members about current global issues of public opinion and popular nationalism. A series of global events in the last few years indicate a remarkable stake in a nation’s identity and political authority. From Brexit to Catalan, Blue States vs. Red States, anti-immigrant marches and laws in the European Union and mass deportations of undocumented workers in the US, these fissures represent a rift in the nation-state narrative. The Project Team is witnessing nations’ cultural and social conflicts on a global scale and cannot help but ask what affects a government’s actions have on local communities apart and citizens’ welfare. The internal conflicts within the nation-state affect both domestic and international cooperation and advancement.

Student Team members are bringing their own personal and professional interests in data analysis, US foreign policy, and education to meet with and listen to a variety of perspectives on the China Dream. Student Team members identified personal interest in sticking to long-term objectives despite uncertain, short-term obstacles, curiosity about multiple perspectives to view an issue, and the role of knowledge in being able to negotiate the complicated mediasphere.

The Project addresses skill and professional development in key moments of the project. Pre-planning includes a focus on procedural thinking, project planning and implementation, financial budget and travel planning, data collection and analysis, media literacy, as well as teamwork. The in-country time will develop verbal and written communication, teamwork in diverse settings, cross-cultural communication, flexibility, problem solving, leadership, and risk management. The post-trip portion will emphasize critical thinking, analysis, collaboration across the disciplines, and ways to outreach to a variety of audiences, including college students, Asianists, the public, and high school students. The entire project will deepen students’ interpersonal and intrapersonal skills through self-reflection, human interaction in diverse settings, and personal and professional goal setting. Moreover, the project will strengthen their intercultural competency. These critical skills will prepare them for their future career and professions.

Trevor Atkins
ASIANetwork SFF has instilled and nurtured growth for my interest in the intersection of language, culture, communication, and technology. This is because my focus on this project was to analyze the methods and discourse of the China Dream campaign through technology. My two classmates had separate focuses, one on the political and societal implications of the China Dream and the other on the historical and modern context of the One Belt One Road with the China Dream. We conducted our research in Shanghai, Beijing, and Zhengzhou. We would like to extend gratitude to ASIANetwork and their grant that has given us the opportunity to research this topic in China, travel between three cities, and access to resources, events, and activities to enrich our studies, perspectives, and experiences. Especially since an aspect of the China Dream incorporated the advancement and applications of technology, there were many different ways and views for what and how these approaches are being made. I was able to develop ways to incorporate such intersections for my interdisciplinary major thesis and my future opportunities such as studying in the Erasmus Mundus Masters scholarship program. Presenting our findings in the New York Conference on Asian Studies was a rewarding way to showcase what we have learned and see what else to look out for that others shared throughout Asia. Unfortunately, due to the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic, we were unable to present our findings in the Steinmetz Symposium or one of the Minervas at Union College or establish other presentations and additions to our project.

Jeremy Rausch
In the summer of 2019, the Union College project team undertook a journey from Schenectady, New York to China’s famous metropolises, Shanghai and Beijing, as well as an adventure to a third-tier capital city in China’s inland Henan province, Zhengzhou. The primary objective of the project was to cultivate a refined and profound understanding of the China Dream, an ideological campaign revealed by Xi Jinping following his assumption of Communist Party leadership in 2013. The project team conducted a multidimensional and intricately designed research project into the China Dream, as the content of the project was to be categorized in three distinct ways: the China Dream in the context of Xi Jinping’s consolidation of political authority, the Belt and Road and China’s long-standing, robust economic development, and China’s burgeoning domestic technology industry with a focus on e-commerce, mobile payment, big data, artificial intelligence, and a host of additional next-gen technological frontiers.   

Conducting formal and informal interviews with a wide range of Chinese citizens, translating and analyzing mass-media and propaganda campaigns, and traveling throughout the country to diversify our exposure to ways of thinking are only three ways in which the project team adapted to the dynamic challenges and obstacles that stood in the way of a profound and quintessential understanding of the China Dream. The ASIANetwork SFF grant generously provided the project team with plentiful resources to carry out desired activities and events, including countless dinners with high-standing Chinese citizens, trips to important and noteworthy areas throughout China, as well as public transportation from Shanghai’s subways to high-speed railways in Henan. Due to obvious circumstances, namely the COVID-19 pandemic, we were prevented from carrying out our desired public presentations and institution-based programs. However, the project team remains not only satisfied and confident with the preliminary work conducted in China and the United States, but eager to continue building upon the research conducted in 2019 in the context of post-graduate studies and research and professional fellowships.

Meghan Reilly
The China Dream is a key element of the great rejuvenation of China; it is a concept that promises to revitalize the nation and continue China’s global rise, with an emphasis on cultural soft power through the core values of socialism. The Dream also echoes Chinese history, as it is alleged to be based on the story of an ancient Chinese poet who dreams of reviving the prosperity of Zhou China. The China Dream operates on three levels: international, national, and individual. Current scholarship emphasizes the role of the China Dream on the international level, as China is reshaping the political and economic global order through action such as its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). A fast-moving and ever-growing initiative, the BRI reflects Chinese history and echoes the core values of Chinese socialism highlighted in China Dream propaganda and official ideology. Yet how does the BRI truly connect with and fit into the China Dream?

Based on in-person interviews of Chinese citizens, and investigation into institutions and the public role of the China Dream and the BRI in Shanghai, Beijing, and Zhengzhou, this project explores the role that the BRI plays in the interpretation of the China Dream, and vice versa. This project seeks to determine the impact of Chinese communications and the extent to which the China Dream and the BRI permeate into and interact together within the public consciousness. Overall, the implications of the China Dream are far-reaching for both the individual and the world and this project attempts to identify significant trends among interviewees about the true meaning of the China Dream and each individual’s own Dream.