Fostering a cross-cultural connection between US, China

By

Heather Beshears

The evolution of the U.S.-China relationship requires a deeper understanding between the two nations – particularly a greater awareness of histories and cultures. That’s something Arizona State University has been working on the past several years.

ASU recently hosted the 2014 American Studies Seminar, bringing eight faculty members from Sichuan University in China to meet with faculty from throughout ASU.

Jay Chen, director of the American Studies Center at Sichuan University and professor of English, says the goal is to highlight the comparisons and contrasts between the American Southwest and the southwest region in China.

“Despite differences in tradition and culture, we have many similarities,” says Chen, lead organizer of the seminar at ASU. “By bringing this delegation to ASU, we connect researchers in the field and broaden the horizons for both groups.”

Visitors spent two weeks participating in formal sessions, independent research and excursions throughout the Valley. Sessions covered a broad range of topics, including Native American history and culture, sustainability and governance.

Dave White, co-director of the Decision Center for a Desert City, led participants through WaterSim at the ASU Decision Theater. The WaterSim model demonstrates how data-driven analysis can foster better public policy decisions by showing the relationships between climate change, water supplies and urbanization in Phoenix. A faculty panel from the School of Transborder Studies shared insight into Hispanic culture in Arizona and information on transborder communities and social policy.

Participants were also paired with ASU faculty members to enable more in-depth study into their particular fields.

One thing stood out to Chinese scholars – the approach ASU takes to interdisciplinary teaching and research. Chinese universities tend to be more discipline-specific, but many are trying to build linkages between departments, schools and colleges to foster more creative endeavors.

The delegation’s visit to ASU builds on a partnership established between the two universities in 2005. In 2013, ASU and Sichuan University co-sponsored the International Conference on Chinese and American Southwest Studies. In 2010, Sichuan University and ASU partnered to create the Center for American Culture in an effort to promote cross-cultural understanding. Since then, more than 20 ASU professors have taught at Sichuan University – sharing views on American culture and gaining insight into Chinese culture.

Kathryn Mohrman, American director of the Center for American Culture at Sichuan University and professor of practice in the School of Public Affairs, part of the College of Public Programs, notes, “This is an important partnership to both universities, as well as our respective communities. The ongoing collaboration strengthens efforts at both universities.”

The American Studies Center at Sichuan University, which was established in the 1980s, became a key research center under China’s Ministry of Education in 2012. Chen notes that American Studies is an evolving field in China. “What began as primarily a center for language studies and literature has grown to cover a wide cross-disciplinary area in American Studies, with particular interest in a comparative study of two Southwestern regions,” notes Chen.

“For some of the visiting scholars, this is their first time to the U.S.,” he says. “Being able to see first-hand, and work directly with peers at ASU really opens a greater dialogue into American Studies.”