Pearl Buck's THE GOOD EARTHAn intriguing aura always surrounded the distant, mysterious country of China in the eyes of Americans, with its 5,000 years of history and rich culture. In the l930s Pearl Buck’s book The Good Earth stirred readers with her story of a Chinese peasant’s close ancestral bond to the soil. The daughter of missionaries, Pearl Buck declared, “Nothing and no one can destroy the Chinese people. They are relentless survivors.” She won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1938.

In 1800, Napoleon allegedly said, “Let the sleeping giant (China) sleep! For when he wakes he will move the world.” In recent years that Asian giant clearly awoke, emerging as a rising global force, powered by an extraordinary rate of economic growth. Underscoring the mounting strength of that ancient country, a recent book by British writer Martin Jacques bears the provocative title, When China Rules the World.

I hope that during my spring semester experience as a Fulbright Scholar living, teaching, and traveling in China, I will gain insights about this formidable rising global power. I leave for Chengdu in February 2010 to teach at Sichuan University in southwest China.

The immense size of China’s population quickly became evident to me. Chengdu, my host city, has a population of about 12 million, twice the number of people living in the entire state of Tennessee! Chengdu also promotes itself as the “giant panda’s hometown.”

SichuanUnivTowerThe Sichuan University campus has about 60,000 students. In contrast, my fine institution—the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, which I’ve seen grow in students, faculty, and quality since the l970s—celebrated last fall an enrollment of 10,000 students. And we think UTC has classroom space problems.

During my younger years as a Navy destroyer officer, I served in the Western Pacific (WestPac). During the Cold War years I visited then-British owned Hong Kong as well as Taiwan, so I became somewhat acquainted and fascinated with Chinese culture.

But in those not-so-distant days, we were not permitted to buy products manufactured in “Red China.” Ironically, in preparing for my forthcoming teaching duties at Sichuan University—courses on American Government and U.S. Foreign Policy—I discovered most of my clothing and supplies were “made in China!”

In my subsequent blogs I want to provide readers with a better understanding of Chinese students and universities, the dynamic economic growth of the “Middle Kingdom,” and the richness of China’s long history and culture, illustrated with photos. As a guest of the Chinese government, deemed a “cultural ambassador” by the U.S. Department of State, I will candidly discuss America’s democratic principles and core concepts of foreign policy that guide our nation in my classes and lectures.

In my application essay to become a Fulbright Scholar, I emphasized my interest in learning more about how China, with its lengthy history, takes a long-term perspective when setting policy goals.

In America, our foreign policy may change every four or eight years as a new president enters the Oval Office. The economic globalism of Bill Clinton preceded the muscular neo-conservatism of George W. Bush, now followed by the “principled pragmatism” of Barack Obama. The zig-zags of U.S. foreign policy often confuse both our friends and foes.

Critics often accuse United States corporations and American voters of also focusing too much on each year’s “bottom-line,” not long-term plans and prospects. Certainly our recent financial crisis revealed the major banks’ drive for high short-term profits and huge bonuses dominating over concerns for stable growth.

Likewise, President George W. Bush encountered rising public calls to quickly end the Iraq War and withdraw troops, leading to the Republicans’ loss of Congress in 2006 and the White House in 2008. Americans would not patiently wait for the re-trained Iraqi military to “step up, so America could stand down.”

Currently President Obama faces voter pressures to immediately create jobs and restore a thriving American economy. Otherwise, a voter backlash in November 2010 could threaten the Democratic Party’s control over Congress. Patience is not always an attribute of voters in our democratic political system, particularly during difficult times.

However, an old Chinese proverb colorfully illustrates the advantage of an extended outlook: “Patience is power; with time and patience the mulberry leaf becomes a silk gown.”