I am currently living on the Wang Jian campus of Sichuan University, which enrolls 20,000 students, primarily graduate students. Founded in 1896, the “old” campus is downtown, surrounded on all sides by stores and walls, with entry to the university through four guarded gates. Pedestrian entry to campus seems unrestricted, but cars require approval to drive on the campus, with taxis forbidden. Nevertheless, the often-narrow streets are usually packed with pedicabs, bicycles and silent electric scooters and bikes that require pedestrians to cross a street with great care.
Many Sichuan University faculty and staff live in on-campus apartment buildings, reflecting a past government policy that required companies and institutions to provide housing for their employees. Inside the campus you find banks, stores, print shops, restaurants and athletic facilities; it’s a mini-city. The campus feels crowded with its many narrow streets, although it has a lotus pond, pagoda lake, basketball courts, a track/soccer field and a number of small parks the students and faculty enjoy.
In contrast, Sichuan University’s new “Jiang An” campus, only about six years old, is located in a more rural setting, about twelve miles away. I commute to my class at Jiang An in a university bus for students and faculty. About 40,000 undergraduates are taught at the new campus, living in numerous large dorms, with four students to a room.
My colleague explained that about ten years ago China initiated a major expansion of higher education, creating “new” campuses separate from the traditional university settings so they could educate many more students. Fulbright colleagues told me the same thing has occurred in their cities as well. One pragmatic reason these new campuses were built so distant from the traditional campus was cost: rural land was cheaper. There is a third Sichuan University campus downtown for medical students, with over 10,000 students.
When I entered the gate of Jiang An campus, the atmosphere was quite different than at the downtown Sichuan University. The new campus occupies a huge expanse of land, with lots of green spaces, new colorful classroom buildings and a modern glass-front library. A lake divides the academic buildings from student dorms, many restaurants and small shops for students. A long, very wide bridge with a lovely tile walkway carries students strolling to and from their classes carrying backpacks, totes or dribbling a soccer balls. The trees are beginning to bloom, so I can already imagine students sitting on rocks and benches along the river intently studying for tests.
At Sichuan University, in both its old and new campuses, most classes enjoy what UTC calls “smart classrooms,” replete with computers, PowerPoint and DVD capabilities for the professor. My undergraduate classroom has ten rows of fixed seats, running left to right rather than as at UTC, rows going from front to back. Each row contains eleven fixed seats, with a maximum capacity of over one hundred students. Classrooms are unheated, so both students and faculty presently wear sweaters and parkas during the lectures.
The week before my classes began, I was invited to give a guest lecture on U.S. foreign policy in my political science colleague’s two-hour undergraduate class on Marxism and Maoism. He gave his 45-minute lecture, punctuated by PowerPoint pictures of Mao, Stalin, Lenin, Engels, and of course, Karl Marx. He showed a TV interview with a Chinese general from their War College that included footage of British soldiers firing on Chinese patriots during the Opium Wars. Such was the prelude for my speech on America’s foreign policy-making process.
I began my lecture with a personal introduction, highlighting through PowerPoint slides pictures of my family, home, the UTC campus and Chattanooga that I had photographed before departing for China. I saw students talking among themselves, probably about the size of my home, since skyrocketing home costs represents a major issue in China today.
I teach an undergraduate course on American Government at the new campus, and a graduate course about U.S. Foreign Policy on the old campus. I’ve been assigned two great student assistants to help distribute materials and translate student concerns for me. I have them pass out copies of my PowerPoint slides at the beginning of class, so students can look up unfamiliar English words and concepts before a class discussion or exam.
I bring my PowerPoint lectures to class on a small USB flash drive, which I plug into the classroom computer system. Of course, all the console instructions are written in Chinese, but occasionally I’ll recognize a familiar Microsoft Office icon. A student is always willing to help with technical problems. And, as in my UTC classes, the students are usually more computer-savvy than those of us from an earlier chalkboard generation.
My first week of classes went well, although 110 students showed up for my first U.S. Foreign Policy lecture. They are attentive, stand up to address comments to me, and seem enthusiastic to be in a course taught by an American. Of course, I’m not sure yet how well some of the students comprehend my lectures in English. Nevertheless, at the end of both class lectures, the students applauded. I don’t know if that is a Chinese custom, but it felt quite rewarding.