The Sun Sets over Xiamen

text by Alexander Davey / image via Wikimedia

After ten years the UCU International Xiamen Program has come to an end. But why has this happened and what will replace it?

What was it?

According to the UCU semester abroad guide for 2013-2014, “The China Program is a predefined set of courses in Chinese language, history and culture taught on location at Xiamen University, China….. Students interested in Chinese language and culture can do a minor in China Studies that includes a semester abroad at Xiamen University in China.”
The China program was part of the Chinese Language and Chinese Studies minor track whereby “Students take a course in Chinese language and culture, after which they go abroad for a semester to Xiamen University. As such the language is learnt in a context making it applicable to the curriculum.”

The Xiamen Program was a UCU-led initiative whereby a contingent of UCU students would go to study at Xiamen University in the South Eastern province of Fujian in China. Usually every student took the Introduction to Chinese Language and Culture course at UCU in the summer term as a prerequisite or else had prior knowledge of some basic level of Mandarin. Students went in either their 3rd or 5th semester or in some special cases in their 7th semester to Xiamen to study for four months in China. There were four courses UCU students took which only consisted of the small UCU contingent; Chinese Politics; History of Economic Reform; Chinese Culture and Anthropology; and an intensive Chinese language course. Each student also had to keep a journal of their experiences during the program to send back to UCU on a regular basis.

How was it different from exchange?

The Xiamen program differed from a normal UCU exchange in a couple of ways. First, the courses were UCU courses and not Xiamen University courses, and therefore the workload, class time and assignments were, in theory, decided by UCU. UCU also decided on the amount of credits per course ranging from 3.5 credits (for Chinese culture and Chinese politics) to 10.5 credits (for the language course).
Why was it set up in the first place?
Originally students asked for a study of liberal art and sciences from a non-western perspective which generated the Xiamen program. In the Osiris course outline’s feeble attempt to lure students, China is described as a hot topic at the moment with so much economic growth and an increasing impact on the global society. It was no wonder UCU decided to introduce Chinese language courses along with the Xiamen program to facilitate to a relevant culture.

What changed?

The Xiamen program never officially ended.

The first indication it had ceased to be was when the course offerings for Fall 2014 were uploaded on to the intranet last spring. Ties were cut between the two universities as there had been some alleged difficulties with keeping the Xiamen program going. The retirement of the Head of the Humanities department, Orlanda Lie, certainly impacted on the program as she was in charge of it.

Now, in its place is the Hong Kong Program. Little is known what this program will entail but it will probably involve a similar set up to the Xiamen program but just in Hong Kong. However, this raises a number of issues. It goes against two of the main reasons of why the China Program was set up.

First, as the recent events have highlighted, Hong Kong is not in truly, culturally Chinese, but rather an ex-British colony with very Western values. This goes against the ethos of the China program- to study liberal arts & sciences from a non-western perspective.

Second, the aim of the China program is for students to fulfill their Chinese language requirement or Chinese language minor. The Chinese language in this case being Mandarin. However, Cantonese and English are the two main languages spoken in Hong Kong. From speaking to previous UCUers who went on exchange to Hong Kong it is very difficult to immerse oneself in Mandarin when no one is speaking it around you.
What next?
UCU’s ten year legacy in Xiamen is over. We have turned towards Hong Kong and away from China. What is to come with this change in direction is yet to be seen. All we know is that the liberal arts & sciences will continue to be viewed through a western lens.

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