This fall, Macalester College economics professor Liang Ding will return to his native China for a semester to lead the first group of students on ACM’s newest off-campus program, Shanghai: Perspectives on Contemporary China.
While he’s looking forward to the variety of responsibilities he will shoulder as the program’s Visiting Faculty Director – from helping students register for classes to guiding them in their independent study projects – Ding said he is particularly excited about teaching a course on the Chinese economy right in the middle of the country’s booming financial and banking center.
“It’s not like being in a classroom and reading a book, watching some video, and then talking about it,” he said. Instead, he plans to give his class a firsthand view of the forces – such as industrialization, urbanization, and globalization – that have fueled China’s remarkable economic growth over the past 20 years.
Examples of the fast-paced changes abound, beginning with the ultra-modern skyscrapers in the Pudong district of the city that herald Shanghai’s ascendance as an international financial powerhouse. They stand on ground that was mostly fields just a couple of decades ago.
“Even now, there are villages and rural areas in the suburbs of the city that are becoming more and more urbanized,” said Ding. “So we can go there and see how this urbanization affects people living in these places and how it affects economic growth.”
View of the Pudong district in Shanghai.
“Recently, the central government announced the first free trade zone in Shanghai, so I will arrange a trip there to let the students see how this free zone affects the Chinese economy and facilitates international trade,” he added. “There are a lot of examples we can see to complement the course. I think that will be very interesting and valuable for the students.”
The program is designed for students who want to explore a wide range of interests — such as anthropology, economics, environmental studies, geography, international relations, politics, sociology, and urban studies, to name a few. According to Ding, learning about China’s economy can provide insights into all aspects of Chinese society.
“China is unique in its economic environment, and there are a lot of differences between the Chinese economy and the Western economies,” Ding said. “The Chinese government controls a lot of resources in the economy, and their decision-making process and policy-making process [related to the economy] is critical to understanding environmental issues, politics, and even cultural issues.”
In addition, Ding noted that a country’s economy operates within its society, and the economic behavior of the people is rooted in their traditional values, history, and philosophy. In the course, students will learn about various aspects of China’s economy and how they interact, and then take a look at issues and challenges facing the nation.
Foreign bank branches line the street in Shangai’s financial center. (Photo from China Daily)
“No country can maintain high growth forever,” Ding said. “So we will try to make some forecasts about China’s prospects in the future.”
Flexibility is a key feature of the Shanghai Program, so students can tailor most of their studies to their personal interests and major. They select two elective courses, taught in English, from among a selection of content courses offered through the Global Curriculum Program at ACM’s partner institution, East China Normal University (ECNU). Each student also studies Chinese language and, guided by the ACM Visiting Faculty Director, completes an independent study project.
“Professor Ding will bring an array of knowledge and experience that will benefit our students on the program, including his familiarity with the city of Shanghai and surrounding areas and his experience of Chinese university life when he was a college student at Nanjing University,” said Joan Gillespie, ACM Vice President and Director of Off-Campus Study Programs.
“He was also closely involved during the planning stages of the new program and traveled to China with [ACM President] Chris Welna and me to visit potential sites for the program,” she added. “So he knows his way around and will be able to effectively work with our colleagues at East China Normal University.”
Ding plans to arrive about two weeks before the students to make sure arrangements are set at ECNU, from meeting students when they arrive at the airport to settling into the residence halls to orientation activities that will familiarize students with their new surroundings.
He will take a similarly personalized approach to supervising students in their independent study projects, with weekly individual meetings to get to know their interests and the topics they might want to explore.
Once the topic is set, Ding said, “I will recommend to the students what resources they might use. They’re taking content courses from local faculty, so it would be natural to talk with those faculty members. Also, [ECNU] is a big university with a lot of experts, and we can connect students with them.”
To wrap up the student’s projects and the semester, Ding said he expects to organize an event to give the students an opportunity to present their research to their peers, the university community, and the public.
- Shanghai: Perspectives on Contemporary China
- Liang Ding’s Macalester college profile
- Shanghai’s Unique Advantages for Studying in China — Comments on the ACM Shanghai Program by three professors: Liang Ding (Macalester College), Weihong Du (Knox College), and Hannah Schell (Monmouth College)
- Visiting Faculty Director position available for the Shanghai Program in fall 2016