30th Anniversary of the Chinese Department at Middlebury

Middlebury’s Chinese Department kicked off its 30th anniversary festivities today with a panel entitled, “China Update.” I found the panel engaging and quite inspiring for a beginning Chinese student. I’m not one to really buy into the hype of this department being the best in the country in teaching undergraduate Chinese but today’s alumni showing is quite convincing. Why? Because the panelists talked eloquently on how their grasp of the Chinese language is an integral part of their careers and lives.

David Dewey (’79) talked about how he was in Taiwan and then in China collecting Chinese antiquities. Elizabeth Knup (’82) was particularly knowledgable about doing business in China as the director of the China division of Kamsky Associates (consulting). Taylor Fravel (’93) was the Chinese Politics academic on the panel coming from MIT. Matt Holmes (’99) talked about the difficulties of the media/publishing sector in China for Bertlsmann Corp of Germany. Anna Bautista (’03) spent time delving into the work of the National Committee on U.S-China Relations (where two or three of the panelists also spent time…). Mike Hatch (’03) is the only foreigner working for a Chinese art auction company.

There were plenty of political and economic questions for the group but the intriguing question that all the students wanted to know was: what are the prospects for students studying Chinese now? And overwhelmingly the answer was that the prospects are good. Granted it is a time of continued, and some would say unsustatinable/overextended, economic boom for China, the panelists did not see China going away any time soon, in any category. The demand for Westerners who can speak good Chinese (apparently, natives are still impressed when foreigners can speak good Chinese) will continue to grow even as there is a large supply of educated English-speaking Chinese people. The demand for the Western viewpoint and approach will be different than the demand for the Chinese approach, regardless of language.

Overall, the panel discussion cemented in the fact that I’m in for the long haul in learning Chinese. So far, I’ve been at it four or five weeks but at least this proves there is some light at the tunnel, the “best undergraduate Chinese program in the country” tunnel.