Spring Social Sciences Program 2012: Students Gain a Hands-On Understanding of China

2012 Social Sciences Program students pose during a visit to China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

April 27, 2012

In late March 2012, the undergraduate participants in our second annual Spring Social Sciences Program arrived in Beijing and delved into classes on Chinese society, political history, and economics. The students will be in Beijing for one ten-week quarter, and will combine their coursework with unique group excursions to government bureaus, companies, nongovernmental organizations, and historical sites. This year's three English-language courses are being taught by University of Chicago Professor Dali YANG ("Chinese Foreign Policy"), University of Chicago Professor William PARISH ("Chinese Society"), and Renmin University Professor TAO Ran ("China's Economic Development and Transition"); the students are also taking Chinese classes with Renmin University language faculty.

The readings and course discussions for this program are brought alive through weekly excursions to government agencies, companies, NGOs, and historical sites, plus Q&A sessions with speakers. On March 30th, the students visited the National Museum of China and the Forbidden City to investigate how China presents its own political and social history. On April 6th, the group discussed population dynamics with a Director-General of the National Population and Family Planning Commission and also visited the China Population and Development Research Center; this visit was followed on April 13th by an excursion to another top government body, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where the students spoke about policy and current events with a ministry director. The next Friday, the students shifted their focus to Beijing's fast-paced real estate market, as they visited local apartments for rent in the morning and spent the afternoon speaking with the director-general of a top national real estate agency. On April 27th, the group visited the National Bureau of Statistics and discussed the bureau's research efforts and administrative setup with a top administrator; the students also enjoyed a brief stop at the Military Museum of the Chinese People's Revolution.

After a mid-term break in which many of the students traveled throughout China, the group visited Guajiayu village in the mountains outside of Beijing on May 11th, where they met with a local leader and learned about the village's exemplary efforts at expanding its agricultural output and promoting ecotourism. The next Friday was a new media-themed day for the students, as they discussed China's vibrant "netizens" and grassroots online media use with a Renmin University journalism professor in the morning and visited the offices of Sina Weibo, China's top microblogging platform, in the afternoon. On May 25th, the student group rounded out their packed program of excursions with a morning stop at the offices of Friends of Nature, one of China's oldest and most well-respected environmental NGOs; in the afternoon, the group talked to the principal and played with students at a school for the children of migrant laborers in Beijing's Changping district.

Between Chinese classes, activities with local college student language partners, complementary classes, and thought-provoking excursions, this year's Spring Social Sciences students were able to engage critically with contemporary China during their quarter in Beijing.