Spring Social Sciences Program 2013

Students at a vocational school for rural women pose for a picture with visiting UChicagoans. (Photo by Ben Ross)

May 2, 2013

A group of eleven students in the College arrived in Beijing in late March to begin a Study Abroad quarter focused on China’s history and contemporary social issues. The 2013 Spring Social Sciences Program will introduce students to China’s modern history, economic development, and societal landscape via integrated English-language courses, Chinese language classes, and unique academic excursions. This year’s program features three quarter-long courses: Professor Emeritus William Parish (UChicago Department of Sociology) is teaching “Chinese Society;” Professor James Hevia (UChicago Department of History) is teaching “History of Beijing;” and Professor TAO Ran (School of Economics, Renmin University of China) is teaching “China’s Economic Development and Transition.”

The program orientation weekend featured a talk by Professor Hevia on the layout of imperial Beijing, followed by a group visit to the Forbidden City alongside the students’ Chinese language practice partners from Renmin University of China. For their first weekly academic excursion, the students visited the Miaofengshan temple complex near Beijing with Professor Hevia. At the end of the second week of classes, which included discussions of women’s rights in the “Chinese Society” course, Professor Parish led visits to the Women’s and Children’s Museum of China and the All-China Women’s Federation. The students then spent part of their third weekend in Beijing visiting the Great Wall at Mutianyu.

Led by Professor Hevia, the students also visited Chengde, the summer capital of Qing Dynasty emperors. The students packed trips to the Imperial Summer Villa, the Puning Temple, the Small Potala Palace, and the Pule Temple into their weekend in Chengde, after delivering group presentations in class on these historical sites.

The Social Sciences group visited a state-owned automotive factory after their fourth week in Beijing, before dispersing for independent travel to locations such as Guilin and Shanghai during their mid-term break. Once they returned to Beijing after the May labor day holiday, the group visited the Rural Women's Training School on the outskirts of the city and spoke with its founder, Professor Wu Qing, before meeting the school's students.

Professor Ren Hailong, a translator and linguist teaching at Beijing Language and Culture University, delivered a lecture to the Social Sciences class on Chinese humor and social media. Further excursions included a visit to the Beijing Planning Exhibition Hall, the historic Qianmen alley neighborhood, and an independently constructed new village area on the outskirts of Beijing. As the program wound down, the students took advantage of the Center's quarterly alumni career panel to learn from the experiences of UChicago alums in China. The quarter's final excursion day brought the group to the Temple of Heaven and the Ancient Observatory on the old city wall at Jianguomen; the afternoon culminated in a visit to the nearby Red Gate Gallery to speak with founder and Beijing arts scene stalwart Brian Wallace.

This year's dynamic Social Sciences students went beyond the roster of excursions to further explore Beijing, enjoying restaurants all over the city and organizing independent trips to cultural sites such as the Ming Tombs and Olympic Park.