- Chinese Students Encounter America, and: Tempered in the Revolutionary Furnace: China's Youth in the Rustication Movement
Qian Ning and Yihong Pan represent different generations of Chinese students and bring vastly different personal backgrounds to their valuable and varying accounts of the fate of Chinese students over the last forty years. While Pan covers late Maoism, from the 1960s to about 1980, and thus in a real sense is writing about the "victims" of the Cultural Revolution and the subsequent rustication movement—sometimes referred to as "the lost generation"—Qian is concerned with the reform period and the "beneficiaries" of Deng Xiaoping's initiatives to open China to the outside world and allow its students to study abroad. The contrast between these different generations is clear at many points in these books. For example, Pan discusses the case of Zheng Yi. Deprived of the right to wear a Mao badge in August 1966 because he represented the "enemy class," Zheng showed his loyalty to Mao by pinning the badge directly to the skin of his chest, only removing it after an infection made it impossible to continue (p. 28). Qian in turn notes the eagerness with which so many Chinese students took advantage of President Bush's executive order to remain in the United States after June 4, 1989.
Qian's family background makes him a member of the political elite. His father, Qian Qichen, is China's former foreign minister and a vice premier until his retirement in 2003. After doing undergraduate and graduate work in Chinese literature and poetry at Chinese People's University in Beijing in the first half of the 1980s he worked for People's Daily as a reporter. In September 1989 he moved on to graduate school at the University of Michigan on a journalism fellowship, staying for five years, teaching Chinese literature and doing the interviews for this book. After his return to China he worked as a business consultant. Qian's book was originally published in China in 1996 and quickly became a best seller. Pan, on the other hand, was born in 1953 to university-educated parents who were Party members and worked as researchers in an institute under a government ministry. Thus, while she was also a member of the urban elite, with a class background of "revolutionary cadre," her parents clearly did not possess the leading cadre political credentials that Qian's father did. Sent to Inner Mongolia in 1969 as an "educated youth" (or zhiqing), she was admitted to a university in Beijing in [End Page 158] 1974 and went to a Canadian university for a Ph.D. in Chinese history in 1984. She is currently a professor at Miami University of Ohio.
Not surprisingly, given the varied backgrounds, current positions of the authors, and indeed the different purposes for writing these books, the two volumes are very different in approach and structure, albeit with some important similarities as well. Qian's book was intended for both an elite and a mass audience within China. On the mass level his book is addressed to young people eager to learn about the United States and what it was like to study there. He knew that many of his readers sought to emulate his success in gaining admission to a prestigious American university. On the elite level, and no doubt reflecting his privileged status as a taizi ("princeling"), his book is intended, albeit indirectly, to be part of the policy-making process, to offer correctives to policies he considers counterproductive to China's development strategy. Thus, early in his narrative he expresses his strong support for the decision to allow those with private financial means to study abroad (p. 28), and, in his final chapter, "To Return or to Stay," he is forcefully critical of the way many returnees have been treated...