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Studying Beiwai: The Participant as Observer by Carolyn Wakeman Some of· the older graduates of Beijing's Foreign Studies Univesity (Beiwai) still today recount with pride their school's heroic origins in the cave classrooms of Yan'an where, at a branch of the Anti -Japanese Resistance University (Kangda) , despite heavy bombing and a Guomingdang blockade, English instructio~ began under Communist leadership in 1944. Some who were recruited as revol utionary cadres still recall with excitement and nostalgia the dedication they felt~and the comradeship they shared when the vision of a New China was fre'sh .and .unblemished. But for many on the English faculty that revolu~io9~ry legacy has dimmed. The fact that Beiwai students on China's first National Day marched proudly past the reviewing stand in Tiananmen Square wearing the khaki uniform of the Liberation Army, while their Beida and Qinghua counterparts were still dressed in skirts and in the long 'gowns of the traditi~nal scholar, has now become irrelevant. The revolution is past, and the institutions that sustained and propagated its ideology have fundamentally changed. No longer' a secretive training school for the Foreign Ministry , Beiwai at present offers more than six hundred English students an array of cciurses in language and literature, Western thought and cui ture, American history and society, that is certainly the most diverse and probably the most sophisticated available i~ China. All seventy-five members of the school's active English faculty have traveled abroad, and most have studied in English-speaking countries . Each year an expanded curriculum reflects the increasing professionalism of the Chinese staff. as well as the expertise of more than a dozen foreign lecturers who teach under the auspices of Fulbright program, the British Council, and the State Education Commission . Given the school's revolutionary roots, its contemptuous rejection of the curricula and methodology of the so-called Guomindang universities, and its thirty years spent preparing cadres for foreign affairs .work, the altered emphases seem dramatic. Indeed Beiwai today is actively involved in training oilmen and middle school teachers from remote provinces to speak English, thereby contributing tangibly to China's modernization. But it is also training advanced graduate students in precisely the kinds of ac~demic discourse that it used to denounce, intent as it was upon pioneering a new form of socialist higher education. Certainly the international conference on American Studies funded by the ACLS last summer, like the ambitious.new program, titled Culture and Public 41 Communication, being set up at Beiwai this fall by the Center for Psychosocial Studies at the University of Chicago, would have been utterly inconceivable before 1980. It was in 1980, at the moment when China swung wide its doors to Western learning, that I was hired as a lecturer in English literature at Beiwai. I was aware, of course, that James Joyce and T. S. Eliot had never been taught in that school, but I had no idea then that Romantic poetry, long a staple in the curriculum, had also been contr·oversial. I learned only later that one distinguished senior professor had been harshly criticized during the Cultural Revo 1uti on for having dared to teach Shel 1ey •s "Ode to the West Wind," since Chairman Mao had proclaimed that the east wind prevails over the west wind; or that another had been denounced for teaching "Paradise Lost," allegedly a clear indication of his yearning for the ~good old days" under the Guomindang regime. People laughed nervously as they told such stories then, testing my reaction, cautious in their first public disclosures of a past that until recently had been concealed from foreign view. But gradually I became familiar with the political reverberations of English studies in China, the individual histories of Beiwai'• faculty and students, and what seemed to me the symbolic, or at least symptomatic, transformation of the institute itself. In 1985 I began to interview my friends and colleagues with the thought of writing down their story. Those discussions have varied greatly in st~le, tone, length, and focus, but they have always been based upon an assumption of my shared involvement, as a foreign teacher, in the life of the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1940-5065
Print ISSN
1521-5385
Pages
pp. 41-50
Launched on MUSE
2021-05-25
Open Access
No
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