GVSU professor highlights importance of relations with China

Political science professor Yi Zhao presented his “Five Reasons We Should Learn About China” Tuesday at the Grand Valley State University Office of Multicultural Affairs as part of the Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Celebration.

Zhao has been teaching at GVSU since 2006, and he said he realized the importance of learning about China after seeing what his students already knew, did not know and assumed about the culture.

“This experience also made me realize the immense but maybe hidden benefits that our students could gain by learning about China,” Zhao said. “On the other hand, our students should also think about what they can learn from the Chinese.”

He listed five reasons why GVSU students and others should learn about China. First, Zhao said this knowledge could help students become more informed citizens. Second, it could help them have a better understanding of their own culture. Zhao also said observing China could help students become more resourceful, and it is a good way to enrich their lives. Finally, students can open the door to new opportunities by increasing their knowledge about China.

“In general, there is a gap between perception and reality,” Zhao said. “Sometimes that gap could be huge. These reasons are important because they are directly related to the career and life of our students.”

He added that the larger connections between the U.S. and China are important, especially as the two countries have created “close and deep economic ties” that are broadening today.

“The rise of China and the U.S. rebalance to Asia could result in tensions between the two countries,” Zhao said. “More than ever before, for both countries there needs to be a strong and firm commitment to cooperation, consultation and collaboration.”

Peter Zhang, assistant professor of communications, agreed with Zhao that learning about the U.S.-China relationship is important because it is “increasingly interlocked.”

“My sense is that the identities of the U.S. and China are being redefined at the moment,” Zhang said. “The U.S. can see China as a strategic partner or a potential rival, or both. The one view is a recipe for regional peace; the other, conflict.”

Zhang added that the connection between language and perception is important in shaping how we learn about China. We tend to see other countries as ideas, he said, because we are removed from the realities.

“The more our students get in touch with actual people in China, the less they’ll be inclined to speak in the voice of this or that fiction,” Zhang said. “I think it’s beneficial for students to take the initiative and go see China for themselves, simply because the real China is hidden from us by a symbolic complex.”

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