Monday, December 20, 2010

English and Chinese Languages

In 1991 2000 foreigners were studying Mandarin Chinese. In 2005, there were 117, 600 studying the Chinese language. Interest in Mandarin Chinese is growing at a tremendous rate. Deborah Fallows, author of the recently published book, DREAMING IN CHINESE: MANDARIN LESSONS IN LIFE, LOVE, AND LANGUAGE (Walker Publishing 2010), shows us that learning a language is also learning a people. Studying how a culture forms words also shows you how a people form the culture. And this language study is worth pursuing.

Learning this language has had its challenges for me. I remember the time I was leading worship in the small chapel outside Taipei city and in a great moment of Christian, liturgical energy on an early Sunday morning, I admonished those 20 faithful worshippers to stand up, greet the new day, and worship the pig. The Chinese word for "Lord" and "pig" are the same sound, differing by only one tone! They all laughed and so did I when I realized my error. More stories abound about my language errors. Will save them for later and some for my own personal diary!!

I am filled with deep gratitude for my Chinese language teachers both past and present. For my teachers at the Taipei Language Institute (TLI), Wang Taitai, Lyou Taitai, and so many others. For my honorable teacher and dear dear sister-friend, Tung Yi Ping, who now lives in New Jersey and still helps me with my language while I watch over her precious daughter, Justine, a first year student at Wake Forest. For the Chinese language professors at Wake Forest, Professor Shi, chair of the East Asian Language Department, and Professor Hu, a recent addition to our faculty, I am especially thankful. I have been able to audit Mandarin language courses at Wake Forest this fall and will continue to do so in the spring.

In 1977 when I first moved to Taipei Taiwan I went to visit a missionary friend who was soon retiring after over 30 years of work in Taiwan. I walked into her home, saw the packing boxes all around, and noticed the dining room table where language books were scattered around and her Chinese language teacher was giving one more lesson in the language. Learning Chinese takes a long long time. Learning to speak in simple conversation, however, takes only a few months. For those of us watching this sleeping lion, Jung Gwo (China), wake up to the modern realities of a global market and politics, it is certainly worth pursuing. For those of us who want to understand a group of people so that we can better understand ourselves, it is absolutely necessary!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Courage to Learn!

I believe that education is one of the most important gifts that we can give the next generation. But for many people, that gift has been given with a tremendous sacrifice. I carry in my mind and heart so many stories of education and sacrifice that I heard while traveling in China this month.

I remember the student who told me about how his grandparents, both honored scholars and teachers, suffered greatly during the Cultural Revolution. His grandfather, a Chinese scholar, was killed by young soldiers--students of his grandmother. When the young student soldiers realized that they had killed the husband of their esteemed and honored teacher, they begged for her forgiveness, weeping and falling prostrate in front of her house in deep sorrow for what they had done. This grieving widow, an esteemed Chinese teacher, had a choice as she faced her own students, the murderers of her husband, at the front door of her house. She could choose to resent them forever and not forgive them for their actions, choosing to live the rest of her days in anger and resentment, or to forgive them and keep open the path of acceptance open for the generations to follow. She forgave them. She survived this difficult time in China's history by forgiving her own students who had murdered her own husband. What courage! Although her own children would not have access to the educational opportunities that she had in her own generation, her grandchildren would. And she would make sure that it happened. And now, her grandson who tells me this story is preparing to come to the USA to study to honor his grandparents and their love for education.

His grandmother, still active in the leading the family, organizes her family members, gathers all of the family financial resources, prepares her family to make additional sacrifices in order to educate the next generation. This family now is preparing to send the third generation, her bright young grandson, who brings such great honor to the family by choosing the scholarly profession of the family, to the United States to study.

Education takes courage! The opportunity to study is not to be taken for granted. May we remember the sacrifices others have made for us so that we could have the opportunity to study and learn.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Freedom to Choose

There is a deep mystery here--accordion sounds outside the Temple of Heaven in Beijing, China. Wish that you could have heard it! Wish that I had recorded it these happy and familiar sounds.

This instument, as some of you know, is my personal instrument of choice. Much maligned here in the USA by its immigrant status, the accordion has been the musical backdrop for waves of Irish immigrants in the early 1800s, for Germans, for Italians, for Russians. And now I discovered an accordion ensemble at one of most ancient holy sites in Beijing, China! I think that the reason that I love this instrument above all other instruments is simply because I can freely move around when I am playing it.

Unlike the baby grand piano in my music room, I do not have to be confined to one place, limited to making sounds while sitting on the piano bench. With my accordion around my neck, I can move around freely, mingle among the crowds, sing to a special friend in another corner of the room, and stand where ever I please. There is a wonderful freedom in making music with this little squeeze box on my shoulders. I can make music anywhere!

And so it is with American education. Our educational destiny in our wonderful country is not simply confined to a particular test score, geographical location, or government decision. People who live in the west can study in the east. People who spend their childhood in the north can become college students in the south. And students who study hard in high school can choose to go to school anywhere---a community college, a private liberal arts college with a denominational heritage, or a large public research university. Our destiny is not determined by a high school test.

It is in China, however. Your choice of school, your job, your destiny hinges on one test taken at the end of high school--the "gaukau--the high test." That little number manages your future. A certain number on that test determines how you will spend the rest of your life. The pressure is great. The challenges are real. And that is why so many Chinese high school students are choosing to consider the USA as a place to study because we still hold on dearly to our precious gift to one another and the world--the cherished freedom of choice. The ability to choose our own destiny is based on the level of our own industry, our passion, our love to go or stay, our personal sense of mission. With over 4000 top-rated US colleges and universities in the world, we have a choice in determining where we will study, what we will do, and who we will be with the rest of our life. And for that freedom, I am so very thankful. And for those Chinese students who want to join us in our educational centers, we say welcome. Come shape your destiny here and return to your country with an education that will help you forge your own country's future. Perhaps our understanding of our cherished freedom of choice just might be contagious.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Compact Contradictions--China and WFU

Mandarin Chinese is so nimble and so deep. The language forms new words by combination of several existing words. For example, when the steam engine train was introduced to China, the name in Chinese was simply, "fire car--hwo che". Or take the English word "computer", for example. The computer is not a Chinese invention but yet is not given a foreign word like "computer." Rather the language wrapped an even more interesting set of meanings around this new concept and called the machine that I am using right now this minute, "an electric brain--dyan nyau." The language is nimble.

Mandarin Chinese is also deep. The language can take two opposite forces, antonyms or compact contradictions, and form a new meaning while holding the opposition. The basic assumption is the Chinese understanding of yin and yang, which is the basic assumption of Chinese philosophy--that life is lived within the balance of feminine and masculine, moon and sun, passive and active, etc.

While traveling recently in China, I kept a log of those words that hold these opposing forces in tandem, like dung (east) and syi (west) form dungsyi (which means thing or matter); or hao (good) and hwai (bad) form haohwai (which means quality); or dzou (left) with you (right) form dzouyou (which means approximately, nearly or about). In other words, two opposing words come together to make meaning.

Wake Forest University also describes itself using words that are nimble and deep--compact contradictions. Wake Forest University is a collegiate-university ( a college and a university, small in size but large in resources. Wake Forest University believes in the teacher-scholar model ( a faculty member who has the ability to communicate knowledge in the classroom as well as produce new knowledge). Wake Forest affirms the liberal arts tradition while embracing professional education.

And so we go---learning about life, language, and strong universities with the power of opposites.
May we be as nimble and deep in our own personal understanding of our world.


Another opportunity to be in China and I am so thankful. I will have much to tell you in the next few days while I reflect on all that I saw and experienced.
The trip began in Beijing-my first time to visit this important governmental city. I could not believe that I was standing in Tienamen Square. I stood there and remembered those days in 1989 when this place became known to the world. This spot has been important for Chinese history for several thousand years and continues to be a place that is honored and remembered for many many reasons. I joined the massive crowds as we walked around this place and remembered. In the next few days, while still on Asian time, I hope to reflect on all that I saw and note it here. I spent 15 days in China on this trip--four in Beijing, 10 in Guangdong province, and 1 day in Hong Kong before leaving to return home for Christmas. I met with so many Chinese young people, listened to their plans for their future, their love of their country, visited high schools, public and private, and colleges and universities. I know of their desire for excellence in education. A thirst for knowledge is a part of their past and will be an important part of their future. I have many impressions. More to come.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


The large lecture hall at the Shantou Jintai Middle School was filled with middle school students. They had been sitting for almost two hours. And they were very restless. Polite but restless--they were small children. As a representative of Wake Forest University and in alphabetical order, I was the last of ten speakers to take the lecturn. I stood up to speak, the final presentation of a long morning. I knew that that I would have to work very hard just to keep their attention for ten more minutes.

I began my presentation by saying in Mandarin, "Wo shr laushr" ( I am a teacher). And the room quietened. No hushed talking in the back of room, no moving around in the chairs. They were so very quiet. You could almost hear a pin drop. Those three words quietened the room. They did not know me, but they knew the role of TEACHER! I did not need fancy powerpoints, no introductory joke, no cute story to catch their interest at the beginning of the speech. I just simply said, almost in passing, that "I am a teacher." That was enough to quieten the entire room filled with tired, restless, middle school students who had been sitting for several hours and were ready to move on. Something happened when they heard the word "TEACHER." What was it?

What is in this Chinese culture that would pay that much attention and respect to the title of teacher? What is in the Chinese cultural world view that mandates when the teacher enters the room, the students must stand in respect. I saw it in Taiwan in the late 1970s while visiting schools in Taipei. The students were sitting at their desks waiting for class to begin. The teacher entered the room after the class has settled. And every single Chinese student stood with head slightly bowed when the teacher entered the room that morning. The students stayed in attention until they were acknowledged. Then they quietly sat down. And the learning began!

So in this spirit, I stand up from my chair with a slightly bowed head this day to honor Mrs. Wilson, my first grade teacher who taught me the love of reading and how to appreciate the smell of books; to Mrs. Davidson, who helped me think about leadership; to Drs. Ralph McLain, Allen Page,and Roger Crook, who took my adolescent mind to a collegiate level; to Dr. Alan Culpepper, who helped me learn to write. To Dr. Jennings Waggoner, who opened the world of higher education to me and reintroduced me to his alma mater, Wake Forest University, and to all teachers everywhere.

And the Master Teacher placed this honor in right perspective: "You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you (John 13:14-15).

Think of that kind of world where students bowed to teachers, teachers washed students feet, and then students washed the feet of one other.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Confucius is Still Alive in China!

Martin Jacques, author of When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order, claims that even during the "Maoist period, Confucian values and ways of thinking continued to be influential, albeit in some subterranean form, remaining in some measure the common sense of the people" (New York: Penguin Press, 2009, p. 200). Jacques believes that Confucian ways of thinking are currently being revived "and scrutinized for any light that they might throw on the present, and for their ability to offer a moral compass" (200-1). First brought to light in imperial China through the life and teachings of Confucius and his disciples(551-479 BCE), these ancient thoughts appear to be the bedrock assumptions of culture both past and present in China. historical past. Two important continuities--the parental role of the state and the central place of education-- are maintained, regardless of the political structures of dynasty, republic, or communism. The bedrock philosophical assumption of Confucianism is a strong optimistic anthropology, namely that people are basically good (which goes against the grain of a more western, Augustinian view of humankind) and if brought up with proper parental guidance and education, children will have the appropriate responses for a harmonious family and society (199).

And I think that I saw it. Confucius was still speaking even in 2010 in China. At the Shenzhen Foreign Language School in the Guangdong Province, students learned in an atmosphere surrounded by aphoristic sayings of Confucius. Beautiful plaques on the wall said that education really mattered. The one that first caught my attention was the one in the conference hall where we first met the Chinese educators and some of the students. I looked up and saw these words: 'jyau sywe shang jang" translated means "teaching others teaches yourself." Others stated, "The spring wind brings up (educates) all things" (chun feng yu wu) and "Though growing up through mud and dirt, be not polluted" (wu ni bu ran). The spirit of learning has not been stamped out by the fierce cataclysms of political and social change. The opening words of The Analects of Confucius, a collection of brief aphoristic fragments compiled years after the death of Confucius, attest to the importance of study, and the importance of studying abroad, providing inspiration for 21st century China and our own United States of America.

"The Master said, 'To learn and at due times
to repeat what one has learned, is that not
after all a pleasure?
That friends should come from
afar, is this not after all delightful? (The Analects, Book 1.1)

Monday, April 5, 2010

Exporting Our Industries; Importing Their Industry!

I have been to China--to Da Lu (the Big Land), to Jung Gwo (the Middle Kingdom. I traveled around the Five Economic Zones of the Guangdong Province, north of Hong Kong, and was truly spellbound. Riding in the bus across major highways with clever clover loops, traveling down small country roads flanked with green patches of vegetables and tea plants, walking down city sidewalks filled with people rising to work with the strength of the tall buildings in the morning horizon, my thoughts stayed in motion. I visited high schools, huge campuses with residential housing for students and apartments and cafeterias for teachers, as well as smartly-designed classroom space. I have many impressions. And the words are now coming.

The first one to share with you is the imbalance of trade. Yes, I saw the shipping containers at the port filled with exports ready to come to the West. I saw the increased wealth taken from our American cities---the evidence of high priced cars and luxury apartments in the furniture manufacturing district of Foshan. And yes, I compared that vision with the one that I know well in Martinsville Virginia where acres and acres of furniture manufacturing sites remain empty, once-vibrant shopping malls are now parking lots filled with grass, and the people who depended on a good living making furniture at the factory are without hungry and without work. Yes, I thought about all of those inequities as we traveled through the province. And I remembered what T. Friedman said when he spoke on Wake Forest University's campus a few weeks ago, "For China, we are roadkill." The imbalance is obvious. But who can stop that? For those industrial sites, although running at top speed now, will begin to slow when those Chinese workers demand a higher standard of living as they move into the middle class. And the production cycle will move to Vietnam, Indonesia, and other places with a cheaper labor pool. But the inequity between our two countries was more troubling than just empty or full manufacturing sites.

They have our industries and our industry. And we are lagging way behind. Simply stated, while we have been exporting our industrial age to China, we could have been importing their industry, their hard work ethic, their desire to learn, their willingness to work at menial labor for the good of their family, their hunger. That desire that we as Americans used to have has also gone off shore. And that is my lament.

For this is what I saw. I saw Chinese young people in the Guangdong Province, thousands of them, wanting to come to the United States to study. No, they did not want to come to taste the good life, to simply buy a new car and an American house. Those ambitions are being fulfilled in their own hometown because the so-called good life is coming to them. The streets are filled with Mercedes and signs of increasing wealth are everywhere. These young people who came to the information sessions and listened to the presentations are wanting to come to the United States because we still have some of the best universities in the world. And these students want to learn. They want to improve their mind, to increase their understanding of how life works, to gain skills in medicine, business, and some even in the liberal arts. They were hungry to learn. They were motivated to study. They wanted more.

What if we could import that? What if we could in trying to balance the trade between the two countries say we will give you our textile industry if you will give us your industry, your willingness to study extra hours in the evening, to sit through a class and not complain about the reading assignment, to actually understand that learning is hard work and takes great discipline but is essential for the well-being of an individual and certainly for the development of a country.

China, you now have our industries; in return we want your industry! We want our young people to be as hungry to learn as yours are. It is only fair.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Visting Guandong China in March

I am on my way to Guandong Province, China. I will be visiting five major cities in this most exciting area: Guangzhou, Foshan, Shenzhen, Shantou, and Zhuhai. I will be visiting high schools in each of these areas, meeting with bright, young Chinese students who are looking to USA universities and colleges for their collegiate preparation. I will be telling the story of Wake Forest University to educators, parents, and high school students. This opportunity enables me to weave an early thread of my life back into these years. From 1977-1981, as some of you know, I lived in Taipei, Taiwan and spent a lot of time learning a challenging language for most Americans--Mandarin Chinese. And now, after all of these years, I am able to use those language skills in my work in higher education. Those years I worked with Chinese friends in congregations and worship centers, challenging others to consider the power of faith and spirituality in their life and work. I am still about this process after all of these years but with a different focus. I am delighted to be thinking about the power of education and the opportunities for transformation that learning can bring about. Education can bring about change and can create common opportunities and colloboration for a successful future for both China and the United States. I am delighted to have this opportunity. I will try to provide impressions of this most interesting culture and their place in this ever-changing global market.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Fierce Landscapes: A Study in Appalachian Religion

I spent two weeks in early January with 22 students from Wake Forest, Emory, Yale, Wesley Seminary, Southern Lutheran Seminary, and the Washington National Cathedral exploring various aspects of Appalachian Religion. Check out facebook page, group site,"Fierce Landscapes: A Study in Appalachian Religion," if you are interested. There you will see our course syllabus, required readings, and travel itinerary for the course.