Monday, June 23, 2008

The Chinese Are Coming!

Danwei has an English summary of an a Beijing News article about the first batch of Chinese scholars being sent to US for study in 1978. During that year, Deng Xiaoping, the new leader of China, had made two dramatic changes in China's education policy, which had been devastated during the Cultural Revolution. One was to reinstall the national college entrance exam and the other was to send scholars to the US for study.

Deng Xiaoping was quoted in the article as saying "It should be tens of thousands, not eight or ten... No matter how much money it takes, it is worth it." and "Let's send them out first. Don't worry about whether they will run away. Even if 20% of them run away, we will still have 80%." These were brave words for a country that had virtually no foreign exchange to spend at the time. It showed remarkable courage and determination of openning the doors of China on Deng Xiaoping's part.

It was a couple of years later when the physicist Tsung-Dao Lee alerted Deng Xiaoping that China did not really have to spend government money sending students abroad. They could utilize the existing scholarships in American universities to do so. The floodgate of Chinese students truely opened after that.

For the record, almost all the earliest batches of scholars had returned to China after concluding their studies in the US. Besides their sense of patriotism, they had also faced the practical problems of being relatively old in age and lacking means to stay in the US legally. Most of the younger students who followed, however, had chosen to stay in the US. After the 1989 massacre, more than 50,000 Chinese students and their family members took advantage of the Chinese Students Protection Act to permanently remain in the US.

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