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Office of the President Emeritus
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Educational Exchange and International Understanding

October 10, 2002

Remarks by President James Wright; October 10, 2002 at Beijing Normal University

Thank you.

I am deeply honored to be here today and to receive the award of "Honorary Professor" from such a distinguished university.

It is a privilege for me to extend congratulations on behalf of Dartmouth College to Beijing Normal University on your 100th anniversary. The American poet Emily Dickinson wrote in one of her poems:

We never know how high we are
Till we are asked to rise
And then if we are true to plan
Our statures touch the skies.

In the past 100 years, Beijing Normal has truly touched the skies. This institution has educated thousands of teachers and has played a critical role in the important social and educational reforms of your nation. Consistent with your motto you have truly "studied to teach and have acted by example."

One of the examples that you have set is in your commitment to educational exchange and international understanding. As institutions of higher learning, Beijing Normal and Dartmouth College must foster the creative interchange of ideas. Our students and our faculty learn through their exposure to new ideas and new situations.

I am an American historian by training. My particular scholarly area of interest is the history of US political parties and reform movements as well as the history of the American West. I have written on the Populists and the Progressives and have an abiding interest in the ways in which popular, grassroots movements have had an impact on the history of the US. Today, of course, I am an academic administrator, but I am also still a historian. My passion for the past continues, albeit with more of a focus on the history of my institution and the ways it has reflected national themes -- and even helped to shape them.

Dartmouth and BNU, and indeed any institution of higher learning, do not exist in isolation from the history of their country "” indeed they are very much of the world. President Zhong Binglin noted in his address at your Centennial that "the one hundred year's history of Beijing Normal University not only epitomizes the development of Chinese contemporary higher education on teacher training, but also acts as a lively historical record of the ways which the Chinese have been exploring to modernize China by promoting education." For the past 100 years, Beijing Normal, whatever its name has been, has focused on its purpose "” the education of teachers and this university has played a key role in providing academic leadership.

Let me tell you a little more about the history of my institution. Founded in 1769, on the eve of the American Revolution, the last colonial college, Dartmouth has grown alongside the nation for the past 233 years. Like BNU, the history of the College has helped to shape that of the US; more often, the nation's history has shaped the College's trajectory.

Many of our graduates played a critical role in determining those histories. In the Dartmouth College Case of 1819, Daniel Webster, one of our most distinguished alumni, defended the school's independence against the state of New Hampshire. The case is considered one of the most important and formative in United States constitutional history because of the way it protected private contracts from the infringements of the state. Daniel Webster went on to become one of the foremost statesmen of his time.

During the American Civil War, hundreds of Dartmouth graduates (652) went off to fight for the Union in support of democratic republican government and in opposition to slavery, although the president of the College at that time, Nathan Lord, was a defender of slavery. Embarrassed by their president and his views, the Trustees of the College, finally forced Nathan Lord to resign his position in 1863.

The history of Dartmouth College, and indeed of American Higher Education in general, is about more than just the history of individual graduates. It is rather a story of expanding accessibility, of expanding opportunities. Dartmouth was founded as an institution to educate Native Americans and was one of the first to admit African Americans when Edward Mitchell was admitted in the 1820s. Daniel Webster was white, but he came from a poor farming family and his family made enormous sacrifices to send him to College.

In the late nineteenth century, Dartmouth began to admit students from across the country and even the world, including China "” Lin-Yi Ho from Shanghai arrived in 1907 and studied at Dartmouth for one year. Through the early 20th century, the College expanded its scholarship programs to ensure that qualified students from poor families could attend. A generous scholarship program ensured that any qualified student could attend Dartmouth regardless of their financial background and today, Dartmouth remains one of only a handful of schools across the United States that admits students regardless of family income and then meets 100 percent of a student's need.

American institutions of higher education have opened their doors to people from all walks of life. In the 1960s and 1970s Dartmouth recommitted itself to its charter goal by enrolling more African American and Native American students. In the early 1970s Dartmouth began to admit women. Today, 50 percent of undergraduate students are women, 30 percent are students of color, and 6 percent are international students. This is the highest that it has been.

Dartmouth's commitment to diversity is about more than simply educating students from diverse backgrounds. Students like Lin-Yi Ho and all the international students we enroll today enrich Dartmouth by their very presence. Our students learn so much from each other and the more diverse our student body the more they learn.

Education must be about more than enabling personal ambition and the education of individuals. Our students go out into the world carrying with them a commitment to education and to service. One purpose we have advanced at Dartmouth is internationalism "” which is about thinking beyond the parochial and the personal. President Jiang Zemin said at your recent centenary celebration "educational innovation should be geared . . . towards the outside world and towards the future." And he went on to say that we must "keep an eye on the general trend of education throughout the world and draw upon the fruits of different civilizations and other countries' good experience." This is a good advice for all of us.

Dartmouth's own history with China underlines this very theme. Charles Daniel Tenney graduated from Dartmouth in 1878, and in 1882 he came to China. He came as a missionary with all of the preconceptions and misunderstandings of the West. But he quickly grew to love this country and he decided to stay and to bring up his own children here. He proposed to devote himself to education. After just a couple of years, he left the mission and established a school for Chinese children. President Jiang said here that "teachers are important creators and disseminators of knowledge who bridge the past, present, and future." Charles Tenney was one such teacher.

He soon came to the attention of Li Hung Chang and later still was appointed by the Chinese government as president of Peiyang University, a position he held for 10 years. Peiyang, which later became Teintsin University, was the first modern university in China, founded in 1895. Dr. Tenney developed a great reverence for Chinese ideals and the Chinese people and always worked to further the education of the young.

Education must not only expand opportunity it must also expand knowledge, and this process requires an openness to new ideas. While Dr. Tenney helped to carry western educational ideas to China, other scholars began to bring Asian ideas to Dartmouth. American colleges and universities began to introduce what today we call the social sciences - economics, modern history, anthropology, sociology, and political science - as well as modern languages into the curriculum in the late nineteenth century. The then president of Dartmouth, William Jewett Tucker, insisted that students needed to know more about the world they lived in and he set out to broaden the educational experience for his students. As part of this plan, he introduced the study of Asian languages, literature, history, and philosophy, and by so doing, Dartmouth became one of the first American institutions to have an Asian Studies program.

One of the new professors he hired was Konichi Asakawa, himself a Dartmouth graduate. Born in Nihonmatsu, Asakawa was the first Japanese student to enroll at Dartmouth in 1895. An impressive scholar and a brilliant linguist, Asakawa followed his Dartmouth degree with a Ph.D. from Yale, and then returned to Dartmouth to develop one of the first Asian Studies programs in the United States. He taught classes on East Asian civilizations including Chinese culture and history. Although Asakawa left to join Yale University, Dartmouth's commitment to Asian Studies remained.

In 1921, Dartmouth hired David Lattimore, the brother of Owen Lattimore the renowned scholar of Chinese and East Asian affairs. David Lattimore was a well-known Asian specialist in his own right and, twenty years later, was instrumental in bringing another noted Chinese scholar to Dartmouth, one who further strengthened the program and expanded knowledge in the United States.

In 1942 Dartmouth hired Professor Wing-Tsit Chan. Born in Kwangtung, China, Professor Chan graduated from Lingnan University (one of the 17 Christian universities founded at the beginning of the 20th century) in 1924 and received his Ph.D. in Philosophy and Chinese Culture from Harvard University in 1929. He went back to Lingnan University where he served as the Dean of the Faculty from 1929 to 1936 and then taught in Hawaii before coming to Dartmouth in 1942 where he stayed until 1966. Professor Chan was an extremely important scholar and was one of the most respected and popular faculty members at the College. His classes were always heavily enrolled and he helped Dartmouth to develop an extremely strong program in Asian Studies that remains one of our distinguished programs today. It was this program that assumed the leadership role in establishing our BNU initiative in 1982 and overseeing it since then.

For twenty-four years as a professor of Chinese culture and philosophy at the College, Professor Chan published six books and numerous articles, commenting on and translating important source materials and promoting the study of Chinese philosophy in the US. His thoughtful comments on international relations and China "” past and present "” did much to promote better understanding. His book A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy in the United States continues to be one of the most used reference works in the West.

Charles Tenney and Wing-Tsit Chan serve as models for our best aspirations "” they traveled enormous distances in their quest for knowledge and both became teachers who encouraged hundreds of other students to open their minds and hearts to different ideas and cultures. And their influence did not stop there. Both Tenney and Chan worked to encourage the development of educational institutions where they worked. While Dr. Tenney helped to found and encourage the modern university in China, Professor Chan helped to introduce the field of Chinese philosophy into the United States. Both encouraged greater understanding in their host country of their native countries. It is only through studying to understand different cultures that we begin to fully understand the issues that confront us.

This is a tradition that we are proud to continue today. This year marks the 20th anniversary of collaboration between Dartmouth and BNU. In 1982, we began a program that brought a group of undergraduates from a single American college, led by a faculty member, to China to do on-campus study at BNU. This was one of the first such program of its kind between an American institution and the People's Republic of China. I was pleased, as Dartmouth's dean for the Social Sciences, working with Professors Mowry and Blader, to assist in establishing the program in 1982.

Over the past 20 years, Dartmouth has sent about 400 of our own undergraduates to study on BNU campus via the college's summer Beijing Foreign Study Program. Since the mid-1980's, the College has also sent about a dozen recent graduates to teach English at BNU. We have also been privileged to have had 13 visiting professors from BNU teach at Dartmouth. This year and last we are honored to have Professor Bai Quan with us

While our exchange program with BNU is thriving, so too is the scholarship in Asian Studies. As just one example, let me tell you about Professor Sarah Allan and Professor Robert Henricks who are collaborating with Chinese scholars "” Professor Li Bo-qian and Professor Li Xue-qin of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences' institute of History "” on the recently excavated ancient manuscripts from Guodian. As the first stage of this project, they held an international conference at Dartmouth that coincided with the release of a recently discovered text of the Laozi in May of 1998.

We must continue to give our young people the opportunity to visit and to study abroad so that they can more fully appreciate the other civilizations and cultures. Beijing Normal, like Dartmouth, has links with hundreds of other universities and institutions worldwide and welcomes scholars and students from all over the world.

In addition to 36 faculty and researchers, Dartmouth currently has 117 students from China studying as either undergraduates or graduate students in the Medical School, the Engineering School, or in the Arts and Sciences. And while we provide these students with an excellent education, they enrich Dartmouth also. They add immeasurably to the educational experience of all the other students who are lucky enough to work with them or live with them or become friends with them.

When your faculty members return from a year at Dartmouth, and when our students return from BNU they have been enriched in many ways. They will have increased their knowledge; but more important still, they will have established personal friendships that will last a lifetime and will have a tremendous impact on the future of our two countries. As we enter the 21st century, this commitment to a wider world remains an even more critical part of Dartmouth and Beijing Normal. We must encourage the exchange of faculty and students and also the exchange of ideas.

International issues remain of central concern for our institutions and our graduates. We cannot afford to neglect this part of our students' education, and we must be aware of our responsibilities in this area. If our students are to become leaders in an increasingly global economy, we must provide them with the experiences that prepare them for this.

What is more, as we seek to prepare graduates for careers in government, law, and business "” to name just a few broad areas "” the curriculum must introduce students to international issues and enable them to understand the world community. The most prominent institutions in this century will be those that are most heavily involved with the international exchange of both students and faculty members.

Off campus study provides an important component of such an education. Such programs enable our students to appreciate different cultural settings and few today would deny the importance of these experiences in furthering our students' understanding of the world. Any institution that is striving to play a leading role in education must also make a major commitment to internationalism. A school's reputation depends in part on having a faculty that is recognized not just nationally, but internationally.

The poet Robert Frost, who attended Dartmouth for a time in the 1890s, observed in his famous poem "Mending Wall," "Something there is that doesn't love a wall/ That wants it down." He reminded us that before we build or fix a wall, we need to ask what we are "walling in" and what we are "walling out." Yesterday, we visited the Great Wall at Badaling that was constructed during the Ming dynasty to keep out invaders from the North. In New England we also have historic walls "” stone walls constructed two or three hundred years ago by New England farmers to keep in their livestock.

I know that we in New England treasure our historic walls and that the same is true for you in China. But perhaps, rather than walls, bridges would serve as a more appropriate metaphor of our relationship. We learned yesterday from our guide Xiao Kai that, in fact, walls like the one at Badaling did not simply serve as barriers but as meeting places for people on both sides to come together. We are very pleased that we have found a bridge to China and we are proud of our affiliation with BNU. We hope that our relationship will continue for many years to come.

Thank you.

Last Updated: 8/21/08