This year’s China visit, hosted jointly by the Alumni Association and the Office of the President, exceeded the expectations of its organizers.
The purpose of the trip was to boost alumni relations and work toward collaboration between the University and Chinese universities.
Audiences of about 200 at receptions in Beijing, Hong Kong and Shanghai were entertained by presentations and discussions given by a delegation of University leaders.
Audience members included University alumni working in China, current University students in China for the summer and officials and faculty from Chinese universities.
LSA Prof. Kenneth Lieberthal, former director of Michigan’s Center for Chinese Studies and an expert on United States-China relations, discussed current international issues relevant to the relationships between the University and Chinese universities.
Alumni Association President Steve Grafton served as the emcee and addressed alumni relations in his introductory remarks.
University Health System CEO Robert Kelch reported on the progress of University collaboration and relations with Chinese institutions since President Mary Sue Coleman’s breakthrough visit to China a year ago.
Many attribute the progress of the University in China to Coleman’s committed approach to the alumni program. Coleman was awarded an honorary degree from Shanghai Jiao Tong University last year.
Past attempts to foster durable relationships with China were generally unsuccessful.
“All of this changed last year,” Grafton said of Coleman’s trip.
At 905 students, the University has more international students from China than any other country. Korea sends the second most at 844 students, and India comes in at a close third with 836 students.
Coordinator of China Programs Zhen Zhu said collaboration with Chinese universities assists the University’s researchers and undergraduates.
Zhu, whose position was recently created, hopes to see a growth of undergraduate programs that offer experiences interning or studying in China.
Grafton said an especially memorable part of the trip was the “Lucky Draw” held at each reception. Grafton drew several audience members’ business cards from a basket and then threw a football to the lucky guests.
The individuals selected then gathered at the front of the room and sang the University fight song, “Hail to the Victors,” in order to receive their gift.
The favorite gift was a football autographed by Head Coach Lloyd Carr, Grafton said. He said that the Lucky Draw gave “a great sense of Michigan.”
Today, the future of the relationship between the University and Chinese universities is looking especially bright, but a long history of perseverance has contributed to this.
The work toward creating a University presence in China began with the third University President, James Angell, who was Minister to China from 1880 to 1881.
Then University Regent Levi Barbour created a scholarship program in 1914 for Asian women who planned to study medicine, public health or education.
Five to eight scholarships are awarded each year.
“There are Barbour scholars everywhere in China,” said Vice President of University Relations Jo Rumsey, who has traveled to China four times on behalf of the University.
The University had made several trips during the 1900s, but a long-term commitment in China had yet to be established.
In 1998, Lieberthal was appointed Special Assistant and Senior Director for Asia on the National Security Council under former President Bill Clinton.
The University has faced difficulties finding ways to connect with alumni in China.
Grafton said much of the difficulty is generated by a lack of collaboration among various schools within the University that intend to create programs and foster relationships in China.
Before the advent and widespread use of the Internet, Grafton said, it was very difficult for alumni to maintain communication.
Transportation to and from China is also very expensive, he said.
Rumsey said sustaining alumni clubs overseas has been very difficult because of the costly and time-consuming nature of long-distance communication.
One of the most recent developments is the opening of a University office in Beijing in 2003.
Rumsey is currently composing a contact list of the participants in the recent receptions in China.