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The China Scholars Program: Continuing a 45-year tradition of bridging Stanford and schools

China Scholars Program instructor Tanya Lee & Professor Gordon Chang

In 1972, after years of frozen relations between China and the United States, President Richard Nixon met with Chairman Mao Zedong and set the two countries on a mutually interdependent path. Only a year later, Stanford University established the Bay Area China Education Project (BAYCEP) in 1973. In 1976, three other projects (on Africa, Latin America, and Japan) were added to BAYCEP, and SPICE was established as the umbrella program of the four projects. In a 1978 paper, Dr. David Grossman, the founding director of BAYCEP and SPICE, noted the following:

Long before we knew or used the term globalization, the origins of SPICE can be traced to the growing awareness that there was a huge gap or lag between the work of scholars and the knowledge and awareness of the general public. The original impetus was the Nixon visit to China in 1972, and the realization that the general public and students were not prepared for this radical shift in geopolitics. The problem was how to bridge this profound knowledge gap… This underlying theme of making recent scholarship more accessible to the public, and particularly to K–12 teachers and schools, became the heart of the SPICE initiative, and has remained so to this day.

For 45 years, SPICE has worked to bring Stanford’s world-class scholarship on China to K–12 schools nationwide through two primary avenues: supplementary curricular materials on China and U.S.–China relations; and seminars on China and U.S.–China relations for educators in the United States. In both of these areas, SPICE has worked in collaboration with Stanford scholars, including Professor Emeritus Albert Dien, who was instrumental in the creation of BAYCEP and remains engaged with SPICE.

In 2017, SPICE added a third branch to its work on China and K–12 schools, the China Scholars Program (CSP). An online course on contemporary China and U.S.–China relations, the China Scholars Program offers high school students across the United States unique access to cutting-edge research on China. Designed and instructed by Dr. Tanya Lee, each module addresses a different theme—such as “U.S.–China political relations” or “urban/rural inequality”—and features a real-time discussion with a scholar from Stanford or another institution.

“My students amaze me with the enthusiasm and rigor they bring to the course. They understand that a comprehensive understanding of China will be essential to navigating the international careers they want to pursue,” Lee explained. In addition to keeping up with (and sometimes surpassing) rigorous reading and discussion assignments, students spend much of the term researching and writing final papers on topics of personal interest. “We challenge each other,” Lee says. “I push them to explore areas they might not otherwise have considered, and to do so critically—but they are so curious and motivated, I have to be quick on my feet to stay ahead of them!”

One of the course’s two required texts is Stanford Professor Gordon Chang’s Fateful Ties: A History of America’s Preoccupation with China (Harvard University Press, 2015). “I assign Fateful Ties because I love the ‘big picture’ it gives us to frame all of the particular, current issues we explore—not just for its historical breadth, but for the way it integrates cultural, aesthetic, and philosophical influences the U.S. and China have had on each other along with the political and economic. And then for the students to have the opportunity to actually question Professor Chang directly is extraordinary.” Other Stanford faculty who regularly participate in CSP include political scientist Professor Thomas Fingar, economist Professor Scott Rozelle, and sociologist Professor Andrew Walder.  

The China Scholars Program runs twice a year. Applications for the spring 2019 CSP course are currently being accepted. Teachers should encourage highly motivated, advanced students to apply for the opportunity to learn directly from Stanford scholars. Lee remarked, “I am honored to be a part of the legacy of SPICE’s founders in extending Stanford scholarship on China beyond the walls of the university, to equip the next generation to build new bridges.”

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