Students seek Chinese degree

(Tommy Theis)

For a year now, conversations have been in motion about implementing a Chinese Studies major into the Modern Languages Department at K-State.

Around 800 students signed the petition reading, “We Want a Chinese Major at K-State,” after Ellen Welti, junior in history, went around to classes, talked to professors, passed out flyers and even set up a table in the K-State Student Union. Because of the new elections of presidents and provost, the action is put on hold but the ideas continue to form.

Robert Corum, professor of French and department head, said they have been receiving notifications from students about the desire to have a Chinese major. He believes there will be one in the future consisting of Chinese language and culture, art, history and political science classes. The main thing right now, Corum said, is sitting down with other departments because the major will be interdisciplinary.

Business is a huge part of the importance of Chinese language and culture in the United States today, said Wei Wu, director of the Chinese program and assistant professor.

“People think that China is over there but it is here,” she said. “Look at your computer and clothes. They were made in China. The United States deficit – China loaned the money.”

According to the Kansas Department of Commerce, China is one of the major export markets for Kansas: $12.4 billion in exports to China in 2008. Kansas exports wheat and beef to China.

Kathleen Sebelius has visited China every year for the past five years to promote more opportunities for Kansas. Sebelius appointed a Kansas Task Force on Chinese Language Training since 2005 with two major goals in mind for Kansans.

The first was that all K-12 students in Kansas should have the opportunity for exposure to Mandarin Chinese by 2011, whether in traditional classroom settings or distance learning platforms. The second was that Mandarin Chinese should be one of the three most-taught languages in Kansas schools by 2016, measured both by the number of students enrolled and by the number of schools offering Chinese.

Wu feels if we do not develop a strong Chinese program at K-State, K-Staters’ future is compromised in marketing. The KU campus offers a Chinese major and that gives them a competitive advantage. It is the students, after all, who want the Chinese Studies major.

Ryan Easterling, sophomore in English, said he agrees with the other courses that would be added to the major. Although minoring in Japanese, Easterling said a Chinese Studies major would be a valuable program to incorporate, especially in conjuncture with political science or business studies.

“People think that students do not care about China or Chinese,” Wu said. “But I’ve seen the passion and the thirst for more in students.”

The primary goal is to service the students, learn their needs and prepare them for the future, she said.

Wu came here to teach Chinese five years ago. At the time, K-State had Chinese language classes and eventually a minor was created.

After three years of taking classes in the program, students can go to China to study abroad. Students often come back and want to learn more about Chinese culture, not just the language, but Chinese history, philosophy, religion, and agriculture, Wu said.

Students also want to have a major in Chinese studies to learn about how the business sector works in China.

K-State students who performed in the Chinese New Year’s festival on Feb. 14, singing, reciting poetry and performing skits in Chinese ultimately motivated students like Welti, who has been to China, to start petitioning for a Chinese major.

Welti began last year with this idea. Her little sister is adopted from China and she wanted to explore more about the culture so she started taking classes at K-State.

“The department is very enthusiastic about Chinese and I became very interested,” she said.

Last spring semester, Wu and other students aided her in this movement from not only a Chinese minor, but to a Chinese major.

“It is important because Chinese is a common native language; it seems fair if there is a Spanish, French and German as a major,” she said.

Quincie Botkin, freshman in secondary education, agrees that K-State usually promotes “diversity” and she feels like this would broaden that and offer a popular area of study.

“We almost have everything for the major, it is just a matter of putting it together,” Welti said. “If we did a Chinese Language major, we would need more literature classes and more language classes.”

Chinese has been identified as one of the five critical languages in America, Wu said.