Uzbekistan students admitted into top US universities

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Uzbekistan students admitted into top US universities

The number of Americans studying in China has dropped dramatically in recent years from around 11,000 in 2019 to 800 this year, and the slump is so bad that some China scholars worry the United States could lose a generation of “China experts” as a result.

David Moser, an American who has lived and worked in China for more than three decades and is the former academic director of China Educational Tours (CET) in Beijing, said that “I haven’t seen an American student in years.”

CET, which was launched in 1982, is a Washington-based organization that recruits American students for short-term language and culture studies in China. Moser said that his position as academic director recently went away and that the organization continues to struggle to get more students to return to China.

CET once carried out short-term study-abroad programs in several cities in China, including Beijing, Shanghai, Harbin and Hangzhou. Now, the program is only available in Beijing and Shanghai. Harbin’s page on the website shows that programs are “suspended until spring 2025.”

“We have already lost a very crucial generation who would need to be continuing right now in China with studies or whatever,” Moser said, “so that 10 years from now, they would already be … very experienced China hands [experts].”

During the 2011-12 school year, the number of American students in China was around 15,000. Since then, with Xi Jinping’s rise as China’s leader and growing frictions between the two countries, the number has declined, dropping dramatically after the pandemic to about 200 at its lowest point.

Loss of understanding

Moser said the lack of talented people who understand China is undoubtedly a huge loss for the United States.

“You really need people who understand the two academic systems, the two college systems, and the way these things work in order to not make a huge mistake,” he said.

Compared with China, however, CET’s projects in Taiwan are in full swing.

Moser said CET started its first summer study abroad program at National Taiwan University in 2022, which attracted more than 120 American students. He said a program was set up in Taiwan because too few American students wanted to go to China.

He said he believed that starting around 2008, when Beijing held its first Olympics, China’s pollution and human rights violations turned some American students away, and that the trend has not reversed.

FILE – A Fudan University sign is seen on the campus in Shanghai, Dec. 18, 2019.

China’s strict lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic was also a crucial turning point. At that time, many foreigners, including American students, left China. After the Chinese government suddenly lifted the lockdown at the end of 2022, most foreigners did not immediately return.

China’s increasingly aggressive posture on the international stage under Xi, and its hostile propaganda against the West at home, is likely to have prevented foreign talents from visiting China for cultural and business exchanges.

A revised counterespionage law that took effect on July 1, 2023, has also made many Americans hesitant to travel to China, let alone study there.

As U.S.-China relations deteriorate, official academic exchanges have also been coldly received. Former U.S. President Donald Trump suspended all Fulbright exchange programs to China and Hong Kong in July 2020.

After the counterespionage law negatively affected China, the Chinese government sought to extend goodwill at the level of people-to-people exchanges. Xi announced during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in San Francisco in November 2023, “In order to expand exchanges between the people of China and the United States, especially the younger generation, China is willing to invite 50,000 American young people to come to China for exchanges and studies in the next five years.”

High school students visit

In January 2024, more than 20 students from Muscatine High School in Iowa visited Beijing, Hebei and Shanghai. In March, 24 students from Lincoln High School and Steilacoom High School in Washington state also boarded a plane from San Francisco to Beijing.

Wenzhou University and Kean University in New Jersey signed an agreement to jointly establish Wenzhou-Kean University in May 2006. At the time, Xi was the party secretary of Zhejiang, home province of Wenzhou, and he attended the signing ceremony in 2006.

In a letter to Kean’s president on June 7, Xi encouraged universities in the two countries to strengthen exchanges and cooperation. However, three days later, four American teachers who were giving short-term courses at Beihua University in Jilin, China, were stabbed by a Chinese man. Chinese officials quickly deleted the relevant content on social media, and a Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson called the incident an “accident” that would not affect relations between the two countries.

Meghan Burke, a former sociology professor at Illinois Wesleyan University, said that although the attack on American teachers was a shocking and unexpected incident, she still hoped that it would not affect Americans’ confidence in studying and traveling in China.

“I think it’s always been there, but I think with the pandemic, there was some really racially loaded misinformation and fears that I wouldn’t be surprised if that came into play in some students’ and some families’ decisions about where they were willing to go abroad,” she said.

Asked about the 800 American students in China today, Burke said that was a big regret for the United States.

“Language is key to understanding culture. So, any limitations on learning Mandarin or other Chinese languages only hold back our ability to have a broader and more complex intercultural understanding and international perspective that I think benefits everyone who is involved in those conversations,” Burke said.

In contrast, 300,000 Chinese students are studying in the United States.

“Asymmetry is bad for China, but it’s much worse for the United States because asymmetry is in one direction, which is towards us,” Moser said. “The Chinese have very good knowledge of the U.S., of its culture, of its government, everything.”

Adrianna Zhang contributed to this report.

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