Hawaii Global Links Newsletter
Social Disruption in China
Friday, 18 September 2009

The UH School of Social Work sees opportunities to help.

When one thinks of opportunities in “China”, one is likely to think of “business.” In terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the nation has, after all, propelled its economy into second place--behind the U.S., but ahead of Japan.

But over the past decade, other opportunities outside of the sale of commercial products and services have opened up, many of these an unfortunate consequence of “too much, too fast.” “The Environment” immediately comes to mind, as China has achieved the unenviable distinction of having the most polluted cities in the world. Taking just one breath of air in Beijing or Guangzhou will convince visitors the nation has a major problem on its hands.

Millions of Chinese live in a highly polluted environment. 

Not as easily recognizable are the social consequences. As new factories have opened, millions of workers from poor rural areas have rushed to fill jobs requiring minimal skills and unusual stamina for rock-bottom wages. The disruption to both rural and urban communities has been profound. One might ask: Have these communities been offered any input in their own development? Will they be able to guide their own destiny in the future?

Social unrest:  the number of protests has escalated as
citizens demand enforcement of their rights. 

Families, too, have been under considerable social pressure. China has rapidly evolved from a country noted for having large numbers of children, to a country where families have only one child. What are the results of this severe transition? How, for example, has this affected the care of the elderly?”

And, to choose another example, China contains 56 minority groups. What has been the impact on their populations? Going forward, how can they be provided economic opportunities, while assuring the preservation and protection of their unique cultures?

Lessening the impact of rapid economic development on
China's minority groups is a major social challenge.

Enter the University of Hawaii School of Social Work (SSW).

Regarded as one of the top institutions for social work research in the U.S., the SSW is capable of answering all of the above questions. It is particularly qualified to respond to the challenges facing minority populations, as Hawaii has a long history of mass migration to the Islands, with minority groups’ struggling to find their place—yet maintain their identities—among the general populace.

That is why, back in 2005, Jon Matsuoka, the Dean of the School and Nathan Chang, the Chairperson of the Bachelor of Social Work Program, were particularly interested in attending a meeting called by DBEDT’s Richard Bahar on China’s rapidly-growing tourism industry.

Tourism? Why would they be interested in tourism?

 “Because,” as Bahar pointed out, “There are enormous opportunities for tourism in China, but the Chinese need to develop an industry that isn’t going to trample the environment, or exploit and disrupt the lives of its ethnic minorities. In short, China needs sustainable tourism.”

The word “minorities” caught Matsuoka’s and Chang’s attention. They hadn’t been deeply involved in the visitor industry, but they knew a lot about minorities, and had established a relationship with an Asian university: Doshisha University in Kyoto, Japan. They had signed a formal agreement which provided for faculty and student exchanges, and collaborative research.

And in an occasion of pure serendipity, at about this time, the School of Social Work received a delegation from the Beijing University of Technology. “Technology” wasn’t exactly social work either, but this Chinese university, like Doshisha, wanted to establish exchange and collaborative research programs, and it had a faculty member at UH who was studying Agricultural Economics. Once again, Ag Econ wasn’t social work, but they had established a contact with an institution of higher education in China. They were getting closer to something that might really work for them.

Back to Richard Bahar who, this time, put them in touch with Dr. Xiaosong Zhang, a professor at a school called “Guizhou Normal University” in Guizhou Province, China, and who was the Director of her non-profit--Guizhou Rural Tourism Development Center (GRTDC). She had spoken to faculty at UH about collaborative research about a year-and-a-half before meeting Bahar. And, since then, she had applied to the World Bank and had received funding for a project that involved assisting the province’s numerous ethnic minorities through sustainable tourism development.

But how to assist them?

The provincial authorities recognized that the minorities could be an attraction, but it didn’t want to unleash an avalanche of tourists upon their villages. They wanted to lift them up “by their own bootstraps”, while preserving their unique culture and lifestyles. Matsuoka and Chang sensed an opportunity.

Said Chang: “China represented virgin territory for us. Importantly, there were few social policies in place despite the fact that there had been all kinds of changes going on because of the rapid economic development. We wanted to study the impact on communities and families, and make some recommendations as to how to soften that impact.”

Neither Matsuoka nor Chang had been to China or spoke Chinese. But Guizhou interested them—a lot. They went online and discovered that, for one, it is located in Southwestern China, far from Beijing. Secondly, 36.77% of the population of 39 million is composed of ethnic minorities—third largest in the country. The Han, Miao, Bouyei, Dong, Yi, Tujia, Gelao, Shui, Hui and Bai all have populations exceeding 100,000. And thirdly, it is considered the poorest province in the nation.

What about Guizhou Normal University?

“GNU” is a teacher’s university, in Guiyang, the provincial capital. According to its website (http://www.gznu.edu.cn/english/ABOUT/about_gnu.htm), it was founded in 1941 and has since developed into a major institution with 16,163 students and 1991 faculty members, offering 50 undergraduate majors and 39 M.A. programs.

Although located in a somewhat remote region, GNU has, nonetheless, successfully reached out to the world. In its own words:

“GNU is enthusiastically seeking to expand its educational resources through co-operation with schools around the world, including exchange of visiting scholars, the enrollment of international undergraduate and graduate students, academic exchanges and joint efforts in scientific research. We welcome anyone interested in discussing possible exchange programs with GNU to contact the Department of International Relations.”

Indeed, it has already made considerable progress in its global efforts, having attracted international students from such countries as the U.S., the U.K., Korea, Japan, Holland, France and Nigeria, and having formed ties with more than 30 universities and research institutes in the U.S., Canada, Korea, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, France and Italy.

What next?

SSW began communicating with Dr. Zhang and received an invitation to visit her home base. Matsuoka and Chang packed their bags for China. GNU staff met them at the Guizhou airport and whisked them off to the university. On their way, they stared at hill tribe women lugging firewood on their heads through the crowded streets.

Comparatively small for a Chinese provincial capital (3.4 million people), Guiyang dates back to 1283 A.D. when it served as a military outpost. Since that time, it has developed coal mining, aluminum and chemical industries. Climate-wise, it’s cool and rainy, and reputed to be one of China’s least sunny cities (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guiyang). However, the presence of the ethnic minorities and the green, mountainous landscape indicate tourism potential.

Guizhou Normal University hosted a meeting  to discuss
cooperation with the UH School of Social Work. 

On July 13, shortly after arriving at GNU’s Baosan campus, Matsuoka and Chang met Dr. Zhang who introduced them to her colleagues. Then, shortly after a lunch that featured numerous high-powered maotai toasts (the famous Montai Distillery is located in the province), the Chinese got down to business. To the surprise of their visitors, staff produced two Memoranda of Understanding (MOU), all ready for their signatures! One was with GNU’s School of International Tourism & Culture, and the other was with Dr. Zhang’s GRTDC.

Matsuoka and Chang were taken aback by this move. In the first place, they had had no opportunity to read what they were being asked to immediately sign and, secondly, the MOUs were asking them for agreements with not just their School, but the entire University of Hawaii System, which they were not representing and had no authority to represent.

“But, not to worry,” said Chang. “When we pointed this out, they smiled. They wanted us to train tour guides! I’m not sure they really knew what the concept of social work was.”

The MOU with Dr. Zhang’s Center required only a few changes, but the agreement between GNU and SSW required major surgery. After noting the amendments, GNU staff scrambled around, retyping and reprinting the two papers. After a half hour or so, all was well, and with cameras clicking, the documents were signed.

What were the provisions?

The MOU with the GRTDC promised to “promote the tourism development, tourism training and rural village community development…” Further, after the usual “close cooperation and friendly relationship” clause, both parties agreed to hold seminars, conferences and academic lectures together; plan tourism research, management and technology, and nominate a representative who would then act as the principal contact for subsequent activities.

Under the MOU with the School of Social Work, both schools agreed to:

• Joint teaching and research activities;

• Exchange of academic materials and publications; and

• Exchange of faculty and staff members.

Importantly, SSW had inserted: “Both schools understand that all the financial arrangements should be negotiated and will depend on the availability of funds.”

The most important result of the meeting in Guizhou was
the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with UH. 

And typical of these agreements, nothing specific was agreed to: like the establishment of an actual program; starting dates; or detailed costs. That, hopefully, would come later. The MOUs simply served to get things underway.

Then it was straight away back to the airport. It was then that the contrast between Old and New China hit them. As Chang described it:

“Here we were in the middle of nowhere, at an airport about the size of Molokai’s, with few, if any, tourists around. We guessed that coffee would be available, but what they had to offer came as a complete surprise: Jamaican Blue Mountain for $12 U.S. a cup!”

Reflecting back on the experience, Matsuoka said: “We were shocked that the Chinese expected to bargain on an academic proposal! We were used to the far more careful and intricate negotiations with the Japanese, where major agreements are reached only after a long friendship and trust-building process. This was an entirely new experience.”

Chang added: “Negotiations were difficult, especially if you didn’t speak Chinese. We had a tough time reading the cues. We concluded that the best person to deal with the Chinese would be, well, Chinese. We needed to hire someone to represent us.”

That Chinese person would be Dr. Jing Guo, who had received her Ph.D. in Social Welfare in 2007 from the University of California at Berkeley, and her B.A. and M.A. in Sociology from prestigious Peking University. Her research interests were a good “fit”—social welfare policy; and family and school influences on immigrant children’s education.

Two years passed before the two sides met again. This time in Honolulu. On June 13, a delegation from GNU, headed by President Pengcheng Wu, met with Matsuoka and Chang and a group from UH/Manoa at UH’s School of Travel Industry Management (TIM School). Accompanying President Wu, were Dr. Zhang, together with Dr. Yi Yin, the Chair of the School of Life Sciences; Ms. Jun Pei, the Director of the Department of Industrial Relations; and Ms. Ping Jiang, Curator of the Department of Archives.

The second meeting:  in Hawaii at the School of Travel
Industry Management.  On the left side of the table, from
L to R, Jenny Samaan, Juanita Liu, Jon Matsuoka, Nathan
Chang and Diane Perushek.  On the right side, from L to
R, Xiaosong Zhang, Jun Pei, President Pengcheng Wu,
Yin Yi and Ping Jiang.   

In addition to Matsuoka and Chang, the UH side was represented by Dr. Jenny Samaan, the Acting Assistant Vice Chancellor for International & Exchange Programs; Ms. Diane Perushek, the Acting Associate Director of the Center for Chinese Studies; and Dr. Juanita Liu, the Interim Dean, and Ms. Rachel Soma, Assistant Director for Professional Development Programs, of the TIM School. The Americans sat on one side of a long table; the Chinese on the other, separated by American and Chinese flags.

Samaan took the lead in welcoming the visitors on behalf of UH. From the get-go, the focus would be on diversity.

“We share with your province the great cultural diversity we have,” she said. “This diversity makes us special in the U.S. and your cultural diversity makes you special in China.”

She then went on to point out how Hawaii is the only state with an Asian majority and many of those Asians come from China.

President Wu took up the theme. Noting the great number of ethnic minorities in Guizhou, “we have a unique culture,” he said. And, as in Guizhou, the Chinese came right to the point.

“Our purpose is to seek opportunities,” President Wu said. “Hawaii’s tourism industry is very valued in the world. We want to learn from you about tourism. Developing community management is important. We want exchange programs with either faculty or students. We can learn advantages from you, and you can benefit from us with cooperative agreements, with minorities, culture, and so forth.”

And then he went on to state that “our School of International Tourism has advantages among other universities. There are specific programs in world events, research and information systems.”

Liu then entered the conversation, noting that the TIM School has taken a broader view of tourism than the 100 other graduate schools of tourism in the U.S. She highlighted the School’s experience in working in different countries with their different cultures, and that UH has a long history of working in other parts of the Pacific, and with the Chinese. Indeed, Liu has been working with a visiting scholar from China whose work could have some relevance to the agreements. Associate Professor Yanqin Li of the School of Management of the Central University is conducting research on “Community Participation and Ecotourism Development in Ethnic Areas of Western China.”

During a break, Pei Jun (L) spoke with Xiaosong Zhang. 

Then, after a short discussion of student and teacher exchange programs, Dr. Zhang emphasized the need for the two sides to focus on research, as well as exchanges, particularly ecotourism management.

Matsuoka, taking a cue from that comment, asked: “How do you develop a sustainable tourism industry? Yes, you can have many hotels. But when do you reach capacity? And what is the impact on the community?”

He noted the fact that Hawaii has made mistakes, “But,” he said, “we have learned from those mistakes. We have learned that it is necessary to plan for future, sustainable growth.”

Chang then commented that the School of Social Work had, during the past two years, taken steps to implement the Guizhou MOUs by hiring Dr. Guo. “Clearly, we can learn from each other,” he said. “There are possibilities for mutual benefit.”

Everybody knows the Chinese phrase “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

Matsuoka and Chang (and their colleagues at UH) have taken that single step. In fact, they’ve already traveled thousands of miles; participated in meetings in Guizhou and Honolulu; signed two documents and hired a faculty member who will be meeting with Dr. Zhang at GNU in August.

They’ve also learned a great deal about negotiating with the Chinese, especially in the areas of language and culture, and preparing Memoranda of Understanding. They will wait to see how the meeting with Dr. Zhang goes before proceeding further. Even if it’s “full steam ahead”, they have no immediate plans to set up an office in China.

“First and foremost, our energy will be directed to Hawaii’s problems,” said Matsuoka. “But we also have an obligation to the globe. Things are changing so rapidly, we have to have a foot in that arena.”

And then, reflecting back on the negotiations with GNU, he added: “Japan, and now China. We don’t know where this will lead, but we see tremendous potential. There are lots of exciting opportunities for the work that we do well.”

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 29 September 2009 )
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