Long a center for Chinese studies, UW-Madison to host language, culture conferences this week

Hundreds of scholars of Chinese language and culture will gather at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, long a center for Chinese studies, on May 5 and May 6 for a pair of prestigious international conferences.

It will be the 26th annual meeting for the International Association of Chinese Linguistics and the 20th International Conference on Chinese Language and Culture. Scholars from all over the world are expected to attend.

“UW-Madison has been one of the most important centers for Chinese studies for several decades,” said Hongming Zhang, a professor of Asian languages and cultures on campus and organizer of the conferences.

It is one of only 17 U.S. universities to offer bachelor’s and master’s degrees and doctorates in Chinese studies, Zhang said. “Chinese language has a long history on this campus.”

UW-Madison, in fact, hosted the linguistics conference in 1995 and Zhang later was secretary of the association for 14 years.

UW-Madison established a major in Chinese language in 1962, said Rania Huntington, also a professor in the Department of Asian Languages and China.

“That is very early by North American standards,” she said.

And in the 1970s, Chancellor Irving Shain was a leader in academic engagement with China, Huntington said.

Shain founded a thriving student exchange program in 1979, the year after China opened its doors to the west as part of an economic reform program. He led delegations to China and welcomed Chinese scholars to Madison, and helped place American students at Chinese universities.

The number of Chinese students at UW-Madison grew in the decades since and has risen sharply in recent years.

UW-Madison enrolled 3,028 international students from China this academic year, up 40 percent from 2012 and nearly three times the number a decade ago. As part of that expansion, the number of graduate students from China doubled in the past decade, from 548 in 2007-2008 to 1,129 this year.

Demand for Chinese language studies at UW-Madison may grow further in future years because of the planned siting of a Foxconn plant in Racine County, Zhang speculated. Some jobs there with the Taiwan-based firm might require proficiency in Chinese, he said.

Chinese students come to Madison to study their native language because “we provide the interdisciplinary viewpoint and international and cultural outlook,’ Zhang said.

Thriving Chinese language and culture studies in the United States “are positive in terms of economic and cultural exchange and help for a better understanding between the two countries,” Zhang said.

The Cap Times 30 April 2018