Geraldine Maria Smith, Stella Maris College

Learning about China, Teaching about China

China is a major figure on the global stage, so it is not surprising that students at Stella Maris College in Chennai, India encounter aspects of China’s politics, ideology, or grand strategy in their courses on international relations, international security, or American foreign policy. “It’s a constant phenomenon to see India and China growing together in Asia,” explains Geraldine Maria Smith, an assistant professor in the Department of International Studies at Stella Maris College. “There is never a day where China has not been mentioned in class.” Students’ China-related interests are wide-ranging: they include politics, economics, government, communism, soft power, the military, territorial issues, and human rights.

Ms. Smith’s own academic interest in China began early in her graduate studies at Stella Maris College. “I became interested in China during the first year of my master’s program,” she said. “We had an assignment to submit for research, and I chose to work on the relationship between India and China since the 1962 war.” She went on to intern at the Chennai Centre for China Studies, one of the few think tanks in South India that focuses on China. “I spent time with senior professors, diplomats, and retired armed forces personnel, who gave me different views on their experiences with China,” she recalled. Working at the China Studies Centre at IIT Madras for a few months after graduation was another formative experience. “This was the time I realized the extent of scholarship available for studying China.”

Ms. Smith’s students at Stella Maris College.

However, as Ms. Smith points out, “The MA program at Stella Maris College does not currently offer an exclusive course on China studies.” That is true at many of the Indian colleges and universities in the United Board’s network, so the United Board, in collaboration with the Harvard-Yenching Institute and Christ (Deemed to be University) in Bengalaru, convened a program on Teaching about China in India, January 5-15, 2018. The program featured presentations and discussions on Chinese domestic issues, such as its economic growth, governance, and society and transformation, as well as China’s relations with India and its role as a global power. The goals were to foster greater understanding between Indians and Chinese and to prepare faculty to develop courses and curricula on China.

Ms. Smith and her colleagues in the Department of International Studies have already taken steps to design a China studies course; a paper on the framework for China studies and a course syllabus have been submitted to administrators for review and approval. Still, she sees the need to do more, and she appreciates the United Board’s role in advancing this field of study. “China is more than textbook teaching,” she said. “In order to teach China, we need to know China. This program opened my eyes to so many aspects of China that we generally tend to miss – for example, its people and the language. I think administrators must enable their faculty to first study China, for we cannot introduce China to our students if we do not know about China.”

The United Board looks forward to continuing to work with Indian educators on ways to build up the field of China studies in India.