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Blogs and Projects from Students Traveling with NYU Gallatin

Qing Ma-Gallatin China Fellowship: China’s Transformation from Socialism to Capitalism: Capitalism with Chinese Characteristics

My concentration in Gallatin is entrepreneurship and cross cultural communication between China and the U.S. Born in Shanghai and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, my passions lie in building cultural bridges, promoting positive community and driving economic growth between China and the U.S. NYU Shanghai is the place to practice my passion into action. Continuing one of the topics that I discussed in my last blog post about “order and censorship in China”, the main point that I want to reckon here is “freedom”.


I got asked these questions from my friends in the states very often: “Can Chinese people have their own voice? Does Chinese Communist government arrest people if the people say anything bad about them? Do Chinese people protest?” From what I saw in China this summer, the question that to which extent does freedom exist in China should be answered under two context: one through a political lens and the other through an economic lens.


Through a Political Lens

Politically, China is still Communist as ever. The government still controls its society. For example, every bank in China is state owned. This means that the government decides which bank can get the most loans and benefits. Another example is that Chinese media is wholly state-owned too. Chinese media filters out unfavorable images and offer uniformed favorable news. However, in terms of people’s freedom of speech, I found it is actually common for Chinese people to talk about politics nowadays. During my days in Shanghai, I found Chinese people love to talk about politics, especially over dinner tables. It has become a popular culture for Chinese people to express their opinions and discuss their government with friends and families. Just like Americans, Chinese people complain and make jokes about their government too. Some popular topics among Chinese people are corruptions in the government, fear of housing bubbles in China, and China’s bad air pollution.


Through an Economic Lens

Porsche sold more cars in China than in the United States. Grew by 12%, China became Porsche’s number 1 single market for total deliveries of 65,246 in 2016. It seems like there are a lot of Capitalism in China, a country that calls itself communist. How communist is China nowadays?


I found that China, the knowingly communist country, is not as communist as the rest of the world think it is. From Gucci’s giant, eye-catching billboard on West Nanjing Road, to a series of illuminated screens for ads along Shanghai Metro’s tunnel wall, to a cashless Chinese society created by the Chinese social media app Wechat, I saw element of capitalism and consumerism in Shanghai everywhere I walked by. China is eager to adopt capitalist ideologies and methods in a hope to stimulate economic growth and build up Chinese confidence.


However, China is different. Thirty years ago, Deng Xiaoping, the leader of Chinese economic reform changed Mao’s policy of “Four Modernization”(agriculture, industry, science and technology and military) to “Reform and Opening and Socialism with Chinese Characteristics”. Doing business in China is so much different than doing business in the US as China has enormous cultural roots that serve as base for Chinese characteristics. Building interpersonal relationships with clients, fostering trust and keeping a good record of reviews and recommendations are essential for doing business in China. Chinese cultural roots define the nation’s identity while evolve over the millennials which allow for fast adaption. Chairman Xi now introduced the idea of Chinese Dream. The dream of Chinese citizens in the 20th century is to be able to buy things that they “wanted” not just the things that they “needed”. In Shanghai, you can see foreign brands everywhere.


China’s economic reform to a capitalist society along with its rapid economic growth in the recent 10 years provided its people much more freedom and resources than it did before and made it possible for its citizens to buy what they want.


Qing Ma-Gallatin China Fellowship-2017: China, Its People, and Metro Stations: Order in Disorder

When people heard that I was going to study abroad in China, they joked: “Oh you are going to study at home.” I laughed with them. But I knew in my heart that my experience in China would be more than “living at home” because I have not been living in this country for more than eight years now. As I spent the majority of my teenage life in America, many of my memories for the country had faded away as days went by. Thanks to the Gallatin China Fellowship, I was able to come to Shanghai this summer and pick up my childhood memories with the local people here. Yes. People.

I was prepared to see a lot of people here because my childhood memories of crowded Shanghai streets were still in the back of my mind. However, little did I know that there were way more people here than I could ever imagine, especially in the Century Avenue metro station near NYUSH campus and the Hongqiao railway station. The Chinese idiom “people mountain people sea” (人山人海), which is equivalent of “a sea of people”, seems to be the perfect way to describe the crowd scene. You can get a sense of what I am talking about from the photo below. 

Shanghai Museum

Angela Yu
China Summer Fellow 2016

南腔北调: Accents

Angela Yu
China Summer Fellow 2016

The Chinese language class I’m taking is called Elementary Chinese for Advanced beginners, meaning that it’s a course for students with a Mandarin-speaking background who never formally learned to read or write in Chinese. Though I found the class to be a good fit for my level in Chinese, I found it to be a strenuous class. Since I grew up with Taiwanese parents, I never learned how or when to curl my tongue when speaking Mandarin. Because of this, I spend most of my time in class incessantly and needlessly curling my tongue at every word that begins with “c” “z” or “s”. Hopefully I will be able to master this one day. Since the class is tailored to those of a Mandarin-speaking background, many of the passages in the textbook relate to being a huayi (Chinese born overseas). I particularly appreciated a passage about accents, and how ultimately, as long as we get the point across when speaking, having a different accent is fine. However, the moral of the story abruptly ended being that you still had to speak Putonghua in class (standard Mandarin).

My teacher Wang Laoshi also showed the class a video in class of an actor speaking Mandarin with 18 different accents. Some accents were so different that I wouldn’t have believed they were speaking Mandarin if I wasn’t paying much attention. I was surprised at just how many accents there were, and how specific and unique each one was. Chinese accents should be an entire class. Looking back, it seems obvious that a place as large and diverse as China would have multitudes of different accents. In Taiwan, I am usually ousted at once as a huayi when I speak Mandarin with my Americanized accent. I expected it to be the same result in Shanghai, yet I was surprised when people just asked me if I was from another part of China, such as Guandong. Now I know that it’s because there are just so many different people from different parts of China in Shanghai, everyone with their own unique accent.

One Month In China

Eli Clemens
Gallatin China Summer Fellow 2016

As of today I have been in China for over a month.  Besides traveling to Xi’an for three days, I have stayed put in Shanghai. Because I will also be studying away here next semester, I have not felt much pressure to travel to other parts of China until I have a good sense of Shanghai.

Much of my time has been filled with Chinese class.  Being immersed in a predominantly Mandarin-speaking environment, my idea of what true proficiency in conversational Mandarin will actually take has changed.  This is partly due to the fact that Shanghainese speak with a strong accent – if not an entirely different-from-Mandarin dialect – and few locals speak more than basic English.

As a result I have been more motivated to review old characters, learn new words, watch Chinese TV shows, and most importantly, attempt to speak Mandarin with cab drivers, waiters, or anyone else I happen to start a conversation with.  Having a long, complex conversation without having to constantly think what to say next seems a long way off, but I am much better than I was a month ago, and every new day I spend in China means that – theoretically! – I should be improving.

In my free time, I have mostly been exploring Shanghai. The first week I bought a bike and so I have been biking around and taking pictures pretty often.  I have also been going on a lot of school trips to various sites and museums in Shanghai.  Here are some pictures I’ve taken so far:


Shanghai from the bus from a bridge


Shanghai’s oldest neighborhood


Yu Garden


Yu Garden


Yu Garden


Yu Garden


Yu Garden


Yu Garden


Yu Garden


Recreation of a typical 1920s Shanghai house


Cat in store


My friend T


Biking around

Version 2

Biking around


Biking around


Biking around


Zhujiajiao watertown


Zhujiajiao watertown


Biking around


Biking around




Terracotta warriors


Terracotta warriors


Terracotta warriors


Terracotta warriors


Terracotta warriors


Terracotta warriors


Terracotta warriors




My friends Eric & Jackie


My friend Ellen


My friend Sydney


My friend T


My friends Jeffrey & Amelia

Shanghai by night

Shanghai by night

Florence, a Home Gardener in Makhaza, South Africa

Nina Weithorn
Gallatin Africa House Fellowship
Cape Town, South Africa

Its midday in Makhaza, one of the many former townships established during Apartheid, and I am in the backseat of a passenger van with my supervisor who is trying with great difficulty to direct the driver through the narrow and sporadically marked streets. Although apartheid ended more than two decades ago, its legacy still stands strong. Cape Town, to me, seems to exist as two cities in one—one of upscale restaurants, museums, casual surf culture, bustling nightlife, and suburban mansions, and another of informal settlements that often lack access to basic amenities. The division is extreme and undeniably racialized. It is almost exclusively the black and “colored” (a term used during Apartheid to identify people of mixed race) South Africans that live in these settlements, and it is also the people in these communities that often struggle with food insecurity and subsequent issues, such as malnutrition and obesity.

We were en route to the home of a woman named Sileka Florence Ruka. Florence was born in the Eastern Cape and dropped out of school after 8th grade due to severe asthma, which she has continued to struggle with throughout her life. She moved to Makhaza in Cape Town where she now lives with her two sons. Florence completed Soil for Life’s home gardening program almost a year ago, but Soil for Life continues conduct follow-up visits for at least three years following completion of the program, which was the purpose of our visit. At this point I was about 5 weeks into my 2-month internship with Soil for Life and had seen a substantial amount of home gardeners that had successfully implemented Soil for Life’s techniques and were in the process of establishing a fully functional home garden. However, I had yet to see a garden like Florence’s.


Florence in her home garden in Makhaza, South Africa.

Florence greeted us as we arrived outside her home and immediately led us into her experimental, thrifty, and flourishing garden. Her yard, which wrapped around nearly the entirety of her home, was filled with found objects—tires, kitchen sinks, bathtubs, plastic crates, the hollow shell of old desktop computers, Tupperware containers, plastic bottles—all of which she had filled with compost-rich soil and converted into planters. She had even built a small structure that doubled as a covered area for propagating seedling and a vertical garden for growing lettuces. In the remainder of the space were trench beds that were overflowing with various greens days away from harvest. Florence led us around her garden proudly, giving an explanation of every plant and structure. Florence described how her garden has been so productive that she has more than enough food to feed both herself and her family,

“Because my garden got a lot of food, I give even my neighbors. Some veggies for example I give to some people who have nothing to eat.”


Vertical planter system.


Tires and other repurposed containers used as planters.

Florence hopes to not only share her food with her neighbors, but to teach other people in her community how to grow their own food, and potentially sell her produce one day.

Sustainable development, especially in terms of food security, is often difficult to adequately address, especially since the cause is often related to structural issues, such as a large amount of cheap, but nutritionally-deficient foods on the market and an insufficient amount of affordable, healthy whole foods. Grounds-up interventions such as Soil for Life’s that provide a solution for the specific issues afflicting marginalized communities, such as a technique for improving soil quality so people are able to grow their own food in their own homes, and various other techniques such as seed-saving and composting kitchen scraps, which both enable home gardeners to spend less on gardening materials, ultimately allow people to achieve a greater level of food insecurity. However, it is people like Florence, who then share their knowledge and educate others that really make the entire system sustainable.


Florence with her seedlings grown in recycled styrofoam containers.

关系: Connections

Angie Shu
China Summer Fellow 2016
Shanghai, China

To succeed in China, a businessman must have guanxi (关系). To describe this concept insufficiently in English terms, guanxi is a network of influence formed by connections and relationships. In just the first two weeks of being in Shanghai, I was able to understand the importance of guanxi, enjoy the benefits it offered, and be cautious to preserve its delicate nature.

During my parents’ stay in Shanghai two decades ago, they had inadvertently prepared a network for me when they made friends with their classmates. They never would have thought that their daughter will grow up to meet and establish professional relationships with those friends. I only met and talked with my father’s classmate (I will call her Aunt F) once in high school when she visited us in California. We had talked late into the night over cups of tea about the business possibilities in Shanghai. Our lengthy conversation had to end because she needed to wake up early to fly back to China.

Years later, my mother created a WeChat group with Aunt F and me. In a broken attempt to speak Chinese politely, I greeted Aunt F to let her know that I was coming to Shanghai to follow up with her suggestions. Excited, she connected me to a position at a center located in her high-rise building. After meeting up with her during my first week in Shanghai, she had already extended my web of connections to tens of business opportunities, each path a viable career choice that could be overlapped with another.  Of course, I had to exercise caution to maintain both my familial guanxi with Aunt F and the fragile guanxi with the new people I met. The delicious traditional Chinese dinners I had each day meeting new people introduced by Aunt F were analogous to the overwhelming excitement I had for what I previously thought would be a bland future.

全球化 Part 2

Screen Shot 2016-07-04 at 6.20.42 PM

Matthew Gibson
China Summer Fellow 2016
Shanghai, China

From an American perspective, conversations about race, ethnicity, and identity are increasingly common.  However, in China, these conversations happen at very small scales.  Almost the entire country shares the same ethnic heritage, and there is no adequate translation of “identity” be it personal or social.  But at NYU Shanghai, there is a growing awareness of issues of social justice that I believe is moving the student body in a positive direction.

I spoke with a few friends about their experiences outside of China and how things changed when they returned home.  Below, I have included important highlights from my conversations with three of them as well as paraphrasing of their original responses in Chinese.

Jack is an undergraduate student in New York who was raised in Inner Mongolia and later moved to Shanghai for high school.  He believed that there is often a prejudice against students who study away or leave China, because much of the older generation views it as an attempt for young people to escape the Chinese gaokao–higher education entrance exam.  But he finds that more and more young people see the advantage of going abroad, which he says it true from his personal experience.  After only one year abroad, his understanding of himself and his personal identity has deepened, and when he thinks of himself in comparison to his Chinese peers, he finds that his mindset is more open and he thinks at larger scales than before.


Chris is a Shanghainese student at NYU Shanghai who spent the last year studying at NYU Tel Aviv.  Chris feels that after returning to Shanghai, many Chinese think that his behavior and his actions don’t agree with what is expected of him, and if he doesn’t act according to Chinese standards, he might be accused of becoming too “Western” or too obsessed with Western culture.  Speaking from his experience abroad, he thought that while at home he only represents his school and his family, but while in Tel Aviv, he represented all of China and his people.


July is a Hangzhounese student at NYU Shanghai who studied away in New York City and Madrid last year.  When talking about the prejudice that Chinese students who study away face at home, she said that she often hears that she must be wealthy or not have good enough grades if she wants to study abroad.  Other times she hears, why haven’t you brought back a foreign boyfriend after being away for so long?  While abroad in Madrid, she felt like many people were unaware of Chinese culture and society, so she represented “China” and as a result she paid more attention to her behavior and actions.



Years ago, Chinese people who left China were looked down upon and persecuted.  Over time they came to be highly respected, and now are so prominent in Chinese society that they are almost common-place. There are many misconceptions that the outside world has regarding China, and to be fair, China has many misconceptions about the outside world as well.  But in a globalizing society, we see more and more connections being built across borders and divisive lines, and our perceptions of one another are changing in turn.  The experiences of these three young people are just a few perspectives on this social change, but I feel that they show the impact that is already occurring.

全球化 Part 1

Matthew Gibson
China Summer Fellow 2016
Shanghai, China


My artistic redesign of the Shanghai skyline designed for the NYU Shanghai Residential Life office.

I refer to my self-designed major in Gallatin as “Globalization”, the academic and philosophic study of a changing world culture.  I focus on questions of identity development as it relates to physical, political, and metaphorical boundaries as well as how they are changing in the face of an increasingly interconnected and transient world.  Without even fully realizing it, New York University Shanghai is the ideal location to witness globalization in action.

Thanks to the Gallatin China Fellowship, I was able to extend my stay in Shanghai for the summer, and enroll in the Advanced level of Mandarin Chinese.  At the end of the session, we were tasked with preparing an 8 minute presentation on any kind of social change, so I took the opportunity to consider modern Chinese diasporic networks.  This was a culmination of the informal interviews I had unknowingly been conducting over the last months with my friends as I asked them about their lives, their travels, and how they view themselves in a changing society–with the added bonus that I would be recording their perspectives and my observations completely in Chinese.

In Chinese history, the thought of leaving China was discouraged and outright outlawed.   From 1370 to as late as 1893, the Chinese Imperial Government denied that there was any emigration out of China of any kind.  The few who left the Kingdom Under Heaven were usually traders or merchants who were often denied entry upon their return and had very low status in society.  However, over time, migrants settled around the world with varying welcome from their new communities.When the Imperial Government learned of the success of these Chinese emigrants, especially those who settled in Southeast Asia, they recognized the value of having wealthy and influential citizens abroad who were still loyal to their homeland.  These Chinese were renamed “华侨”, huaqiao,or the Chinese Overseas.  Today, huaqiao,is less commonly used, but there is a new wave of Chinese migration to the outside world.

Over the last 50 years, the People’s Republic of China has undergone massive social, cultural, and economic change.  However, the rest of the world has been slow to realize it.  Speaking from personal experience, many Americans are uninformed about the current state of China and a close friend shares with me that, in Peru, to say, “I’m going to China,” is a popular facetious expression meaning you are going to “the end of the world.”  Until recently, the outside world relied on popular Orientalist narratives that blurred the image of this country.

Today, more and more young people are leaving China whether to study, work, or simply travel.  This new generation is a manifestation of Modern China, and is tasked, willingly or not, with becoming the representative of it’s entire culture.  I recently spoke with seven close friends who represent a variety of “Chinese” experiences.  In the next post, I will share highlights from my conversations with three of them about what it is like to be Chinese is a globalizing world.

Sustainable Agriculture in Cape Town, South Africa

Nina Weithorn
Gallatin Africa House Fellowship
Cape Town, South Africa

Just east of the main city center of Cape Town, South Africa, in the Constantia region, lies a tiny agricultural haven among vast wine vineyards and suburban homes. Soil for Life, a non-profit organization that teaches subsistence farming in township communities, established their main offices on a plot of land where they began testing out a myriad of growing techniques in what is now their official demonstration garden. Many of these techniques adhere to basic permaculture principles, meaning they utilize natural processes to create sustainable and if possible, self-sustaining systems for food production.


The Soil For Life Demonstration Garden

In a country with such a high prevalence of both food insecurity, malnutrition, and increasingly, obesity, interventions like Soil for Life’s, that teach people not only how to sustainably grow their own organic food, but also how to adequately feed themselves and their families, are much needed.

When I first arrived in Cape Town, the pervasive greenery that seems to line every square kilometer of the city, from the top of the iconic Table Mountain to the shores of Hout Bay, gave no indication that the soil in Cape Town is in fact unsuitable for growing most varieties of edible plants. Many trees, shrubs, and grasses are able to grow in Cape Town’s sandy soils, however plants like the ones grown at Soil for Life, beets, broccoli, arugula, carrots, onions, etc., require soil that is more capable of retaining moisture and nutrients.

The first technique Soil for Life teaches in their training programs is digging a trench bed, which essentially involves filling a three-foot-deep trench with compost materials mixed with the original soil to provide a bed with nutrient-rich soil sufficient for growing food (shown in Fig.1). For the program participants, improving the health of their soil is just the first of many steps in establishing their own home garden and for Soil for Life, the home garden is just the first step in teaching people how to improve their diet, health, and level of food security.

trenchbed blog


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