Courtesy Tim Barcus, the university photographer, at Truman campus, cir 2006.
From the time Dr. Huping Ling, ‘91 was a child growing up in Taiyuan, the capital city of Shanxi province, she dreamed of being a professor of American history.
In 1985, while working as an assistant professor in the history department at Shanxi University, she learned that the US-China student exchange program was for the first time going to accept non-STEM graduates to study in the US. After an intense series of exams, she was one of the few selected for this rare opportunity.
Since the China-US Academic exchange was established in 1978, 1.46 million Chinese have studied in the United States, and more than 220,000 Americans have studied in China. China’s aim in sending students and scholars overseas was primarily to provide advanced research training in science and technology as a way to make up the development lost during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), when higher education programs in China were severely curtailed.
The youngest of 4 adult children, Dr. Ling had an adventuresome spirit. She said that flying to the United States in 1985 was the first time she had ever been on an airplane trip. Although her parents were very proud of her, they were also worried for their youngest daughter. In the 1980’s, prior to the internet and inexpensive phone plans, letters were the only form of contact Dr. Ling and her parents could afford. So week by week they kept up an exchange of letters.
“I only told the exciting and interesting things that were happening to me,” Dr. Ling said. “I did not want to bother them with the financial and acculturation difficulties.”
But financial difficulties were great. Originally given a $400.00 per month stipend as a visiting scholar to Georgetown University in Washington, DC., Dr. Ling quickly realized how expensive it was to live and study in DC. She applied and was accepted to the University of Oregon for her Master’s degree. She was given a teaching fellowship to help with the costs, and Eugene, Oregon was a much less expensive city in which to live and study. Even so, she had to supplement her fellowship with on-campus jobs, such as working in the library and residence hall in summer.
Although excited to take her American degree and experiences back to teach Chinese students, Dr. Ling was afforded an opportunity to stay in the United States and earn her PhD. Since she had lived on both coasts, she wanted to try a different part of the country during her doctoral work.
She asked herself, “How would I best maximize my time in the US to learn from real life experience?” Miami University in southwest Ohio seemed the answer.
“Miami had a good reputation as the ‘Ivy League’ of the Midwest”, she said.
Dr. Ling arrived in April 1988. It was an exciting time to be at Miami. During the 1960’s, with expanding enrollment and curriculum, Miami University had changed from a Midwestern college to a cosmopolitan university reaching into other lands and cultures. Faculty members held Fulbright professorships in countries from England and Scotland to Nigeria, Indonesia, Korea and Japan, while the Oxford campus listed students from nearly fifty nations. Under the trimester calendar, hundreds of faculty and students spent mid-April to September in foreign travel, study and research. Miamians crossed paths in cities from London to Athens, from Copenhagen to Madrid. Summer language institutes were organized in France, Luxembourg, Italy and Taiwan.
Having lived in the US for 2½ years already, Dr. Ling wanted to delve more deeply into American life. She worked in the King Library, first in circulation and then in government documents, and worked as a graduate student teaching assistant as well.
She made many American friends through work and her her classes, but also through an organization called COSEP, which matched international students with local community members.Founded in 1971 by Mrs. Dwight Baldwin, COSEP sought to build bridges of friendship between people of Oxford and Miami graduates from distant lands.
Dr. Ling’s host family, Linda and Allan Straus, and their children, Jenny and Andy, invited her to such family events as Thanksgiving, family dinners, picnics, and their children’s activities. They bought her gifts for holidays and she gave them gifts from China. They listened to her stories of China and Chinese culture, and shared with her their stories and experiences of growing up in the US.
“I developed a very close relationship with them and still talk to them,” she said.
Ling hosting the annual Chinese New Year Celebration for the Chinese Students and Scholars Association at Miami University, in Feb. 1988.
As President of the Chinese Students and Scholars Friendship Association, sponsored by the Chinese Government, Dr. Ling became very involved with Chinese students. By the time she graduated, the number of undergraduate and graduate International students had grown from 203 to 238.
The Chinese students held an annual banquet around the time of the Chinese New Year. This was financed by students, and they invited faculty, their host families, and friends.
“It was our chance to show our appreciation to the community and university. We would cook, have a fashion show and perform Chinese dance and music for our guests,” Dr. Ling said.
Adaptation to American culture “was a gradual process, a cumulative impact of all the experiences I had in the US,” Dr. Ling said, including academic work, interactions with domestic students and faculty, and financial struggles. Although she was not dependent on her host family, she found them very helpful in negotiating the culture outside the classroom. She worked on the cleaning crew in University housing during summer break, and came to know Americans who weren’t college educated and learned about the common folk. She was invited to homes of coworkers from King Library.
Professor of History Dr. Allan Winkler, one of her thesis advisors, her lifelong mentor and friend, helped tremendously. Dr. Ling is still in touch with him and in 2008 nominated him for the Distinguished Teaching Award for Excellence in Graduate Instruction and Mentoring at Miami. A well-traveled individual who served in the Philippines as a Peace Corp Volunteer in 1967-69, Dr. Winkler was in a good position to understand Dr. Ling’s dissertation, Surviving on the Gold Mountain: A History of Chinese American Women and Their Lives. Its updated and revised version was published in 1998 by the SUNY Press, becoming the first of 25 books written and/or edited by her.
Dr. Ling at her book-signing sponsored by Hastings, Kirksville, MO, on June 2, 2012.
The dissertation described the struggles of Chinese American women from the mid-19th century to the 1990s. “Gold Mountain refers to the US, nicknamed by the Chinese who first came to mine for gold, as well as, to benefit from better living conditions and make money,” reported Dr. Ling. “They sought the American Dream, to become rich and famous. People who recruited them made them believe that it was easy to achieve the American Dream.”
Dr. Ling had been in US for almost 4 years by the spring of 1989, and she was anxious to go home to spend the summer with her parents and family. However, events were occurring in China which would influence her future: the Tiananmen Square protests. Returning to the US to finish her dissertation, Dr. Ling saw information that had been banned in China and decided to stay.
Although estimates vary, it is generally believed that about 40,000 Chinese students were in the United States when the Chinese government sent its army into Tiananmen Square in Beijing, June 3-4, to crush the prodemocracy movement that had blossomed throughout China during the spring. When the Beijing government began rounding up and jailing students and other leaders of the peaceful revolt, many officials and citizens in the United States feared for the safety of Chinese students studying in the US, if they were forced to return home when their visas expired.
President George Bush refused to grant asylum to Chinese students. However, on November 30, 1989, he issued an executive order that permitted all such students to remain in the country until June 1994. He has said that it accomplished the same result without offending the Chinese government.
In 1992, the US Congress adopted the Chinese Student Protection Act, which allowed the 26,915 Chinese students who availed themselves of this opportunity to become legal immigrants by July 1, 1993.
Dr. Ling graduated from Miami and immediately sought a position teaching US history and Chinese history. She received five campus interviews. Northeast Missouri State University (whose name changed in 1996 to Truman University) was her top choice. “The interviewers were so interested in me and excited for what I had to contribute,” she said.
Looking back over her career and professional accomplishments, Dr. Ling believes the most significant have been her ongoing ties to China and Chinese students.
“I have helped the Chinese to become more aware of the world, of the US and this has helped them to make economic progress,” she said. “I would like to see them develop more political transparency. Social media has made big impact on Chinese, despite attempt by the government to screen it. Chinese have more awareness of the world.”
Asked if internationalization impacts her, Dr. Ling responded, “If China didn’t open the door and reach out, I wouldn’t be here. If they hadn’t offered me a scholarship I couldn’t have come. If the American government hadn’t helped with scholarship, I wouldn’t be an American citizen teaching American history.”
Her feeling of having come back to the dream she started with as a child in Taiyuan is heightened and intensified because she was recently selected as a Changjiang (Yangtze River) Scholar, which gives her an endowed chair, with research funds and a stipend, to work in China for two months in the summers.
The New Changjiang Scholar Program, which began in 2012, is funded and administered by the Chinese Ministry of Education. It is designed to select eminent scholars in the world to help internationalize China’s higher education and research. The program awards only 50 prominent scholars overseas annually, mostly in STEM and only a couple in social sciences, to teach and conduct research with leading Chinese scholars at selected institutions of higher education. Dr. Ling works jointly with prominent Chinese scholars, conducting research on Chinese Overseas Studies, giving public lectures at conferences and universities, launching cutting-edge research projects, initiating new research institutions and programs, teaching courses in Asian-American studies and supervising doctoral dissertations.
Ling teaching graduate students on Asian American history as a Changjjiang Scholar Chair Professor of the Chinese Ministry of Education at China Central Normal University, June 6, 2013
As a global citizen, Dr. Ling has returned to China every year to give back to her land of origin through research, lecture, and scholarship. She has come full circle, for now she is teaching American History in China. She has accomplished her childhood goal.