By Marisa Palmieri
This month marks the 25th anniversary of Ohio University's involvement in the restoration of Sino-American communications, a line that had been broken since World War II.
By 1978, the Chinese Cultural Revolution was over, and Communist China was left with an entire generation of youth who had missed out on an education.
"They had shut off all higher education during the cultural revolution," said William Dorrill, a China specialist and former dean of the College of Arts and Sciences who was the most instrumental University official in bringing the historic delegation to Athens in 1978. "It cost them a whole generation in progress."
The leaders taking over the People's Republic of China after Mao Tse-Tung's death and the dissolution of the "Gang of Four" in the fall of 1976 pioneered a program to develop the country's inadequate educational system.
A Chinese delegation headed by Chou Pei-yuan – then-president of Peking University – in collaboration with the U.S. National Science Foundation arranged for a Chinese-United States student exchange. "The industrious and intelligent Americans stand in the forefront of science and technology,” Pei-yuan said in an October 1978 Post article. “We have come to learn from Americans.” Ohio University was chosen along with Harvard, MIT, the University of California at Berkeley and Stanford, among others.
Upon hearing that the delegation planned to stop at four West Coast and four East Coast universities, Dorrill contacted a friend in the U.S. Information Agency to lobby for the delegation to make a midwestern stop. "I said, 'Look, there's a lot of America in between,'" he said.
According to Post archives, the delegates enjoyed lunch at President Charles Ping's home, visited laboratories and classrooms and praised the University's environment. After a few mishaps, an anti-capitalism protest and a pilot's mistake that almost took the delegation to Ohio State University, the daylong tour of Ohio University was a success. Several weeks after the delegation's visit they negotiated and signed the agreement for the exchange.
"[It was] a beautiful exercise in democracy," said Dorrill.
Dorrill had studied in China when the Bamboo Curtain was up and understood the dual benefits that this type of student exchange could offer. "Our students have learned immensely as a result of interactions with these Chinese students," he said. "It was only when we had this exchange that these ideas of democracy got into China."
Marisa Palmieri is a student writer for University Communications and Marketing.