Monday, June 15, 2009

Remembering Nanjing

One of the first and the most disillusioning things that struck me upon my arrival at Nanjing University in the late summer of 1988 was the system of corruption that was well in place, financed by Americans and enjoyed by Chinese administrators. Johns Hopkins U, which was sponsoring the program I was in, had purchased two vans for use by what was called "The Center" in Nanjing. But only one -- and that one gutted of all metering devices, radio speakers, etc. -- was seldom available to us. The driver used it for himself -- and one of the things he used it for was to remove one of the large speakers from the stereo system in the auditorium of the Center and either sell it or take it home. The other Van, we were told -- literally TOLD -- was for the private use of the president of Nanjing University. Although Americans in America were told funds went for students and faculty, they most certainly did not. First on the list of beneficiaries were the Chinese administrators and their functionaries. The advertisements for the place told of students and faculty dining together in the commons so they could get to know each other better. But oddly the top administrators were usually not there -- unless a delegation, a "circus" the students called it -- was visiting from Baltimore. We did not know where they dined, with the American "co-director" each night. Then one evening when I was walking through the hallway from my office, I thought I heard glasses tinkling in a large room off the dining room. and yet the hall lights were turned out in the building. I quietly walked down the darkened hall to a large room with double doors. I saw a flash of light through the crack in the doors. I looked in. There are a large table, with white table cloth and candles, were the American co-director, the Chinese functionaries and flunkies, and the president of Nanjing U, eating dinner, dining, while the kitchen staff in clean white jackets waited on them and poured wine. This was no doubt financed by donors in the US. A few days later I asked a friend working in the kitchen, Mei, how often this went on. She told me several times a week. They administrators had private dinners with the leading American. This was all hush hush, of course. During the second or third week of classes I asked my students why they did not underline in their textbooks or write in the margins. They looked at my stunned and said that there were five books(for the class of 25) purchased by Hopkins and placed on reserve in the library. The students had to check them out and return them and they were examined, the books, constantly by the library staff for markings. So I went to the American "co-director" and told him that for 20 years I'd taught in the US and that I was sure -- absolutely -- that the American publishers would give books to Chinese students if they were asked. His response was a hostile glare and the statement he would look into it. Three days later I wrote a cable to Scott Foresman publishers in Chicago telling them my problem and and asking for free text books. According to the rules I handed it to the secretary of the American co director. The next day it was returned to me with a note(that I still possess) informing me that it "is not the job of the Center to provide free books to students." So that evening I went to the Jinling Hotel in Nanjing and personally sent the cable to Chicago. One day later I got a return cable that asked, very simply, what do you need? I told them. One week later a huge pallet of books arrived at the Center -- air express from Chicago. Scott Foresman(God bless them) sent air express $200 of free new textbooks for each of my 25 students. My students were of course utterly delighted. But then there were problems. The Chinese and American administrators were utterly and completely livid with anger. I was told that if I was going to give free books to my students I should have had the books sent to the President of Nanjing University so he in return could "give them as gifts" to the students himself. The accusation was that I was seeking "favoritism" by getting free books for myself and putting pressure on other professors. My response was that if the books went first to the President of Nanjing University nobody would ever see them again, except of course on the local black market. That was one of my first wake up calls about the realities of American enterprises in China. There were more. Many more. I will post them.