As President Eisgruber ’83 travels through Asia during fall break this week, we reminisce about a previous president’s journey to China in December 1974. President William Bowen *58, part of a delegation of 13 American university presidents and educators, spent most of his three-week visit touring educational institutions, including six major universities, several middle and elementary schools, and the Institute of Physics.
During his trip, PAW reported, Bowen was struck by the small percentage of Chinese students who attended university (then only about 400,000 in a nation of more than 900 million). Students were required to spend at least two years working in a factory or on a commune before university, a Cultural Revolution policy aimed at preventing the creation of a new elite. Bowen worried about how the Albert Einsteins of the world — “someone who is very bright but who may be a miserable worker” — would fare in such a system. When he raised the question, he was told that “no such people exist.”
Bowen did take some positive lessons from the Chinese education system, noting that universities encouraged students to be more familiar with the world and the society around them — an area in which American institutions “haven’t always done as well as we might."
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