Penn and China: A long history

Dear Benny:
I hear that Penn is going to expand its collaborations with two Chinese universities. So I was wondering: Is Penn’s involvement with China relatively new, or does the University have a long history in this area?
—International Relations Major

Dear International,
Yes, Penn President Amy Gutmann just got back from an important trip to China, a trip that resulted in important new agreements with Shanghai Jiao Tong University and Tsinghua University. But relations between Penn and China are nothing new.

According to the University Archives, in fact, the first China-Penn interaction dates all the way back to the late 19th century, when Moon Hun Chaun came to Penn to study dentistry. Chaun graduated with a Doctorate in Dental Surgery in 1899. Ten years later, Penn saw five Chinese students earn degrees. And by 1915, Penn alums in Shanghai established a University of Pennsylvania Club there.

The mid-20th century saw the arrival of the communist revolution, bringing the Penn-China relationship to somewhat of a standstill, but as early as 1966, Penn faculty were calling on U.S. officials to changes its policy toward China. In 1972, President Nixon’s much-publicized trip to China brought U.S.-China relations into the media spotlight, and then-Penn President Martin Meyerson made it a point to keep Penn engaged in the conversation. In 1977, 22 members of the Penn community took an 18-day tour of China and, in 1979, Penn engineering professors John Carr and Harvey Garner made a trip of their own. Chinese scholars, in turn, made visits to Penn in 1980. Possibly the biggest step forward, however, came in 1981, when members of the Wharton faculty traveled to China to establish a graduate program in business management. They began their work at one of Penn’s current partners, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, behind the leadership of accounting professor David Solomons.

Got a question for Benny? Send it via e-mail to current@pobox.upenn.edu or via regular mail to the Current, 200 Sansom Place East, 3600 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6106.

Originally published on January 22, 2009