Global Impact: China Connections
The Concordia Band became the first college ensemble to perform in China in May 2012.
The band performed at college campuses with connections to Concordia and headlined a colorful cultural festival in Chongqing, where the 52 students stayed with Chinese families. They also climbed the Great Wall, observed the world’s only panda research sanctuary, and drew a crowd of curious onlookers at Tiananmen Square.
Homegrown TourTwo Concordia faculty used their expertise to lead the tour. Dr. Tao Ming, assistant professor of Chinese, and Dr. Kenneth Foster, director of the global studies program, crafted an itinerary for students to experience China rather than view the country through bus windows.
“We didn’t think the band was going to China to be tourists,” Foster says. “By contributing their performances, the band was providing something good to the Chinese. We collectively used our talents to bring joy to people.”
China is a sprawling society operated on connections called guanxi, which is the network of family, friends and contacts that grease the wheels of life. Guanxi is quid pro quo, one for another.
Ming, a native of China, has great guanxi. From the road, Ming found good hotels and ordered sumptuous banquets at the best restaurants by constantly working his network.
Through guanxi, he booked the band into the elite Communication University of China in Beijing so China’s emerging communicators could hear a Western band for the first time. In exchange, Ming gave a lecture on linguistics to the full university faculty the next day.
By performing at leading universities, Concordia students enthralled audiences with new music and interacted with Chinese students eager to use their English.
Capacity audiences loved classics like “Love Song of Kang Ding” and the rousing “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” featuring piccolos, trumpets and trombones. Other highlights were “Rhapsody in Blue,” stylishly performed by piano professor Dr. Jay Hershberger, and polkas played by a quartet of fun-loving Cobbers.
At Southwest University in Chongqing, students also witnessed a demonstration of singular political power. The local communist party vice stopped the concert before “Stars and Stripes” could be played. He apparently didn’t want to hear any encores.
“We saw that petty personal politics invade everything in Chinese society,” Foster says. “It was a good lesson that everything isn’t free and open in China today.”
The best way to get to know China is through its people, and at Sichuan International Studies University in Chongqing, Cobbers stayed with Chinese families.
Band members gave music lessons, learned how to cook dumplings and were shown the city. Host families asked how their homes compared with those of Americans, and there was time to learn a few Chinese phrases. Everyone vowed to stay in touch.
Initially apprehensive about homestays, the students say it is their most lasting memory of China. Both American and Chinese students value home and family, and Chinese parents are proud of their children who are in college, learning English and demonstrating kinship with their new “American friends."
Band members left China with a sense of connection on a personal level.
“Sitting on stage hearing the enthusiastic applause from the packed audiences who had never heard a concert band before,” says Mary Kate Sershen ’12, Chester, S.D., “I realized how similar people are everywhere and how truly blessed we band members were to be experiencing this in China.”
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