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Students, alumni fight for Chinese

By Karen Kaplan

A group of MIT students and alumni who petitioned for a Chinese language program within the Department of Humanities last year are now working to expand the current program and ensure its survival.

The three subjects offered this year are Chinese I (21.245), offered this term, and Chinese II (21.246) and Introduction to Chinese Classic Fiction (21.309), both of which will be offered in the spring.

Chinese was last offered at MIT in the fall of 1979 and the spring of 1980 through a joint program with Wellesley College, according to Zachary Knight, administrative officer for the foreign languages and literatures section of the humanities department.

Last year, members of the Chinese Students Club and a group called Chinese Alumni of MIT (CAMIT) worked to organize a lasting Chinese language program at MIT. "The idea was to get enough money to set up a permanent program," which could cost into the millions of dollars, said Shu-Yuan Tung '92, one of the students involved in the effort. "We applied for a grant from the Chiang Kai-Shek Fund in Taiwan, and we got some money to start up a program, but not enough for a permanent program," she said. Tung did not know exactly how much money was received.

Knight said the Institute received $180,000 in funding from the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation in the United States, which will support a "small, experimental Chinese program here for the next three years." At that time, Knight said, the program may be "regularized" if funding can be found by "some sort of endowment from somewhere else." Knight said he was unsure of the program's future if no such endowment is found.

Knight said the Chinese program was funded entirely by the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation and that he knew nothing about the Chiang Kai-Shek grant.

In addition to 21.245, 21.246 and 21.309, the Chinese program may expand to include higher-level Chinese language courses in the next two years, as well as other Chinese literature classes. The courses are being taught by Yih-jian Tai, a visiting assistant professor of Chinese from Boston University.

But Tung said that CAMIT and CSC have continued their fundraising efforts in hopes of strengthening the program. "Usually the way these things work is you get enough money so that you can feed off the interest." The groups have been contacting both "individuals and organizations" in order to solicit donations, she said. "CAMIT is very organized, and they're taking it very seriously," Tung said.

Different kind of class needed

In addition to higher levels of Chinese language classes, Tung said the petitioners are hoping to get an introductory class for students who can speak Chinese, but who can't read or write it. "There's a real demand for a class targeted to" those kinds of students, she said.

The introductory language class this term assumes no prior knowledge of spoken or written Chinese. "On the first day of class, the professor asked who knew any Chinese and asked them to wait and take Chinese II," said Nancy C. Koay '92, a student in 21.245. This substantially reduced enrollment in the class, she said.


Knight said he thought students with some knowledge of Chinese could probably go into Chinese II "with a little bit of help." He acknowledged that if students turned away from Chinese I try to enroll in Chinese II, "in effect we will have a greater demand for Chinese II. But given what the budget is, we can only offer so many sections," he said.

Some students pleased

with program

Koay, who said she does not "know a word of Chinese," said she felt very comfortable with the class. "It's about time Chinese was taught at MIT. It's good that we finally got it," she said.

Richard Lee '94, who also likes the class, said he entered with a little bit of speaking background. After the professor's warning, he considered registering for a Chinese class at either Harvard or Wellesley through MIT's cross-registration program. "My schedule didn't fit with Harvard's Chinese class, and I didn't want to wait for Chinese II," he said.