Madelyn Ross is the Associate Director of China Studies at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) and Executive Director of SAIS China.
Photo provided by the reporter
This year marks the 42nd anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and the US. Forty-two years ago, Madelyn Ross was a senior in Princeton University, majoring in East Asian Studies. “When I heard about the establishment of diplomatic relations, I realized that it might be possible for me to go to China as a student or English teacher. I had been studying Chinese language and history in college so I was eager to take advantage of the chance to see China for myself,” Ross, now the Associate Director of China Studies at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) and Executive Director of SAIS China, said in an interview with People’s Daily recently.
“China felt like a great mystery in 1979. Before I left, I had almost no access to Chinese news or people. Only a few Americans had been to China in the past thirty years,” Ross told People’s Daily. Ross came to China and did graduate work in Chinese at Fudan University in Shanghai in 1979-1980, where she was one of the first American students to study in China following the normalization of China-US relations.
The first time Ross went to a completely unfamiliar country, her mood was complicated. But she was met at the airport by two teachers from the university, and people were kind and friendly from the very beginning. “As an American, I was as much or more of a mystery to my Chinese colleagues and friends as they were to me. Some people were curious and questioning, and others were cautious at first — but in all cases there was mutual respect and a lot of goodwill. I had many friends in Shanghai and I was able to develop some strong lasting friendships.
Since then, Ross has forged an indissoluble bond with China. She has worked for 30 years in China-related positions at educational and non-profit organizations. “Many Americans who have studied Chinese have been able to use this experience in their work in government, business, and other sectors. Thousands of Chinese have stayed in the United States and become productive citizens in all aspects of life, or gone back to China with a better understanding of what America is like. When the US and China go through troubled periods in their relationship, these people on both sides have a relatively realistic view of the issues and are helpful in maintaining dialogue and solving problems,” Ross said.
During Biden’s administration, Ross believes that more positive signs may be seen. She thought that limits on educational exchanges between China and the US will remain in place due to the pandemic, but these will be lifted as soon as possible. “In the long term, the new administration has made it clear that it intends to be more open and global in outlook, will encourage study abroad, and will be more welcoming toward international students and scholars. I am optimistic that positive changes will be felt immediately by Chinese and other international students in the US,” Ross said.