Where Are the Liu Mei?

In the late 1990’s, I had the chance to study Chinese one-on-one with a professor in Beijing. At the beginning of my very first lesson, in a small classroom at the college where he taught, Professor Y’s first words to me were, “I’m not a member of the Party, and so we can discuss any topic you want.” He wasn’t kidding.

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What started out as a language class turned into a crash course in Chinese history, politics, culture, and contemporary society from the point of view of an educated Chinese man with no political agenda to push. Nobody helped me understand the interconnectedness of the past and present in China more than he did.

During one of our sessions, Professor Y taught me two terms: liu su and liu mei (留苏, 留美 ). Liu is the first character of the word liuxuesheng, which means foreign student, or a student who goes abroad to study. An American studying in China is a liuxuesheng. A Chinese student who studies outside of China is a liuxuesheng. Su is short for Sulian, Soviet Union, and mei is short for Meiguo, the United States.

He explained to me that in the early years of the People’s Republic, most Chinese liuxuesheng went to the Soviet Union to study. They were liusu. They immersed themselves in Marxism and Leninism, and returned to take up leadership positions in the Party and government.

In the 1980’s, following the launch of the Reform and Opening Policy by Deng Xiaoping, the government began sending liuxuesheng to America to study. They are liumei. They are immersing themselves in science, technology, and, and in many cases, western notions of policy and governance. Many are encountering the Gospel and becoming Christ-followers.

What would it mean for China, Professor Y and I wondered, when the returning liumei rose to positions of power in the Party and Government.

Whenever I read an article about Chinese students in the US, I think about Professor Y and that fantastic discussion we had. L

Last week Foreign Policy published a long story titled The Most Chinese Universities in America about the growing numbers of Chinese students enrolled in American universities:

In the 1970s, they came from Iran, riding the wave of the oil boom. Then in the first decade of the second millennium, they came from India, filling up graduate programs in business and science. Now, it’s Chinese students who comprise the largest group of international pupils in the United States, buoyed by a growing Chinese middle class that’s willing to pay top dollar for their children’s educations. According to an annual report by the Institute of International Education (IIE), in the 2014-2015 academic year more than 304,000 Chinese students were enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities, an almost five-fold increase from just a decade earlier.

Using the annual report issued by The Institute of International Education as a starting point, Foreign Policy researchers examined Department of Homeland Security (DHS) statistics on F-1 visas to try to determine exactly where the Chinese students (liumei) are.

Here is the top ten (ranked by # of visas):

  1. University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
  2. University of Southern California
  3. Purdue University
  4. Northeastern University
  5. Columbia University
  6. Michigan State University
  7. Ohio State University
  8. University of California, Los Angeles
  9. Indiana University
  10. University of California at Berkeley

I note with interest that the University of Minnesota is not among the top ten.

Image credit: by JanetandPhil, via Flickr

Note: This is a slightly edited version of a post that was originally published in the From the West Courtyard Blog at ChinaSource.

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