For the first time since it was established in 2005, the China and Asia Pacific Studies major reached its yearly cap of 20 students, up from 12 in its inaugural year, marking a growing interest in the rigorous, immersion-based program.
China and Asia Pacific Studies (CAPS), according to Jian Chen, the program director, was developed under the guidance and financial support of alum Michael Zak ’75 in response to the complex relationship that has emerged between the United States and China in the post-Cold War era.
“The American democracy goes not only by its own virtue but also by … the need to deal with challenges from outside threats; it’s a historical issue,” explained Chen.
It was not until after Sept. 11 that China was firmly classified as a political non-threat.
“China was supportive in our war against terrorism, [and] in dealing with our handling of North Korean issues,” Chen said.
But though China is diplomatically friendly, and its rapidly developing economy rife for overseas market development, the country still presents a competitive challenge through its booming commodity supply, which has resulted in a trade deficit for the United States. Understanding the challenges of the Chinese market is just one facet of the CAPS program.
According to Chen, the major consists of three components: intensive Chinese language study of at least four years is required, fulfillment of Arts and Sciences requirements while completing China-centric coursework and two semesters abroad, in Washington D.C. and Beijing, respectively. While abroad, students are expected to take externships in order to test their language skills and knowledge in a practical setting. The first group of CAPS majors to study in Washington this fall held positions at the State Department, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the Korean Embassy, the Woodrow Wilson Center and the Asia Society, among others.
Max Klein ’08, who worked at the U.S. Department of Commerce in the International Trade Administration last semester, first became interested in China in high school, and signed up for the program when it was created his sophomore year.
“Being a Westerner, being an American, being equipped with an Eastern language like Chinese is going to … make me a very marketable job applicant, I think,” Klein said. “What the program aims to do is give a greater understanding of Chinese culture and international relations so that the United States and China can grow and survive together … and I hope that I can contribute to that larger cause.”
Chen emphasized the flexibility of the major, which can prepare students for careers in many aspects of U.S.-China relations, including politics, diplomacy, journalism and cultural exchange.
According to Peter Lepage, dean of College of Arts and Sciences, the new major has given Cornell a competitive edge in recruiting faculty for the History and Government departments, and has also proven popular among recent applicants to the University. Courses designed specifically for the program are also of interest to the larger undergraduate population.
“It fits very naturally in the College of Arts and Sciences because of its emphasis on the recent history and politics of China, including Chinese international relations and Chinese-U.S. relations. These are all scholarly areas that are well developed in our History and Government departments, and of strong interest to many of our students,” Lepage said.
Chen sees the CAPS program as part of a larger trend of Cornell internationalizing its curriculum, citing President David Skorton’s recent trip to India, and planned visit to China.
“Increasingly China is regarded as a fellow stakeholder,” Chen said. “The question is to what extent China will become a responsible stakeholder. This is a long-term challenge that we will have to deal with. In a sense, this is why we have this CAPS program.”