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Washington State University
College of Education

August 2018

Building sport in-roads with Chinese college students

In the 2006 documentary film, An Inconvenient Truth, former United States Vice President Al Gore comments on the perils associated with uncritical belief in conventional wisdom (in his case, on global warming) by citing Mark Twain: “What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know. It’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so.”

The same could be said about China, a country most Americans probably think of mainly as a political and economic threat to the United States.

The threat is probably overrated. More importantly, as philosopher Slavoj Žižek often says about a range of topics, “it’s a bit more complicated than that.”

Hence, while your blogger traveled to China this summer to teach a course in sport journalism, he probably learned about the Middle Kingdom just as much as the students enrolled in the course did about the fourth estate. Their own version of “fair trade.”

One learning outcome for the visiting lecturer of a course taught to 116 second-year undergraduates pursuing degrees in the English language at Beijing Sport University, or BSU, was that college-aged youth have rather similar interests regardless of the country they live in. During a class discussion, Wu Jingwei, who goes by the “English name” Ekko (pronounced ECK-oh) in courses with non-Chinese instructors, named Taylor Swift as his favorite singer.

However (it’s a bit more complicated… ), for every American pop music fan, there was also a student who consumes quality Western media. Ekko’s classmate Li Zhaoxiang (“James”), a Beijing Guoan F.C. fan, named the Voice of America as his favorite media outlet and regularly updated your blogger on news highlights published by the BBC. Another student, Gao Jianzhu (“Hebe”), had completed an internship with the Beijing Morning Post newspaper and is proud for having seen her pictures published on the outlet’s website.

Beijing Sport University
A student applies appropriate image composition as learned in the lecture on sports photography while taking this picture of visiting professor Simon Ličen during the lecture, “Current Trends in Sport Media,” held at Beijing Sport University on June 4, 2018. The student, Jingyi Hu (“Alex”), is an avid amateur photographer who knew about the subject and had studied some of her lecturer’s typical poses before passing the exam with flying colors.

A second learning outcome was a better understanding of the phrase, “Socialism with Chinese characteristics,” which is the expression used to describe the People’s Republic’s system of political theories and policies. The system involves adopting elements of a market economy to attract foreign investment and increase productivity. As a result, Beijing’s commercial districts are not unlike similar areas in New York, Rome, Cape Town, or other metropolises. An unadventurous traveler could sustain themselves on food from KFC and shop for Nike apparel while sipping Starbucks brews (though they would miss out on a lot).

China is not immune to globalization; rather, it is one of its driving forces. This influenced the decision of some Chinese universities to offer study programs taught entirely in the English language.

One such institution is BSU, the country’s top school for sport studies and one of the top (about) 100 schools included in Project 211. This status provides the school with additional funding to raise its research standards and cultivate strategies for socio-economic development. In 2017, there were 2914 colleges and universities nation-wide, up from 2542 in 2014.

To enhance the quality of its “English major,” BSU invites several international lecturers from the English-speaking world. This year’s faculty included Professor Scott Martyn from the University of Windsor in Canada, Dr. Jo An Zimmermann from Texas State University in the United States, Emeritus Professor Tony Collins from De Montfort University in England and the College of Education’s Simon Ličen.

This was the third time your Sport Management program’s expert in communication and sport was invited to the university. The course in sport journalism provides students with an introduction to journalism and broadcasting about sport as it is conceived in the United States and Western Europe.

Throughout the 15 lectures, students master the basics of covering sports events, discuss “hard news” topics such as match-fixing and corruption, and even record a short play-by-play broadcast of a game. This equips them with the fundamentals to explore the field at a more advanced level: upon graduation, many students pursue advanced degrees in China or other countries. Some, like Hu Hua (“Sunny”), are already pursuing related degrees and enjoy the course as it provides them with additional insight. Quite a few aspire to become broadcasters or pursue other careers in media. They are among the students who keep in touch upon completion of the course via WeChat, a social media service.

Beijing Sport University
Many students play, organize and watch student competitions. Here, men’s (front left) and women’s (back right) teams play games of the Foreign Language Basketball Association, a competition between departments offering degrees in the English language, on May 12, 2018. Beijing Sport University’s outdoor courts and terrains are well-attended outside of competitions, too (photo: Simon Ličen).

This year, your correspondent was also invited to prepare a general lecture for interested students and faculty of the institution whose people have collectively won 73 gold medals in the Olympic Games. In a lecture entitled “Current Trends in Sport Media,” we discussed automation, some features of Olympic broadcasting and some characteristics of social media usage, a topic that included a reference to a study currently in progress by Wei Ching Liao, a graduate student in our Sport Management program.

All in all, the visit was successful and BSU invited your blogger to teach the course next spring as well. The two institutions are developing an initiative that would involve student exchanges and year-round collaboration. Additionally, several ideas for research and professional opportunities have emerged during and after the third stay in Beijing. Follow us in the coming months to learn the details.

Beijing Sport University
Most students who completed the course in Sport Journalism at Beijing Sport University in the spring of 2015 raised their hands in response to the instructor’s question, “Who reads newspapers?”. Popular titles included China Daily, New York Times and other major outlets. Your blogger seized the moment to snap a group photo of the class, prompting students to smile.

The invites are a professional and personal achievement. They mark the third continent on which your correspondent has taught a university course, after Slovenia in Europe and the United States in the Americas. Also, teaching in a communist country while working in the foremost capitalist one is an accomplishment that is rarely bestowed to a scholar born in a non-aligned socialist republic. While the latter country has since crumbled, the values of quality education, collaboration and brotherhood among nations are still passed on by some. Also, the College of Education’s expert on sport communication can keep learning, expanding his horizons and sharing more diverse content and perspectives to students at WSU.

Beijing Sport University
The Sports Meeting, Beijing Sport University’s yearly intramural track and field meet, features some notable athletic achievements and attracts an estimated 2000 spectators to the main school stadium. This picture, taken by Simon Ličen early in the event on May 16, 2018, also indicates the substantial student media coverage dedicated to the event as about two dozen photographers and camera operators capture an interview with a participant.

When your blogger returns to BSU next year, perhaps he will finally cross paths with some of the prominent…co-workers who visit the school just days before or after him. In 2017, basketball superstar Yao Ming was appointed honorary president of the university’s China Basketball Academy just days before the Sport Journalism course started. This year, the WSU prof left the day before IOC President Thomas Bach became BSU Honorary Professor.

Even if he does not shake hands with bigwigs, it will be a pleasure to reconnect with many of the students who completed Sport Journalism this and previous years, and meet their peers who will enroll in the course next summer.