Summer Spotlight: Joshua Frazier W’25, C’25 in China


International student high school friends: Liu Shitong (Fred) & Geng Taolun (Thomas)

None of my family in North Carolina speaks Chinese. Neither do any of them even speak a second language apart from English. Four years ago I picked up Tuttle Basic Chinese from Barnes and Noble. I never thought venturing down this rabbit hole of character strokes, vocal intonation, and idiomatic nuances would place me in the modern metropolis of Shenzhen — the hometown of my high school friend Shitong — or face to face with Mao Zedong’s glass casket in the heart of Beijing.

Since arriving at Penn and joining Huntsman as a Mandarin target, I’ve had a world of opportunities. Literally. In January of this year I found myself at a fireside chat between Wharton students and the UAE State Minister of Foreign Trade in Dubai. A week later, I was exploring Jerusalem and the site of Jesus’ crucifixion in Israel. Not to mention last summer I explored Barcelona and Spanish through another language study program. These experiences were awe-inspiring. But something was missing — the China that drew me to Huntsman.

Chinese is the language I’ve poured blood, sweat, and tears into for four years. Over 8,000 miles away, the Middle Kingdom seemed of another dimension. My desire to study Chinese was homegrown, though, in Raleigh after I befriended international students throughout high school. Fears of our “foremost adversary” continue to purvey America as wildfire, prompted by quarantine lockdowns, economic turmoil, and Sino-American political tension. However, it was time to peep behind the Bamboo Curtain for myself.

Rolling Mongolian lamb dumplings in Shenzhen (深圳
Rolling Mongolian-style lamb dumplings in Shenzhen (深圳)

China has been untouched by Huntsman students for the last three years. Many of my peers had even begun opting for Singapore or London as study abroad options. For me, however, that won’t cut it. I wanted to avail myself of summer 2023 by studying Chinese and experiencing the real China. The Huntsman Program once again enabled me to follow the unrealized potential of Joshua in China.

While working in New York, this summer I intensely studied Chinese. I signed up for Hanbridge Mandarin school, initially intent on physically studying in Shenzhen. Upon arriving at the PRC Visa Office in DC, I soon realized that international student visas stayed a hot topic in Sino-American politics. Opting for a hybrid experience, I realized that spending August in China post-language program would provide me with substantial immersion in language first and culture once arriving in the heart of the Red Dragon.

Somehow resembling a 360-degree loop, my Huntsman language study and venture to China finalized what I had written in my application to Penn. In Raleigh, Liu Shitong and Geng Taolun were my two closest Chinese international student friends. As the driving force behind my Mandarin deep dive in high school, I even mentioned their names and our friendships in my Huntsman essay. Serving as more than local guides, reconnecting with Shitong and Taolun while conversing with their families in Mandarin only encapsulated my journey to China during August.

Stamped into my mind are three images of China:

Shenzhen Talent Park, home of the Peacock Plan to reverse 人才外流 — brain drain (深圳)
  1. Shenzhen Talent Park (深圳人才公园,深圳)

While gazing upon Shenzhen’s Nanshan district, the modernity of its buildings, observing its menacing attitude as the “Silicon Valley of China,” there stands a peacock. This peacock is no ordinary peacock. Standing at 25 feet, with a wingspan equidistant, the sculpture is difficult to mistake. It represents the 2010 Peacock Plan to “attract talent back to Shenzhen” for Chinese nationals who have studied and worked abroad. Shenzhen is offering subsidies worth up to US$230,000, according to skillset. Touring Tencent, I witnessed firsthand the amenities of Chinese tech offices — resembling Bloomberg or Facebook headquarters in the US. If only American and Chinese tech companies could share ideas like WeChat, promoting mutual growth and innovation rather than stagnation.

Homeplace of the Founder of China — Sun Yat-sen (孙中山)
Birthplace of the Founder of China — Sun Yat-sen (中山)

2. Birthplace of Sun Yat-sen (中山,广东) & Opening Up and Reform Policy (蛇口,深圳)

Two hours from Shenzhen, I visited the birthplace of the founder of the Republic of China, Sun Yatsen (孙中山). Ranging from his train ticket from NYC to DC while raising funds for the revolution to the paintings of the Hundred Years of Humiliation, the house was inspiring. It showed that even a rural homesteader in rural China can send shockwaves through history. This mindset continues to be shared as it is embedded in many elements of modern Chinese culture. The shockwaves initially caused by Sun Yat-sen by establishing modern China came to life in the Shekou district of Shenzhen. There, Deng Xiaoping broke ground with a shovel for the first project as part of the Opening Up and Reform Policy.

Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China (北京)

3. Flowers at the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong (毛主席紀念堂,天安门广场,北京)

I stood at the heart of the Red Empire in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, where Mao Zedong is preserved and open for viewing. As an American, the idea of deifying any leader is abjectly foreign. Yet while walking up the marble steps into Chairman Mao’s Memorial Hall (毛主席紀念堂), I noticed visiting rural nationals purchasing white carnations. For 3¥, they placed those flowers before the feet of the Chairman. Western nations harshly criticize Mao, but the winners write history. From a Chinese perspective, Mao’s government restructuring and social policies started reshaping China’s national identity. From famine to fortitude on the global stage, China has become a 小康社会 by merit of Deng Xiaoping’s 改革开放 policies. Though Americans may disagree with the method, combined with Deng’s policies, Mao transformed China from the poverty of watching one’s siblings starve into the world’s largest marketplace.

The historical proximity of China’s operating as a purely rural, agrarian society to now is nothing short of a miracle. Along with such, I saw firsthand how many Chinese citizens exalt family values, a diligent work ethic, and pure merit. From this trip, I realized traditional “American values” and “Chinese values” are nothing short of the opposite of being juxtaposed. The similarities of our cultural values are grossly understated by those wishing to divide our nations in pursuit of profit. Such a state of ignorance demands to be changed.

Looking ahead to next fall, I plan to do an exchange program at Tsinghua University. There I’ll study Mandarin with locals and learn the nuances of Chinese business alongside the next generation of economic and policy leaders in China. Bridging the gap between cultures and ideologies has always been a strength of mine, like many students in the Huntsman Program. Only through understanding the Chinese people, their culture, heritage, and economic system can one understand the superpower of China. Most importantly, Americans must realize the Chinese people and their government fundamentally are separate entities. China is a multifaceted nation full of respectable individuals, with a unique history and promising future.

Though my skills are rusty, I plan to return to China next fall to prepare for our generation’s next 乒乓外交. If not Ping Pong, then I’ll settle with 茅台外交.