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Public invited to opening of Chinese studies center

Oct. 5, 2010

KALAMAZOO--Western Michigan University will celebrate the formal opening of its Timothy Light Center for Chinese Studies Monday, Oct. 11, with a free public lecture by a renowned China scholar, followed by a reception.

Dr. Stephen R. MacKinnon, professor of history at Arizona State University, will present "Impact of World War II on China: A Reevaluation" at 6 p.m. in the Fetzer Center's Kirsch Auditorium. MacKinnon, a former director of Arizona State's Center for Asian Studies, will go beyond the traditional political story of World War II and the China War by discussing the social, cultural and economic impact of those wars on the Chinese people.

During the reception that follows, attendees will be able to meet MacKinnon and many of the principals who helped found the Light Center, which opened its doors early this month.

The center is designed to further the work of WMU faculty members and graduate students who have expertise in some field of Sinology, or teaching or research interests in China. It also aims to enhance teaching and understanding of China studies through programs accessible to undergraduate students and the public. Dr. Wei-Chiao Huang, WMU professor of economics, has been named the center's first director.

The idea for the center came from the family of Dr. Timothy Light, WMU professor emeritus of comparative religion and a former provost of the University. Family members wanted to honor Light's lifetime achievements and commitment to Chinese studies, and they also provided a generous endowment to fund the center and its activities.

"We reviewed WMU's existing resources and strengths in the area of Chinese studies and considered the significant potential opportunities the University has to collaborate with local and international academic institutions, arts organizations and industries," Huang says. "We concluded and recommended establishment of the center as the vehicle through which WMU faculty, staff and students can coordinate China studies more effectively, and at the same time, strengthen partnerships with the local and global communities and gain visibility and recognition for WMU as an institution that contributes to and promotes China studies and culture."

Huang says the Light Center will co-sponsor activities and work closely with WMU's Confucius Institute as well as area partner organizations such as the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, which opened its new Joy Light Gallery for Asian Art Aug. 28.

A Kalamazoo native and expert on the Chinese language, Timothy Light joined WMU's comparative religion faculty in 1991 and retired in 2003. He served as provost from 1996 to 2000 and for five years as special assistant for international affairs to former WMU President Diether H. Haenicke, with whom he also had worked at Ohio State University.

Light's 50-year academic career includes teaching and administrative positions related to East Asian language and culture studies at international and domestic universities and colleges, including the Chinese University of Hong Kong and University of Arizona, and the publication of numerous scholarly books and articles for professional journals.

The center's director, Huang, began his career at WMU in 1985 and specializes in labor economics. He has been preparing for the center's opening for the past two years, working with Light; Dr. Donald G. McCloud, dean of WMU's Diether H. Haenicke Institute for Global Education; and WMU faculty members on the Light Center's advisory board.

"I feel honored to be entrusted with the responsibility of coordinating activities and promoting educational, artistic and research scholarships related to all aspects of Chinese studies at WMU," Huang says. "While being an ethnic Chinese, I am actually a Taiwanese American, not from mainland China, so I am humbled and grateful for the endorsement and support that I received from Dr. Light, Dean McCloud and the advisory board members."

McCloud, a specialist in Southeast Asian politics, says the Light Center will capitalize on and bring focus to WMU's considerable faculty resources on China.

"The Light Center, adding to the new capacity being created through the Confucius Institute at WMU, offers the University an opportunity to gain national prominence with regard to China and broadly to East Asian studies," McCloud says. "Over the next several years, these two programs coupling with the resident competence already in place among our faculty will bear considerable scholarly fruit."

The Light Center plans to bring in highly regarded China scholars and researchers for lectures and seminars. In addition, Huang and Dr. Huizhong Zhou, professor of economics, have teamed up to make "Dragon vs. Eagle: The Chinese Economy and U.S.-China Economic Relations" the focus of WMU's 2010-11 Werner Sichel Economics Lecture Series. That series will begin Oct. 20.

"China's ascent in the global economy is increasing demand for Americans proficient in Chinese language and culture to prepare for careers in fields ranging from foreign policy to trade and commerce," Huang says.

He adds that greater China is becoming more important, as well. That region includes mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and other Asian countries, such as Singapore, Korea and Japan, which have many people of Chinese descent or are heavily influenced by Chinese culture.

"In this new century of the global village environment, it is imperative for students to acquire global literacy and proficiency to be a valuable world citizen and to be competitive and productive in the marketplace," Huang says.

For more information about the Light Center for Chinese Studies or its upcoming events, visit wmich.edu/chinesestudiescenter or contact Christina Paruch at hige-lightcenter@wmich.edu or (269) 387-3951.

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Media contact: Christina Paruch, (269) 387-3951, hige-lightcenter@wmich.edu

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