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Leaving a Long Legacy Title

Perhaps no faculty member has personified Chinese culture to Reed students more than Charles Wu. In keeping with his mission to “serve as a bridge for cross-cultural understanding” and the college’s goal to establish an inter-disciplinary Chinese studies program, Wu has worked both inside and outside the classroom to immerse the campus in his native culture.

In 1988 Wu and Hyong Rhew became the first-ever professors of Chinese literature and language at Reed. The challenge to build a full-fledged program appealed to Wu, a scholar trained in literature who had spent many years teaching both English and Chinese. He helped lay the foundation for a range of modern Chinese language courses and taught twentieth-century Chinese literature courses in fiction, poetry, drama, and film. He also helped develop Humanities 230, an innovative course that studies the foundations of Chinese civilization through an inter-disciplinary lens.

As a native of China who moved to the U.S. in 1980, Wu brought to Reed a unique bicultural perspective, one enhanced by both his Western academic training and his intimate knowledge of the turbulent times that shaped the contemporary literature he teaches. “I have strived to ensure the authenticity of the material I teach and share my insights based on the latest critical theories as well as my own ‘insider’s’ point of view,” he explains.

Scholars in the West, Wu explains, have long studied China’s traditional culture. But the resurgence of the country is attracting increasing attention to its more recent and lesser-known changes in an array of disciplines, such as its recent sociopolitical history, intellectual history, literature, cinema, and other art fields. Modern Chinese culture, says Wu, “deserves to be critically examined, but with the best possible academic objectivity and integrity.”

Thanks in large part to Wu, students can encounter modern Chinese culture beyond Reed’s classrooms. Wu helped create Chinese study-abroad opportunities for students by forming affiliations with four Chinese universities. He also plays a major role in bringing a Chinese language scholar and other cultural events to Reed each year. “I feel quite strongly that we need a presence of Chinese culture on this campus for the curriculum to make sense to our students,” he explains.

His passion for infusing a cultural component has been instrumental to the program’s growth at Reed, Wu’s colleagues say. “He’s been very, very important in a holistic way,” says Rhew. Douglas Fix, professor of Chinese history and chair of Chinese humanities, adds that he strongly hopes Wu continues to lure Chinese notables to campus in his role of professor emeritus.

Wu says he does intend to remain connected with Reed through academic collaborations, as well as “to connect with the larger community.” For now he rejoices in reading the email stories of former students who have embarked on careers related to China. Not surprisingly, he says these ongoing relationships are the most rewarding part of his job. “The contacts these students have maintained with me after their graduation,” Wu says, “are a constant source of joy.” End of Article

Freelance writer Dan Sadowsky wrote about Kalista Smith ’01 in the February 2002 issue of Reed.



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