The Far East
is Nearer Than You Think
Images old and new help
about asian politics
George R. E. Wacker '03
A simple decision to go east
instead of west changed Lisa Fischler’s life. It also
is changing a great many things at Moravian College, where Lisa is an assistant professor
of political science.
In 1986, Lisa was thinking
about a doctorate in Western European politics. She already had a B.A. from the University
of Puget Sound in Washington and an M.A. from the Monterey Institute of International
Studies in California. She had traveled and studied in France and Germany.
Then she was
given the chance to participate in a teacher exchange in Yunnan province in Southwest
China. The Monterey Institute had set up the exchange, and the schools were selected
by the Chinese government through its Ministry of Non-Ferrous Metals and Mining.
did this ministry have to do with education? The students to be taught by the American
teachers were engineers—sent into this profession when the universities reopened
after the Cultural Revolution (1966-76). Now, 10 years later, with a surfeit of engineers,
the government had decided that some should become teachers. Also, the reform policies
of Deng Xiaoping, who wanted to open China to the outside world, called for learning
foreign languages, including English.
“I thought it would
be a different experience,” Lisa
says. It was. She was 26, and most of her students were in their late 20s and 30s.
She was, as well, foreign and female. “I had to work hard to earn their respect,” she
wouldn’t say I was accepted into the culture as much as people accepted me
for who I was within the culture.” She found that the best way to enter the
culture was to be “someone who made the effort to learn the language.”
year introduced her to a world with which she fell in love, and she returned
to the United States with her mind made up to study Chinese politics at the University
Because of currency exchange
restrictions, she was not allowed to bring most of her small earnings back from China.
So the years she spent on her Ph.D. were punctuated by times off to work so she could
pay for the next installment of her education. In addition, she revisited China annually.
When she was ready for fieldwork,
she went to Hong Kong with one possible dissertation topic in mind: the relationship
between pop culture and economic development in China.
By this time it was the early ’90s,
and Hong Kong awaited the pullout of British colonial rule and return to Chinese control
with awe and apprehension.
In Hong Kong, she learned
Cantonese to complement the Mandarin Chinese she had learned in Yunnan. In field interviews
with Hong Kong high school students, she noticed different kinds of answers to her questions,
depending on whether they were addressed to boys or girls. “The way the young women
were responding led me to believe there might be something more there,” she said.
guidance from female professors and colleagues, she also learned of a controversy involving
rural women in the New
Territories, the part of Hong Kong that shares a border with China. These
women were fighting for the right to inherit family land from husbands, fathers, and
other male relatives.