What do The Beatles, China, philosophy and DePaul University have in common? The answer is Bill Martin, a professor of philosophy, who is spending his 26th year as a DePaul faculty member on leave to teach abroad at Huaqiao University in Xiamen, China. Read on to learn how Martin is sharing knowledge, culture and music with DePaul's Chinese counterparts.
Had you ever been to China or Huaqiao University before this academic year?
I had never been to Huaqiao before, but I have taught month-long seminars at Fudan University in Shanghai. For many years I have been interested in Chinese history, and the Chinese experience of revolution and socialism. My knowledge of Maoism was enriched by my experience in China. In those previous ten weeks in China, I had come to appreciate many other aspects of Chinese society and culture. When a colleague told me that Huaqiao University, with whom the university often works, was looking for someone who could go for a full school year while on leave from DePaul, I knew it was right up my alley.
What has the experience been like?
Xiamen in general is a very pleasant place. It is an island-city with a slightly larger population than Chicago, but without the brutal winters. I have made some very good friends with university members, and even a few just from being out and about.
I have a large and kind of crazy research agenda. In addition to teaching philosophy courses, my larger book-writing projects all relate to creating a synthesis of Buddhism, Maoism and French Marxism. But it really has been wonderful. Every day in China is at least something of an adventure. Everyone at Huaqiao - students, faculty, administration and staff - have been welcoming and nice to me.
What are some of the differences and similarities you've found between DePaul and Huaqiao?
Comparing academic life here with that in the U.S. and at DePaul has been interesting. As with Fudan University, the students at Huaqiao generally work very hard. Chinese students are very sincere and serious, which doesn't mean without humor; it is rare to encounter even a trace of cynicism.
The other difference I'm still grappling with is how many students have majors assigned to them, based mainly on exam scores and where in the country they are from. This means about half of the philosophy class enrollment consist of students who did not choose philosophy. Navigating this situation is not easy, though I think I made some progress during the fall term and I'm applying what I've learned in the present term.
We learned you started a band with some students. How did that come about?
I've played the bass guitar for about 45 years now, in all kinds of contexts, and I've always had the idea of a group with only a bass guitar and tambourine - a bit like the White Stripes in its minimalism.
By coincidence, my first week here I met Stella Jiang, a student who sings and plays tambourine. We connected over our mutual appreciation for the Beatles and began playing together in the fall term. We named our band, The Sand Dollars, in honor of a minimal creature that is beautiful and benign. After good reception at a few small shows, we're now preparing to play at a cafe on my favorite street in this part of town. Sometimes a few of Stella's friends come along to practice and even help sing back-up vocals and harmonies. In addition to our Beatles set, we are practicing a new set with songs by Neil Young, Nirvana, Jefferson Airplane, the Moody Blues and Bob Dylan. We're also doing Space Oddity by David Bowie.