As a University of Washington graduate student, I received a Fulbright grant, and it was life changing. But in one ill-advised swoop, President Donald Trump has now terminated the exchange program.
The July 14 executive order on Hong Kong has as its goal the elimination of any special status that Hong Kong had under U.S. law. The order states that Hong Kong is no longer “sufficiently autonomous to justify differential treatment,” which it had enjoyed since being “returned” to China in 1997. This order was in response to China’s imposition of national security legislation on Hong Kong, which is a violation of Hong Kong’s autonomy and has generally been seen by most nation-states as a grave offense against Hong Kong by the People’s Republic of China.
Section 3(i) of the order states that the U.S. Fulbright exchange program with China and Hong Kong is to be terminated. While China’s actions in Hong Kong are unacceptable, eliminating the Fulbright exchange program is a significant misstep and must be reconsidered. It is shortsighted and unwise. It also does not make sense logically.
The Fulbright exchange program supports a variety of exchanges for students, scholars, teachers and other professionals, with the aim of improving cultural understanding and communication at large.
I received my Fulbright grant to conduct dissertation fieldwork in China’s Northwest Yunnan Province in 2001-2002. This research was the cornerstone for my Ph.D. in anthropology and my academic life over the past 15 years — research, publishing and teaching. As an anthropologist, all of my courses have at their core cultural understanding and connecting. I learned the importance of this during my time as a Fulbrighter. For more than a decade I have taught and published specific content on China and its people. I have established lifelong friendships as well as research contacts in China. This summer, I was supposed to take students from my Asian Medical Systems class at University of Puget Sound to China to learn about the cultural and biological ecologies of Tibetan and Chinese medicines. The trip was canceled due to COVID-19, but it was possible to organize due to the connections I made all those years ago (and which I have nurtured ever since), thanks to my Fulbright grant.
During the time of my research, my son (aged 3 and 4 at the time) accompanied me. His cultural and linguistic experiences from this time in his life have remained with him. Two years ago he furthered his study of Chinese in Beijing for the summer, and he was close to a minor in Chinese language while a UW electrical engineering student. The diversity of his personal friends is no doubt linked to his appreciation for other cultural lifeways — made possible with a Fulbright grant for his mother.
As our world continues to shrink, we need to encourage more, not less, understanding of the varying communities in it. Cutting off the Fulbright exchange program will only hinder such understanding.
Furthermore, there is at least one logical error with the termination of the Fulbright program in this order. Terminating a scholarly and cultural exchange program with both China and Hong Kong does not relate at all to the stated goal of the order (elimination of special status of Hong Kong under U.S. law).
I urge you to contact your representatives in the U.S. House and Senate, and the Fulbright Board, to demand reconsideration of this clause in the order and to advocate for the continuation of the Fulbright program in China and Hong Kong.