Fulbright Grant Takes Saltzman to Jilin

E&M Professor Greg Saltzman Reports from China

Greg Saltzman, E. Maynard Aris Professor of Economics and Management, is spending a month from mid-May to mid-June in China as a Fulbright Senior Specialist at Jilin University in Changchun, the capital city of Jilin province.

 Saltzman with three members of Jilin University's human resources management faculty.
Saltzman with three members of Jilin University's human resources management and business faculty.

I am teaching labor relations to undergraduates and graduate students in the Human Resource Management Department of the business school at Jilin University. I quickly discovered one respect in which the human resource management department here differs from any H.R.M. department in the United States: six of the twelve regular faculty members here are members of the Communist Party. Of course, in China, the social significance of Communist Party membership is that you are part of the establishment and are well connected to people in power. In contrast, in America, it implies that you are a radical outsider who wants to overturn the existing economic, social, and political system.

Saltzmen having a conversation with a student.






Students in the business school here are eager to improve their English language skills, which they see as crucial to success in business. I wish that Americans would be as attentive as people in other nations are to the need to learn foreign languages; Americans can easily use English to buy, but we need to learn the languages of our customers in order to sell. (I must confess, though, that I struggled in French and Hebrew when I was a student; learning second languages is definitely not one of my strengths.)

I had heard before that corruption was a problem in China, but it is worse than I had realized. Government bureaucrats routinely expect "tips." It is difficult to get a marriage license in China without providing a "tip" to a clerk in the license bureau.

Successful business people in China often want to be able to say that they are Ph.D.s because of the respect for learning in Chinese society, but the business people don't mind having a doctorate that has been bought rather than earned. The business school at Jilin University routinely receives offers of large sums of money from Chinese business people who want waivers of the normal entrance requirements; they don't just want to be admitted with lower test scores, but want to be admitted without even taking the normal admission tests. (Tests seem to be much more important than grades for admission to Chinese universities.) Presumably, once admitted, the wealthy donors would expect to get their degrees without doing the normal work required for a doctorate.

I am told that the chair of the Human Resource Management department at Jilin University refuses all offers of bribes. Jilin is said to be the best university in northeast China. The equivalent in the U.S. thus might be to try to buy an unearned Ph.D. from a major university such as the University of Texas-Austin or the University of Virginia, rather than buying a doctorate from an online school with low standards.

 Walmart in Changchun, China.
"Wal-Mart is considered a high-priced, high quality store," Saltzman notes." The quality of the goods here in Changchun did not seem any different to me from what Wal-Mart sells in Michigan."

China is getting richer very fast. An assistant professor in the H.R.M. Department at Jilin University drives a relatively new VW (made in town, as Jilin University happens to be located in one of China's major car manufacturing centers). I assume, though, that most of the cost of the car was covered by the money made by her husband, who owns a successful business. The faculty salaries at Jilin University are much lower than those at Albion College, even adjusting for the lower cost of living in China.

The construction crane seems to be China's national bird. A construction project across the street from where I am staying has work going on 24 hours per day. I can vouch for this because it took me a while to adjust to the 12-hour change in time zones, and I was initially waking in the middle of the night. Chinese construction projects proceed quickly because environmental groups cannot insist on environmental impact statements, and neighbors cannot tie up proposed projects by filing objections with zoning or planning boards.

The undergrads at Jilin University were born after China adopted their one-child-per-family policy. Several told me that they would have felt less lonely as children if they had had siblings.

Women about to graduate from Jilin University with bachelor's or master's degrees in human resource management report that it is much harder for them to get good jobs than it is for their male counterparts.

Saltzman's view of his class.
Saltzman's view of his class. 

The Chinese students I have talked with this spring, however, seem unafraid to speak their minds. Besides freely mentioning problems with corrupt government bureaucrats, some have mentioned unfair treatment that their family members experienced during the Cultural Revolution. Furthermore, even though the Chinese government controls all newspapers and television broadcasts in China, the Chinese people have access to outside information through the Internet.

A few years ago, I read in the American press about the "Great Firewall of China"--restrictions by the Chinese government on access to Internet sites deemed politically offensive. Shortly after I arrived in China, I did a test to see how significant these restrictions are today. I accessed Wikipedia on the Internet and looked up their article on the Dalai Lama--not the Chinese government's favorite person, to say the least. I was able to reach the Wikipedia article on the Dalai Lama without any difficulty.

Saltzman next to a trashcan.
"This baby dragon is an outdoor trash can by the imperial palace of Puyi, the last emperor of China," says Saltzman. "This palace is in Changchun, which was the capital of Manchukuo in the 1930s when the Japanese conquered Manchuria. Puyi reigned as a puppet during the Japanese occupation."


Of course, the Chinese Communist Party does not permit any opposition parties, and the Chinese people do not have the opportunity to choose those who govern them. China absolutely is not a political democracy. But the Chinese people do not seem to live in fear of their government the way that they did in 1974-75, and Jilin University faculty who have lived abroad (as many have) freely choose to return to China. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and China has already taken many steps on the road towards political freedom (even though there is a long way to go).

The students in my labor relations class ask few questions; an assistant professor at Jilin University told me that they are embarrassed by their spoken English. But they laugh at the jokes in my lectures, demonstrating that they can understand at least some of what I say. Tomorrow in class, I will sing an American song from a 1931 coal miners' strike in Kentucky. I will ask the Chinese students to join me in singing the chorus. It will be interesting to see whether I can coax them to participate.