PSU students report from China for McClatchy

This is the second year that Penn State University has taken a group of its student journalists on a reporting trip abroad, and we are delighted and honored to again be given the opportunity to display our work on the McClatchy Newspapers Washington Bureau website.

This year, 15 print, broadcast and multi-media students from our International Reporting course spent a week in Shanghai, the mega-city of soaring skyscrapers that is the embodiment of China’s emergence as an economic superpower. We expected to find the predictable contrast between the old and the new China, but there was not much of that to see. Just about everything in Shanghai is new, and that which is old is quickly being knocked down and replaced by yet another building of stunning architectural modernity.

The people we met, though, told the stories of China's transformation. We found groups of old folks in Lu Xun Park, who gather to spend the lonely morning hours together because their children and grandchildren have gone to the U.S. or Europe to work or study. We spoke with migrants from the countryside who are struggling to acquire the education and skills that will enable them to have their share of China's wealth. And we met gay couples — not hiding, but not really open — who acknowledged candidly that sooner or later they will have to marry, settle down, and bow to the imperatives of China’s traditional family structure.

Our students found a Barbie Doll store, and explored the obsession with Western images of beauty that drive young Chinese women to invest thousands of dollars in cosmetic surgery. There is a small but thriving underground indie music scene in China, yet its future is uncertain as the authorities waver between tolerance and suppression. The NBA is in China — hoping to attract a fan base that will dwarf the inroads soccer and baseball have made there. KFC, McDonald's, Pizza Hut, Starbucks — there's hardly a corner without one — yet our students found that an indifferent and economically weakened United States had become barely an afterthought in all the global excitement around Shanghai's Expo.

Indispensable to us in completing our work was Penn State's partnership with Shanghai International Studies University, the prestigious local university that trains diplomats, journalists and linguists. Not only did SISU students interpret for us and help us navigate the impossible complexity of Shanghai, but we think their contact with our students brought a different dimension to our stories.

We hope you'll find our work interesting and enlightening. Please feel free to get in touch with your comments.


Tony Barbieri, the Foster Professor of Writing and Editing at Penn State, is a former managing editor of The Baltimore Sun and a long-time foreign correspondent for that newspaper. He can be reached at

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