Spotlight on Justine (Zhixin) Su
How a Partnership between East and West Began
By Dr. Cynthia Desrochers, InnovatED Editor
Dr. Justine Su (left) and CSUN President Harrison in the "Humble Administrators' Garden" in Suzhou, China, September 2013. [See link to the photo report of this visit at the end of this article.]
My interview with Justine Su reminded me that every encounter with her is a cultural experience, as she is famously generous with gifts from her birthplace, China, in the form of candies, cookies, teas, and art objects (a Year of the Snake hanging currently adorns my dining room, a gift from Justine at the conclusion of this interview). Justine, an unofficial ambassador for both China and the U.S., exemplifies the meeting of east and west, as the following story of her life demonstrates.
Because of Justine's well-documented partnerships through the CSUN China Institute, as well as her prolific scholarship and numerous accomplishments, this article will spotlight her personal story, which she shared with me during our interview. At the end of this article, I will provide web links to the China Institute website which contains annual newsletters and articles written about CSUN's China Institute's partnership.
Justine Excels in Her Many Roles
Zhixin's parents wanted her to become a scientist, a high-prestige career in her native China; she reports, however, that during the Cultural Revolution, the government sought "purification from old ways." As a result, 17-year-olds were sent away for two years to work as farmers, soldiers, or factory workers. Zhixin was sent to be a rice farmer in a rural village. Moreover, she so excelled there that she was honored with the role of deputy production team leader, and one of her duties was to blow a wakeup-whistle to wake the whole village of farmers from their sleep every day at 2:00 a.m. during the rice planting seasons and to lead them to work in the leech-filled water fields. By 3:00 a.m., they all were busy transplanting rice, a task that had to be completed before sunrise. Next came a few hours of sleep before waking once again to work the wheat fields. In two years, Zhixin became, in her words, "A great farmer, and good enough to be considered reformed and ready for college."
Throughout the telling of her story, Justine laughs at her experiences, showing a person with rare good humor, flexibility, and optimism. She goes on to share that as China opened up (1975), the government needed people who could speak foreign languages. She was told that she would be majoring in English at the Shanghai International Studies University (SISU), which was neither her nor her parents' choice. She had learned some English basics in high school—"Long live Chairman Mao"— but missed an earlier opportunity to become fluent: as a seven-year-old, she showed ability in language studies and was invited to live in a privileged boarding school to study English full time, but her parents declined the offer because they did not want her to get into a risky life in the political circle— learning a foreign language implied a future career in diplomacy. Now, at 19 in Shanghai, Justine secretly wished that she had started intensive English instruction at that young age!
A Career in Education
After three years of study at SISU (1975-1978), Justine took the first National Exam for Studying Abroad in China and received a full Chinese government scholarship to study at the University of Toronto. She was one of 30 elite Chinese students who were to become English-language trainers of the next generation of Chinese diplomats. Justine comments, "You are considered a treasure in China if you have attended college and a rare treasure if you have studied abroad." For three years (1981-1984), she was assigned a career in education by the Chinese government. Sent to Beijing to work for the Ministry of Education, she "became a bureaucrat with a very powerful position." One of her first jobs led to an encounter with John Goodlad. He was at that time doing his Study of Schooling and writing A Place Called School. When Goodlad led a U.S. delegation to China, Justine was assigned to be their interpreter and official escort. She respected Goodlad's work and became a member of the China delegation that visited UCLA and UCLA's Lab School in 1982.
Dr. Justine Su visits with Dr. John Goodlad, former dean of UCLA's Graduate School of Education (1967-1983), at his houseboat on Lake Union, Seattle, Washington, February 22, 2014, to discuss translating his books into Chinese.
Although Justine held a high-level post at the Chinese Ministry of Education and was highly respected, when her boss at the Ministry left for a post in Washington D.C., Justine was free to pursue other positions. She teamed up again with Goodlad at the University of Washington as his research assistant and earned her Ph.D. on a full scholarship (which Stanford and Columbia also offered her). Again, showing her optimism, Justine laughs, "Although I was assigned into education as a career, I found that I liked it!"
Dr. Justine Su, Eisner College Dean Spagna, Associate Dean Beverly Cabello, and Chinese scholars at the Comparative Education Forum. The Chinese scholars presented their research papers on teaching and learning in American and Chinese universities, CSUN's Michael D. Eisner College of Education, January 2013.
Learn More about CSUN's China Institute