Zhao named DU Distinguished Scholar
When University of Denver Professor Suisheng “Sam” Zhao was nominated as DU’s Distinguished Scholar, a professor from the University of read more…
When University of Denver Professor Suisheng “Sam” Zhao was nominated as DU’s Distinguished Scholar, a professor from the University of Virginia described him as “a leading light in contemporary China scholarship.”
That comment was cited by Provost Gregg Kvistad at DU’s Convocation in October, when Zhao, a professor at DU’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies, was named as the University’s Distinguished Scholar for 2009–10. The award recognizes unusually significant and meritorious achievement in professional scholarship.
Kvistad also noted that a Wisconsin professor had written that he was in “awe” of Zhao’s productivity and the “top-notch” level of his work.
Both comments capture the essence of Zhao, an affable, energetic scholar who thrives on his work as a professor, executive director of the Korbel School’s Center for China-U.S. Cooperation and founder and editor of the esteemed Journal of Contemporary China.
Zhao has been running the Center for China-U.S. Cooperation since his arrival at DU in 2001. The center’s mission is to educate people in the Rocky Mountain region about greater China, including the mainland, Taiwan and Hong Kong.
The Journal of Contemporary China, which provides exclusive information about contemporary Chinese affairs for scholars, businesspeople and government policy makers, is now ranked as one of the top two English-language journals on China studies in the world. The journal tackles issues facing China as it becomes a rising world power, including the country’s economy, politics, society, foreign relations, law, culture, literature and other social sciences and policy issues.
Zhao, who travels frequently to China to meet with scholars and policy makers, describes himself as a man with one foot in each of the two worlds — the United States and China.
“I see both sides,” the professor says from his office at DU, where his desk seems to float in a sea of books with English and Chinese titles.
Michael Hennon, a former student of Zhao’s, says the professor’s real-world experiences made his classes dynamic.
“His contacts around the world, and his travel, add significant value to the classroom experience,” Hennon says. “He often has elements in class lectures that have yet to make the headlines.
“I am indebted to him — his classes have had a direct impact on my future career prospects.”
Zhao says his research focuses mostly on U.S.-China relations, Chinese foreign policy, democratization in China, Chinese nationalism, Chinese constitutional reform and East Asian international relations.
“There are very few people like myself who have been educated and held professorships on both sides,” says Zhao, who views his role as a bridge between the two super powers.
Zhao came of age in China during the Cultural Revolution and was sent to the countryside by Mao Zedong to be “re-educated” as a manual laborer. He was among the small percentage of students who managed to attend university at the end of the Cultural Revolution, he says. After graduating, he became a professor at Peking University and a research fellow at the State Council’s Economic Research Center. He then moved to the United States with his wife and daughter in 1985. The couple now has three grown children.
Zhao says he grew up in China’s cities, where it was rare to see a car. Today, China’s new super highways are gridlocked, he says, and physical change is constant.
Zhao likens China’s growth and modernization today to that of England and the United States during the Industrial Revolution.
“Every country has to make changes,” he says. “A major concern now is the economic growth at the expense of many other valuable things, including the ecology.”
China’s rapid modernization and rise as the second largest economy behind the United States has raised historical suspicions between the two countries, he says.
“Both sides have a lot of fears,” he says. “All of those come from lack of understanding. We have to work together to promote communications and enhance mutual understanding in order to reduce suspicions between these two countries and also to avoid a clash of civilizations.”