Chancellor Irving Shain, his wife, and his delegation toured China in 1979, with a key stop in Nanjing. [Image Source: Wisconsin China Initiative ]

The University of Wisconsin-Madison Celebrates 40 Years of Partnership with China’s Nanjing University


In the winter of 1979, Chancellor Irving Shain and his wife left the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-Madison), to lead one of the first academic delegations to China in the post-Mao era. During the trip, Shain met with Nanjing University (NJU), setting into motion a new age of academic collaboration, including academic exchanges, research collaborations, and joint workshops.

Forty years later, Chancellor Rebecca Blank repeated Shain’s original journey to NJU in celebration of university partnership and academic achievement. The collaboration between the two universities —which focuses on areas such as law, communications, mathematics, and geoscience — was again strengthened as they signed a strategic partnership agreement. The agreement encourages new linkages between student and faculty exchanges in addition to strengthening current collaborations such as joint conferences on law, medicine, and linguistics.

To showcase these partnerships, the celebration coincided with a conference on linguistics and literature commending UW-Madison Professor William Nienhauser, who worked with students from both universities to translate the Shiji (史记), also known as The Grand Scribe’s Records. The Shiji is often cited as one of the most important narratives of ancient Chinese history. It covers a 25,000-year period from the age of the Yellow Emperor to the reign of Emperor Wu of Han. Indiana Press recently published the eighth volume of Professor Neinhauser’s translation with two additional volumes planned over the next two years to complete the series.

The history of exchange between UW-Madison and China can be traced back more than 100 years. The first scholars from China arrived to UW-Madison in 1907, including prominent alumni such as Guok-Tsai Chao (趙國材) and Zhou Yichun (周詒春). Other cities in Wisconsin such as La Crosse, also enjoy close ties to sister campuses in China, which have continued to promote educational exchanges within the state of Wisconsin.

Ongoing exchange between Wisconsin universities and China impacts more than university campuses. In 2016, Wisconsin hosted over 5,000 Chinese university students, generating more than $150 million for the state’s economy. A trade mission to China led by Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch in 2014 and continued cultural events such as China Lights Wisconsin also continue to promote transnational ties. With the new signing of the strategic partnership between NJU and UW-Madison, collaboration between Wisconsin and China remains strong.

Amy Namur is a participant in the East-West Center's Young Professionals Program and a recent graduate from the United Nations University-MERIT and Maastricht University.