Cross-cultural Encounters


An expert in Asian history, Dr. Kailai Huang offers courses on China, Japan, India and East-West cross-cultural encounters as he provides a global perspective - both in the classroom, and by arranging for students to experience other cultures through travel overseas.

"History majors are required to gain a global perspective through studying the diverse cultures of world's major geographic areas," Huang explained. "My courses fit into the curriculum designed for that goal."

Also a liaison between MCLA and his alma mater, Hebei University in Baoding, China, to establish exchange programs between the two institutions, Huang played an important part in seeing that Chinese students from Hebei study at MCLA. He also arranged for MCLA graduates to teach English at Hebei, and has been involved in setting up a new MCLA Students in Education program, which allows students to student-teach in China.

Huang earned his bachelor's degree from Hebei in 1982, as he followed in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, both of whom were professors. He earned his master's degree at Beijing Normal School, where he graduated in 1984.  He completed his Ph.D. at SUNY-Binghamton in 1992 and has taught at MCLA for the past 19 years.

Huang recently returned from Japan, where he and his students visited as part of a travel course over the spring break. It's the fifth such trip he's taken with MCLA students to Japan. A new destination this year was Okayama-Kurashiki, a typical merchant town in traditional Japan.

Back at MCLA for this year's Annual Undergraduate Research Conference in April, his students presented two papers based on their learning and travel experience in Japan, "Spirit and Religion in Japanese Society, " and "Connecting Anime to Real Japan."

In just a few weeks, Huang will return to Asia. This time, he'll head to Shanghai University in China to present his paper, "The Impact of American Business on Sino-American Normalization and the U.S. - Taiwan Trade" at the 14th Annual Conference of the American History Research Association of China - the largest Chinese association to focus on American history.

In his paper, Huang looks at China's foreign trade as a politicized process and explores foreign policies, China's internal politics and economic needs.

"American businesses had to learn and traverse gingerly in the entanglement of the Taiwan issue and China's U.S. policy," he explained. "My research, mainly based on sources from the U.S., helps to provide a different angle in understanding the complex and interesting field of U.S.-China relations.

"This is a wonderful opportunity for me to share my research with and learn from Chinese colleagues. It also will raise the profile of our College internationally," Huang said.

It's his goal to instill in his students a passion for history, as well as a global outlook that allows them to appreciate and respect different cultures. Huang wanted to teach at MCLA, he said, because of its teaching-centered, liberal arts nature. He emphasizes to his students both historical narratives and analysis that enable them to develop historical thinking.

"Students need to learn the facts, the way to develop a valid thesis, and the professional criteria in research and documentation. Then they can use writing or other communication tools to adequately express their argument."

As for future research, Huang is particularly fascinated by western missionaries in East Asia, especially in China, as well as perceptions and misperceptions generated by this cross-cultural exchange between the East and the West.