It was a far cry from the typical Chinese classroom. Shen Yuanyuan, 38, a Harvard University Law School graduate and former student and professor at People's University in Beijing, tried out her new American teaching style at her Chinese alma mater when she returned there in 1993 to lecture on international law.
Shen asked her students to conduct negotiations, to write contracts, and to answer her questions. That surprised many of them. Why? In Chinese universities, "usually the teacher gives you the whole system, one-two-three-four," says Shen.
Exposing students to the American approach is Shen's way of repaying her debt to People's University. Shen maintains close ties with her old school, which sent her to Harvard in 1988. Three days before her graduation, troops rolled into Tiananmen Square. Shen quickly arranged to stay in the U.S., entering graduate school at the University of Wisconsin.
Now working on her PhD on the sociology of law, she lives in Cambridge, Mass., with her husband, a Harvard law professor, and two children. But she tries to go back to Beijing every year. "I feel I have some moral obligation to give them what I have learned in the U.S.," she says.
Like many members of the Class of '77 who have studied in the West, Shen has developed ideas about personal freedom that might displease some Party elders. "Individualism isn't perfect," she says. "However, for China at this stage, it's quite useful." With that in mind, Shen is writing her dissertation on consumer protection in China. As fraud explodes in the market economy, a grassroots consumer movement is stirring. From both sides of the Pacific, she hopes to chronicle its growth.