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Anthropologist Susan Brownell joins National Committee on US-China Relations – UMSL Daily

Anthropologist Susan Brownell joins National Committee on US-China Relations – UMSL Daily


Sunsan Brownell

Professor Susan Brownell, an anthropologist and expert on Chinese sports and the Olympics, was recently appointed to the National Committee on US-China Relations. (Photo by August Jennewein)

The National Committee on US-China Relations exists to promote understanding and cooperation between the United States and China with the belief that a productive relationship serves both American and global interests.

Are membership includes more than 700 prominent Americans from around the country who represent different points of view but share a desire to increase public knowledge about China and developments therein due to its importance to the future of both countries.

Susan Brownela professor of anthropology in the Department of History at the University of MissouriSt. Louis and an expert in Chinese sports and the Olympic Games, was recently welcomed to the ranks of the committees.

historian Jeffrey N Wasserstromwith whom Brownell collaborated on the book Chinese Femininity / Chinese Masculinity: A Reader, nominated her for membership. She had previously been an invited speaker at several NCUSCR events at the organization’s New York headquarters and locally that were co-hosted by UMSL worldwide.

It’s just really important to have votes for China, Brownell said. That doesn’t necessarily mean always being an advocate for what China is doing, but to help explain China.

That may be more important than ever with the relationship between the two largest economic powers in the world become more tense in the past five years than perhaps ever since the 1970s.

The two are embroiled in a trade war that began in 2018 and the United States declared China a currency manipulator in 2019. Tensions have also increased due to US support for protesters in Hong Kong in 2019 and the coronavirus, which originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan and spread around the world in 2020.

Last year, the United States imposed a diplomatic boycott of the Olympic Games, which were held in Beijing.

The perception of China among many of our politicians and media coverage are so negative that they just don’t help, Brownell said. They are just so biased. We really need a lot more reasoned voices trying to explain how things really are.

Understanding of China, its culture and its customs has never been abundant in the United States. The country is located on the edge of Asia, about as far from Europe and the US as possible, and has developed its own history and culture separate from the West.

The establishment of the People’s Republic of China led by Mao Zedong and the Chinese Communist Party after years of periodic civil war in 1949 further isolated it from the Western world. More than 20 years passed from then on before a US delegation set foot in China.

The NCUSCR was responsible for helping reopen dialogue between the two countries when it facilitated a visit to Beijing by members of the US table tennis team, accompanied by a group of journalists, on April 10, 1971, in what was known as ping pong diplomacy.

That makes sense to me especially because I’m an expert in Chinese sports and Olympics, Brownell said.

That paved the way for President Richard Nixon’s visit to China in 1972 and helped pave the way for the US to formally recognize the People’s Republic of China and establish diplomatic relations in 1979.

Brownell was among the early wave of researchers who visited China and conducted ethnographic research in the 1980s while she was pursuing her PhD at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She spent the academic year 1985-1986 at Peking University studying Chinese language.

Once a nationally ranked track and field athlete and Olympic hopeful as a student at the University of Virginia, Brownell also ended up in Beijing in the 1986 Chinese National College Games where she set a national record and won a gold medal in the heptathlon.

Brownell traces her interest in China to hearing the stories her grandmother would tell about her great-grandfather Earl Brewer, the former governor of Mississippi, who represented the Mississippi Delta Chinese community in a challenge against school segregation in the 1920s . The case, known as Gong Lum v. Ricereached the U.S. Supreme Court, which rejected the appeal and in 1927 upheld Mississippi’s authority to segregate schools by race.

She returned to Beijing Sport University in 1987 for a year of PhD research and has made numerous trips to the country to conduct research since joining the UMSL faculty in 1984.

Brownell spent a year in Beijing leading up to the 2008 Olympics and returned to Shanghai in 2010 for the World’s Fair. She planned to go back to China ahead of the 2022 Winter Olympics, but the COVID-19 pandemic messed up those plans.

Her views on China and the Games remained in high demand in US and international media coverage both before and during the Games.

As a member of the NCUSCR, Brownell will have the opportunity to attend the annual membership meeting and other events throughout the year and will now have access to the committee’s staff, and she looks forward to interacting with other China experts and scientists.


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