The Fulbright Commission has provided me with extraordinary opportunities to explore the world beyond the United States and to attempt to build bridges between other countries and our own. As a graduate student at the Universität Tübingen in Germany in 1965-6, I learned much from seeing the intensity of activism against the Vietnam War even in a country far away from our own shores. I also had the chance to immerse myself in German literature, committing many years to come to translating Rilke’s Sonette an Orpheus.
As faculty at Fudan University in Shanghai in 1996-7 and then at Nankai University in Tianjin the following semester, I had the privilege of teaching contemporary American poetry to extraordinarily bright and talented students while also working with some of them to translate, collaboratively in this case, many of the most important young Chinese poets, whose poems the students all knew by heart, although my older colleagues often did not even know their names.
As faculty at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou in 2001-2, I was fortunate to share a classroom with 24 superb first-year graduate students, all of them women, while we explored the world of American literature as they prepared for the doctoral studies and eventual faculty positions that many of them have now achieved. That same year my wife (Ann Arbor) and I were finally able to explore the world of Chinese peasant art that had intrigued us from our first time teaching in China in 1987.
In the years that followed, we have often returned to Shanghai and Xi’an to meet the artists, to talk with them about their paintings and woodblock prints, and to gather and then exhibit one of the largest and most diverse collections of their work that exists. Meanwhile we have been able to create exhibitions of my wife’s photographs, travel to a small town to share in the tenth birthday celebration of the son of the woman who manages our residence hall cafeteria in Hangzhou, and serve as Santa Claus for hundreds of young (and old) Chinese who scarcely believe that any actual human being can exist with such a full white beard.
As the beard suggests, we are now old, and though we still return to visit friends, former students, and colleagues, we have begun to downsize. As we do so, we intend to help establish two centers that support and stimulate intercultural awareness: one in China for the study of North American society through an understanding of American poetry; one in the United States for the appreciation of Chinese culture through knowledge of everyday Chinese life as reflected in contemporary peasant paintings and ordinary artifacts. The Fulbright Commission—both directly and indirectly—has made possible our many years of work dedicated to world peace and mutual understanding among nations. Our Fulbright legacy is what we can offer to those who follow us.
John Rosenwald – Fulbright to Germany 1965 & China 1996, 1997, 2001