Student Biography

Author: Yan Zhang

Yan Zhang is a senior from Beijing with a major in history and a minor in political science. It’s his fourth year studying in America, and he ha really enjoyed the experience and the culture here. Zhang has been facininated by the idea that the cost of being different here in the U.S is smaller than in China. He enjoys snowboarding, basketball, an indie rock, especially psychedelic rocks. He wishes he would have been born in the 60s so he could be one of the hippies and engaged in the pop-culture of the era. Studying history has been very challenging for Zhang, as it requires heavy loads of reading and writing, especially since English is not his first lanaguge. 

1. What interested you in this topic?

I was interested in the essential reasons why they needed each other during that age. Was that solely due to the geopolitical reason or maybe there were other reasons.

2. What original research did you conduct?

At first I really wanted to do a research on American music or movies from the 1970s since it was a turbulent decade after another turbulent and dynamic decade. A period with the deconstruction of people’s previous faith and the construction of new faith can always be the best time to breed great and iconoclastic thoughts.

3. What orginal research did you conduct?

China does not have a complete online database where I could find diclassified materials for my paper. The only way to get them is to go to the national library in person so it really truncated the materials I could add to the Chinese part of the paper. If I could have been there, my paper would have been more vivid. 

4. What did you find that surprised you?

Honestly, there were nothing that surprised me. It was a unavoidable process for two big powers to normalize their relations. I think it is just a matter of time no matter how torturous the process would be.

5. If your paper was for a 401 class, how was your overall experience?

Even though this is my research paper, I have to say an excellent professor who is wise, patient and well-tempered is the most important part of a senior research project. I was lucky enough to work with Professor Osamah Khalil. He always patiently helped us to figure out the best topic and direction for us. He always encouraged us and never pushed us too hard even when we were stressed and panicking. Since English is not my first language, writing and grammar have always been the biggest obstaclesduring my academic life. He even helped me correct my grammar which is usually be done by the students. Overall, this is an excellent class with an excellent professor.

6. How is this topic relevant today?

It is fascinating to see how Sino-American relations have developed over the past four decades and China’s emergence as a major economic power, second only to the United States. In his paper, Yan also keeps an eye on the present and argues that China as been the main beneficiary of improved relations with the United States.

Professor Comments

Professor Osamah Khalil

What is the historical importance of this paper topic?

International relations in the twenty-first century will largely be defined by the cooperation and competition between the People’s Republic of China and the United States. Yan’s paper discusses how Sino-American relations evolved from open hostility to recognition and collaboration during the late Cold War period. Although Richard Nixon often gets the credit for opening relations with China, Yan emphasizes the role of Deng Xiaoping and Jimmy Carter in improving and formalizing those ties.

What impressed you about this paper?

Yan used a number of Chinese and American diplomatic sources for his paper. He was able to combine these sources to offer very interesting insights into the motivations of and tensions between Deng and Carter.

How is this topic relevant today? 

It is fascinating to see how Sino-American relations have developed over the past four decades and China’s emergence as a major economic power, second only to the United States. In his paper, Yan also keeps an eye on the present and argues that China has been the main beneficiary of improved relations with the United States.

Photograph courtesy of the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

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