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China and the University of Maryland

Ping pong at Cole Field House, 1972. Courtesy of University of Maryland Archiveses

Just a few miles down the road from Greenbelt at the University of Maryland in College Park, there exists a rich history of connection and collaboration between China and the United States. The university has a long term history of engagement with the first Chinese student matriculating in 1915. Through the 1940s, 50s and 60s, UMD promoted Chinese culture and values through academic forums and exchanges.

In 1972, UMD participated in “Ping Pong Diplomacy” with matches between the two countries held at Cole Field House. These sporting events really thawed relations between the two countries and were a continuing of better relations after President Nixon’s historic visit to China in February of that year.

1971 Cartoon of Nixon and Tse-Tung Mao by Mort Drucker. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Time magazine

University of Maryland currently hosts about 2500 Chinese students and about 100 faculty and staff members. The Maryland China Initiative, now renamed the Office of China Affairs, has a broad range of activities, including hosting government officials to give workshops and cultural experiences to Chinese businessmen, government officials, and other leaders. At the Greenbelt Museum we have hosted many such groups. One large group that visited Greenbelt for a walking tour was made up of “small city mayors.” After getting acquainted, the group tour members were discussing their cities and one mentioned his city had 2 million people! Quite a difference from Greenbelt, but they were eager to learn the workings of our city government and were fascinated by our planned community history.

University of Maryland also was home to the oldest Confucius Institute in the United States until very recently. The Confucius Institute was supported by the Chinese government as a place to train teachers, give language lessons, and classes on Chinese culture. It was closed in 2020 after federal government questions about potential espionage and academic freedoms and legislation made it difficult to continue the institute and still receive government funding.

This continued exchange of ideas and cultures just a few miles from Greenbelt is a huge positive for our city!

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