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Strengthening academic ties with China: Licheng Gu joins International Relations staff

I'm like a matchmaker, a bridge builder between Northwestern and Chinese universities.”

Licheng Gu
Professor of Instruction and China Liaison

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In January, Licheng Gu, a professor of instruction in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures, was named the official China Liaison for Northwestern University in the Office of the Vice President for International Relations.

In this new position, Gu, who has been working at Northwestern for 26 years, will advise University leadership on strategic initiatives in China, assist with raising Northwestern’s visibility abroad and provide support for delegation visits to and from the country. 

“We are very excited to have Professor Gu join our staff,” said Dévora Grynspan, Vice President for International Relations. “I have been working with him since we created the first undergraduate study abroad program in Beijing 18 years ago. His extensive experience and professional network in China will help us expand and strengthen our activities and partnerships in the country — to the benefit of both our students and faculty as well as our partners in China and around the world.”

In 2001, Gu and Vice President Grynspan instituted Northwestern’s summer programs in China, which enroll approximately 35 students each year. Since then, Gu has continued to lead and nurture these programs.

Northwestern and China 

Northwestern has significantly expanded its relationships with Chinese institutions over the last two decades. The University partners with several top universities in China, including Peking University, Tsinghua University, Shanghai Jiao Tong University and Zhejiang University, generating an array of academic activities in the country that ranges from undergraduate summer programs to medical student exchanges. In his newly-formalized position, Gu will help nurture and enhance Northwestern’s extensive partnerships with these institutions. 

“I have been serving in this role for the past 20 years on a much smaller scale,” said Gu, who has been helping with translations and interpreting when accompanying senior staff to China. “I’m excited that the university realized the importance of creating a formal position, so I can legitimately serve more in this capacity.”

Throughout the last academic year alone, the Office of the Vice President for International Relations hosted close to 100 visitors from China, including high ranking government officials, university presidents and faculty delegations. In addition, senior Northwestern leadership and dozens of faculty and administrators travel to China each year to develop and expand research collaborations, joint programs and institutional partnerships. Gu’s responsibilities will include assisting with these types of visits.

Gu will also help manage Northwestern’s WeChat account, slated to launch later this year through Northwestern’s Office of Global Marketing and Communications. Joining WeChat, a Chinese social media and messaging app with over 1 billion users, will allow the University to share its announcements and accomplishments with a broad Chinese audience.

For Gu, his work to improve relations between Northwestern and China is critical not only for institutional purposes but also for the future of the U.S. as a whole.

Every year, around 12,000 American higher education students study abroad in China and over 320,000 students from China study at colleges and universities the U.S., according to Gu. Northwestern is currently home to nearly 1,500 students and 500 scholars from China, and roughly 70 Northwestern students study abroad in China each year.

“China with its booming business economy is an important trading partner for the United States,” Gu said. “China needs to know America better, and perhaps even more importantly, Americans need to know China better.” 

Licheng Gu: A bridge builder and matchmaker

Licheng Gu has always been fascinated by cultures and languages. Growing up in China, Gu learned English at the Beijing Foreign Languages School, where he became interested in the English-speaking world.

That interest followed him through college and eventually led him to the United States, where he completed his Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction at the University of Oregon. Once in the U.S., he felt compelled to bring the culture of his native China to his new home.

“I realized, I need to introduce China to the American people,” Gu said. “That’s when I started learning how to teach Chinese to Westerners.”

He ended up at Northwestern, where he directed the Chinese Language Program for ten years and the former Program of African and Asian Languages for eight years. While serving as the China Liaison, Gu will continue his appointment as a professor of instruction in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures, where he teaches courses in Chinese language.

His research focuses on pedagogy and curriculum development, and he has published numerous articles and books throughout his career. His latest, An Analysis of Chinese Language Teaching in America: Its Past, Present, and Future, which analyzes both the Chinese and American governments’ language policies and how they affect Chinese language teaching in the U.S., was published earlier this year. In 2018, he published two articles analyzing models for Chinese language teaching at Middlebury College and Princeton University.

He has received recognition from the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences for his excellence in teaching and for his community-building skills. He has also been named to the faculty honor roll numerous times by students. His dream of helping to forge a connection between American universities and China is very much alive.

“I know Northwestern very well; I’m from China and I have the passion,” Gu said when asked how he fits into this role. “I’m like a matchmaker, a bridge builder between Northwestern and Chinese universities.”