Christopher's journey at ECNU


Jordan Thomas Christopher

This year’s ECNU graduation class comprised 62 international students. They originally came to Shanghai to pursue their education and they will leave as the first batch of graduates to finish the two-year MA Program taught in English at ECNU.

An example is one of the American students—Jordan Thomas Christopher from California USA. He was not only admitted into McGill University, one of Canada’s preeminent institutions of higher learning and world renowned. He also was granted a full-time scholarship for the Ph.D. program in Chinese philosophy.

In the eyes of his Chinese classmates, Christopher’s shrewd talents and earnest ambition to learn mark him as an anomaly for most honor graduate students. It’s not wise to classify him as eccentric, instead, he breaks this calibre of stereotype by his colorful and outgoing personality. 

After receiving a bachelor’s degree from Loyola Marymount University, he went to the Durhan University in U.K. to further his studies in Western classic philosophy and culture. Thereafter, he developed a keen interest in philosophies of Ancient China, in particular Zhuang Zi, so he decided to change directions in comparative studies of Eastern and Western philosophies.

Christopher sets out to ECNU

In 2015, he was recommended by Chinese-American scholar, Robin Wang, to apply for ECNU’s English-taught MA Program which was launched the same year. Ms. Wang believed that the program at ECNU was suitable to Christopher’s interest in Ancient Chinese philosophy.

Christopher became the first international student to specialize in the Chinese philosophy program. He chose Prof. Yang Guorong as his research advisor, who praised Christopher as ‘diligent, thoughtful and clearheaded.’

“He has an active mind, likes to communicate with teachers, and makes friends with most of the teachers,” Prof. Yang said. He also noted Christopher’s ability to look at a topic from a Western perspective that contrasts with Chinese students’ ideas.

According to Prof. Yang, Christopher’s variety of interests from Chinese philosophy to American rock music distinguishes him from ordinary students. For example, he is also very enthusiastic about sports (i.e. baseball) and even started a rock and roll band with some of his Taiwanese classmates.

Christopher and his teacher Prof. Yang Guorong.

A special curriculum for a devoted student

Christopher expressed his deep appreciation for the ECNU MA program in light of its curriculum to suit his individual strengths and academic interests. “My teachers highly value the principle of teaching according to one’s ability,” he said.

“They make adjustments in line with my research interests, helping me overcome my weakness, and formulate a lesson plan to fit my particular demands. In addition, I have spare time to take other courses that I like.”

He said the teachers instructed him to read a multitude of ancient Chinese philosophicalclassics—including “The Analects of Confucius", "Zhuang Zi", "Yin Wenzi" and "On the Theme of the Six Scholarships” written by Sima Tan in the Han Dynasty.

The teachers also organized reading groups to bring Christopher together with some of his Chinese peers, using brainstorming activities to engage in critical thinking activities and always providing feedback to him through WeChat.

Christopher exclusively identified Prof. Yang, Dr. Paul Joseph D’ambrosio and Prof. Liang Jian of the cross-culture research center who instructed him at the English-language MA Program.

“They are so nice to me, offering help to me in my study as well as other life problems,” he said.

When we discussed with him about his future, he told us that he dreamed of becoming a dignified scholar. He revealed to us that he will engage in comparative studies of Chinese and Western philosophies in a doctorate program at McGill University.

“Before coming to China, I specialized in philosophy and culture of ancient Rome and Greece,” he said. “I believe my knowledge accumulated over the years will be conducive to my doctoral study.”

Love-hate relationship about campus life

Christopher said he has a mixed love-hate feeling about his two-year life at Min Da Huang—a petname referring to the remote location of the ECNU campus in Min Hang District. He told us: “Around this never-never land, I could not find a restaurant to buy a decent hamburger. Not to mention a place where I can experience native Shanghai folk culture.”

 Eventually, Christopher rented an apartment in Pudong that was reasonably closer to the central areas of the city, though much further from Min Da Huang. “But the trouble is Pudong is far from the campus, and I have to commute between the two places each day. That is very exhausting,” he grumbled.

Prof. Yang Guorong echoed the view when pointing to Christopher’s quandary,stating that the campus’ location is not ideal for a young graduate student. For a student of the humanities, the Zhongbei campus is a better place because it is enriched with an atmosphere of human interaction, the professor said.

In fact, several outstanding international students have turned down offers from ECNU's English-taught MA Program due to distance of the campus in Min Hang. Prof. Yang even suggested to the leaders of the university to transfer some of the program’s courses to the Zhongbei campus.

Christopher’s qualm

Besides Christopher’s lack of enthusiasm for Taoism and the Logicians, he also couldn’t understand the popularity of Confucianism among his classmates. “Without like-minded friends, I feel so lonely sometimes,” he said.

Loneliness is the word he used to describe his feeling in the past two years, not just because of his isolationism in the classroom. He also was unable to make friends with a many of his Chinese classmates outside of the class.

Prof. Yang suggested that the university take measures to promote academic exchanges between international and Chinese students, even though most international students benefit from English-taught MA Programs as opposed to Chinese.

But Christopher said that the negative aspects did not ruin the MA program’s overall mission to educate their students. There are even more students who agree with him, for instance Russian student, Daria Savchenko, one of the first students of the English-taught MA Program admitted to ECNU’s Department of Socio-Cultural Anthropology in September 2015.

Updated information and results of ECNU’s MA programs

Ms. Savchenko specialized in robotics technology and early childhood education. In her dissertation, “Reprogramming the Future: Educational Robotics in Shanghai,” she discusses the relationship between technological developments and early childhood growth, of which a large portion of her information and data was collected from three Shanghai-based robot manufacturers. Her new research findings attracted the interests of many experts and scholars in Shanghai.

Daria Savchenko was recruited on a full-time scholarship by Harvard University which has the world’s most prestigious doctorate program for social anthropology. Ms. Savchenko’s academic background was exceptional compared with the other applicants and she became one of the six doctoral students enrolled by the social anthropology department of Harvard this year.

Up to now, there are six English-based MA programs at ECNU in applied math, statistics, anthropology, Chinese philosophy, international relations and politics. These programs went into effect in 2015.

Tang Yuguang, chief of the English-language MA programs, purported some numbers about the program’s student-base. He concluded that since 2015, the MA program has recruited a total of 118 students from 37 countries of Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America and North America regions—50 % from Europe, 25% from USA and 15% from Russia.


East China Normal University