McDaniel and Chinese students find common ground on study tour

August 17, 2011

Traveling to China with History professor Qin Fang funded by an ASIANetwork Freeman Student-Faculty Fellows Program grant, five McDaniel students studied tiehua, the art of making pictures of hammered iron, while interacting with the Chinese college students.

Language and cultural barriers evaporated when U.S. and Chinese students met their counterparts in Wuhu, China, about a three-hour drive from Shanghai. Although the Chinese students spoke English quite well and the McDaniel students spoke only isolated phrases in Chinese, together they interviewed passersby about the tiehua art that is unique to Wuhu, and they learned the differences and similarities of college in China and the U.S.

What’s more, McDaniel students Dani Allen, Scott Camuto, Brooke Freeland, Monika Lemke and Yichong Li, who is from Nanjing, China, became friends with the Chinese students – eating lunch together, celebrating a Chinese student’s birthday, hanging out and even going to a club for karaoke.

Wuhu, a city teeming with more than 2 million people, is Fang’s childhood home. But, in the 10 years since she has visited, the city has grown and changed. Today, only about 100-200 tiehua artists remain, Fang says. Expensive shipping costs due to the weight of the hammered-iron art and a fading market have resulted in the closing of the tiehua factory where artists once produced wall-size pieces.

For Freeland, a May 2011 graduate, the trip put the perfect finishing touch on her studies at McDaniel.

“My favorite part of the trip was climbing the Yellow Mountain,” Freeland, from Cockeysville, Md., says. “The scenery was absolutely beautiful and the area was always used as influence for artists in the past.

“Since my focus was Chinese landscape painting within my Art History major it was amazing to be able to see the area first hand.”

Allen was curious about what it would be like to meet one of the few female tiehua masters.

When we met Master Chu Jinxia several things impressed me. Her poise and confidence as a master was evident as soon as she walked in the room,” Allen, a junior Art major from Laurel, Md., says. “She has been making tiehua for many years and it shows. Oftentimes, women carry the burden of representing their whole gender when they are one of a few in a field. Master Chu Jinxia is one of the successful ones who meet the challenge of representing her gender as both a businesswoman and an artist.”

Fang will incorporate tiehua in the First Year Seminar she’ll teach in this fall. The course investigates the rapid changes of modern China through the city of Wuhu. In addition to the hammered-iron art, students will examine two other products: fried melon seeds and Chery cars, the least expensive car in China.

The local media in China covered the McDaniel study tour extensively, says Fang.

Here is the link of local media, which posted pictures of the Wuhu trip. In 10 days, there were 12,000 hits of the link. The webpage details the group’s stay in Wuhu day by day:

The front page of the local newspaper, the Wuhu News, featuring Monika Lemke hammering tiehua:

A front page of the Wuhu News featuring Brooke Freeland hammering tiehua: