Professor Wenyang Zhai joined the foreign languages department of Wheaton College last week as a professor of Chinese. Professor Shuguang Wang, director of the Chinese language program, has been Wheaton’s only full time professor of Chinese since 2007. She described Zhai’s arrival as “immediately impactful.”
With two professors of Chinese, Wheaton can now offer both a minor and a major in Chinese — until now, students could only minor in the language. Wang tentatively stated that if all goes well, the foreign languages department may offer a major in Chinese as early as next spring semester.
An average of 60 students enroll in Chinese classes each semester. Around 40 percent of students who take elementary Chinese classes continue to more advanced classes, and several students in the past have expressed a desire to major in Chinese.
Wang and Zhai also hope to offer students a variety of new classes. They have already brainstormed ideas. In the future, Zhai may offer classes on Chinese poetry, literature, calligraphy and human rights in Chinese literature. The department has already added a class exploring Chinese culture through film for next semester. Zhai will teach the new class along with classes in elementary, advanced and business Chinese.
Personally, Zhai hopes that through teaching students Chinese she will equip them to share the gospel to the Chinese. She explained that the first step to sharing the gospel in China involves earning trust by learning the Chinese culture and language. By instilling curiosity in her students and building close relationships with them, Zhai hopes to impart the skills they need to communicate effectively to the Chinese.
Zhai’s personal goals complement the department’s goals. Wang explained that in Chinese Through Scripture, a 2-credit class, “It’s not just the linguistic skill but also the cultural understanding from the Christian perspective” that has made the class popular enough to expand to a 4-credit class.