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The years 2002 and 2003 have seen many firsts for China: entrance into the WTO, human space travel, a massive SARS outbreak that crippled tourism and business, and a terrorist explosion that rocked Peking University, China's premier tertiary educational institution.
On February 25, 2003, I was in the middle of explaining debate methods to my class of sophomore English majors at Peking University, when a bomb was detonated in the main student dining hall. My students and I rushed outside to see billowing smoke surrounding the dining hall and shattered glass littering the pavement. The scene was one of the general chaos, with students flocking to see the destruction while young, rurally conscripted security guards formed a haphazard human police line to keep the crowds at bay. Reporters were soon on the scene, and it was evident from the frantic speaking and gesturing that, although no one was harmed, everyone was in a state of shock.
We discussed the explosion in class over the next few days, and it was my turn to be shocked when I discovered that the overwhelming majority of my students were gleeful about the bombing. In the words of one student from Chongqing, "It makes PKU more famous." As my students explained, Confucius taught that any events that bring fame, honor, and recognition should be viewed with happiness. Clearly, Confucian thought was still prevalent in China, despite the passing of two millennia since the death of the venerable sage. Furthermore, as I listened to students relate family stories detailing the gruesome Nanjint Massacre, rampant starvation during Mao's Great Leap Forward, and the public derision and rural "reeducation" of their parents' generation, I understood that a harmless explosion in a cafeteria was trivial in this context.
A few weeks after the bombing, Chinese headlines proclaimed that the perpetrator of the explosion had been captured. My students again caught me off guard. "He didn't do it," insisted a female student. "He probably committed another minor crime, and the government cut a deal with him." I pressed her further, and she explained, "If the government did not catch this criminal in a matter of weeks, they would 'lose face' in the eyes of the public. Therefore, the government apprehended this man and claimed he was the criminal." Almost every student in class agreed with her, and when I asked them about the administration of law and order in China, another student said, "The law in China is the will of those in power."
Although the discussions surrounding the explosion at Peking University taught me much about law, cultural practices, and attitudes in today's China, it was certainly not the only time I had encountered complex international issues. Over games of ping-pong (where the net consisted of a battered two-by-four) in a safe house for African political refugees in Nienburg, Germany, I learned about severe religious, legal and political tensions that existed between Christian and Muslim tribes in Nigeria. Questioning Javier Solana on the floor of the Hungarian Parliament about legal challenges to NATO's bombing raids in Bosnia re-entrenched the fact that almost all countries are united culturally and politically to other countries. Studying international and comparative education in a multi-national cohort at Oxford University helped me realize that curriculum, content, and administration of educational systems are heavily influenced by unique historical and cultural mores. And my current employment, in which I research domestic and international corporate accountability (specifically, Ford Motor Company's complicity during World War II with the use of slave labor in its German subsidiary, Ford-Werke), has also revealed that certain corporate entities wield greater economic and political clout than many nations. All of these experiences have deepened my understanding of international legal issues and the intricate relationships that frame them.
However, the most poignant lesson I have gleaned from my travels, education, and experiences abroad is that I am largely ignorant of several significant factors that have shaped and are currently shaping the United States of America and foreign nations. The ignorance has prompted me to apply to law school. I want to examine the United States and other nations through the lens of their respective legal systems and statutes, for law is one product of a nation's inherent values or, at least, the values of those in power. I am fascinated by the history of nations and relationships between nations, and I want to discover how these bonds or barriers have influenced international law and human rights. Thus, I plan to create a law degree combining three areas of study: international law, comparative law, and legal history. Ultimately, I view this law degree as a critical step forward in teaching law. I am confident that the skills I develop from studying and practicing law, combined with the knowledge and teaching experience that I already possess, will enable me to assist future students in comprehending laws and legal systems within their historical contexts.