In the first of a new monthly series of stories reflecting on the 50th anniversary of IUPUI's founding in 1969, Craig McDaniel, Herron School of Art and Design professor of drawing and illustration and foundation studies, shares a personal account of how a study abroad trip to China was almost canceled due to political unrest in the country.
In spring of 1999, Jean Robertson – my wife and a member of Herron's art history faculty – made plans to participate in Herron's study abroad trip to China. We were super excited as this would be our first journey to that fabled nation, with its ancient civilization and mysterious present. The trip, organized by Robert Eagerton, then a senior member of Herron's painting faculty, would be leaving with approximately a dozen adventuruous undergraduate students who were excited beyond words.
Then, out of the blue, news broke: On May 7, during the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, the U.S. demolished the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade! Our government quickly apologized, claiming that it was entirely by accident. But tensions between China and the U.S. spiked. Mobs throwing rocks attacked the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. The U.S. government issued an official warning against all trips to China by Americans. Our trip to China was scheduled to leave in a matter of days! What did we do?? What should we do???
Eagerton – after conferring with Gary Dow, the translator and native guide who would be accompanying the trip – made the decision: "The trip is on." One Herron student pulled out, but the rest of us went "all in!" and our trip took off from the Indianapolis airport as scheduled. We were literally the only Americans on the plane. Indeed, we seemed to be the only American visitors in the whole of China! Were we in danger? Did the Chinese despise us?? Were they rude???
To the contrary, the Chinese people we met on the month-long journey showered us with friendship. Everywhere we went, people thanked us for our courage in coming to visit their country at the time of strife.