Inside USD

Sociology Professor Has Insider’s Perspective on China

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Judy Liu gets it. 

Four simple words, but if you’ve been around this energetic University of San Diego sociology professor for any part of her 25 years on campus, you immediately understand why. 

“I chose to work at USD because I think they put teaching first,” says the Brooklyn, N.Y., native. “I am very proud of my achievements in teaching because I feel it’s where I can make a difference.” 

Liu, whose long list of academic honors include receipt of the Lowell P. Davies Award for Teaching Excellence in 1993 and recognition for her multiple projects involving community service, mentoring and advocacy efforts, is the real deal. 

She’s written books, articles and compiled research on topics such as education in China, women and HIV/AIDS, multicultural education in the U.S. and community service-learning. Her work in sociology centers on community, urbanization and culture. 

China, in particular, has been one of her focuses in the latter part of 2008. Liu attended the Beijing Summer Olympics in August with USD alumnus Pete Fajkowski ’92. It was Liu’s fifth trip to China — a past excursion in 1982 was for dissertation research — and the historical importance of the event made the decision to go an easy one. 

The International Olympic Committee’s 2001 decision to choose China as the host country created an international stir, especially as the Olympics drew closer. There were protests about China’s human rights record, issues with Tibet, ties to the Sudanese government that, in turn, aided the violence in Darfur. Foreign leaders, including President Bush, were advised to skip the opening ceremony in protest. 

Liu, who also attended the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece, watched the opening ceremony on Beijing television and was impressed with China’s presentation. 

“London (the 2012 Olympics site) is going to have a hard time coming anywhere near the grandeur of China,” Liu said. “The opening ceremony was mind-boggling. Athens was incredible, but China’s was off the charts. The technology, the things they were doing, it was spectacular. They were able to incorporate a large number of aspects of traditional Chinese culture. It was filled with references of the past and they were able to link it to the present. I was mesmerized by what the Chinese were able to do.” 

Liu saw three sporting events in person, but she wasn’t in China only for spectacle of the Olympics. She took photos to document what she saw — including hazy conditions in spite of mandatory factory shutdowns to cut down on pollution — and asked local residents’ opinions of the Olympics taking place in Beijing. 

“Modernization always comes at a cost and China was able to do it more harshly … and there’s always a human cost,” Liu said. “They talked to me about the massive evictions and that some very historic neighborhoods were torn down, some of which had been there since the 1600s. There was limited use of electricity and water in Beijing because of the need for energy and water for the Olympics and in the hotels.” 

Liu, who will be at Shanghai’s Fudan University in late November as a guest lecturer concerning China’s missionary education, said she wants to use her experience to promote an open discussion with sociology students about China’s past and future. 

Chances are good that after participating in Liu’s class, another group of USD students will “get it,” too. 

To learn more about Judith Liu, go to 

To learn about a photo exhibit “China’s Olympian Human Rights Challenges,” which is on display in the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice through Nov. 8, go to: 

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