All REAP Projects

"Across the Pacific" Curriculum Project

Student-aged children in the United States have a poor understanding of China's history, development, and current affairs.

In spite of the increasing importance of US-China relations, most American high school students do not have access to relevant and clearly-written curricula to learn about modern China.


Why is it that student-aged children in the US do not understand China better? For one thing, China is a very complex country. It is in the throes of an economic transformation that is unprecedented in scale and complexity. There are areas of the country that are prosperous and advanced, and others that are poor and underdeveloped. In some areas civil society is emerging, in others it remains a foreign concept. Modernization is often wrenching and chaotic, but all developed countries, including the US, have undergone this process.

A second reason may be that the lens through which students in the US view China is often not conducive to learning. When covering China, print and television media can be politicized and almost always target the adult population. There are few images or narratives that resonate with young people. For these reasons, much of the debate on China is inaccessible to young Americans.

Education plays a major role in development. In many ways, the development of education in a country can be seen as a microcosm of broader development processes. Learning about education is therefore a useful means for the children in one country to understand the lives and challenges of children in another.


The goal of this project is to develop a modern, high quality curriculum for use in US high schools. The curriculum aims to introduce the idea that “China is a Society in Development” and to inspire an understanding of “Traditional and Modern China through the Lens of Education.” In addition to units on education and development in China, the curriculum will also cover important concepts such as:

  • Giving Back: What China’s Students Do after Graduation
  • Why Does China’s Society Focus so Heavily on Education?

The curriculum will include multimedia materials, real world case studies, interviews, research-based facts, comparative context, and professional curriculum design. Our ultimate goal in developing this curriculum is to foster better relations and deeper understanding between the people of China and the people of the US.

The curriculum introduces traditional and modern China through the lens of education.


In mid October of this year we recruited 21 college students from the US and China to participate in the project. We divided the students into seven research teams according to their interests, making sure that all research teams had at least one student from each country.

Each research team explored one of seven curriculum units. The units were chosen to provide a comprehensive perspective on China's remarkable economic transformation. They include:

  • Continuing poverty
  • Migration and urbanization
  • Growing affluence and the urban experience
  • College and the cultivation of innovation
  • Recreation and Community Service
  • Inequality and development
  • Valuing education

In early November, a professional curriculum writer from Stanford came to Beijing and met with the research teams. He provided advice on how best to tailor research findings to the needs of a high school curriculum.

Altogether, the research teams have undertaken more than 10 trips to the field. They have visited communities across the country, from yak herders in the remote northwest to the privileged elite in Shanghai. They have interviewed students, family members, professors, teachers, and school administrators. They have collected survey data from hundreds of individuals, gathered over two-dozen hours of video footage, and taken hundreds of photographs. Past textbooks tend to focus on China in its historical context, but these materials present China as it is today: ever-changing, modernizing, developing, and transitioning.

The curriculum is developed through research teams consisting of US and Chinese college students,  who have made over 10 trips into the field together


Each research team drafted specialized “backgrounders” on each curriculum unit – i.e. short essays that introduce major themes and elements of the unit. The backgrounders are geared toward a high school audience and are supported by evidence from the field and an extensive review of relevant secondary sources.

All research teams then developed multimedia components for their units, including documentary videos, photo journals, and case studies.

Each research team presented their units to the entire group. REAP then transfered all materials to our curriculum writer at Stanford, who ensured that the units linked together into a coherent whole.

For further reading and materials on the curriculum, see the downloadable PDF below.

This curriculum is now available on the Stanford Program on Internaitonal and Cross-Cultural Education website and is currently used by more than forty schools in California.