Los Angeles

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 January, 2012, 12:00am


As of the 2010-11 school year, the number of Chinese students enrolled at US universities was at an all-time high. According to the annual Open Doors report from the Institute of International Education and the US State Department, there are now about 158,000 young people from China on college campuses across the nation, up 23 per cent from the previous year.

But there is a slightly more nuanced shift happening within these Chinese student bodies. Traditional fields such as medicine, engineering and computer sciences might still rank among the most popular, but a growing number of young mainland Chinese are also opting to study creative arts such as film and animation.

'There really has been an explosion over the past couple of years in interest among Chinese students,' says Professor Mark Harris, head of the documentary production course at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

Harris attributes the spike in interest to numerous factors: China's new wealth, limited opportunities for placement at Chinese film schools, a booming film industry and the need to create material that will appeal to global markets.

'They are extremely adept technically, and there is a great push to develop the Chinese film industry on an international basis,' he says.

Placements within an annual Global Exchange Workshop organised by USC in connection with the Communication University of China in Beijing are hotly sought after.

In the seven-week assignment, participants pair up with a student from the host country to make a short documentary, often utilising the creative freedom to cover subject matter that may be off limits in China (homosexuality, the Tiananmen Square protests, for example).

At UCLA's School of Theatre, Film and Television, the number of applications from China increased about 59 per cent over the previous year. At the California Institute of the Arts, the School of Film/Video saw its Chinese student population double in one year.

'China is so dynamic right now, with a burgeoning industry, and studios are putting up satellites there,' said Professor Steve Anker, dean of the CalArts School of Film/Video. 'And China is tenacious in wanting to compete.

'China doesn't have a history yet of pioneering figures and breaking ground on the world stage. But it's only a matter of time until they are - if not better than, then at least equal to - where we are.'