Availability of freshwater looms as a global concern with many different local faces, requiring the next generation teaching tool to link research, training of experts, and public education. The growing partnership between MSC at the University of Michigan and the China Case Center for Public Policy & Management (CCCPPM) at the Tsinghua University has a pilot approach to this challenge—collaboratively produce bilingual case for use in their respective classrooms, as well as in cohorts of local and regional civic leadership on water management in both the U.S. and China.

In May 2018, as a pilot of joint case production between MSC and CCCPPM, a U-M case team traveled to China* to work with students and faculty from Tsinghua on a case about the Red Flag Canal in Henan province, known as “the Great Wall of Water.” The canal, a 44-mile-long water diversion project was hand-engineered from stone in a mountainous arid region in the 1960s to alleviate drought conditions in Linxian County. It took ten years to build and coincided with two of the most disruptive political events in contemporary China—the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. Since built, the canal has had a profound impact on the economy of local and surrounding areas. Chinese leaders have touted the Red Flag Canal as an example of people overcoming hardship and harnessing the power of nature and celebrated it as a cultural and historical tourism site. The site represents a fascinating and unique pivot point for the study of environmental and social transformation through infrastructural development, not only to re-evaluate the costs and benefits throughout the site building process, but also to reflect on the decisions made and explore ways forward for its structural protection and social governance.

Red Flag Canal case team
MSC Team: Ed Waisanen, MSC Multimedia Projects Manager (left 2); Bret Fickes, master’s candidate, UM School for Environment and Sustainability (SEAS) (left 3); Rebecca Hardin, MSC Director and Professor of UM SEAS (right 6); Morgan Beeler, master’s candidate, dual degree in UM SEAS and School of Public Policy (right 4); Weiqi Zhou, master’s candidate, SEAS (right 2); Charlotte Weinstein, master’s candidate, SEAS (right 1).
Tsinghua Team: Ling Mu, Assistant Professor, Director of CCCPPM (left 5); Xianchun Liu, master's candidate, Tsinghua University, School of Public Policy and Management (SPPM) (left 4); Yue Cheng, CCCPPM Project Assistant (right 3); Kitty Poon, Professor of SPPM (right 5).
Hóngqíqú (Red Flag Canal) Executive Leadership Academy: Xiang Zhou, Vice President (Left 6); Translator (Left 1).

Prior to the trip, the U-M student team reviewed historical materials and learned the basics of case study structure, interview techniques, and “pocket production” for video and audio. They hit the road with these skills and practiced them in the field during a series of interviews and site visits.

Anyang dong Railway Station

The joint team spent a week with the Hóngqíqú Executive Leadership Academy in Lin Zhou, Henan province to conduct field research with contemporary civic leaders, directors of public utilities and agencies, private sector actors, and elders, both male and female, who took part in the original canal construction. They delved into the technical aspect of the site, such as channel maintenance management, water resource allocation, ecological protection, current situation of eco-tourism, and future development plan. They also looked into the ways China employs sites, such as the canal, to create narratives about leadership and the national community.

During the first half of the trip, we visited the Canal Memorial Hall and museums to learn about the historical background and engineering design in the 1960s. We saw documentations about complex water conservancy projects and investigated the development status of the ecotourism industry in the Taihang Grand Canyon. With improved understanding from these visits, we conducted interviews and attended symposiums with a range of actors, including with staff from the Taoyuan Management Office, the Hóngqíqú Executive Leadership Academy, Linzhou Environmental Protection Bureau, Linzhou Water Affairs Bureau, Linzhou Water Supply Company, and the Linzhou Cultural Bureau and Linzhou Tourism Development Committee, during the second half of the trip. I gained deep understanding of the construction history of the Red Flag Canal, explored the ecological, social and economic impact of the canal water conservancy projects, and understood the water quality inspection and water resource allocation policies. I cannot wait to put together this case with my team and share our findings with other students!
— Weiqi Zhou, U-M Red Flag Canal case team member, SEAS MS Candidate 2019

The teams approached the canal from different angles, learning from one another: the Tsinghua team focused on the questions of economic development and public management policy of the canal, while the MSC team explored themes of environmental and social impacts generated during and after the canal development.

This experiment in co-creation is the latest piece of an ongoing collaboration between the Tsinghua University and the UM School for Environment and Sustainability, which jointly launched an accelerated Masters program in environment and sustainability last year. The trip provided opportunity for MSC and CCCPPM teams to explore our capacities for sustainability curricular and research collaboration and to exchange methods in case pedagogy. During the case investigation, CCCPPM Director Ling Mu used “Yang Gui and the Red Flag Canal”, a first version of the case that they have completed, to train officials at the Leadership Academy in how they can use case-based teaching in training public leaders on sustainability issues such as economic strategies of water allocation at civic and regional scales.

After returning to the Tsinghua University in Beijing, the students met with faculty from the School of Public Policy and Management and the School of Environment to explore the possibilities of further collaboration to allow a series of bilingual cases to emerge on Gala. These cases can be implemented in cross-cultural classrooms, supported by historical, critical, and cross-national case research that could shape policy and practice into the future.

MSC Faculty Lead Prof. Rebecca Hardin (middle) poses with Prof. Poon Kit (left) and Assistant Prof. Mu Ling (right) of Tsinghua University near a portrait of Elinor Ostrom.

*Funding jointly provided by the Experiential Learning Funds through the U-M Lieberthal-Rogel Center for Chinese Studies and the U-M International Institute.