by Kate Hoving
At 4:00pm, on Friday, January 15, 2021, approximately 50 members of the William & Mary and nearby communities gathered via Zoom to bid farewell to visiting scholar Deliang Wang. In a time when a pandemic can exacerbate organizational silos, and Friday afternoons are probably the most difficult time to secure an audience, a wide array of faces from across the university—administration, faculty, staff, students and even some community members—gathered to thank Wang and say goodbye.
There was nothing perfunctory about this goodbye party. Genuinely engaged and warm, these were just some of the countless individuals whose lives and work Deliang had touched in his four years at William & Mary.
First & foremost a scholar
Wang received his Ph.D. in Linguistics from Beijing Normal University in 2006. As a professor in the School of Foreign Languages and Literature at BNU, he has published widely in the fields of text linguistics, cognitive linguistics, and second language teaching. He served as the vice chair of the English Department at BNU from 2011-2013.
“My research interests include discourse analysis, cognitive linguistics and foreign language teaching,” Wang explains. As a university student, his major was English language and literature, “But after a few years of study, I found myself interested in language itself: how language works; why we say ‘it is this way not that way’; how language is acquired by children; in what way a second language can be learned quickly and efficiently; what is the cognitive mechanism of language use; and, further, how computers process language. All these are fascinating questions and topics I have pursued in my studies.”
Wang made ample use of the W&M Libraries. “W&M has a very good library, with rich resources, and the staff are very friendly and helpful. These research resources were a great help to my scholarly work. I really appreciate that.”
W&M Confucius Institute
In addition to his scholarly work, Wang served as the second Chinese director of the William & Mary Confucius Institute (WMCI), arriving in fall 2016. It was his first time as a director of a Confucius Institute, but not the first time he had visited William & Mary.
“I met Deliang for the first time in spring 2015 when he visited W&M with a group of professors of the School of Foreign Languages and Literatures,” recalls Ying Liu, Associate Director of WMCI. “The visit was brief, and neither of us knew at that time that we would work together at WMCI one day. I think that visit must have left him a very favorable impression of W&M.”
Indeed it had, but it was also a big step to return as visiting scholar and director of WMCI.
“I had never worked outside of China before, so this was a challenge and also an opportunity,” Wang explains. “I had some struggles in the beginning, but by and by, I learned the William & Mary work protocols and the way of doing things. People at W&M have been very friendly to me, and they are very professional. From them, I gained many communication skills. This was something I would not have had learned, if I hadn’t taken the position.”
The number and variety of Wang’s activities presented as many challenges as the cultural and linguistic differences.
Wang served as a liaison to the Confucius Institute (CI) Headquarters (Hanban) and to Beijing Normal University (BNU). Wang worked closely with Steve Hanson, Vice Provost for International Affairs and Director of the Reves Center, to communicate with Hanban and BNU.
Wang co-organized cultural and scholarly activities, such as Confucius Institute Day, festival celebrations, cultural performances, China Night, World Taiji and Qigong Day, and numerous lectures. Wang and Liu also regularly provided translation and cultural consultation services to W&M and to the local community.
Wang approached all of his tasks with the same seriousness, care and patient good humor–whether as liaison between W&M and BNU leadership or in helping the visiting professors and interns get settled and acclimated to Williamsburg, by arranging everything from airport pickups or renting an apartment to buying a car.
Liu also credits Wang with launching three new programs:
- W&M Summer Camp (2017): With Deliang as the chaperone, 17 W&M and Christopher Newport University (CNU) students attended cultural and language workshops, interacted with BNU students, and then visited various cultural and historical sites in Beijing and Zhuhai during their two-week stay in China;
- BNU Winter Program (2019 & 2020): A special program for W&M students during winter term, requiring no language background, shorter time than the summer program and at lower costs, to encourage participation by a wider group of students; and
- Faculty delegation visit to China (2019): He designed the itinerary for ten faculty members representing various departments at W&M. Wang also led the delegation to Beijing and Zhuhai, visiting Beijing Normal University and other places of interest.
Leading a faculty delegation to China
The 2019 delegation was not the first time Wang had introduced China to William & Mary colleagues. In 2017 Wang traveled to China with Jeremy Martin, chief of staff to W&M president Katherine Rowe, and Professor and Dean for Educational Policy, John Donahue. “It was immediately clear he was an ideal ambassador to ‘promote the study of Chinese language and culture,’” Martin recalls. “Deliang’s joyful enthusiasm for introducing John and me to his country was delightful. I’m not sure how many miles we walked together–from the Imperial City, to the hutongs, to the top of the Great Wall (there was a taxi in there somewhere)–we engaged one another as friends. That collaborative engagement and shared learning will be my enduring memory.”
Successfully organizing and managing the W&M faculty delegation is especially satisfying for Wang. “All ten professors who traveled to China told me the experience was unforgettable.” One of those ten, Professor Aaron-Andrew Bruhl, Associate Dean for Research and Faculty Development and Rita Anne Rollins Professor of Law, enthusiastically concurs:
“The trip to China was a wonderful experience. Deliang was an outstanding leader and guide during the two-week visit. We saw many impressive cultural and historical sights, of course, but I will never forget the trip to the karaoke bar in Zhuhai where he treated us to a rendition of ‘Wo de pengyou’ (‘My Friend’).”
New role at BNU
Wang is now back at BNU, recently promoted to full professor of linguistics in the School of Foreign Languages and Literature. He teaches cognitive linguistics and academic English writing. “My next step is simple–focusing on teaching my students well and continuing my research in linguistics.”
Wang is also maintaining a collaboration with William & Mary. He emailed Liu in late February that the BNU School of Continuing Education organized a Lantern Festival for W&M and Tufts students, who had checked in for the spring semester. “I was honored to be invited to attend this event and had an opportunity to meet five W&M students. I talked to them and shared my experience at W&M, and we had a good time together.”
It is clear the connection between W&M and Wang will continue through scholarly and institutional collaborations and through a shared commitment to promoting the study of Chinese language and culture and furthering the mutual understanding between China and the U.S.
“Deliang has left a lasting legacy here at William & Mary,” said Steve Hanson. “Through his patience, kindness, and intellectual engagement, he has truly brought W&M and BNU even closer together.”
But the connection will also continue because of Wang’s unique qualities that inspired friendship and respect among all he met in Williamsburg.
As Bruhl explains perfectly: “Deliang is a rare character who blends together extreme diligence and extreme joy.”
That is why William & Mary will miss Deliang Wang, and why William & Mary will always happily welcome him back.