Capilano College in China: customs & cash

Customs officials holding textbooks was the first of two major challenges Capilano then-College organizers faced when they established a joint program with Dalian University for Minorities in China in 1998.

“[China’s customs officers] worried about capitalist ideology, materials distributed by followers of Falun Gong; they were very, very strict on everything in print,” says the then-manager of The China Program, Allen Zhu, a current business instructor at Capilano University.

It took a month of appeals to get the textbooks to Capilano College’s first 28 students in China.

The topics of those textbooks: economics, accounting, business mathematics and management.

“[They were] very generic textbooks, but back then, China was not completely open yet, so they worried that you were importing a Bible or something like that,” says Zhu, who grew up in Beijing.

Solving the second problem took much longer.

Chinese students paid their fees in cash, in Chinese currency. Zhu needed to get that currency converted to Canadian dollars to wire it to the college in North Vancouver to cover program costs. This sounds simpler than it was because the Chinese government strictly controlled foreign currency. Expenses mounted in Canada, while stacks of cash in China grew higher and higher. It was only through extensive work with the college’s finance team that the money was eventually repatriated.

“For nearly a year, we had all this Chinese currency in the vault in our hotel,” says Zhu, who recalls a photo of John Potts, dean of the Faculty of Business and International Programs, posing with cash fanned out on a bed.

Capilano College was the first post-secondary institution in Canada granted permission to run a program in China. Its 2 + 2 Program was the first of its kind. Students learned Canadian post-secondary curriculum in China for two years and then studied in Canada for two years.

Starting a program from scratch on another continent wasn’t easy, but the dividends were worth it. For a time, it was the largest Canadian program in all of China.

The first story in a two-part series, “Capilano College in China.”

Written by: Cheryl Rossi