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When Eagle and Dragon Learn Together: Engineering Ethics Education in the Era of U.S.-China Trade War

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

October 19, 2019

Conference Session

Engineering Ethics Division Technical Session - Ethics Across Contexts

Tagged Division

Engineering Ethics

Tagged Topic


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Paper Authors


Sharon Tsai-hsuan Ku University of Virginia

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Dr. Sharon Ku has dual background in physics and STS, specializing in the sociology of scientific knowledge, standardization, and science policy in the US and China. She works closely with scientists and engineers from academia, government and industry. Dr. Ku received her PhD from History & Philosophy of Science, Cambridge University in 2010, and is currently an assistant professor at Dept. of Engineering & Society, University of Virginia. Before joining UVA. she was a research fellow at National Institutes of Health, and worked for Drexel University as assistant research professor.

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Xiafei Yang University of Virginia

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B.S of Electrical Engineering and B.A of Physics, 2018
Graduate Student in Civil Engineering

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Sitong Wang Chongqing University

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Sitong Wang is an undergraduate student in the Department of Electrical Engineering at Chongqing University, Chongqing, China. She was a visiting intern at University of Virginia from August to December in 2018.

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The ongoing rivalry between the U.S. and China, two largest economies which share more than two thirds of engineering R&D expense, manufacturing, and commercialization, has brought critical intellectual and educational challenges to the ontologies, objectives and pedagogies of engineering ethics. While the U.S. keeps accusing China’s unethical behavior of “stealing” its intellectual properties, Chinese investors criticize the U.S.’ irresponsible accusation and defend their ethical position of the “sharing economy” as a morally superior mechanism than the US-led economic and technological colonization (Manchester, 2017). The stereotyped images mobilized by both governments, along with the hostile language and oversimplified discourses on national security, international competition and globalization, are turning the globe into a combat zone equipped with weapons, risks and fears (Womack 2016). This paper urges the importance of re-examining global engineering ethics education in the context of US-China trade war. Instead of solely a theoretical investigation, it offers the lesson learned from the design and implementation of the US-China Engineering Ethics Global Classroom, a collaborative teaching experiment between University of Virginia and the Graduate School of Tsinghua University in China.

The paper contains four parts. First, it reviews engineering education in the U.S. and China, identifying their ontological foundations and differences/similarities in terms of pedagogies, curriculum and objectives. (Zhu 2015; Conlon 2015). Seconds, it introduces the design and implementation of the UVA-Tsinghua Global Classroom in the context of the US-China trade war, in particular, how teaching modules were conducted to situate ethics discussion in the world with growing hostility, and how the mutual interviews between the American and Chinese students along with the self-evaluations of bias were built into the curriculum. Thirds, it discusses the interview results and learning outcomes. The case study of “Shanzhai” (Chubb 2015 ) vs. intellectual property right is chosen to open up the ontological inquires toward global engineering ethics: What are “individual”, “collective”, “harm”, “good”, as well as “integrity”, “ownership” and “justice” defined and understood under the cultural diversities and increasing economic tensions? How do engineers in China, known as a non-Christian dominated and non-capitalist country, perceive engineering ethics and justify the values? Finally, the paper reflects on the question of ethical diversity vs. moral relativism. Our data suggests the importance of cross-cultural communication in eliminating biases, misunderstanding, at the same time acknowledging cultural diversities and local political complexities (Yang, et al 2018). Global Classroom, from this perspective, serves as Peace Corps for global engineering education in the era of US-China trade war. It offers a space that stimulates real-time structured dialogues as a foundation where common challenges in global sustainability, justice and governance could be collectively defined and addressed. The paper is concluded with current and future steps to further conceptualize and optimize this model in engineering ethics research and education.

Reference Chubb, Andrew (2015) China’s Shanzhai Culture: ‘Grabism’ and the politics of hybridity. Journal of Contemporary China, 24 (92): 260–279. Conlon, E. (2015). Engineering Ethics: Ontology and Politics. Research in Engineering Education Symposium, Dublin, July. Manchester, Julia (2017, August 21) China blasts U.S. intellectual property investigation as “irresponsible” The Hill. Womack, Brantly (2016) “Asymmetric Parity: U.S.-China Relations in a Multinodal World,” International Affairs 92 (6): 1463-1480. Yang, Xiafei; Wang, Sitong & Ku, Sharon (2018) “When Uncle Sam Meets Red Queen: A Participatory Observation in the US-China Engineering Ethics Global Classroom”, ASEE paper submission. Zhu Q., Jesiek B.K. (2015) Confucianism, Marxism, and Pragmatism: The Intellectual Contexts of Engineering Education in China. In: Christensen S., Didier C., Jamison A., Meganck M., Mitcham C., Newberry B. (eds) International Perspectives on Engineering Education. Philosophy of Engineering and Technology, vol 20. Springer, Cham

Ku, S. T., & Yang, X., & Wang, S. (2019, June), When Eagle and Dragon Learn Together: Engineering Ethics Education in the Era of U.S.-China Trade War Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--33557

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