Exploring Political Theory

October 4, 2017 | By Anne Kniggendorf (SF97)

Jinxue Chen (SF18) completed an Ariel Internship this summer at the Institute for China-America Studies.

Jinxue Chen (SF18) is from the city of Ma’anshan in eastern China. She is a woman who knows her own mind, but has had to search for the best way to nurture her thoughts and interests.

As part of that journey, Chen this summer completed an Ariel Internship at the Institute for China-America Studies, a think tank in Washington, DC.

Questions of spiritual sovereignty versus political sovereignty have been in the back of Chen’s mind since her sophomore year at St. John’s, as well as questions about how a human’s sense of beauty relates to aesthetic and moral values. She says these thoughts are important to her thinking about political theory.

If a person knows beauty and knows what good is, “it would be hard for us not to follow that path in our real life,” Chen says.

But she wonders: do different people have different notions of good and beauty? How does that inform the way they live and relate to others?

During her three months as a research assistant this summer, Chen tried on many hats at the Institute for China-America Studies. She promoted the institute through social media; helped organize a conference; acted as a fact-checker for a professional researcher who was writing about the politics of South China Sea; wrote, edited, and formatted the monthly bulletin; and compiled news items relating to the relationship between the United States and China.

In addition to all her regular duties, Chen took political studies courses at the nearby Hudson Institute, where she had a fellowship. She says she learned a lot about American and international politics.

Chen credits the Ariel Internship program with helping her move to the East Coast this summer to pursue her interests.

Each year since 2005, St. John’s College in Santa Fe awards 30 to 35 students a grant of up to $4,000 to help cover living expenses during internships like Chen’s. Funds for the Ariel Internship are collected through a variety of sources, including endowments established by individual donors as well as annual gifts designated for these internships. The Annapolis campus offers something similar with its Hodson Internship program.

The St. John’s senior was grateful for the assistance this summer. She says her rent would have been unmanageably high without it, and she had to buy professional clothes to work in an office in DC.

After St. John’s, Chen wants to continue her studies of political theory and comparative politics in graduate school, but is not certain she will go down that road immediately following graduation. 

Chen began college at Renmin University in Beijing, where she studied Chinese classics, focusing on Confucianism. Because she sees a strong connection between classics and their effect on society, she was auditing sociology courses on the side.

It was during a year-long exchange program in Japan, where Chen was studying culture, that she decided St. John’s would suit her best. She transferred in January of 2015.

She began her freshman year again—all Johnnies follow the same course of study, so regardless of where a transfer student is in their academic career, everyone starts at the beginning. And this time she was reading Western Classics.

Regardless of her texts’ hemisphere of origin, the same questions kept returning to her about how classical thought relates to individual and societal behavior. Chen says her studies have crystalized a lot of what she had been thinking on her own.

“I think since coming to St. John’s I see more clearly the link between thoughts and actions,” Chen says.

Now, she has the tools to continue her exploration of that link.