From China with Love

Joe Pratt ’93 during his time teaching at Peking University in Beijing, China.

Joe Pratt ’93 wasn’t always certain where life after Central College would take him, but what started as a casual laundry room conversation transformed into an incredible career halfway across the world. 

“During my time at Central, I participated in a study abroad program in China during my sophomore year,” Pratt says. “While I had many great experiences at Central, the program in China had a big influence on my life. I’ve spent much of the last 30 years in China and am now translating ancient Chinese texts.”

It all started thanks to an off-hand conversation with one of Pratt’s classmates. Pratt wasn’t feeling certain about his career path and knew he needed a change. So when his peer mentioned he was attending a new study abroad program in China, Pratt knew this was the inspiration he was looking for. Before he knew it, Pratt had purchased his plane ticket and was calling his parents to let them know he was heading to China.

“It was so random but it’s such a big part of my life now,” he says. “By the time we finished the semester in China, I knew I wanted to come back.”

Pratt finished his undergrad at Central before attending law school and starting a career as a lawyer, but his desire to return to China never went away. 

In 2011, Pratt officially made his return to Beijing, where he began teaching at Peking University until 2020. His courses focused on American law. After nearly a decade of teaching in China, the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a change. His teaching career was put on hold, but a new passion is surfacing in its place. 

“In 2020, amidst COVID-19 and everything, I decided to go in a more philosophical direction,” Pratt shares. This philosophical direction led him to focus on research translating ancient Chinese texts.

“The reason I started translating these texts is because I wanted to use some passages from them for what I was trying to express about politics or economics,” Pratt adds. “The current translations didn’t express what the texts seem to me to be saying very holistically. I’ve put the politics aside, but I probably will come back to it.”

His change in career continues to enhance his connection with colleagues in Beijing. He stays in touch with friends from his time teaching and collaborates with them on his research. 

And despite the geographic distance from Pella, Iowa, Pratt stays connected with people from his days at Central, too. 

“The Central community epitomizes a kind of kindness and a kind of goodness,” Pratt shares. “I’ve always felt that. In that way, I always feel close to it.”

Pratt’s connections to the college go beyond his appreciation toward people he interacted with as a student. 

“I hope one day I’ll be able to repay the Central community for my scholarships, for everything it taught me and for all the kindness it showed me,” Pratt says. “I hope to help make Central an even better place.”

For now, his adventures around the world continue. Pratt has plans to travel to Italy this summer for a presentation amongst philosophers from around the world. As for whether he’ll return to teaching or continue his research, Pratt can’t say for certain, but he loves what he does every day. 

“To think that a person like me coming from a small town in Iowa would end up doing this type of thing and in this type of atmosphere is really amazing. I would never have thought this would happen. I have the Central community to thank for that.”

Central continues to accept gifts of all sizes to help support off-campus experiences. To make a donation, contact Michelle Wilkie, director of development, at or Sunny Gonzales Eighmy ’99, vice president for advancement, at

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