The Whitman in China exchange program began in 1982 initially with relationships between Whitman College and Yunnan University in Kunming and Northwestern Polytechnical University (NPU) in Xi'an.  At various junctures in the program's history in the 1980s and 1990s, partner institutions included Sichuan International Studies University in Chengdu and Guangya Elementary School in Sichuan Province.  Since 2000 when a new partnership with Shantou University, Guangdong Province, was established, the College has partnered exclusively with NPU, Shantou and Yunnan University.

Currently, the Whitman in China exchange program brings one student from Shantou to Whitman each fall semester as a visiting student.  The program was designed to give students in China an opportunity to take classes at an American college in order to learn about American culture and to polish their English skills. During a semester at Whitman College, in addition to being enrolled as a full-time student, the China Sherwood Scholar helps promote understanding of Chinese culture on campus by getting involved with extracurricular activities like the Pioneer student newspaper or debate team, and helping to organize activities such as a Mid-Autumn Festival at the Asian Studies House.