YCA Holds a Forum on China Studies

On May 18, Yenching Academy organized a forum on China Studies at Jingyuan Courtyard 3. As part of the celebration series for YCA’s 10th anniversary, the forum, titled “Globalizing China Studies: From Theory to Practice,” featured eminent experts and scholars from China and abroad to join YCA faculty and students in discussions on China Studies and talent development-related topics. YCA faculty and staff who attended the forum include Dean Dong Qiang, Associate Deans Fan Shiming and Brent Haas, Director of Graduate Studies Lu Yang, and Assistant Dean Chen Changwei.

Dean Dong Qiang opened the forum with a speech, extending his warm welcome and expressing his gratitude to the guests. The forum consisted of two panel discussions. Dean Dong noted the increasing significance of China Studies as China’s international influence grows. Globalizing China Studies will promote interdisciplinary collaboration and cross-cultural dialogues, helping forge stronger ties between China and the world and paving the path for better mutual understanding and cooperation. The forum aimed to facilitate thought-provoking and detailed discussions on the theory and practice of China Studies, which are critical for the field’s future development and for gaining a comprehensive understanding of China.

Professor Lu Yang hosted the first panel discussion on “China Studies: Global Perspectives and Chinese Context”. He introduced the panel guests and noted that Yenching Academy was pleased to invite many distinguished scholars to the occasion of its 10th anniversary and discuss the history and future of China Studies. Lu expressed his belief that the forum was significant given China’s increasingly important role globally. Joanna Waley-Cohen, Provost for NYU Shanghai and Julius Silver Professor of History at New York University, delivered an online lecture on studying China in Britain and the US since the 19th century. She also discussed the significance of China-foreign education cooperation to China Studies and scholars engaged in the field. Professor Waley-Cohen asserted that such cooperation helps scholars better understand China by combining theory and practice, laying a firm foundation for China-based studies, and enabling young scholars from China and the globe to respect, tolerate, and learn from one another. This approach allows them to appreciate different perspectives and embrace the nuances and complexities of diverse cultures.

Professor Wang Hui, member of the Academy of Europe, Director of the Tsinghua Institute for Advanced Study in Humanities and Social Sciences (TIAS), and Distinguished Professor of Literature and History at Tsinghua University, shared his observations on China Studies. Like Professor Waley-Cohen, Wang noted that China Studies emerged originally as part of regional studies in Britain and the US, serving geopolitical purposes. He also reflected on the role of China Studies scholars over the past century. The first-generation China Studies scholars lived in the early 20th century and recognized China’s rich, distinctive culture rooted in its long history. China Studies then focused on historiography, linguistics, sociology, and cultural studies. The tradition has continued to this day, distinguishably separate from other areas. The second-generation China Studies scholars, shaped by the Cold War period, conducted their studies within the constraints of Cold War thinking in a split world. However, they also gained a multidimensional understanding of China via criticism and reflection. Prof Wang Hui argued that globalizing China Studies is a novel yet challenging trend in response to current situations. It requires interdisciplinary perspectives and skills, enabling more scholars from China and around the world to engage in China studies for a deeper understanding of the country.

Professor Zhang Longxi is Chair Professor of Comparative Literature and Translation at the City University of Hong Kong and Lide Chair Professor at YCA. He is also a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Letters, History and Antiquities, and the Academy of Europe. He provided an insightful view of the future of China Studies. Despite a lack of “China Studies” and “Sinologists” in China, various disciplines such as history and historiography, literature, philosophy, and social sciences focus on the country. Professor Zhang emphasized the importance of integrating local and Western perspectives in China Studies. To highlight this, he quoted a famous poem from the Song dynasty poet Su Shi, “It’s a range viewed in face and peaks viewed from the side, assuming different shapes viewed from far and wide. Of Mountain Lu, we cannot make out the true face, for we are lost in the heart of the very place.” This poem, translated by Xu Yuanchong, suggests that, like the poet’s view of the natural scenery of the Mountain Lu, China should be studied from diverse perspectives rather than being seen as a framed picture. Scholars need to integrate viewpoints from within and outside China on China Studies to approach the country as it is.

Associate Dean Brent Haas hosted the second panel discussion on “China Studies for Future: Education, Institutions, and Approaches”. He first briefly reviewed the brilliant remarks from the previous panel and expressed his anticipation for more inspiring ideas on China Studies education in this second panel discussion. Assoc. Dean Haas expressed confidence that the guests, with their diverse academic backgrounds and research areas, would shed light on the topic. Jeong Jong-Ho, Former President of Seoul National University (SNU) and Former Dean of the SNU Graduate School of International Studies, recalled his close connection to China Studies education. Jeong noted that South Korean academics have made significant progress in China Studies, particularly social sciences. China Studies in South Korea distinctively focuses on the social-structure-determined policy implementation in China. Prof Jeong called for future attention to social changes and cultural legacy, hoping for a broader range of research areas and stronger collaboration between Chinese and South Korean academics.

Neysun A. Mahboubi, Director of the Penn Project on the Future of U.S.-China Relations at the University of Pennsylvania, gave thought-provoking remarks on the current state of China Studies education and its challenges. He applauded the methodological proficiency and remarkable data-processing capability of the young scholars in his classes at the University of Pennsylvania. However, he noted that the fluctuating and complex political dynamics between China and the US complicate academic exchanges and partially impact China Studies education. He stressed the importance of American scholars figuring out ways to sustain China Studies in the US and raising a new generation of scholars in the field. Maintaining the China-US academic exchanges is crucial for strengthening mutual understanding and friendship, thereby vitalizing academics in both countries.

Pan Qingzhong, Executive Dean of Schwarzman College, Tsinghua University, commended YCA’s fruitful efforts for bridging Chinese and Western cultures, as demonstrated by the brilliant performances during the Academy’s 10th-anniversary celebration. Prof. Pan was impressed by the Academy’s interdisciplinary master’s program in China Studies, which provides students with a comprehensive understanding of China through social sciences, economics, and historiography. The interdisciplinary approach helps raise creative, high-caliber talents who can adapt to future developments. He believed that the Academy would continue cultivating exceptional talents with global perspectives. He also expressed his hopes for a wider global presence of YCA’s interdisciplinary program, contributing to a stronger international “workforce” for cross-cultural communication.

Leonardo Regis, a YCA alumnus from cohort 2020, shared his experience in cross-cultural studies. He stressed the importance of promoting China Studies, focusing on mutual respect and dialogue between cultures rather than viewing other cultures and races as resources or consumables. Citing the experiences of the Yaomami in the Brazilian rainforest, Regis illustrated possible unintentional damages international studies may produce and called for more prudence and respect in promoting cross-cultural communication.

Li Lingxi, Managing Director of Princeton University Press China, highlighted that the Press has long been engaged in translating and publishing outstanding academic works from China, including many works by the forum’s guests. She noted that the translation of scholarly works is more complex than literary translation because it requires the precise use of words and a mastery of academic knowledge and terminologies. Prof Zhang Longxi, intimately familiar with these challenges, discussed his latest published work, “A History of Chinese Literature,” which involved significant translation efforts. He emphasized the distinctive complexity of the Chinese language, which differs from alphabetic languages and creates a hurdle for the foreign readership of Chinese academic works. For instance, he noted the difficulty in finding equivalents in English for Chinese pronunciations like “long” and “xi.” Nevertheless, Prof Zhang firmly believed that Chinese academic works can be appropriately translated. He strongly disagreed with the “untranslatability” theory, viewing it as a hindrance to the translation and dissemination of non-Western literary works.

The forum was a great success, gathering eminent scholars and professionals who shed light on China Studies. It depicted the vitality of China Studies education and demonstrated the openness and inclusivity of the Chinese academic community. China Studies will achieve more in such an academic atmosphere of vitality and creativity.

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