The little-known Qian Shan Shili had the opportunity to travel in the days of upheaval at the end of the Qing dynasty and at the dawn of a new republic. She was the first woman to record her thoughts in two travelogues and felt strongly that China’s new education system paled in comparison with that of other countries such as Japan. She concluded that education should have the aim of building critical-thinking men and women rather than just nurturing a crop of scholars with exceptional talent. After all, she notes, without citizens, how can there be talents? And without citizens, there can certainly be no society. These are wise words, says cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai, that remain relevant even today.
Wei Da calls out China’s modus operandi of seeking modernisation yet fighting it at the same time. He says China’s road to modernisation faces the classic dilemmas of setting its priorities right and establishing new paradigms that will liberate it from the shackles of the past. Only then, can China imagine a future that will bring it on par with advanced civilisations.
Professor Wang Gungwu, eminent historian and university professor of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the National University of Singapore, was awarded the 2020 Tang Prize in Sinology earlier this year. At the 2020 Tang Prize Masters’ Forums — Sinology held last month, Professor Wang traced the evolution of sinology in the West and East, observing that today, a “pluralist sinology” is emerging alongside a rising China. This allows for the term “sinologist” to be applied to a much larger group of scholars, and for the bringing together of various knowledge traditions and academic disciplines in the study of China. While there is much to be cheered by this, Professor Wang also urged his fellow scholars to be ready to “douse the fires that others had fanned”, as knowledge gathered by pluralist sinology could be used as a weapon amid intense rivalry between the US and China. This is the transcript of his speech.
Even back in the Qing dynasty, the concept of “state-owned enterprises” was not a foreign one. The Qing government had the habit of maintaining monopolies by running their own enterprises or looking out for profitable industries and private companies, and taking control of them. Hong Kong commentator Chip Tsao notes that even grabbing profits could not prevent the fall of the Qing dynasty.
Chip Tsao laments the dearth of independent thought in China, following a long history of strictures imposed on intellectualism. If the elements of the “scholar”, “intellectual” and “professional” can be combined and inculcated in the country’s elites, a new dynamism can be sparked off that can help China truly modernise.
Even though the countries are in a state of “non-war”, US-China tensions will not go away, says Chinese scholar Deng Qingbo. The US can only be expected to continue using China as a bogeyman even after the presidential election. While he is confident that China will be able to handle containment measures thrown at it deftly, he warns that it needs to guard against being increasingly withdrawn from the world as it nurses its bruises from its battles with the US. Failing to do so would only mean the US has succeeded in thwarting its goal of greater reform and opening up.
In his writings, Norwegian academic Johan Galtung predicted the fall of the US empire in 2020. At this mid point of the year, Deng Xize takes stock and holds fast to his earlier opposition to Galtung’s hypothesis, saying that the US empire is not going anywhere just yet — there is simply no other country that can take on a dominant role in its place.
After more than 40 years of reform and opening up to the point that China has become an integral node in global supply chains, will the pandemic be the circuit breaker that cuts off the flow of connections between China and the West? Will the currents of international trade and cooperation flow again or will China ironically be more like the US in thinking “I am the world”? And once allegedly compared by Napoleon to a “sleeping lion”, will China resume its sleep shortly after awakening?