With rising US-China tensions and American society’s dissatisfaction with China, as well as a shrinking higher education market, Chinese academics teaching China-related humanities subjects in the US and their already-marginalised departments and courses have been affected. US academic Wu Guo believes that the future generation’s understanding of the Chinese language and of China's culture and history will deteriorate as a result and worsen the disconnect between the US and China.
Professor Jonathan Spence (1936-2021) was a prolific historian who deepened Western readers’ understanding of China’s history and culture through his artful mastery of narrative history grounded in rigorous research. From the inner world of Emperor Kangxi to Jesuit missionaries' voyage to China, to the plight of Chinese intellectuals and literati and the arduous mission of reform and opening up, Spence’s unique writing style brought to life the complex historical figures and events of China. Cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai, one of his earliest students, and translation academic Jackie Yan pay tribute to Spence and his contribution to the study of Chinese history through this preface to a collection of Spence's translated works published by the Guangxi Normal University Press.
The belief that the Chinese know far more about America than Americans know about China is a misconception. In the age of globalisation and the internet, a knowledge asymmetry actually exists between the Chinese and the Americans — middle class Americans seem to have an understanding of Chinese culture, history and system based on rigorous academic research and analysis, but the Chinese lack the same level of understanding of the Americans. US academic Wu Guo shares his views on why the “knowledge deficit” exists in China.
Americans are losing confidence in their own country while the Chinese are gaining confidence in China. This change is profoundly significant, says US academic Han Dongping. The crux of America’s decline is the deep polarisation in a country which is no longer the land of opportunity and optimism for many who live in the cycle of poverty and crime. Is it a surprise that many college students are supporting socialism and looking for new models that might work?
Some Chinese academics and international students in the US think that far-left tendencies are going overboard in American universities and even fear the dawning of an “American Cultural Revolution”. Are these fears unfounded? What does the profile of those who hold far-left views and have a mission to champion social justice tell us about the evolution of American society?
With Chinese returning talents (海归, haigui) increasingly becoming a dime a dozen amid worsening US-China relations and less Chinese students venturing abroad, the aura of prestige that such returnees used to enjoy is fast diminishing. In fact, many of them were ostracised in the early days of the pandemic for bringing the virus back to China. But all is not lost, as many among them feel their years spent abroad will still open doors.
Before rushing to conclude that China is turning inward and isolating itself from the world with its harsh zero-Covid policy, says US academic Wu Guo, the American media should do some soul-searching themselves on how US policies and negative American attitudes towards China have led to dwindling people-to-people contact.
Professor Wang Gungwu, recipient of the 2020 Tang Prize in Sinology, delivered a Tang Prize Laureate Lecture at Tang Prize 2021 on 20 November. In tracing China’s history from empire to nation, he relates in tandem his journey of becoming a historian, from being a Chinese overseas in his youth, then returning briefly to the motherland before starting a new life in a new country. “That seemed like the real meaning of my leaving China,” he says, “ requiring me to think as a huaqiao settling down as a citizen of a foreign country... But I did learn that I could leave China but China did not leave me.” Whether in his studies of the Five Dynasties period of the 10th century or Mao’s China and the struggle to find its future after throwing away its own past, he noted that wen (文)-texts supported central power and shaped the system’s collective memory, and were most useful as the shi (史) records of every dynasty. This nexus can perhaps help us understand how one Confucian past could serve to denigrate one set of leaders but provide greater legitimacy for another, and how the continuity of China’s history can be preserved in the future.
The former Trump administration launched the China Initiative in 2018, ostensibly to protect US national security interests. However, a recent open letter by US academics calling for an end to the initiative seems to suggest that the programme is not what it set out to be. Zaobao’s China Desk examines the China Initiative and what it has achieved — or not.