During my recent visit to Berkeley, I made time to attend a workshop by UC Berkeley’s Institute of East Asian Studies on “Unlearning Boundaries of Discipline and Methodology: Dialogue among Scholars of China Studies”.
Among the distinguished speakers are UC Berkeley’s Thomas Gold, Nelson Graburn, and Tim McLellan.
The speakers told stories of the olden days when China has not opened up to the world yet. China did so in 1979, meaning that China studies before that year was super super challenging.
Before that era, and even around ten, twenty years after 1979, scholars studying China needed to find information somewhere else such as the then British exclave of Hong Kong (handed over back to China on July 1, 1997) and an island located west to the Mainland, Taiwan.
There are several interesting points told by the speakers. One speaker learned “Chinese” from someone coming from rural area in China, for which when he came to Taiwan to talk to people there, no one understood him and neither he managed to understand people in Taiwan because the “Chinese” that he learned from that person was an ancient dialect that no one still used by the time he went to Taiwan.
Taiwan became favorite place for China scholar because it is the only place where foreigners can come, experience, and immerse in anything Chinese but not in the Mainland — excluding Hong Kong.
Hong Kong, became another alternative for China scholars at that time. Hong Kong is more unique in a sense that it became a place where China scholars from overseas could meet refugee fleeing China and conduct interview or “survey” with them. Hong Kong was also exceptional because sometimes, when the scholars were lucky, they could receive the signal from Mainland’s radio frequency. Literature from Mainland China could also be found in Hong Kong, sometimes.
It is very interesting to know how China studies have evolved in the past 40 years. In 40 years also, we have seen China rising from among the poorest country in the world to become the second largest economy in the world, that is projected to surpass the US before 2030 or 2040 according to different studies.
China has opened up, despite things that are deemed as controversy by foreigners, mainly Westerners — and therefore, China has grown so fast, in a pace unimaginable in 1979.
Maybe, if someone forecasted in that year that China will be a superpower in 40 years, people would laugh — if not call that person crazy.
But now, information, knowledge, technology on many aspect of our lives are easily transferred from and to China — something that many of us take for granted, especially among younger generation.
Many in the young generation do not yet acknowledge the importance of studying China, let alone its history and way of thinking.
To give you a perspective, by the time I visited Berkeley, I was reading a book by Michael Pillsbury titled The Hundred-Year Marathon: China’s Secret Strategy to Replace the United States as the Global Superpower (2015). In that book, Pillsbury tells the story on how he was among the first Americans to witness the opening up of China and how the US-China relationship evolved in the last 40 years.
Today, people can champion the world because they understand how the world works, what values are uphold, etc. — many of which due to America’s excessive pride to export their culture worldwide.
Today we haven’t seen China’s eagerness to export their culture; as opposed to America through Hollywood, music, technology, lifestyle, and importantly education. In Kishore Mahbubani’s The Great Convergence (2013), he correctly and interestingly points out how America’s value is our (the world’s) value — and we seem to take it for granted instead of something that America has endeavored to build for years.
One memorable example is when Kishore Mahbubani tells the story on how his two children go to Yale, and how he didn’t need to explain to people around him what it means to be admitted to Yale. People already congratulated him because they all understand what it means to go to Yale — something that we all share, not just among Americans, although Yale is an American institution.
If we want to survive in the era of China — or what I would gladly call as the “China Century”, we have to understand China. Chinese Language is one thing. Chinese culture is another thing. Chinese history — especially Chinese modern history after the founding of Modern China under Chinese Communist Party (or Communist Party of China), is an indispensable subject. Chinese values and CCP/CPC’s the way of thinking could not be ignored altogether.
As Graham Allison perfectly puts it in Destined of War (2017), CCP/CPC sees time in eternality. “China” has a longer vision in a sense that they think in a longer term.
This is mainly because the Chinese is ruled by CCP/CPC that doesn’t have to worry about election and change in government. To put it simply, in a way, they have a more stable government. Unlike America or other democracies, government and policymakers alike have to worry about challenge to their government and reelection in every four, five, or six years depending on their constitutions.
2049 vision or 2025 Made in China up until now cannot or have not been replicated by other countries — simply because they do not have the capacity in government (because of their short-termism paradigm) to establish such visions.
Things like this should be understood by the younger generation, acknowledging the already obvious saying that “China is the future”.
Being complacent is easy, with being carried away by the wave of change as the consequence.
Determining the winner and loser in the future is easy. As Darwinian as I could be, those who adapt would survive and those who are stubborn will vanish.