BEIJING, Dec. 5, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — The recent World Conference on China Studies – Shanghai Forum, which concluded on November 24, was one of the largest gatherings of global “China hands.” At the two-day forum, more than 400 Chinese and foreign scholars specializing or interested in China studies discussed their insights on Chinese civilization and China’s path of development, as well as their impacts on the current global landscape.
During the forum, some of the overseas scholars, including winners of the 2023 Award for Distinguished Contributions to China Studies, shared their personal China experiences, observations, and understandings of Chinese civilization and China’s path with the Global Times.
These “China hands” are witnesses to China’s modernization and social development, and play an important role as bridges that link China and the world, observers told the Global Times on Monday.
Witnesses and bridges
The forum announced the winners of the 2023 Award for Distinguished Contributions to China Studies on November 24. They included Timothy Brook, professor emeritus at Department of History, University of British Columbia, Baik Young-seo, professor emeritus at Yonsei University, and Kishore Mahbubani, distinguished fellow at the Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore.
Brook and Baik participated in the in-person forum in Shanghai. At an interview on November 23, Brook said that Shanghai “makes him jump.” “The Shanghai of today is completely different from that of the 1970s,” he told the media in fluent Putonghua. “The city reminds me of New York when I look out of my hotel at the Bund.”
Shanghai was one of the starting places that sparked Brook’s relationship with China. In 1974, then 23-year-old Brook studied ancient Chinese history and literature at Fudan University as one of the earliest young Canadians to come to China as exchange students. At Fudan, he developed a keen interest in China’s Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), and later started his decades of research in Chinese history, particularly into the Ming Dynasty history.
At the forum venue by the Huangpu River, Brook said although he has visited Shanghai many times over the years, he is quite impressed by the development of China’s most modernized metropolis during each visit. “I found that Shanghai has ‘grown up’ to a degree that I’ve never seen before,” he said, as if describing an old friend.
Brook is hailed as one of the best storytellers among North American historians. His many books focusing on China during the period of the Ming Dynasty, such as The Confusions of Pleasure: Commerce and Culture in Ming China, open a window for international readers to learn more about Chinese history and civilization.
“I keep writing books about China in order to increase the outside world’s understanding of China,” Brook told the Global Times.
Brook is among the expanding pool of international scholars in China studies who have, in recent decades, personally experienced China’s rapid path to development.
Rachel Murphy, who prefers to go by her Chinese name “Rui Xue (auspicious snow in a literal translation)” in China, was a guest speaker at the forum. As a Chinese Development and Society professor at the University of Oxford and former president of the British Association for Chinese Studies, she has been engaged in China-related research, exploring China’s social and cultural changes caused by urbanization, educational development, demographic transition, and state policies.
During the last 20 years, Murphy has travelled to many villages, towns, and cities across China. Her long-term fieldwork makes her an old “China hand.”
Murphy marveled at China’s tremendous development, especially in the countryside. “China’s urbanization is progressing very fast,” she told the Global Times during the forum. “The book I wrote [about rural China] before is out of date now.”
Murphy shared that a week ahead of the forum, she visited several villages in Anhui Provinces, where she had been to a few years before. She was surprised by the great changes in communication in rural China.
Wi-Fi availability is now commonplace in many villages, enabling “left-behind” children to stay in contact with their migrant worker parents through frequent video calls, said Murphy. She was surprised to see many elderly women like to share their rural lives on Douyin (the Chinese version of TikTok).
“The speed of technological changes [in China] is truly amazing,” Murphy said in Putonghua. “Rural areas included, the ubiquitous nature of ‘connection’ [across China] is a remarkable achievement.”
Among the China studies scholars who attended the forum in Shanghai, Michael Crook, a Chinese Government Friendship Award winner, is a familiar “China hand” to many Chinese people.
Crook’s family has been profoundly and closely connected to China. Six generations of his family have worked and lived in China. Born and raised in Beijing, Crook has devoted decades to education in China. Now he teaches children from expatriate families in Beijing Chinese history and culture, acting as a bridge between people in China and the West, especially among the younger generation.
During the forum, Crook told Chinese media that he believes Chinese and Western cultures have their own merits. “They can learn from each other,” he said.
A path worthy of reference
Crook was a guest speaker at a sub-forum being held during the Shanghai Forum on November 24. The theme of the sub-forum was “Explorations: Chinese Modernization and China’s Path.”
Under this theme, many participants of the sub-forum shared their understanding of China’s path to modernization, and some highlights of China’s path worthy of reference for other countries.
China is a good example of integrating its own development with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNDGs), said economist Ranee Jayamaha, lead consultant for the South Asia-World Bank Group.
She offered how China has launched the Initiative for Belt and Road Partnership on Green Development together with 31 countries, and closely aligned the initiative with the needs of global green development by investing in renewable energy and adopting comprehensive pollution reduction measures as an example.
This is a good story of China’s success in positively influencing world development, Jayamaha commented.
Crook mentioned China’s ethnic policies, which he thinks can be referenced by multi-ethnic countries.
In a speech he delivered at the sub-forum, Crook recalled his visit to a school in China’s Xizang Autonomous Region in May. The school teaches both Putonghua and Tibetan, and entirely permissible for the latter to be spoken in class. The small case shows China respects and supports its ethnic minorities at the national level, said Crook.
With China’s rise and its growing international influence, many countries, especially those in the Global South, are interested in Chine’s development, and are looking forward to learning from China’s experiences, many attendees of the forum told the Global Times.
And these contemporary “China hands” are making efforts to know more about China, exploring China’s development path and sharing their observations and understandings with the world.
China is on a multi-dimensional path of development, Josette Altmann-Borbón, secretary general of Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences, said in a speech delivered at the forum’s opening ceremony on November 24.
We should fully understand the important role China plays on the global stage, she noted.
SOURCE Global Times