Surviving Winds Of
Anniversary: The Nanjing
Ask Anthony Kane to name the greatest accomplishment the
Hopkins-Nanjing Center for Chinese and American Studies has
achieved in 10 years and you'll get an immediate response.
"Survival," says the program's executive director, a historian who specializes in the changing social role of intellectuals in 20th-century China.
The center, which celebrated its 10th anniversary last week with a three-day series of programs and events in China, was funded, built and sustained against mighty odds. Says Kane, "People thought it would never survive, and certainly making it to 10 years has been no mean feat. After June 4, 1989, many people thought we would never reopen."
That date was the Sunday morning when tanks rolled into Tiananmen Square, killing hundreds of peaceful protesters and crushing the fledgling pro-democracy movement that had started in Beijing and spread to many cities throughout China. It was followed by a general crackdown at most universities and institutions of higher learning, and a pronounced chill in relations between China and the Western democracies.
At the Nanjing Center, however, not much changed. Commencement ceremonies for that academic year were canceled, but the library--the only uncensored open stacks university library in China--remained open. Hopkins and Nanjing University officials held frank but friendly discussions on how to keep the center operating in the changed political climate. In September, the center welcomed a new class of Chinese and international students right on schedule.
In only a decade, the center has seen its share of good times and bad. Yet it has not only survived but prospered as the only program of its type in all China.
In celebration of this accomplishment, the center threw itself something of a party last week. Classes were canceled in order to make room for speeches, banquets and a two-day symposium on Sino-American relations. University president William R. Brody and a contingent of top-ranking university officials flew to China for the event, which was jointly sponsored by Hopkins and Nanjing University.
"We can all take great satisfaction in the success of our endeavors here," Brody was to tell a combined audience of faculty, alumni, students and administrators in a statement prepared for a Thursday evening anniversary celebration ceremony at the center. "Johns Hopkins University takes particular pride in the relationship we have forged with the People's Republic of China. We are the only university with a physical presence in China. The uniqueness of that role makes the accomplishments and the lessons learned at this center all the more significant."
Several top Hopkins officials were scheduled to participate in the event, including Brody, board of trustees chairman Michael Bloomberg, interim provost and Arts and Sciences dean Steven Knapp and SAIS dean Paul Wolfowitz. Although meant as a celebration of a decade's worth of achievement, a looming--if unspoken--question will be how the center can continue to grow and prosper in its second decade.
"The U.S.-Chinese relationship has always gone in these huge pendulum swings," notes Kane of the current state of affairs. "If it's rosy it's too rosy. If things turn gloomy then they're too gloomy, and suddenly, for Americans, China becomes the next evil empire. One of the things we try to do at the center is round off the edges so that our Chinese and American students will emerge with a more realistic outlook. We're not trying to train our students to like each other, necessarily, but to understand each other. That's perhaps harder, but more important."
Part of what makes this understanding possible is the unique nature of the center's curriculum. Essentially two schools in one, it admits Chinese students who spend a year studying with American professors in English, and international, mostly American, students who spend a year studying with Nanjing University professors in Chinese. Although there are joint field trips, center-wide events and some shared seminars, the real cross-cultural interaction takes place at the center's on-site dormitory housing, which pairs Chinese and international students in each room.
The graduate-level students must demonstrate a proficiency in both English and Mandarin Chinese in order to gain acceptance into the program, which confers a joint Nanjing/Johns Hopkins certificate upon graduates at the end of the year. The center can accommodate 50 Chinese and 50 international students each year, although it has proved difficult to find enough international students competent in Chinese to fill all the slots.
The center's curriculum is similar to that offered at SAIS, focusing on international relations, foreign policy, government, politics, society, economics and trade. Language skills development is a natural outcome of the experience, says Kane, but the program is not set up or promoted as a language course.
The center began as, and remains, the only co-funded and co-administered educational venture in the People's Republic of China. It depends upon the goodwill and support of both Johns Hopkins and Nanjing University for its continued operation and success. Originally funded, in part, through grants from the Chinese and American governments, in recent years the center has had to turn to private giving and corporate sponsorship as those sources have disappeared.
"When a program is new, people rush to fund it," explains Kane. "But after 10 years the novelty has worn off. Now that the Chinese and American governments have ended funding we are increasingly dependent upon corporate support, which has its own dangers. The next economic downturn will undoubtedly prove a challenge."
Luckily, the Hopkins-Nanjing Center has one great secret weapon, the force that Kane, upon consideration, decides is the true accomplishment of the unusual venture.
"Survival has been important, but I would say undoubtedly our greatest achievement is our students," he says. "We have been fortunate to recruit some of the most brilliant and capable young men and women in the field, and they have gone on to work throughout the public and private sector."
A detailed report on the career paths chosen by center graduates reads like a comprehensive guide to Sino-American relations: alumni are scattered, quite literally, across the map, with positions ranging from a Lehman Brothers trader to a People's Liberation Army officer. It is this astounding breadth of achievement that Kane believes represents the real payoff for an unusual academic venture.
"Our alumni are still relatively young and just starting their careers," he notes. "But the exposure that their year at the center gave them has tremendous impact. We are helping train the next generation of leaders and opinion makers in Sino-American relations. I believe the Hopkins-Nanjing Center is important, not only for our two universities, but for our countries as well."
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