Saturday, August 9, 2014

A glimpse into Chinese Academia of History

Based on research in Chinese archives funded by the Sigur Center Summer Fellowship, I presented a paper regarding China’s Southwest border area at the conference of “New Sources and New Perspectives on China’s Frontiers during the Cold War” at the Wilson Center. Leading Cold War historians and PhD students focusing on the topic present their research on China’s bordering area as well as relations with neighboring countries. Since most participants of the conference are Chinese scholars and students, the conference provides me with a window to observe the recent development of Chinese Academia, especially scholarship on its modern history.
Cold War history in China is a field where Chinese scholars and international scholars maintain active exchange. For instance, East China Normal University's (ECNU) Cold War Center maintains close cooperation with Wilson Center's flagship Cold War International History Project (CWIHP). Many scholars in the field are open-minded enough that they do not see defending or justifying Chinese policies as the eventual goal of their research.

Several trends are obvious in their recent research. While Sino-US and Sino-Soviet relations have been the long-term foci of Cold War Studies in China, China’s relations with its neighboring countries attract increasing attention from Chinese scholars. While previous Chinese scholarship on China’s relations with its smaller neighboring countries examines the issue within the framework of China’s interactions with the two Cold War superpowers, recent works tend to attach importance to regional dynamics and the legacy of Chinese empire. Emerging conflicts between China and Southeast Asian countries regarding disputed territory further encourage scholarship on the issue. Some of the younger generation of Chinese scholars is building up language skills to study China’s neighbors. 
Another important trend is the use of local archives to study Chinese foreign relations and examination of local agency as a result of the changes in document sources. Unfortunately, this change is largely an outcome of the reclassification of the Chinese Foreign Ministry Archives, which was opened in 2004 and curtailed access to declassified documents earlier this year. 
A promising change is the diversification of funding for research. For instance, faculty discussants at the conference made an announcement that the first private foundation focusing on supporting social sciences research has been established recently. It is a common impression that the Chinese academia is marked by fraud and poor academic ethics. State monopoly of funding sources and lack of quality control are important causes of the situation. Involvement of private funding contributes to the professionalization of funding allocation and increases funding opportunities for research projects that are irrelevant or in conflict with state agenda.   

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