Interview: U.S. university takes lead in Chinese studies, says scholar

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CHICAGO, Dec. 14 (Xinhua) — The U.S. University of Michigan (UM) is among the leading educational institutions worldwide regarding Chinese studies, providing multiple programs to facilitate exchanges of researchers, a scholar at UM has said.

“Our mission is to promote research and study about China … that’s what our resources are dedicated to,” Mary Gallagher, director of the Center for Chinese Studies at UM, told Xinhua in a recent interview.

“We have many developing programs to continue our mission to promote the research and study of China,” said Gallagher, who is also a professor of political science at UM.

Sitting in her office with a bookshelf full of China-related books and a Chinese calendar with the words reading “Labor is Honorable” hanging on the wall, Gallagher said their Asia library, which has large Chinese language resources, “is one of the largest Asia libraries in the country.”

Founded in 1961, the Lieberthal-Rogel Center for Chinese Studies has about 45 faculty associates doing research on China. Each of them has connections and is involved in programs with Chinese universities, ministries and local governments, said Gallagher. This wide-ranging and deep connection with China has consolidated the center’s position among all China-study centers in the United States.

The interdisciplinary center has a postdoctoral program and a visiting scholars program to attract people from Europe and Asia who are studying China.

In addition, the center provides several programs for UM students to go to China for study, research, and internships.

“We promote our faculty and students to do research on China, and in some cases that research will be about U.S.-China relations,” Gallagher said.

The scholar first went to China as an undergraduate student 30 years ago. “The change in China is very dramatic. The social transformation, the economic development, it is just unprecedented in the world,” she said.

“What we’ve seen as China has changed is (that) China’s role in the world has become more important,” Gallagher said. “We have more students and more faculties who want to work on China, who want to study China, who want to understand China.”

UM boasts of a long history of friendship with the Asian country. In 1880, UM’s then President James Angell visited China. In 1892, UM received its first Chinese student. There are now more than 3,600 Chinese students studying at UM.

The founding of the Center for Chinese Studies further boosted the exchanges between UM and China. UM quickly gained international prominence as a leader in Chinese studies. Some UM faculty members have played important roles as the relationship between China and the United States began to normalize in the 1970s.

Gallagher noted that China and the United States share a lot of similarities and common ground, saying the two countries are “diverse” and their cultures are “warm” and “open.”

There is an imbalance in the level of knowledge and contact between the people of the two countries, Gallagher said.

“There are many people in China speaking English, many Chinese people studying in the United States or visiting the United States,” she said. “On the other hand, most Americans do not speak Chinese, and they do not visit China.”

“I think that imbalance is really a negative for the overall relationship. So I always encourage my students to go to China and study Chinese,” Gallagher said.

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