Thursday, May 8, 2014

Guest Lecture by Zi Zhongyun at the HNC

The Hopkins-Nanjing Center holds frequent guest lectures in English and Chinese on a variety of topics.  This week alone the HNC hosted guest speakers Dr. Zhao Jianzhong, the Vice Inspector in the Counselors' Office of the Nanjing Municipal Government, and Karen Liu, the Managing Director of Social Venture Group.  We are also holding a conference on East Asian Regionalism over the next few days that is open to students.  HNC Five-Semester Option student Emily Walz sends an update about another recent guest lecture by Zi Zhongyun, senior fellow and former director of the American Studies Institute at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS). 

On April 14, the Hopkins-Nanjing Center hosted professor Zi Zhongyun 资中筠 for a Monday night lecture on “the current domestic and international situation.” Students flocked to the classroom where the talk was to be held as organizers rushed to add rows of chairs to the back of the room. The majority of the room was filled with Chinese students, many of whom were already familiar with Professor Zi. One of them, my roommate, had pointed out to me earlier in the day her copies of some of Professor Zi’s books, which enjoy a prime position on her overcrowded bookshelves. It seemed clear that Professor Zi’s reputation preceded her, attracting an impressive crowd for a mid-semester weeknight.

Blog post author Emily Walz introduces Professor Zi Zhongyun
Senior fellow and former director of the American Studies Institute at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (and Chinese co-director of the Center’s Institute for International Research from 2000 to 2005), Zi Zhongyun is a gray-haired, quick-witted woman in her 80s. She sat at one of the front tables, facing students and announced at the opening that instead of giving a formal presentation, she would open the floor to questions, beginning a discussion about contemporary international affairs of interest to students. Students responded with queries about her opinions on a wide variety of topics, from Japan's foreign policy to conflicting claims in the South China Sea, Taiwan, and the Obama administration’s “Asia Pivot.”

Her manner was easy and open as she fielded students’ questions in an informal style, not shy about expressing her opinion or telling students that some questions don’t have easy answers. She was straightforward and funny, with jokes that elicited bursts of laughter.

As a scholar, her views were nuanced and informed by history. When speaking about the recent conflict between Russia and Ukraine, Professor Zi noted that Western leaders, in particular the U.S., bore some responsibility for the current debacle. America in the post-Cold War era missed an opportunity to promote peace and help stabilize a stronger Russian democracy, she argued. While a Yeltsin-led Russia was looking for a closer relationship with the U.S., the U.S. chose instead to promote its own global strategic and military dominance rather than cutting military spending, a trajectory further cemented in the aftermath of September 11, 2001.

Regarding efforts like President Xi Jinping’s campaign to curb corruption in China, Professor Zi insisted that the rule of law is indispensable to reform, and that political reform is the most urgent task confronting the new leadership; while in international affairs, Professor Zi emphasized the importance of rational decision-making among countries’ leaders. She is herself a pacifist who maintains that contemporary foreign policy should endeavor to avoid war at all costs, as the consequences of modern warfare are beyond imagination.

Her impressive list of works features translations from English and French as well as original scholarship on U.S. studies, including her latest book, The Destiny of Wealth: An Analysis of American Philanthropic Foundations from a Chinese Perspective.