Changing, Challenging China: A Harvard Magazine Roundtable

According to Harvard Magazine, “Harvard Business School and the Harvard China Fund will formally inaugurate a substantial center in Shanghai—one of the University’s largest international facilities—to support faculty research, visiting students, and teaching programs.” In honor of the launch of this project, the Magazine hosted a roundtable discussion between seven faculty and alumni experts, “to discuss China’s history, culture, and contemporary challenges.” An excerpt of the discussion:

[EVAN] OSNOS: In answer to the very provocative question of who is Chinese and what constitutes Chineseness, I’ve been noticing the significant population of foreigners who are settling in China. In Guangzhou today, there are large populations of African migrants who have come simply because it’s a better place than where they’re from. China is suddenly thrust into the uncomfortable position of being a destination. And that means it has to begin to figure out if there is a philosophical and ultimately an administrative mechanism for incorporating those newcomers into the Chinese identity. The idea of Chineseness itself may be in flux.

[EDWARD] STEINFELD: This issue of integrating outsiders is so tied up with empire, I think it may be worth considering the parallels between the Chinese and the American experiences.

Most Americans probably wouldn’t view their own country as an empire—although plenty of outsiders do. But if you think about the development of American power over 250 years, we have a story of urbanization, industrial revolution, incorporation (violently or otherwise) of different kinds of minorities and outsiders, political change—all kinds of ugliness and violence, as well as triumph.

While I’m not a fan of crude comparisons, I think it’s fair to say that the Chinese experience has all these elements—industrial revolution and demographic revolution, urbanization, political change and political revolution—but condensed in some respects into a period of 20 or 25 years. It’s empire and revolution on “speed”—along with globalization at the same time and, compounding a lot of these factors, technological change. To me, that’s what is so spellbinding and head-spinning about this place.

[XIAOFEI] TIAN: But there’s one interesting difference from the American experience. Can those African immigrants get Chinese citizenship? Would they be treated as African-Chinese, or Chinese-African in some ways?

See also a post from Evan Osnos on the event.