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Research Centre for East Asian Studies Groningen Blogs and Postcards

NAHSS experience by Rick Stratingh

As a participant of the Netherlands Asia Honours Summerschool (NAHSS), I have the opportunity to do a summerschool at one of the most well known universities of China: Peking University (PKU). The university is recognized as one of the most progressive in China, having contributed to major events in Chinese history.

The summerschool is aimed at broadening the perspective of participants. This means that I am currently finishing my courses in about the constitution of China and about public policy in China. With a physics background, these kind of courses and subjects are totally new for me in an academic setting. Since every participant of the NAHSS and the PKU summerschool has different backgrounds, this leads to very interesting discussions in and outside the classrooms.

After arriving here, you’ll quickly learn that there are a lot of things that can be said and asked during classes, but there are some taboos as well. Good to know is that every classroom is equipped with at least three security cameras, monitoring what is said in the classroom. Criticizing the Chinese government is largely allowed, and is done by the teachers as well. Most of the time that criticism is brought to us in the Chinese way, so very politely and not explicitly. Moreover, persons (politicians or party members) are hardly ever addressed personally in class, but their policies can be discussed and evaluated.

The taboos are usually not discussed in class, but there are exceptions. The taboos mainly consist of the three T’s: Tiananmen square protests, Taiwan and Tibet. The first is a very sensitive topic, which has raised some questions in class that made the teacher very uncomfortable, whereas the latter have been discussed quite extensively. Nonetheless, we have learned the Chinese (mainland China) perspective only. It is true that this opens up more perspectives on these sensitive issues, but those perspectives are very opposite of the ones usually known outside China.

Although I have not taken classes at other Chinese universities, I can imagine that classes will proceed in roughly the same fashion compared to my experience so far. However, the Chinese government allows foreign universities and organizations to set up educational institutions as well. An example of that is of course the branch campus of UGY in Yantai. We were invited to Schwarzman Scholars, a highly prestigious one-year master’s program in corporation with Tsinghua University. The program is founded by Steven Schwarzman and aims to prepare the next generation of global leaders. Of course, this is them trying to sell their program to future participants, but the future generation of global leaders is not bounded by any taboos or other restrictions. The internet connection in their residence is bypassing the Great Firewall of China, and everything can be said within the walls of the building. Although I am not an expert on this, it seems that there is willingness to open up the academia in China. Since more and more Chinese students and teachers have studied abroad, Chinese perspectives will change as well.

To conclude, China is changing at a rate that is likely impossible in Europe, but that rate does have a price. Over the last few weeks, I have learned a lot about how China works and have seen things from the Chinese perspective. I cannot say that I agree with all of the Chinese viewpoints, but I do think that it is good to know and understand them. Most are not bad or wrong, only different from what is known.

The campus of PKU seen from the outside
The campus of PKU seen from the outside
Last modified:23 August 2017 3.56 p.m.