Mon, Mar 18, 2002 - Page 8 News List

Be cautious with regard to Chinese academia

By Hsu Tung-ming 許東明

There have been several newspaper reports that Taiwan's Ministry of Education is moving toward accepting Chinese academic degrees, something for which there also seems to be a general consensus among the public. However, apart from the acceptance of Chinese degrees, there is precious little debate over the academic climate in Chinese universities.

Looking at the issue from the perspective of the dialectic relationship between knowledge and power, Professor Justin Lin (林毅夫), executive director of the China Center for Economic Research (中國經濟研究中心), often emphasizes that "most winners of the Nobel Prize in Economics are born in countries which at the time of the awarding of the prize are highly developed economically." This amply describes the relationship between knowledge and power.

Even though much international emphasis is put on research about China, what is China's academic performance in this area? In fact, Chinese academic circles currently find themselves in a position where they are establishing academic standards and are trying to join international academic circles. The fact that they are still in the process of establishing these standards is proven by the firing of Wang Mingming (王銘銘), a professor in the Anthropology Department at Beijing University, for having presented a translation as an original work.

Some scholars returning to China, as well as local scholars frequently participating in international academic activities, certainly have made outstanding contributions in this area. This strength, however, has not coalesced into an academic body providing an academic division of labor, able to provide a theory explaining certain issues in China research, but it has rather resulted in many individual opinions. By comparison, National Taiwan University (NTU) is far more advanced than Beijing University. The theory of authoritarian dependence concerning the political transformation in Taiwan proposed by the political science department at NTU is one good example.

Apart from this, Taiwanese students in China will also encounter a reversed view of the world. Regarding intellectual development, the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949 led to China taking after the Soviet industrialization model. The same thing was true for academia, and the most common second language among intellectuals in China is Russian.

Taiwanese academia took after Western intellectual circles, and the English language has all along been the most important tool for Taiwanese intellectuals when absorbing academic information. This also means that the formation of Taiwanese and Chinese intellectual circles has developed along two different paths. Even more importantly, due to the Cold War, these two intellectual systems are in opposition to each other, and the question of how to strike a balance between the two is another test facing Taiwanese students in China.

So is Beijing University a good university? People in Taiwan hold opposing opinions on this issue, but these opinions are based on an imaginary understanding and a lack of long-term observation. Due to this fact, Taiwanese people seem to have a problem when it comes to evaluating other countries, since we may believe that we find what we think are the right answers.

More importance should therefore be placed on understanding the theories put forward by Chinese intellectuals about different societies from a Chinese historical perspective. Only through such observations can we achieve a relative understanding of the direction of and thinking in Chinese academia.

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