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    In a Changing World, China Rethinks ‘China Studies’

    The World Conference on China Studies opened Thursday in Shanghai with a new name, new mission, and new approach.
    Nov 23, 2023#Shanghai

    The field of China studies is changing.

    That, at least, is the takeaway from China’s newly rebranded World Conference on China Studies · Shanghai Forum, which opened Thursday. The Conference’s guest list and subforums both reflect the growing importance of scholarship from the developing world as well as the emergence of a new generation of sinologists.

    The World Conference on China Studies is a successor to the biennial World Forum on China Studies, launched in 2004 with the goal of providing a platform for exchange for the broader China studies community. About 400 scholars from China and around the world are expected to attend the two-day event.

    Included in their number are scholars from non-traditional centers of Sinology, including Latin America and Africa. “China studies is no longer limited to Europe, North America, and Japan, which have deep traditions of Sinology,” Quan Heng, Party Secretary of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, which helped organize the Conference, told local media this week.

    “Institutions for China studies are popping up across Southeast Asia, South Asia, Central Asia, Africa, Latin America, and other countries and regions, and more and more scholars are dedicating themselves to China studies.”

    Another key area of focus for organizers was the generation gap in attitudes and approaches between older China studies scholars and their younger counterparts. “Generational shifts within China studies are also quietly taking place,” Quan said. “There are differences in the topics of concern and research perspectives between senior China studies scholars and the younger generation.”

    In addition to a subforum dedicated to the subject of “Intergenerational Transmission and Paradigm Shifts in China Studies,” Shanghai is also hosting a sideline event for young sinologists. In a media appearance, the Shanghai-based academic Zhang Xin explained that the goal of the event is to build closer connections between China-based and overseas sinologists.

    As an example, he cited the encouragement and help given by Zhang Zhongli, the late dean of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, to Harvard sinologist Elizabeth Perry in her research on Shanghai’s working class.

    “When it comes to explaining China, China, which should have a greater say in the world’s academic landscape, often falls into a state of ‘aphasia’ and fails to fully play its due role,” Shen Guilong, director of the Institute of China Studies at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences told local media. Improving mutual exchanges and communication between scholars around the world can “reduce misunderstandings, resolve differences, and build consensus,” he added. 

    (Header image: Conference attendees visit Wuliqiao Sub-district in Shanghai, Nov. 23, 2023. Wu Huiyuan/Sixth Tone)