CHINA HERITAGE QUARTERLY China Heritage Project, The Australian National University ISSN 1833-8461
No. 14, June 2008


Worrying China & New Sinology | China Heritage Quarterly

Worrying China & New Sinology

Geremie R. Barmé

Originally titled 'Worrying China', an earlier version of this speech was presented at the 'Leading 21st Century Schools National Forum', Adelaide, 20 May 2008. It was revised for the biennial conference of the Asian Studies Association of Australia to be delivered on 2 July 2008. My thanks to Gloria Davies for her comments and suggestions.—GRB.

A Gust of Wind

The viewer enters a vast studio space cloaked in darkness. In the centre of this cavern is a pile, an ill-defined mass of ruined walls, collapsed roof beams, vegetal remains, crushed furniture, scattered books, broken lights. It is the devastated husk of a large and comfortable sitting room.

Walking around this 3-D wreckage the viewer sees five single-sided screens at the back of the studio. The screens show five perspectives of a living room appointed with all the markers of bourgeois comfort—from a large-screen TV and cut flowers, to a capacious fish tank, a Chinese-style chair to oil paintings; there's a bust and photographs on the walls, and well-stocked book shelves. The screens study the room from different angles and at alternating speeds. The mesmeric images create the illusion of a living space, it remains yet a stagnant scene, one that despite the kaleidoscope of images conveys the impression of permanence, fixity and material certainty. As the cameras pan, tilt, glide in and seemingly caress the objects in the room the curtains suddenly flutter, animated initially only by a teasing breeze. Gradually, the movement increases as the welling air picks up its assault, the trees outside shake and the curtains billow inwards. Soon the scene of restful contentment is undone by the insistent waves of wind from the outside world. They build into a blustery crescendo, seen still from every angle, until the chandelier falls, sparks fly, the windows blow in, walls collapse, and the roof in tremulous fury crashes down. The place is reduced to a dusty wreck. Angry bursts of light caused by electrical faults irradiate the room in its dying moments.

A Gust of Wind (Zhen feng 阵风) was created by the Hangzhou artist Zhang Peili 张培力. I attended the opening of the show at the Boers-Li Gallery in the booming new art zone of Caochang Di 草场地 in Beijing on 26 April this year. On the opening night it already felt like an overwhelming, deeply disturbing work. This creation by one of China's most creative video artists provided a powerful meditation on the instability of the middle-class dream, a visual essay on the fragility of our modern lives. Now, following the recent mass devastation in Sichuan province as a result of the heartbreaking 12 May Wenchuan Earthquake, Zhang's A Gust of Wind seems hauntingly prescient and truly horrifying.

Of course, the Wenchuan quake did not strike the prosperous middle-class world of Eastern China, it hit the western hinterland, where so many who have helped build modern China's prosperity through their labour come from. However, people throughout the country, and internationally, responded to the tragedy with an outpouring of sympathy, support and generosity. This profoundly human, and humane, moment in contemporary Chinese history calls for thoughtful reflection.

Being Chinese

The events of the last four months have thrown into relief the complexities that bedevil our engagement with China and our understanding of Chinese sensibilities. In the following remarks I would like to reflect on these events in the context of some long-term concerns for those of us who teach and write about China, particularly in the hope of prompting educators to develop a keener appreciation of the powerful emotions that these events have aroused. I thus direct my address to people who think about the Chinese world and are involved in multifarious ways with the Australian engagement with China and our region.

The 'China' of which I speak does not just encompass the geopolitical territory defined by the People's Republic of China or its citizens, for it also includes diasporic global communities. In fact, my colleagues and I often prefer to speak of the Sinophone world, that is one consisting of the individuals and communities who use one or another—or, indeed, a number—of China-originated languages and dialects to make meaning of and for the world, be it through speaking, reading, writing or via an engagement with various electronic media. Of course, the Chinese world incorporates many ethnicities, which have rich and vibrant languages, lineages, histories and cultures of their own. I will say more of these below. I will say also a few words about how parts of these cultural and linguistic communities have been able, and continue in complex ways, to coalesce with peoples throughout the Asia and Pacific region, and also more broadly globally—Europe, North and South America and Africa. In the process they create other ways, or ever-new possibilities for 'being Chinese'.

In this new millennium we are, I believe, co-creators of new senses of China that extend well beyond the perimeters of the People's Republic and into the broader Chinese world, as well as into the worlds and cultures intermingled with the Sinophone realm. To be involved in this world affords us multi-faceted ways of engaging with one of the most exciting, challenging and transformative processes of recent times. Such an enterprise has the potential to broaden the nature of who we are and how we think. It enables us to participate in an expansion of the range of human possibility. I would equally observe that to limit peremptorily this expansion of the possible, or to cut our cloth to fit entrenched ways of understanding to suit the present nation-state of China, or what is deemed appropriately 'Chinese' does, in the longer run, a disservice to the richness, variety and human potential of this ancient yet vibrantly modern cultural sphere.

We are in a particular moment—one which has seen hyper-nationalism on a global scale, followed by national mourning for an enormous tragedy—that has influenced, both negatively and positively, much of what has been said about China this year. In May, with the devastating Wenchuan Earthquake and the surrounding areas in southwest China, the powerful responses generated by the March rebellions in Tibetan China and the April Olympic Torch Relay[1] were replaced, for a time, by an outpouring of raw and uplifting human sympathy, as well as of practical support for the victims of vast destruction. In both cases, that of the rebellion and again in the wake of the earthquake we have seen also the emergency response of the authoritarian state. We have witnessed the deployment of large numbers of troops, para-militaries, police and citizen groups. We can discern the guided response of the media, which not only reports on the events but also moulds public opinion, in order ultimately to extol the nation-state. In the shrill rhetoric and ugly actions taken over the Tibetan uprising the world witnessed what seemed to be a China from an earlier era. With the Wenchuan Earthquake, in contrast, we have also seen the very human and moving face of China, in particular in the person of Wen Jiabao, the Chinese Premier (not to mention the numerous men and women working to save, treat and help the victims of the disaster). Through real compassion and practical engagement Wen showed his own people—and his colleagues, as well as the world—another possibility for China, that of accessible, sympathetic and moral government. In this process, we have seen ordinary citizens reaching beyond themselves, towards their fellows, in human solidarity.[2]

Beyond China Proper

Teaching about China today is a task that can, and should, reflect these vastly different and complex responses. As I have said in the above, the Chinese world and the Sinophone realm create meaning predominantly through the use of the Chinese language (or China-originated languages). But the world encompassed by 'China' is vast, multi-ethnic, multi linguistic and multi cultural. It is important to recognize this diversity and its array of heritages. It is especially important for educators and commentators to be mindful of these complex realities and their historical dimensions. I also believe that the university is a crucial environment in which inherited views about national heritages, the nation-state and collective identities, can be engaged with, challenged and, through discussion, debate and learning, brought into meaningful contrast with the wider world. The university, academic rigour and the multiplicity of intellectual approaches, as well as the rich range of comparative perspectives and juxtapositions allow for the narrowness of parochial concerns, or the dangers of feverishly exclusive approaches to knowledge to be ameliorated and brought into the open field of respectful contention.

The languages, peoples, cultures and traditions of those within the geopolitical territory of the People's Republic of China have their own autonomous histories, regardless of how intertwined they may be with the politics of the Central Plains (Zhong Yuan) or the other northern, southern or invader dynasties of the past. Indeed, in debates among specialists during the 1990s a particular emphasis was placed on the history of invasion dynasties in creating much of what is today regarded as Chinese, and predominantly Han-Chinese, history. The Toba-Wei, the Turkic elements of the great Tang dynasty, the Khitan Liao dynasty, the Jurchen Jin, the Mongol Yuan and the Manchu Qing, are all epochs marked by complex ethnic relationships and 'multi-cultural' exchange. They are also eras that featured a creative expansion of what it meant to be an inhabitant of the realm that is today called 'China'.

These observations are not made, however, in an attempt to discount the dynastic eras born of the Central Plains themselves. But there is important and good scholarship (as well as discord) on the issue of China's profound diversity in history. One thinks, for example, of the relatively recent writings of Ho Ping-ti, Evelyn Rawski, Frederick W. Mote and Mark Elliott. And it is helpful to be aware of the 1990s' debate between Rawski and Ho regarding 'Sincization', and how scholars of Manchu-Qing China like Mark Elliott have approached the subject of non-Han peoples and the history of Inner Asia in the context of dynastic China.[3]

In passing, I would remark that my colleague John Minford, head of the China Centre at The ANU, and I are preparing our own study of one group of Manchu, Mongolian and Han writers and bureaucrats active from the early 19th century that, we hope, will contribute to an online Chinese Studies project that we are developing with colleagues at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Part of our work is to trace the evolution of a kind of Manchu, Mongolian and Han-Chinese cultural creativity during a period late-dynastic China that is often thought of as being one merely of internecine strife, dynastic decay and imperial incursion. We believe that this work, on a more-or-less un-researched topic, will also help others understand differently the makings of modern China.

Thus, like other scholars and thinkers on China, I would suggest that stories of various regional and community identities and languages be accorded the significance they deserve as vital elements of the Sinophone world. As stories that have shaped Chinese culture, they should not be viewed as merely adding to or adorning a mainstream contemporary Han Chineseness that has grown and been codified by a modern nation-state finding its way through the turmoil of the last century and a half. These Others—be they internal Others today, or part of the inter-connected history of a broader Chinese civilization in the past—have autochthonous value and richness. It is here that the study and teaching of history, the engagement with multiculturalism, the debates about difference, modernity, globalization and related issues are of vital importance for those in Australia who wish to learn about the larger Chinese world.

I speak on the basis of the experiences, and research and thinking, of someone who has for their whole adult life been 'embedded' in things Chinese, writing both in English and Chinese and making films that are directed to Chinese-using and international audiences alike. But I would emphasize the need for other frames of reference that foreground cross-border and regional issues as well as temporal changes in availing us of a better understanding of things Chinese. This would have the effect of engaging with China in the context of our own evolving and dynamic world. Colleagues who work on South Asia, other parts of North-East Asia, as well as South-East Asia, for example, add much to the way that we do and can see things. It is through work with colleagues in these areas that we enrich and challenge our own views, as well as provide a crucial corrective to the ever-beckoning Sirens of Sino-centrism.

China is a global presence. Through its history, its peoples, its trade, languages, ways of thinking and, now, as a result of its further economic and diplomatic reach, China (including the mainland, Hong Kong and Taiwan) features in powerful and complex new ways. Various academic disciplinary approaches, those provided, for example, by history, anthropology, economic, cultural and gender studies, sociology and political science, as well as environment studies, are also crucial in offering more nuanced ways of teaching about China. From my own perspective, I think of one simple example of where my interests in history, media and cultural studies coincided in 2005 with the broadcasting in China (and elsewhere) of Dae Jung Gum, a Korean historical TV drama. Depicting an era of Korean history that had resonances with the revival of interest in the Ming dynasty in China, combining the beauty of the actors, imperial pomp, the lavish preparation of food, traditional medical cures and both tragedy and celebration it was part of what in Chinese is called Han-liu, or 'the Korean wave'. It is through such work—TV series, YouTube videos, songs, literature, as well as a range of academic disciplines from history and literature to gender studies and economics—that we can introduce students to the rich cultural flows across the region, as well as to the pressing issues of historical knowledge and the analytical value of cultural studies approaches.

We understand other language-realms (with all that that entails) to enrich ourselves. It is this self-enrichment that we seek to impart to our students and our fellow-citizens. More importantly, in this process, we will also cultivate empathy for truly different ways of being in the world today an enterprise that does, in turn, broaden the possibilities of our own humanity.

Worrying China

The title of my talk today is, in part, 'Worrying China'. It contains an obvious play on words. I indicate that 'China' is a worry, a worry not only for itself, for there is a large corpus of writings from the 19th century related to concerned Chinese thinking men and women and worrying about China. But many other places also worry about China. It—more as a nation-state than anything else perhaps—is a worry, because it elicits concern, whether for those thinking of economic growth, or environmental issues, of political and social stability, or of cultural richness. It is a 'worry' that can easily give way to the negative, but 'to worry' is also to express concern, a hope that things will turn out for the better.

I also use the word 'worry' as a transitive verb, that is to work at something, to tug it this way and that, to get what one can out of something, to 'distress' it, that is through use and familiarity to cause wear and tear, or even a certain intimacy.

In the above I have mentioned the devastating 12 May Wenchuan Earthquake. During the days that followed we saw the Chinese media reporting on this disaster in ways that for a time challenged the prevailing control over information exercised by the Party's Propaganda Department. But the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has been highly visible too. One of the most senior figures in the Chinese government, he was seen raising the clarion call to his people, he was witnessed literally running to their aid, shedding real tears for a vast human tragedy and offering comfort and solace not only to those immediately affected by the calamity but to a nation in shock and mourning. Wen Jiabao—or as many in Beijing affectionately called him even before the earthquake 'Baobao'—has been a fascinating figure for many years. Some of you might remember his ashen face as he stood behind Zhao Ziyang in late May 1989 when Zhao went into Tiananmen Square to meet students, bidding them a tearful farewell with the words 'We have come too late…' Despite the stigma of that event, Wen eventually rose to become premier in 2003, and he has shown a humanity of the kind that made Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang celebrated even among some of the most cynical people I know in China.

In September 2006, in a noteworthy moment at Zhongnan Hai, the Lake Palaces headquarters of China's ruling Communist Party and the seat of China's civilian government, Wen Jiabao answered a question from Jane Macartney The Times correspondent in Beijing, related to what motivated and moved him. (Her question was: 'What book do you most like to read before you go to sleep at night, and when you put the book down which of China's problems most often keeps you awake?') As the other journalists at the collective interview at the Ziguang Ge Pavilion in the Lake Palaces waited to get back to the more pressing economic and political issues of the day, Wen paused and shared a moment of insight into his thinking, and emotions, with Jane. In his reply he quoted (mostly) Chinese classics, expressing himself in the time-honoured tradition of a Chinese thinking person, one committed to state service and to bringing the culture of rulership into the realm of practical politics. This is a tradition in which the engaged individual 'worries about the people and the nation' (you guo you min 憂國憂民), a tradition in which a profound sense of 'anxiety for the nation' (youhuan yishi 憂患意識) finds expression through engagement, active politics and, one should add, just as frequently, via paternalism.

As Macartney noted when Wen Jiabao answered her question:

His voice quivered when he recited a verse by the 3rd-century BC statesman Qu Yuan, regarded by many as the father of Chinese poetry. 'Long did I sigh to hold back tears, saddened I am by the grief of my people.'[4]

Faced with the quotations from a range of thinkers from the 3rd-century BC to the 20th century (Qu Yuan, Zhang Zai, Zuo Zongtang, as well as the philosopher Immanuel Kant), Jane Macartney—a friend of mine for over twenty years—called me and we discussed the men (and, yes, they were all men) that Wen Jiabao had chosen to quote, their significance in terms of an intellectual lineage and the wider cultural import of what this select group of thinkers meant. I also suggested that Jane approach my colleague and collaborator Gloria Davies of Monash University, for Gloria is a noted expert on the practice and theory of 'worrying about China', and an important book by her on that subject was published just last year (see Further Reading below).

Both Gloria and I are part of a cohort that was educated in Chinese at a time when there was an emphasis not only on the modern Standard or Common Chinese (putonghua), but also on the kinds of literary Chinese that make the extraordinary wealth of the culture more readily accessible. It was a training that equipped us not only to appreciate the provenance, but also the meaning and significance, of the quotations from pre-modern texts used by the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in the present day. I think an awareness of and alertness to how traditions are brought to life and transmute to create new potentials as well as to define new limits is an important aspect of our study of 'things Chinese'. They form part of a cultural awareness that we are concerned to promote among our own students, part of an undertaking that I have previously called 'New Sinology'.

New Sinology

In thinking and teaching about Chinese realities, we are concerned not only with the issues of the day but also with the complex origins of those realities and the Chinese possibilities for tomorrow as well. Just as the Anglophone world—that is the linguistic realm that started out limited to the British Isles—has become part of world culture, as have French and Spanish and Arabic, the Sinophone world is likewise one of global reach. Its 'hybridity' adds to lives, thinking and feelings wherever it extends. I believe that we, and more importantly, those who are being educated in Chinese now as well as those who will be literate in Chinese in the future can and will be co-creators in this process.

In the academic context of research, education and outreach activities, I have spoken of this effort as part of 'New Sinology'. This is an expression I chose in 2005 when I founded with a colleague the China Heritage Project at The ANU. Simply put, and to quote my initial essay on the subject, New Sinology is

descriptive of a robust engagement with contemporary China and indeed with the Sinophone world in all of its complexity, be it local, regional or global. It affirms a conversation and intermingling that also emphasizes strong scholastic underpinnings in both the classical and modern Chinese language and studies, at the same time as encouraging an ecumenical attitude in relation to a rich variety of approaches and disciplines, whether they be mainly empirical or more theoretically inflected….

It is an approach

that recognizes an academic and human relationship with a vital and voluble Sinophone world that is not just about the People's Republic, or Taiwan, or Chinese diasporas. It bespeaks an involvement that is part of the intellectual, academic, cultural and personal conversations in which many of us are engaged, not merely as Australians, but as individuals, regardless of our background, individuals who are energetically and often boisterously interconnected with one of the great, complex and lively geo-cultural spheres of the world.[5]

A New Sinology, or a more profound and humanly rich engagement with China and the Chinese world, is not a study of an exotic, or increasingly familiar Other. It is scholarship that also constitutes a concerted attempt to include China as integral to the idea of a shared humanity in all of its contradictory, unsettling as well as inspiring complexity. It is a study, an engagement, an internalization that enriches the possibilities of our own condition.[6]

In that essay I also spoke of our critical engagement being

with a language and a culture that has already altered our Anglophone habits of mind: an 'Other' that haunts us from within, in the sense of a common humanity that Pierre Ryckmans evocatively affirmed, using the phrase 'we are all Chinese'; or which Benjamin I. Schwartz spoke of as part of the enterprise to 'bring the experience of the entire human race to bear on our common concerns.' [For more material related to what I call New Sinology, see 'Further Reading' below.]

Nor is this merely an engagement in one direction. For to talk of some divide, some chasm that has to be bridged or crossed, is to accept too easily the belief that difference predominantly creates barriers and distances. It also limits us unnecessarily to the idea that studying about China, learning its languages, cultures and thought systems is to limit ourselves to being interpreters of a 'correct' view of what China and Chineseness is. While such linguistic and cultural translation is essential for the growth of all peoples, our engagement with China is not merely that of sophisticated interpreters equipped through dint of hard work and long years of study with some privileged insider knowledge.

Young people—no matter of what ethnic or multi-ethnic background—are and will be part of this extraordinary new era of human engagement in which Chinese languages and cultures are increasingly part of the global world. I would point out that many Australian-born Chinese are, while pursuing various careers or studies, also interested in learning more about the Chinese world from which their forbearers come. Similarly, many students from the People's Republic, Hong Kong, Taiwan, or ethnically Chinese students from the region, study China-related subjects at tertiary institutions. Co-creating China for them, and for students of other backgrounds, is part of what should and will be possible. Writing, thinking and creating in Chinese, not as merely passive receptors, not just to be told tirelessly what 'We Chinese' think, is, I would suggest, part of the way that a developing enmeshment with the Chinese world is already unfolding for many young people.

We have already seen such an evolution and interaction throughout East and South-East Asia, where Chinese languages, cultures and communities descended from various provincial or local Chinese areas, religions and thinking systems have been part of the fabric of diverse societies for many years. We have seen too how what I have called the 'Kong-Tai Ark' (see, for example, my book In the Red)—that is the world of Hong Kong and Taiwan not dominated by the Chinese Communist Party from the 1940s—played a crucial role in China's mainland reinvention of itself from the late 1970s. We have also seen how the waves of cultural fashion, imbricated with economic exchange with Korea and Japan, have contributed to the richness of modern Chinese identities.

English as a global language used in every sphere of human activity has been transformed and immeasurably enriched by its non-Anglo-Saxon users. So too will the Sinophone world be enriched and enhanced by the growing communities of users of Chinese who learn, employ and creatively engage with living Sinitic legacies. Speaking, using, writing Chinese, imagining through Chinese, creating with Chinese colleagues—these are all acts that enrich not only those who live in Chinese but those who grow through Chinese, adding thereby to the multifarious heritages of the Chinese world.

Just as countless Chinese people young and old study, live and travel internationally, so do people from countries throughout the world go to study, live and travel in China. They have been lured by the economic boom and employment opportunities, by educational opportunities, or just by the desire to see what is happening in a place that has been the talk of the world. Many I have encountered have found employment in big cities, or in teaching, or in entertainment, or in a host of other professions. Indeed, it has been the fashion these last few years for Chinese firms to employ a foreigner or two who can speak Chinese to make PowerPoint presentations at meetings with new business partners, or for 'display' during negotiations, or even to play the role of a foreign 'rent-a-date' for social occasions with business people. (This is a practice familiar to many from earlier days in Hong Kong and Taiwan, or equally for those familiar with business practices in Japan or Korea.) One of my former young scholars, for example, apart from enjoying a stimulating life as a writer and events manager, has also been employed on occasion by high-level officers in the People's Liberation Navy in one of China's port cities to attend meetings with gruff, but straight-down-to-business, merchants from Russia. He was there to add a certain foreign street-cred to what seem to be shady deals, to read the occasional document, and to be present for business dinners and the inevitable night clubbing, including long hours in karaoke bars. When I speak of the creative engagement with the evolution of the Sinophone world, I do not just mean that foreigners will be a trendy accessory or a useful tool. Just as those young people of Chinese background will have an impact on world culture and that of their places of origins, so will those cosmopolites with no Chinese background who are now making the Chinese world the 'habitus' for their creativity.

What's Possible

In mid April this year I was invited to speak at a workshop in Shanghai at the Zendai Museum of Modern Art. The theme of the workshop was 'What's Possible?'... In my comments, I made a fairly abstract statement to the effect that:

'What's Possible?' is reliant upon what has been possible, on what potential existed for past possibilities to become what is present reality. What has been possible reveals how the potentialities of the past have been realized and form the contingencies for 'that which has not yet come' (weilai 未來).

What is possible invariably depends on what has become possible and probable. It also depends on the extent of change that a society can accommodate, as a place that educates, elucidates and fires the imagination of people—whether they be students, the broader public, specialists, hardened journalists or people in government.

I would suggest that if as a nation our education and public thought is directed to what's profitable, or to increased productivity and the working family alone, then we are setting our sights no higher, or making our national vision no broader than that of a regime that is concerned with economic growth as a way of staving off untoward and radical social, political and cultural change. If we are in a lockstep with policies that address only the lowest economic desire for prosperity and accumulation we are squandering the years of boom in terms of national potential, as well as in terms of what is truly possible.

In 2003, at the time of the celebration of the 30th anniversary of Sino-Australian diplomatic normalization I was invited by Stephen FitzGerald, the first Australian ambassador to the People's Republic of China and the founder of the Asia-Australia Institute at the University of New South Wales, to participate in a symposium on relations with China.

In my comments on that occasion—one that came just past mid way of the long decade of Liberal Coalition rule in Australia, I observed that:

In many ways, for Australia I hope that our past will tell us more about the way ahead than our present.

For China capitalism and the fickle rule of the market is a contemporary reality and a seemingly unavoidable future. It was a future that, in the heyday of Maoist socialism, everyone thought had been resolutely relegated to the past. Now what was once the past—the future was the promise of a utopian communist world—has become the vision for everyone's future.

Meanwhile, I hope that in our own future we will not be subjected to the endless repetition of the tired rationalizations of the present. I hope for a future that moves us beyond our present predicament, one in which we may gain a measure of our seemingly irredeemable past, a past in which vision and humanity, as well as a certain cultural humility, made a better future seem both desirable and possible.[7]

We have a new political leadership. We have already witnessed moments of hope and inspiration such as the Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's Sorry Speech at Parliament House in Canberra on 13 February, as well as his address to Chinese university students at Peking University on 9 April this year in which he framed his comments, some critical (including the issue of human rights abuses in Tibet), in the context of a long-term, profound and mutually involved relationship with China. If we are to build on what is spoken of as a friendship, it will be one that avoids the pitfalls that have so often hampered a mature, thoughtful and principled relationship, not only with the party-state and nation-state, but also with many aspects of the Chinese world.

As I observed when analyzing the Prime Minister's Peking University speech a few days after he delivered it, and speaking in relation to his use of the term 'zhengyou' 諍友:

To be a friend of China, the Chinese people, the party-state or, in the reform period, even a mainland business partner, the foreigner is often expected to stomach unpalatable situations, and keep silent in the face of egregious behaviour. A friend of China might enjoy the privilege of offering the occasional word of caution in private; in the public arena he or she is expected to have the good sense and courtesy to be 'objective', that is to toe the line, whatever that happens to be. The concept of 'friendship' thus degenerates into little more than an effective tool for emotional blackmail and enforced complicity.

Rudd's tactic was to deftly sidestep the vice-like embrace of that model of friendship by substituting another [that of the zhengyou]. 'A strong relationship, and a true friendship,' he told the students, 'are built on the ability to engage in a direct, frank and ongoing dialogue about our fundamental interests and future vision.'[8]

These words were aimed at a Chinese audience, but I believe they speak to those of us who share the responsibility of training those who will be involved in that future vision. I would, of course, go further and suggest that our future can only be broadened and enhanced by just this kind of candid intermingling with the Chinese world, and the many worlds that make up our region of Asia and the Pacific.

Recently, Kevin Rudd proposed a new regional architecture that would involve Australia more intimately and in multifarious ways in arrangements for the security and further economic development of the part of the world in which we live. While this proposal has met with a mixed reception, I would suggest that, in keeping with the theme of this meeting of the Asian Studies Association of Australia, that we consider and encourage the broader society to be involved in new ways in the intellectual and cultural architecture of our region. Understanding is only part of this process. In reality, collaboration, co-creation and invention are already integral to our broader engagement and intertwining with all parts of Asia and the Pacific. I would suggest that my attempt to meld elements of the longer traditions and practices of Sinology—one that dates back to the late-Ming dynasty (16th century)—with the contemporary concerns of Chinese Studies, as well as with key disciplines and critical modes of inquiry, is something that many of our colleagues throughout Australia and New Zealand pursue in different and exciting ways. I would also suggest that just such broad-based and imaginative undertakings are part of the work of many colleagues dealing with disparate parts of Asia and the Pacific.

Given the changed atmospherics in our national life, I believe that we should be more mindful than ever of bringing the concerns of the humanities and social sciences into the public realm at this time when issues such as broad regional evolution are being actively discussed. I feel that it is important that the perceptions of academics, scholars of all interests and age groups, or those whose work crosses the boundaries of the academic and the business, governmental and consultancy worlds, help inform the fluid architectures that frame our present and our future. Many of us are aware that such architectures, while providing the norms of institutional practice, must nonetheless remain open to some extent. For it is in acknowledging and reminding ourselves that there are always possibilities we have yet to contemplate that we become more sensitive to the inequalities and asymmetries of the status quo.

In the broadest terms, I am suggesting an 'architectonics' of Asian Studies that will not devolve into or be limited only to trade and security, thereby marginalizing many of the issues that enliven and enrich our engagement with scholarship, teaching and engagement. We share more expansive concerns that not only enhance the prosperity of all, but also enrich the human possibilities for all. Perhaps, therefore, we require more visionary and engaging architectures of the imagination, ones with greater spaces for our academic understandings, our artistic riches, as well as our sporting and popular cultures. For these are all the very building blocks of structures that can further enhance Australia's involvement with the peoples, languages, cultures, ideas and countries of Asia and the Pacific.[9]

Further Reading:

Worrying About China:
Gloria Davies, Worrying About China: The Language of Chinese Critical Inquiry (Harvard, 2007). Geremie Barmé and Linda Jaivin, eds, New Ghosts, Old Dreams: Chinese Rebel Voices (New York, 1992).

On New Sinology:
Geremie R. Barmé, 'On New Sinology', at: Barmé, 'Shared Values: a Sino-Australian Conundrum'. David Hawkes, 'Chinese: Classical, Modern and Humane', John Minford, 'Lionel Giles: Sinology, Old and New',

Useful websites:

On Tibet:
M. Goldstein, A History of Modern Tibet: The Demise of the Lamaist State (1989). Tsering Shakya, Dragon in the Land of Snows (1999). F.W. Mote, Imperial China 900-1800 (Harvard, 1999). Historical material on relations between the Yuan, Ming and Qing courts with Tibet. Gray Tuttle, Tibetan Buddhists in the Making of Modern China (Columbia, 2005). Robert Barnett, 'Thunder from Tibet', The New York Review of Books, Vol.55, No.9 (May 29, 2008) at:

On Wen Jiabao:
Jane Macartney, 'How books and learning reveal mind of a man who will shape future', 6 September 2006, The Times, online at: . For the full text of Wen Jiabao's interview, see . Gloria Davies, 'Moral Emotions and Chinese Thought', Michigan Quarterly Review (Spring 2008): 221-244.

On Australia and China:
Stephen FitzGerald, Is Australia an Asian Country? (Allen & Unwin, 1997). Lachlan Strahan, Australia's China: Changing Perceptions from the 1930s to the 1990s (Cambridge University Press, 1998). Timothy Kendall, Ways of Seeing China: from Yellow Peril to Shangrila (Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 2005). John Fitzgerald, Big White Lie: Chinese Australians in White Australia (UNSW Press, 2007).


1. See my 'Torching the Relay' posted at China Beat on 4 May 2008 at:

2. Commentators have generally claimed that there is something significantly new and unique about the public response to 12 May and overlooked similar mass outpourings of support, both practical and emotional, during the April-June 1989 nationwide protest movement and again during the floods of 1991.

3. See Evelyn S. Rawski, 'Reenvisioning the Qing: The Significance of the Qing Period in Chinese History', The Journal of Asian Studies 55, no.4 (1996): 829-850; the response by Ho Ping-ti, 'In Defense of Sincization: A Rebuttal of Evelyn Rawski's "Reenvisioning the Qing"', Journal of Asian Studies 57, no.1 (1998): 123-55; and, Mark C. Elliott, The Manchu Way: The Eight Banners and Ethnic Identity in Late Imperial China (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001).

4. Jane Macartney, 'How books and learning reveal mind of a man who will shape future', 6 September 2006, The Times, online at:

For the full text of Wen's interview, see

For an analysis of Wen's recitation of Qu Yuan, see Gloria Davies, 'Moral Emotions and Chinese Thought, Michigan Quarterly Review (Spring 2008): 221-244. On 'worrying about China' in the 1980s, and before, see also Geremie Barmé and Linda Jaivin, eds, New Ghosts, Old Dreams: Chinese Rebel Voices (New York, 1992), pp.138-70, esp. p.170. In the context of my own views of an engagement with Chinese thinkers and their concerns, Gloria's complex argument about 'worrying about China' and moral perfection require further discussion which is beyond the scope of the present essay.


6. Gloria Davies, Timothy Cheek and myself began our work to engage in discussing what we call 'Chinese Visions' at a conference held at Monash University in August 2008. The 'provocation' that we used to preface that gathering, to which we invited a number of leading thinkers and writers from the Sinophone world, will be published shortly in China Heritage Quarterly.

7. These remarks were included in my address to the 50th Anniversary Conference of the Oriental Society of Australia entitled 'Shared Values: a Sino-Australian Conundrum' on 5 December 2006 and subsequently published.

8. See my 'Rudd rewrites the rules of engagement', Opinion, Sydney Morning Herald, 12 April 2008, online at:

9. These concluding remarks are based on recent conversations with Carrillo Gantner.