Australian studies in China: the ways ahead

Dec 12, 2022
Anhui University's main campus from inside the South Gate.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the formal diplomatic relationship between our two countries. It heralds the start of a new and mature bilateral relationship. I firmly trust that Australian Studies in China will further expand and flourish in the years to come.

First, I’d like to thank Professor Paul Pickering and Professor Mark Kenny for inviting me to speak at this year’s InASA conference.

Australian Studies in China is in very good shape and I expect further developments in the years to come.

Last week on the 19th-20th, the 18th International Conference of Australian Studies in China (ICASC) was held online. Colin, David, Jane Golley from ANU, Anna Johnston from UQ and the Melbourne-based artist Zhou Xiaoping all gave keynote speeches at the conference and were warmly received. Mr. Kevin Hobgood-Brown, Chairman of the Foundation for Australian Studies in China (FASIC), made a recorded speech at the opening session, stressing the ongoing academic and people-to-people links between our two countries.

The ICASC that was initiated by the legendary “Gang of Nine”, the nine prominent Chinese academics who studied literature and linguistics at the University of Sydney in 1979-1981, was first held in Beijing in 1988 and convened biennially until 2021, when the Chinese Association for Australian Studies decided to make the conference an annual event. This move is an indication of the passion and dedication of the Australian Studies community in China.

Anhui University in Heifei, central China, will host the 19th ICASC later next year, hopefully in a face-to-face mode and with Australian colleagues attending in person. I am very glad to say that the two candidate hosts of the 20th ICASC in 2024 are Xi’an International Studies University in northwest China and Sichuan University in Chengdu, southwest China. The final decision will be made sometime next year. Australian Studies community in China is not just concentrated on the eastern coastal regions. This is another token of the sustainable Australian Studies in China.

In partnership with FASIC, ANU’s AuSI and other Australian institutions, the Chinese Association for Australian Studies has been exploring opportunities of organising an ICASC in Australia. Over a hundred Chinese scholars have expressed their interest. The association will try to make it happen one day. What an impressive and important cultural event it would be if it really happens! It deserves a front-page headline in the press I assume.

Initiated by the Australian Studies Centre, BFSU in 2013 and supported by FASIC, the Australian Studies Translation Competition is now in its 10th year. This year’s competition attracted 560 participants from 52 colleges and universities across China. The text for this year’s translation is from Happy Together: Bridging the Australia and China Divide co-authored by Professor David Walker and Professor Li Yao, the most renowned translator of Australian literature in China. Published by the Melbourne University Press in 2022, the book is about histories and memoirs of two families, one Australian and one Chinese. A timely book, it is also about profound friendship between two fine gentlemen. As its title suggests, people-to-people links serve as bridges to connect the divide. These strong links are needed for transcultural engagement.

The largest Australian Studies community in the world is in China, with 38 registered Australian Studies centres across the country. It is heartening that the community is expanding. Several Australian Studies centres are emerging. Chongqing University and Sichuan University in southwest China, Hainan University in south China and Shandong Normal University in central China are making preparations for launching their Australian Studies centres soon.

Recent years have also witnessed early-career Chinese scholars with PhD degrees from Australian and Chinese universities joining the Australian Studies community. I’d like to list just a few names: Dr Chen Beibei, a graduate of UNSW in Canberra, is now a member of the Australian Studies Centre at East China Normal University; Dr. Zhang Yan, after obtaining her degree from Edith Cowan University, has now returned to Nantong University in Jiangsu Province and joined its Australian Studies Centre; Dr. Tian Zhuoling, a graduate from Wollongong University, joins the Australian Studies Centre at Wuhan University; Dr. Pan Qiuping, a graduate from the University of Melbourne and an adjunct researcher of the Australian Studies Centre at Beijing Foreign Studies University, now works at Shenzhen Technology University; Dr. Jiang Lu, a graduate of Beijing Foreign Studies University, is now a member of its Australian Studies Centre; Dr. Cheng Yingjie, a graduate from UNSW, has joined Shanghai International Studies University; and Dr. Cui Xuehai, a graduate from Western Sydney University, has joined East China University of Politics and Law. These young scholars will soon become the backbones of the Australian Studies community in China.

Besides, some current Chinese PhD candidates in Australian Studies program are known to be keen to join the Australian Studies community after their graduation, for example Wuyungaowa in Western Sydney University, Chen Zhixin in University of Western Australia, Chen Xi in East China Normal University, Hu Yuling in Renmin University of China and Li Ruoshan in Tsinghua University.

The Australia China Council was instrumental in the development of Australian Studies in China from the 1980s to the early 2010s. In the past 10 years since 2013, FASIC has enthusiastically supported the Chinese community of Australian Studies in various ways, including funding curriculum development, research projects, research sources building, conferences and forums, translation competitions, publications, Australia-China PhD scholarships and so on.

On the other hand, Australian Studies in China is primarily supported by the Chinese institutions and the Ministry of Education. Especially since the beginning of the 2010s, China’s education authorities have attached great importance to country and area studies. Until 2017, around 450 research centres of country and area studies were registered by the Ministry of Education and expected to strengthen research capacities within some years, 12 of these centres being Australian Studies centres.

Take BFSU Australian Studies Cenre where I work as an example. Our Centre was founded by Professor Hu Wenzhong, one of the “Gang of Nine” 40 years ago in November 1983. Currently with 24 MA students, it has been developed into a teaching and research centre, offering 12 semester courses in Australian Studies, including Australian history, literature, government and political system, China-Australia relations, Australian economy and its economic relations with China, Australian language and culture, Australian gender issues, Australian national identity, Australia in international organisations. We are proud that Colin, David and Wayne all taught at our Centre. Early this year, our Centre was granted a funding of RMB150 thousand yuan (about AU$30,000) from the University for a two-year research project. The University also provides funding for the publication of the Chinese Journal of Australian Studies and the Blue Book of Australia: Annual Report on Development of Australia, both edited by the centre staff. Contributors to the two publications are from both China and Australia.

In September this year, China’s Ministry of Education formally listed country and area studies as a first-level discipline, elevating it to the level of conventional disciplines such as philosophy, politics, economics, history, and literature. Undoubtedly, this decision will promote country and area studies in China, Australian Studies included.
Chinese culture takes the number 50 very seriously. Confucius said in The Analects, when at fifty he knew what were the biddings of heaven. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the formal diplomatic relationship between our two countries. It heralds the start of a new and mature bilateral relationship.

I firmly trust that Australian Studies in China will surely further expand and flourish in the years to come, because of the strong people-to-people links and institutional support from both China and Australia.

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