Asian Studies in China Blogs and Interviews

Asia Research Center,
Fudan University

Yiming Yu

Research Assistant at the Center for Global Asia

Amid the rapidly increasing engagement between China and the rest of the world, when the importance of Chinese Studies is receiving wider recognition and critical evaluation outside China, Chinese scholars have also been striving to learn more about the rest of the world, especially the regions in Asia. As a result, the discipline of Asian Studies has witnessed remarkable growth in China during the past decade.

In this series of interviews by the Centre for Global Asia at NYU Shanghai, we aim to provide insights into how the study of Asia has developed in China. We examine the history as well as the current landscape of Asian Studies through dialogues with scholars at various academic institutions in mainland China who have made outstanding contributions to the field.

In the first of this series, we interviewed Dr Zhang Ke, Associate Professor in the Department of History at Fudan University, who works at the Asia Research Center, Fudan University.


Why did Fudan University decide to establish the Asia Research Center (ARCFD)? What is the ARCFD’s place in Fudan’s organizational structure? Where does the funding for the ARCFD come from?

The Asia Research Center, Fudan University, was officially established in 2002, thanks to the plan of the Korea Foundation for Advanced Studies (KFAS) to set up Asian Studies centers in collaboration with prominent universities in China to boost Asian Studies both within and outside China. Fudan University was among the first institutions to receive funding from the KFAS to set up Asian Studies centers. Fudan University has continuously provided support to the running of the ARCFD.

The Asia Research Center, Fudan University, is an independent platform for research within the university, mainly covering a variety of programs in humanities and social-science disciplines. The funding of the ARCFD mainly comes from the KFAS, and since 2019 from the Chey Institute for Advanced Studies (CIAS), the successor to the KFAS.


Does receiving support from the KFAS influence the focus and gravity of the ARCFD? Does the ARCFD collaborate with its Korean partners in its daily operations?

The KFAS has supported more than ten universities in China to establish Asian Studies centers. However, the KFAS does not interfere with each center’s specific operations and planning. The ARCFD has constantly maintained a good relationship with the KFAS (CIAS) and therefore has always emphasized its research on Korean language and culture and Sino-Korean exchanges, leading to the publication and translation of many relevant academic works.

Generally, the ARCFD operates independently and regularly reports to the KFAS (CIAS) and Fudan University on its progress and expenditure.

ARCFD Committee Meeting


How does the ARCFD operate?

The ARCFD is jointly managed by Fudan University and the KFAS (CIAS). The Principal of Fudan and the Chairman of the KFAS (CIAS) both take on the role of the Chairman. The structure of the ARCFD includes bodies such as the governing board and the academic council. The Center regularly organizes planning meetings. Day-to-day operations are in the hands of the Director and the Director’s team. Every year, the ARCFD regularly sponsors Fudan scholars’ Asian Studies projects, organizes academic conferences, publishes academic works, translations and collections, and pushes collaboration with internal and external research institutions.


Which Asian region does the ARCFD focus on? Given the results of project grants in recent years, does the ARCFD prefer to support research on East Asia?

As a matter of principle, the ARCFD has not committed itself to focusing on any specific regions in Asia. Nevertheless, among the project grants in recent years, projects in East Asian Studies do account for a higher proportion and greater total number of projects. This is in line with the general picture of Asian Studies in China. In the future, the ARCFD will place more emphasis on the balance between different subjects of study and consider sponsoring some “neglected” projects which have received little attention.


Does the ARCFD provide students and scholars with relevant language training?

The ARCFD prioritizes academic research and has little involvement in teaching. Its scholars already possess good language skills. The ARCFD currently does not plan to conduct language training.


Given the presence of other institutions relevant to Asian Studies in Fudan University, such as the Japan Research Center, the Korea Research Center and the Center for Asian Economic Research, do the research areas of the ARCFD intersect with these institutions’? Does the ARCFD collaborate with these institutions?

Since its establishment, the ARCFD has constantly emphasized collaboration and interaction with other institutions in Fudan, certainly including the Japan Research Center, the Korea Research Center, etc. The collaboration includes sponsorship of relevant research projects, joint publications of collections and translations of academic works, joint organization of academic conferences and invitations to relevant scholars to be members of academic and review committees.


How does the ARCFD collaborate and interact with other Asian Studies centers in and outside China?

The ARCFD and other Asian Studies Centers in China are all members of the Asian Studies network supported by the KFAS (CIAS) and hold regular exchanges. Every year, a joint meeting of the Directors of each Asian Studies center is held, where all the centers discuss their works and progress. The collaboration between the ARCFD and the Asia Pacific Research Institute, Peking University, is the longest and closest one. The two institutions have been regularly organizing academic forums and young scholars’ conferences for more than ten years.


Could you please briefly talk about the development of Asian Studies in China? What role has the ARCFD played in this process?

Overall, there has been a lot of progress in the field of Asian Studies in China, especially in East Asian Studies. In recent years, academia has made a leap in studies of Southeast Asia, South Asia, Inner Asia and West Asia. Personally, I think the future direction of the field will be first, to focus on integrating the studies of all these regions to discuss interactions and communication of substance and values within Asia; and second, to think about concepts such as Asian values and Asian communities with a shared future as a whole to lay the foundation for reshaping Asian identity in the future. The ARCFD expects to work towards these two directions while maintaining the existing traditions to strengthen the influence.


Has the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) brought more opportunities to the ARCFD? How does the BRI influence the operation of the ARCFD?

The BRI has indeed benefited the ARCFD and other Asian Studies centers with lots of fresh development opportunities in recent years. Focusing on the new problems emerging from the BRI, the ARCFD supports various academic conferences and research projects, some of which emphasize theoretical research, while others focus on practical ones. The ARCFD hopes to play to its and Fudan’s strengths, on the one hand to make intellectual contributions to the BRI with research in humanities disciplines, such as history, culture, geography and religion, and on the other hand to actively support policy research in international relations and the development of the political economy.


How does the change in the contemporary international political landscape influence the operation of the ARCFD?

In the last two years, the COVID-19 pandemic and the resurgence of isolationism and nationalism in every country have generally presented great challenges to ‘Asian Studies’, and the ARCFD is no exception. The pandemic has caused lots of problems for academic exchanges in and outside China, as a lot of interactions could only be conducted on-line, and some projects had to be suspended. However, the changing international political landscape has stressed instead the urgency and values of rebuilding the ‘regional community’. The ARCFD hopes to strengthen research on topics like ‘Intra-Asian exchanges’ and ‘Reshaping Asian values’ in order to excel in ‘working ahead of the times’ and thus to prepare the foundation in the face of the development of and changes to the future political landscape.


Compared with the initial years, how has the ARCFD developed over the years? Where and how can it improve in the future?

Almost twenty years ago, when the ARCFD had just been established, a shared platform for different Asian Studies disciplines in Fudan University was lacking. Nor was there any adequate funding for research projects, academic publishing or organizing conferences. This was about the time when the ARCFD was set up. The Center has provided a lot of Fudan scholars, young emerging ones in particular, with valuable assistance in terms of research funds and platforms in all these years, enabling them to publish a number of works on a variety of topics. Compared with its initial years, today the ARCFD has established an extensive network among both scholars and institutions, which marks the greatest development of the Center.

In the future, the first thing to focus on is the dimension of theories and the Center’s directions. Amid the rapid changes in and outside China, there will be much more to work to do on how to reshape Asian values and identity, reiterate the meaning of ‘Asia’ and tell good Asian stories. The ARCFD hopes to support relevant research in this aspect. The second aim concerns specific operations. The Center hopes to gradually resume its pre-pandemic operations and development in the next few years, to keep working on its existing projects and to expand its network of external collaboration.

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