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Serial interviews on Asian Studies in China
Asia Research Center, Fudan University

Amid the rapidly increasing engagement between China and the world, when the importance of Chinese Studies have been receiving more appreciation and recognition outside China, Chinese academia has as well strived to learn more about the world, especially Asia. The discipline of Asian Studies has also witnessed some tremendous development in China.

In this series of interviews by the Center for Global Asia at NYU Shanghai, we aim to provide insights on how Asian Studies has developed over the years in China and the current landscape of the discipline through the dialogues with some scholars who have made outstanding achievements in Asian Studies in Chinese universities.

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

1. Why did Fudan University decide to establish the Asia Research Center (ARCFD)? What is  the ARCFD’s place in Fudan’s organisational 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 in and outside China. Fudan University was among the first institutions that received funding from the KFAS to set up Asian Studies centers. Fudan University has continuously provided support for the operation of the ARCFD.

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

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

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 operation and planning. The ARCFD has constantly maintained a good relationship with the KFAS (CIAS) and therefore has always emphasized the researches 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.

3. 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 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 meetings for planning. The daily operation is taken in the hands of the Director and the 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.

4. Which Asian region does the ARCFD focus on? Given the results of project grants in recent years, does the ARCFD prefer the researches on East Asia?

The ARCFD has not in principle committed to specifically focusing on any regions in Asia. Nevertheless, among the project grants in recent years, projects on East Asian studies do account for a higher portion and a bigger total number. This is in line with the general picture of Asian Studies in China. In the future, the ARCFD will put more emphasis on the balance among subjects of studies, and consider sponsoring some “neglected” projects which received little attention.

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

The ARCFD prioritizes academic research with little involvement in teaching. The scholars have already possessed good language skills. The ARCFD currently does not plan to conduct language trainings.

6. Given the presence of other institutions relevant to Asian Studies in Fudan University, such as Japan Research Center, Korea Research Center and Center for Asian Economic Research, does 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 Japan Research Center, 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 invitation of relevant scholars to be members of academic and review committees.

7. 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 centers 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 have been regularly organizing academic forums and young scholars conferences for more than ten years.

8. Could you please briefly talk about the development of Asian Studies in China? What role has the ARCFD played in the 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 the studies of Southeast Asia, South Asia, Inner Asia and West Asia. Personally, I think the future direction of the field is to: first, focus on integrating the studies of all these regions to discuss interaction and communication of the substance and values within Asia; second, think about the concepts such as Asian values and Asian community with 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 amplify the influence.

9. 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 emphasizing theoretical researches while some focusing on practical ones. The ARCFD hopes to play its and Fudan’s strengths to make intellectual contributions to the BRI with the researches in the disciplines of humanity such as history, culture, geography and religion on the one hand, and to actively support the policy researches on international relations and development of political economy on the other.

10.

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 troubles to academic exchanges in and outside China, as a lot of interactions could only be conducted online and some projects had to be suspended. However, the changing international political landscape has instead stressed the urgency and values of rebuilding the ‘regional community’. The ARCFD hopes to strengthen the researches on the topics like ‘Intra-Asian exchanges’ and ‘Reshaping Asian values’ to excel at ‘working ahead of the times’ and pave the foundation in the face of the development and changes of the future political landscape.

11. Compared with the beginning years, how has the ARCFD developed over the years? Do you think where and how can it improve in the future?

Almost twenty years ago, when the ARCFD was just established, there lacked a shared platform for different Asian Studies disciplines in Fudan University. There was no adequate funding for research projects, academic publishing and organizing conferences as well. It 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 precious assistance for 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, nowadays the ARCFD has set up 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 on how to reshape Asian values and identity, reiterate the meaning of ‘Asia’ and tell good Asian stories. The ARCFD hopes to support relevant researches in this aspect. The second is about the specific operation. The Center hopes to gradually resume the pre-pandemic operation and development in the next few years to keep working on the existing projects and expand the network of external collaboration.

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