“Belt and Road Initiative”
Collaborative Discussion

Ivan Willis Rasmussen

On June 19, 2021, the Center hosted scholars from across Mainland China for a collaborative meeting on the Belt and Road Initiative, a new research initiative to be incorporated into our Luce-funded projects in the next three years. Organizers include Professors Tansen Sen, Maria Adele Carrai, and Ivan Willis Rasmussen, plus the Center’s postdoctoral fellow, Shujing Wang. Together they invited six eminent and rising academics to present their views on both trends and concerns related to the Belt and Road Initiative. The invited panelists include Zhang Liangren (Nanjing University), Li Yuqi (Nankai University), Ding Yu (Peking University), Chen Dingding (Jinan University and the independent think tank Intellisia), Wan Xiaohong (South China Normal University), and David Kiwuwa (University of Nottingham Ningbo China). 

The discussions focused on less discussed issues related to the Belt and Road Initiative. In the morning session, the discussion focused on the impact of the BRI on archaeological sites and scholarly pursuits, as well as China’s “go abroad” trend in archaeology. Dr. Liangren Zhang discussed his work in Russia and Iran. Of particular interest was the finding regarding metallurgy emerging from the Middle East and subsequent trade with China. In addition, Dr. Zhang’s summer program was able to bring students from across disciplines to Russia, a model for potential student exchange initiatives in the future. Dr. Ding Yu explored findings from East Africa and the potential for Chinese imperial trade with the region dating back to the Ming Dynasty and linked to the well-known voyage of Zheng He. Dr. Yuqi Li shared a co-authored article about the increasing activity in Chinese archaeology abroad. The panel offered insights into the impact of the BRI on current and future directions in the Chinese archaeological field. 

In the afternoon sessions, the focus was on some of the dynamics of political and international relations in the BRI. For example, Dr. Dingding Chen found that the recent G-7 summit revealed the impetus for more global development expanding on the BRI. A less studied element of the BRI is the role of overseas Chinese, which was the primary focus of Dr. Xiaohong Wan’s talk. He found that this group faces a mixture of challenges and opportunities in the context of the BRI. Finally, Dr. David Kiwuwa brought the discussion back to the local voices that are sometimes neglected in the geopolitics of the BRI. In particular, these scholars found that there is a deep need to understand the status of overseas Chinese, locals’ and host countries’ views on the BRI, and the BRI’s geopolitical dynamics.

The workshop concluded by exploring a project to develop a GIS-enabled digital map and a session to brainstorm ways to integrate the participants’ existing research and their graduate-student training, so as to bring forward publications and course-teaching modules on the BRI. 

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