The vast political, economic, and social changes that have taken place in China in the past twenty years have had a correspondingly dramatic effect upon its culture, society, and arts. At the same time (much like the West), China also has a longstanding and constantly evolving relationship with its own literary and cultural heritage. The University of Chicago Center in Beijing will provide an opportunity for scholars and students to engage in the comparative exploration of the major forms of continuity and change in both cultures. In particular, given that intellectual and artistic debate and exploration in China have been rapidly diversifying and becoming more cosmopolitan, the Center promises to enable participation by members of the Chicago community in globally important debates and forms of innovation on issues related to demography, social structure, educational reform, literature, arts, and culture. More importantly still, given that a fundamental part of any civilization’s self-understanding is expressed by, and revealed in, its culture and its arts, the Center hopes to foster scholarship and learning that will also enable the West to understand its own cultural assumptions and limitations in approaching cross-cultural understanding.
The University of Chicago already has a number of distinguished faculty and international workshops that focus on the issues that animate scholarship in China. The Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations houses such scholars as Edward Shaughnessy and Donald Harper, whose research is on early China, and Judith Zeitlin and He Yuming, who work on the literature and arts of the Ming and Qing periods. Paola Iovene and Jacob Eyferth focus on 20th century Chinese literature, culture, and society. Wu Hung, a recognized expert in Chinese art, has curated many exhibitions on China. Judith Farquhar is the author of numerous studies of contemporary Chinese medicine and popular culture. Guy Alitto was the chief interpreter for Chinese delegations first visiting the United States in 1972; Dali Yang is an expert on China’s governance; and Dingxin Zhao works on social movements in China, both modern and ancient. The University is home to the Art and Politics in East Asia Workshop and the Early China Website, the Internet home of the Society for the Study of Early China.