July 23, 2018
Department of Sociology, Renmin University of China,
The University of Chicago Center in Beijing, &
Department of Sociology, Zhejiang University
From July 18 through 20, the University of Chicago Center in Beijing hosted the Eighth Chinese Political Sociology Workshop. Professor Dingxin Zhao of the University of Chicago Department of Sociology and Professor Shizheng Feng of Renmin University Department of Sociology organized the workshop, with additional assistance from Zhejiang University. Within the three-day span, over 130 outstanding graduate students and young faculty selected from over 500 applicants had the opportunity to listen to lectures and participate in discussions with 17 faculty members from around the world.
This year’s workshop centered around the topic of globalization; in particular, the expanding Eurasian and global encounters of different peoples throughout history and its economic, cultural, political and demographic impact. In his opening remarks, Professor Zhao noted that the workshop’s organizers had three major aims: to undo any potential preconceived notions of globalization as a wholly modern process; to highlight areas of global interconnection that extend beyond the oft-discussed economic exchange; and to speculate the means by which these exchanges occur and might occur in the near future. Interwoven throughout the course of the workshop was the additional question of how China fits into this narrative of globalization, past and present, and how narratives about a global China are constructed.
It is clear that a world in which 17 speakers can easily convene in Beijing for a three-day workshop, and return to multiple cities and continents within 12 hours, is a world that possesses the vast transport networks necessary to facilitate rapid and frequent global exchange. According to the workshop’s presenters, this exchange was not created by rapid transport and communication networks or other modern infrastructure advances; rather, the long-standing tradition of exchanges across peoples and empires created an impetus for such advances. In highlighting a few of these examples of early globalization, the workshop featured speakers from several historical subspecialties, ranging from early Chinese art history, nomadic-sedentary interactions, to the rise of global imperialism.
As mentioned above, the workshop also pointedly featured academics from a range of disciplines in order to emphasize that economic exchange is far from the only source of global interconnection, nor is it the “most important” aspect of the process. From the evolution of international health campaigns to combat epidemics to the use of religious humanitarianism to create a sense of transnational, trans-imperial responsibility, the humanistic side of globalizationalso provides a significant impetus for societal change.
While the topics presented were wide-ranging in geographical, temporal, and disciplinary scope, the workshop’s organizers also ensured that they were doing the event’s title and location justice by frequently bringing the presentations or discussion back to China’s role in the matter at hand. Professor Bozhong Li of Peking University’s presentation provided context for “China’s Economic Change in a Perspective of Global History,” while Professor Yue Zhang of University of Illinois at Chicago analyzed Chinese megacities in comparison to those in India and Brazil. In her presentation on Chinese investment in African countries, Professor Ching Kwan Lee of University of California at Los Angeles addressed both China’s recent developments in this sphere, as well as the way these actions are portrayed in discussions of imperial reach. By asking participants to reconsider these narratives, Professor Lee and others emphasized the importance of understanding the effects of transnational perspectives and dialogues, particularly when attempting to make value and power judgments about major changes in global structure.
The three days were undoubtedly productive and the Center was pleased to have the opportunity to host the workshop again. What was perhaps most striking about the workshop, however, was the tone of optimism and of an urgent need for continued transnational collaboration that extended through many of the research topics presented. Speakers frequently invoked the need to adapt to a world whose major challenges are global challenges, through increased collaboration and an increased sense of mutual responsibility and adaptation. Such a message is one that bears repeating often.