July 26-Aug. 1, 2002
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To the point -- with Chen Jian

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Hot Links -- Vice President and Provost
Sam Abell: The Photographic Life
Howard’s architectural legacy: blending the old with the new

To the point

Chen Jianwith Chen Jian
C.K. Yen Professor of Chinese-American Relations at the Miller Center of Public Affairs and Professor of History

As a young, sports-loving student during China’s Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, Chen Jian refused to testify about friends’ activities and was sent to prison twice for “attitude correction.” Like many of his generation, for a decade he was unable to finish his schooling and worked as a manual laborer. At age 25, after much study on his own, he was one of a handful of students from his home district admitted to college. He was studying for his doctorate in the U.S. at the time of the Chinese government’s suppression of pro-democracy demonstrators in 1989 and has chosen to pursue his teaching career in this country. Today he is a leading authority on modern China and its international relations.

You’ve written about “The China Challenge in the 21st Century” as China emerges as a world power. Given China’s human-rights record and military buildup, why do you say “challenge” rather than “threat”?

China isn’t a real threat to peace because its economic reform process will either bring prosperity, democracy and stability, or disintegration. The biggest problem is “demonizing” China. To speak of a “China threat” actually shows a lack of confidence by the U.S. Both countries have many common interests: anti-terrorism, shared economic growth, protecting the environment, AIDS prevention, to name a few. Both countries will suffer if there are problems between them.

What is an optimistic scenario for China in 50 years?

Widespread economic reform has already made China much more open than at any time in the 20th century. With a strong middle class, more economic liberalization will lead to more democracy. As China becomes more of an “insider” in the international community, it will embrace international codes of behavior. With reforms under way, no one can really close the door again.

What is a pessimist’s view?

A realistic view is that China faces many real dangers. After 50 years of communism there is a faith crisis, with no spiritual force binding the country together. There is profound division within society, rising unemployment, a gap between rich and poor, many regional and cultural differences, and even nationality issues, such as Tibet and Taiwan.

Is there a solution for the China-Taiwan dispute?

The Taiwanese have a sense of self-identity, yet Taiwan is so important to China’s sense of itself, for historical and patriotic reasons. War would be a disaster. The best solution is for China to become more open and Taiwan to see how good it would be to be Chinese. Maintaining peace will allow a future generation to solve the problem.

How often do you go back to China?

I go quite frequently now, to research new material and to lecture, and I visit my parents in Shanghai. This summer is my third trip this year. There are many new Chinese books and articles coming out. The archives are extremely important, but there is much confusion now about how open they are.

Are you still a great sports fan?

I still love to watch sports in both countries, especially soccer and ping-pong, and I play ping-pong. In China I can watch all the U.S. sports – basketball, boxing, the Super Bowl, the World Series.

— Robert Brickhouse


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