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 Chinas 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 governments
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.
Youve written about The China Challenge in the
21st Century as China emerges as a world power. Given Chinas
human-rights record and military buildup, why do you say challenge
rather than threat?
isnt 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?
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 pessimists view?
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?
Taiwanese have a sense of self-identity, yet Taiwan is so important
to Chinas 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?
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?
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