WMU News

China invites WMU pair to Sino-U.S. conference

April 26, 2001

KALAMAZOO -- The relationship between the United States and China may be strained, but that hasn't stopped two Western Michigan University faculty members from accepting an invitation from the Chinese government to participate in an international conference on U.S-Sino relations.

Drs. Katherine Joslin, director of WMU's American studies program and a professor of English, and Thomas C. Bailey, associate vice president for academic affairs and a professor of English, will leave May 15 for Shenyang, China, to speak at a conference on "Globalization and Sino-U.S. Relations at the Turn of the Century." Held at Northeastern University, the May 18-20 conference is sponsored by the China Academy of Social Sciences, the U.S. Embassy in China and the Institute of American Studies at NEU.

Bailey and Joslin are among 40 speakers and 12 foreign scholars participating in the program. According to Dr. M. Scot Tanner, WMU associate professor of political science and an expert on China, the conference slate is an indication of the significance of the event.

"This conference involves some important people on the Chinese side," Tanner explains. "The keynote speaker is the director of one of China's top foreign policy think tanks for studying the United States. Other scholars from high-ranking Chinese academic institutions also are taking part."

After the conference, Bailey and Joslin will spend several days as guest lecturers at NEU and explore the possibility of developing a reciprocal relationship between that university and WMU.

Both professors admit feeling a little trepidation about the trip in light of recent tensions between China and the United States over the downed U.S. surveillance plane and the detainment of American scholars in China.

"We've been a bit uneasy about it," says Bailey. "But people we know who know China have told us that it would be fine to go. We have been officially invited by the government and we are visiting as scholars so we shouldn't encounter any problems."

Joslin says the conference will offer scholars a chance to delve into the issues that have led to discord between the two nations.

"At a time of political stress and military unease between our countries, I see the conference as a way of moving beyond the immediate tension into an intellectual and cultural exchange, which is the sort of discussion that scholars do well," she says. "Globalization, it seems to me, calls for intellectual and academic understanding as much as commercial and political exchange."

The pair will increase their own understanding of China by embarking on a mini-tour of the country as part of their trip. Their plans include visiting the terra cotta warriors at Xi'an, the Tiananmen Museum and Great Wall in Beijing, and the construction site of the Three Gorges Dam, which, when completed, will be the world's largest dam. They will return to Kalamazoo June 3.

For Bailey, who will address environmental issues at the conference, the opportunity to see both the dam and the city of Shenyang, identified as the most polluted place on earth, is intriguing.

"As an environmentalist, I am eager to see and study the dam at Three Gorges," he says. "Some see it as a terrible tragedy in the making. It will flood some of the most beautiful land in the world and is a violation of all rules of ecology and nature. At the same time, one in five people in the world is Chinese and you can't blame China for trying find power for its very large population."

In fact, Bailey's conference presentation, "Is History Useful? The USA's Environmental Ethic in an Era of Globalization," will show how developing countries such as China can learn from the environmental mistakes made in the United States.

"Originally I was going to present a comparison of the environmental programs of the American and Chinese governments, but given the recent problems I decided to change," he says. "Now I am going to address how emerging countries, like China, are developing rapidly and going through all the same things that America did. They can learn much from our mistakes."

Joslin's presentation will address "Globalization and Turn-of-the-Century Imagination," based on her current research of Jane Addams, the first woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Addams, who traveled to China at the turn of the last century, developed "newer ideals of peace" in hopes of finding a moral substitute for war. Joslin says that while Addams' "newer ideals" didn't stop the wars of the 20th century, her notions of economic and cultural interdependence may be at work today in U.S. relations with China.

The conference is organized by Wang Jianping, a scholar who participated in last summer's Fulbright Summer Institute in American Studies, a four-week institute at WMU for foreign educators. He now directs NEU's Institute for American Studies and has expressed interest in developing an on-going academic and cultural exchange with WMU.

"We have an opportunity here to learn more about China and for Chinese faculty and students to learn more about the Midwestern United States," says Joslin. "One of the ideas behind the State Department's Fulbright Summer Institute program is to establish dialogue between countries. As we become familiar with people and countries other than our own, we become less suspicious of each other.

"I really hope to bring back a better understanding of China and how they think about the United States. We are there to learn as much as we hope to teach."

Media contact: Marie Lee, 616 387-8400, marie.lee@wmich.edu

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