Washington Journal of Modern China, Spring 2001/ Volume 7, No. 1

Letter from Fudan University


Making a Name in American Studies

Madelyn C. Ross

Fudan University in Shanghai is widely regarded as one of China’s top institutions of higher education. Thanks in part to help from the U.S. government, it also aspires to become China’s premier site for the study of that complex and enigmatic country across the sea: the United States of America.

While a number of such programs now exist at universities and research institutes throughout the country, Fudan’s Center for American Studies (CAS), established in 1985, was one of the first in China. This year it also became the first in the field to be honored as a “Key Research Institute” by the Ministry of Education.
The Center’s high-profile director for its first 15 years was Professor Xie Xide, one of China’s most distinguished physicists and a former president of Fudan University. Madame Xie was educated in the United States, at Smith College and MIT. Although not an expert on American studies per se, her excellent reputation and connections helped put CAS in the spotlight from the start.

Madame Xie was instrumental in raising funds in the United States to house the CAS, which occupies an impressive new building across the road from the entrance to the main campus of Fudan University. (The entrance, incidentally, where Chairman Mao’s statue still sternly greets all visitors…) In 1987, the U.S. Agency for International Development, through its American Schools and Hospitals Abroad program, pledged some $3 million dollars to Fudan to house the CAS. Progress was not smooth, however. Only the superstructure of the building had been completed by June 1989, when the protests and crackdown in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square put future U.S. government funding in jeopardy. Four years later, after significant Congressional debate, Congress released an additional $2 million to complete the building, which the CAS occupied in 1995. This spring, the U.S. government announced its intent to negotiate another $800,000 grant to help cover the cost of adding an auditorium for the center.

Professor Xie died early last year and was succeeded at CAS by Professor Ni Shixiong, an expert on U.S.-China relations who did post-doctoral work at Harvard and has taught at several American universities. Ni concurrently heads Fudan’s new School of International Relations and Public Affairs, which includes the Center for American Studies and other regional programs at Fudan.

With its basic infrastructure complete, the CAS is now focused on its teaching and policy goals. It has some 10 full-time faculty members, many trained abroad, and is increasing its course offerings in conjunction with other departments. Well known for its expertise on foreign policy and arms control issues, the center hopes to further distinguish itself by establishing China’s first Congressional Studies Program. The CAS plans to publish two books about Congress this year and will offer a graduate seminar on Congressional Behavior this fall. A major goal of the program is to provide practical assistance to senior Chinese policymakers, who have long been bedeviled and confused by the tug-of-war between America’s chief executive and the Congress over China policy. The CAS plans to offer training sessions about Congress for Chinese officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the State Council, and the National People’s Congress and to invite Congressional staff members to Fudan to conduct workshops for students and policymakers. By mid-year, CAS plans to launch China’s first Chinese-language website devoted to the study of the U.S. Congress, including a translated guide to all the Members of Congress and links to numerous other websites.

The Center already has an English-language website (www.cas.fudan.edu.cn) with faculty information and texts of their recent speeches and articles. Recent selections included analyses of U.S. security policy and Bush’s China policy. The website is also developing the ability to search the CAS library of 20,000 English-language volumes by title, author, and subject. This library, too, has received book donations and assistance from the U.S. government, via the U.S. Consulate in Shanghai. It has also received private donations and the personal library collections of author Theodore White and Harvard professor emeritus Nelson Kiang.

The Center for American Studies uses its fine new building to host numerous international conferences, including the annual “Sino-U.S. International Security Workshop” done in conjunction with the Washington, D.C.-based Program on International Studies in Asia. It also hosts many visiting speakers and scholars-in-residence, while its own faculty members travel frequently abroad.

During the U.S.-China spy plane standoff in April of this year, almost half the CAS faculty members were interviewed by U.S. and Chinese media outlets. If the CAS can play an ongoing role in better informing the interactions between these two countries during such times of tension, the U.S. government will certainly feel that the assistance it provided has been well spent.

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