The recently launched Center for the Study of Contemporary China is offering students a hub for modern Chinese studies from its new home in Fisher-Bennett Hall.
Having opened this fall, the center aims to bolster the University’s connection with contemporary China, coordinating a series of programs centered on modern-day issues in the country.
“So far, the center has exceeded our expectations,” said political science professor Avery Goldstein, the center’s director.
This unexpected success began with the center’s earlier-than-planned start date. The University finished renovating the center’s suite on the third floor of Fisher-Bennett, and launched its full website at the end of August.
The center has already hosted two major events this year, including a discussion by the former Senior Vice President of the World Bank Justin Lin on how China has been financially successful and the challenges it faces today. The talk was so crowded, Goldstein said, that people sat in the aisles and on the floor.
The center’s second speaker series event brought in a scholar to address issues of military modernization and problems China faces with its neighbors.
“In some respects, the two talks were typical for what we’re hoping for: speakers to talk about significant reasons why China is becoming more powerful and doubts about whether it will succeed,” Goldstein said.
The center also has a full slate of programming — which will be open to the public — planned for the rest of the academic year, including a keynote address in January by former United States Ambassador to China and 1987 College graduate Jon Huntsman. The organization will host an array of scholars focused on China for a two-day conference in April, as well, that will aim to generate a publication based on the work participants do.
Though the center is not an academic department, it is focusing heavily on providing a central space for students and faculty with similar interests in the study of China.
“We want to have the center be a place for folks doing research to get together to talk about their work,” Goldstein said.
Every Friday, for example, faculty members and graduate students meet for lunch to discuss their research ideas.
At the same time, post-doctoral fellows utilize the center’s office space and regularly attend its programming. In this way, Goldstein said, they will hopefully become more integrated into the Penn community.
Ultimately, the center may also serve to differentiate Penn for its interdisciplinary strength. As Senior Vice Provost for Research Steven Fluharty wrote in an email, uniting faculty who are all engaged in studying various facets of contemporary China fosters multidisciplinary academic progress at Penn, making it distinct from its peers.
Undergraduates have reaped the benefits of the new center as well. The Penn Symposium on Contemporary China, for instance, receives funding, an email address and web hosting from the center, in addition to advising from several of the center’s professors.
“The center provides a crucial hub for stimulating discussion, scholarship and interest on an increasingly important topic,” College junior and Penn Symposium on Contemporary China Chair Alice Xie said.
College senior Anthony Tran, president of the Chinese Students Association, has also been enthusiastic about the center’s offerings. Through its events such as lecture series and movie screenings, Tran said the center “provides a good foundation for academic opportunities to connect with professors and scholars across the country.”
Moving forward, for the Chinese Students Association, the center is certainly “on our radar in terms of possible collaborations,” he added.
Though the center is still young, School of Arts and Sciences Dean Rebecca Bushnell said in an email that she thinks it has started off well, offering a centralized research and programming resource that Penn has never enjoyed before.
So far, she added, “I am really impressed by the quality of the events and the speakers.”
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