Terry Lautz: China's Deficit in American Studies

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[Terry Lautz, a visiting professor at Syracuse University, is a former vice president and program director for Asia at the Henry Luce Foundation.]

China faces a worrisome imbalance of intellectual trade with the United States. Contrary to conventional wisdom, Chinese know less about the United States than Americans know about China. Most Chinese students and scholars interested in the United States concentrate either on English language and literature or on Sino-American diplomatic history and policy studies. There are few opportunities for fieldwork in the United States, and scholarly work on American domestic politics is "woefully inadequate," according to a Peking University specialist in American studies.

By contrast, Americans have done surveys, oral histories, and archival research in the humanities, social sciences, and sciences all across China, including such sensitive areas as Tibet and Xinjiang. Since China's opening to the West, 30 years ago, Americans have acquired remarkably detailed insights about nearly every aspect of traditional and contemporary China. "Just as American scholars go to Hunan and Guangxi," a Chinese academic told me, "Chinese should know more about Arizona and Ohio in order to be familiar with the 'real' America."

I conducted interviews in China for the Ford Foundation's Beijing office last year to review the state of American studies in China and to make recommendations for increased interaction between specialists in China and the United States. Since 1989, Ford has been one of the few private providers of financial support for American studies in China, but its support has dwindled in recent years....
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