Amid US-China chill, Harvard moves a top language program to Taiwan

TAIPEI, Taiwan — Harvard University will move a popular Chinese-language program from Beijing to Taipei amid a widespread freeze in academic and cultural exchanges between the United States and China.

The program’s director, Jennifer L. Liu, told the Harvard Crimson that the move was motivated by a perceived lack of friendship on the part of the Chinese host institution, Beijing Language and Culture University. “The planned move of this program from Beijing to Taiwan has been considered for some time and reflects a wide range of operational factors,” said Harvard spokesman Harry J. Pierre.

“The program’s new location presents a distinct opportunity for our instructors and learners to broaden their educational experiences,” Mr. Pierre, associate director of communications for Harvard’s Department of Continuing Education, said in an emailed statement.

Harvard, like many US universities, has a number of programs in China, including executive education courses and a training program for Chinese doctors and hospital leaders led by its medical school. The summer language program – known as the Harvard Beijing Academy – allowed students to not only immerse themselves in advanced language studies, but to travel throughout China and learn about its history and culture. .

But Professor Liu said the program was facing difficulties securing access to required classes and dormitories from Beijing Language and Culture University, according to an account provided to The Harvard Crimson, a student newspaper. She also said that in 2019, the Chinese university told the program that it could no longer hold an annual gathering to celebrate the Fourth of July, during which students and faculty would usually eat pizza and sing the American national anthem.

Although China has imposed stringent pandemic restrictions, with provinces going under snap lockdowns as coronavirus cases soar, Professor Liu said he believes the reluctant environment will change the Chinese government’s attitude toward US institutions. was related to.

When contacted for comment, Ms. Liu referred a reporter to Mr. Pierre, Harvard’s spokesman. Reached by telephone on Tuesday, an employee of the Beijing Language and Culture University declined to comment.

Taiwan – a self-governing island claimed by Beijing as a Chinese province – has long been a center of Chinese language studies among foreign diplomats, scholars and journalists, although with the opening up of mainland China in recent decades This situation has diminished. Mandarin Chinese is the primary official language in Taiwan, but it uses the traditional written script while the mainland uses Simplified Chinese characters.

The Harvard program began in 2005 and initially cost $4,500. As of 2015, more than 1,000 students had participated, according to the Beijing Language and Culture University website. The program was canceled in 2020 and this year due to the pandemic. It is now set to begin next summer at the National Taiwan University in Taipei under the name Harvard Taipei Academy. The new host institution said that in addition to offering language courses over eight weeks, the program will give its 60 or more students the opportunity to visit attractions around Taiwan and participate in cultural activities such as Chinese calligraphy and paper-cutting workshops.

“It is hoped that in the open academic environment of National Taiwan University, we can lay a solid Mandarin foundation for Harvard’s outstanding students,” the university said in a statement.

The transfer comes as relations between the United States and China have reached their lowest level in decades. The tension has also spread rapidly in the realm of people-to-people exchanges.

In 2020, the Trump administration suspended the government’s Fulbright program in mainland China and Hong Kong. The suspension comes months after the Peace Corps suddenly announced it was ending its China programme. The withdrawal of the programs prompted criticism from some who argued that China cut two major pipelines for Americans to better understand what was happening on the ground.

The relocation of the Harvard program to Taiwan also comes as the island has replaced Hong Kong as a bastion of free speech in the Chinese-speaking world, an idea that Taiwanese officials are keen to insist.

“The agency believes that the democratic and liberal system and pluralistic society will enable young American students to have a deeper understanding of Taiwan and the Chinese-speaking world,” said Taiwanese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Joan Ou.

“The best learning outcomes can be achieved only in a free environment where speech is not censored,” he said.

Professor of China Studies at Harvard and President of the Harvard Center Shanghai William C. Kirby insisted that the decision to relocate was taken “above all, for logistical reasons”. He said the university was continuing to explore ways to maintain and deepen its other ties with China, despite the challenges posed by ongoing geopolitical tensions and the country’s strict virus-related border restrictions.

“Once upon a time, in the early 1950s, the vibrant relationship between the United States and Chinese universities was cut to our mutual detriment,” Professor Kirby said. “We shouldn’t let this happen again.”

Paul Mozur And Amy Chang Chien Contributed reporting. liu yi Contributed to research.

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