TAIPEI, Taiwan – Harvard University will relocate a popular Chinese-language program to Taipei from Beijing amid a widespread chill in academic and cultural exchanges between the US and China.
Program Director Jennifer L. Liu told The Harvard Crimson that the move was prompted by a lack of friendliness from the Chinese host institution, Peking University of Language and Culture. Harvard spokesman Harry J. Pierre said: “The planned transfer of this program from Beijing to Taiwan has been considered for some time and reflects a wide range of operational factors.”
“The new location of the program provides our teachers and students with new opportunities to expand their educational experience,” said Mr. Pierre, Associate Director of Public Affairs, Harvard Lifelong Learning Division.
Harvard, like many American universities, has a number of programs in China, including continuing education courses and a curriculum run by its medical school for Chinese doctors and hospital leaders. The summer language program, known as the Harvard Peking Academy, allowed students not only to immerse themselves in in-depth study of the language, but also to travel around China and learn about its history and culture.
But Professor Liu said the program had difficulty providing access to the classrooms and dormitories needed at Beijing Language and Culture University, according to a report she provided to student newspaper Harvard Crimson. She also said that in 2019, a Chinese university told the program that it could no longer hold its annual Fourth of July meeting, during which students and teachers used to eat pizza and sing the American national anthem.
While China has imposed strict restrictions on the pandemic and provinces are facing emergency lockdowns due to the outbreak of coronavirus cases, Professor Liu said she believed the unfavorable environment stemmed from a changing attitude of the Chinese government towards US institutions.
When asked for comment, Ms. Liu referred the reporter to Mr. Pierre, a Harvard spokesman. A staff member at the Beijing Language and Culture University was called on Tuesday Tuesday.
Taiwan – a self-governing island declared by Beijing as a province of China – has long been a center for learning the Chinese language among foreign diplomats, academics and reporters, although that status has declined in recent decades as mainland China opened up. Mandarin Chinese is the main official language in Taiwan, but it uses a traditional written alphabet, while the mainland uses simplified Chinese characters.
The Harvard program began in 2005 and originally cost $ 4,500. According to the website of the Peking University of Language and Culture, by 2015, more than 1,000 students participated. The program was canceled in 2020 and this year due to the pandemic. It is slated to start next summer under the name Harvard Taipei Academy at National Taiwan University in Taipei. The new host institution said that in addition to language courses lasting more than eight weeks, the program will provide approximately 60 students with the opportunity to visit Taiwan’s attractions and take part in cultural activities such as Chinese calligraphy and paper-cutting workshops.
“We hope that in the free academic environment at National Taiwan University, we can lay a solid foundation for the Chinese language for Harvard Achievers,” the university said in a statement.
The resettlement is taking place as ties between the United States and China have reached their lowest level in decades. Increasingly, tensions are also spreading to human exchange.
In 2020, the Trump administration suspended the government’s Fulbright program in mainland China and Hong Kong. The suspension came a few months after the Peace Corps suddenly announced the end of its Chinese program. The abandonment of the programs drew criticism from some, who argued that it shut off two key pipelines to give Americans a better understanding of what is happening in China.
The transfer of the Harvard program to Taiwan is also due to the fact that the island has supplanted Hong Kong as a stronghold of free speech in the Chinese-speaking world, and this idea has been emphasized by Taiwanese officials.
Joan Ou, spokeswoman for Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry, said the agency “believes that a democratic and liberal system and a pluralistic society will enable young American students to gain a deeper understanding of Taiwan and the Chinese-speaking world.”
She added: “Only in a free environment where speech is not censored can the best learning outcomes be achieved.”
William K. Kirby, professor of Sinology at Harvard and chairman of the Harvard Center in Shanghai, insisted that the decision to move was made “primarily for logistical reasons.” He added that the university continues to explore ways to maintain and deepen other ties with China, despite the challenges posed by the country’s continuing geopolitical tensions and the country’s strict border restrictions linked to viruses.
“Sometime earlier, in the early 1950s, the living ties between US and Chinese universities were cut to our mutual loss,” said Professor Kirby. “We mustn’t let this happen again.”
Paul Mozur and Amy Chang Chien made reporting. Liu Yi contributed to the research.