Developing new research areas and international network top the Chinese Civilisation Centre’s agenda in its continual drive to strengthen its teaching and research.
The curtain drew. Music sprung up, with performers dressed in traditional attire filing out onto the stage.
Few props were there, as it was the delicate movements of the Kunqu performer’s gestures and facial expressions which led the audience enter the realm of imagination.
Professor Chen Pei-kai, director of Chinese Civilisation Centre, expounds on his vision for the future development of the center.
First-time Kunqu goers probably found the play unfamiliar, yet such a tread into the unknown waters sometimes may turn out to be leading to a deeper exploration into these genres or art forms in the long span of Chinese civilisation.
Such a belief in intellectual exploration is behind the variety of seminars and arts demonstrations, which range from Kunqu, instrumental music, archaeology to landscape gardening, that the Chinese Civilisation Centre has for more than a decade organised for the students of the City University, and in a broader sense, the public as a whole.
These, coupled with the blending of conventional and on-line teaching methods, have characterised the all-rounded Chinese culture education which has long been the motto of the Centre. The story, nonetheless, does not end here.
“In the initial development of the CCIV, the university didn’t require our teaching staff to do research, yet I believe research can help the quality of teaching,” said Professor Cheng Pei-kai, director of the CCIV.
“So from the very first beginning, I encouraged our colleagues to do research. It really helps the centre to maintain high quality of teaching and contribute to academic growth,” said Professor Cheng.
Challenges, however, are always there. With the advent of the four-year university education and the university’s emphasis on research, he said, the CCIV is developing various research initiatives in response to these changes.
“One of the key research areas is Chinese cultural heritage, which is closely related to the centre’s development in the past, especially in the area of intangible heritage with emphasis on Kunqu – one of the “world cultural heritage masterpieces”. There are many private donations and sponsorship to support CCIV in this area,’ he noted.
Other major research areas are Sino-foreign and cross-cultural relations such as the Silk Road and Maritime Trade. While the study of the Silk Road will shed light on the interaction between China and Central Asia, India and all the way to the West, the emphasis of the maritime trade will be on export porcelain, he said.
“The study of export porcelain in China can show how the material culture developed in China…..ceramic/export porcelain studies can expand our understanding of the commercial and trading activities developed from the 9th century to the 18th and 19th centuries. This is rarely recorded in historical texts so it’s very important,” he noted.
While these developments have built on the centre’s existing strengths, Professor Cheng said plans are in the pipeline to develop two new areas – History of Science (with Chinese medicine as the main focus) and Chinese Social and Legal History, both of which are closely related to CityU’s strengths and its general direction of teaching and research.
The Chinese legal history to be developed by the centre is not restricted to the study of legal codes but the actual practices and how people really went through the legal procedures in Chinese history. ?
“We believe the development of this field can help the study of Chinese law and the understanding of the interaction between common law and Chinese legal system in the historical context. That will help our law school’s future academic development a lot,” he explained.
A vibrant academic environment is indispensable to both teaching and research, and academic exchanges between the centre and other institutions – such as field trips, conferences and guest lectures – have long been major features of the centre. Having established close links with institutions in the Mainland and Taiwan, the centre now is reaching out to the wider international communities and institutions around the world.
Some may treat internationalisation as a mere buzzword in the higher education sector in this globalised era, yet it is this very term which best captures the development of the discipline of Chinese civilisation.
“The study of Chinese civilisation has turned pretty international, in which it is no longer just studied in the isolated context of China but in the development of human civilisation, thus world civilisation, as a whole,’ Professor Cheng asserted.
Indeed, such an interaction and connection with the world has underpinned the direction of the CCIV’s development. Already the centre has established an English blog on which views and feelings can be shared among people from different parts of the world. Coupled with this is the strengthening of the content of its English website and a rising number of bilingual publications.
“In the near future, because of our contact and endeavor to go internationalisation, we are going to invite more international scholars to give lectures,” he said.
The rising interest in Chinese culture globally is also evident at the CityU, where exchange students have exhibited much interest in this field irrespective of which discipline they are in. Thus, in the future the general education courses will be offered in both Chinese and English so as to cater for the rising demand in Chinese civilisation courses in English.
Currently, Professor Cheng said that a joint programme with Harvard’s Department of East Asian Languages and Civilisations was set up to hold the Chinese civilisation conference every year. “Together with that development at Harvard, we’re now approaching other US universities, such as Yale and Princeton, both of which we have quite close contacts but no formal project yet. Hopefully we can develop that,” he said.
“We pay close attention to international sinology – the study of Chinese culture, not only in the US but also in Europe and other areas. For example, we have scholars from Europe and Australia to visit us. The purpose is to develop a comprehensive network with international studies of Chinese civilisation,” he said.
“Although we focus on Chinese civilisation, we need to know the development of the civilisation in the global context. Having a close contact and understanding of their studies will shed interesting light on our study, not necessarily they are better, but they have different angles and perspectives,” he added.
Text: Klaudia LeePhotograph: Condi Fung