2021-10-13 08:45:35 Amid U.S.-China Chill, Harvard Moves a Top Language Program to Taiwan

Amid U.S.-China Chill, Harvard Moves a Top Language Program to Taiwan

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Harvard University will relocate a popular Chinese-language program from Beijing to Taipei, despite a general thaw in academic and cultural exchanges between the United States and China.

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

“The program’s new location provides a unique opportunity for our instructors and learners to broaden their educational experiences,” said Mr. Pierre, associate director of communications for Harvard’s division of continuing education, in an emailed statement.

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

However, according to an account she provided to The Harvard Crimson, a student newspaper, Professor Liu stated that the program had been having difficulties obtaining access to the classrooms and dormitories required from Beijing Language and Culture University. She also stated that in 2019, the Chinese university informed the program that it would no longer be able to hold an annual Fourth of July celebration, during which students and faculty would typically eat pizza and sing the American national anthem.

Though China has imposed strict pandemic restrictions, with provinces going into lockdown as coronavirus cases have risen, Professor Liu believes the hostile environment is due to a shift in the Chinese government’s attitudes toward American institutions.

Ms. Liu, when reached for comment, referred a reporter to Mr. Pierre, the Harvard spokesman. An employee at Beijing Language and Culture University declined to comment when reached by phone on Tuesday.

Taiwan, a self-governing island claimed by Beijing as a Chinese province, has long been a center for Chinese language study among foreign diplomats, scholars, and journalists, though that role has dwindled in recent decades as mainland China has opened up. Taiwan’s primary official language is Mandarin Chinese, but it is written in the traditional script, whereas the mainland uses simplified Chinese characters.

The Harvard program began in 2005 and was initially priced at $4,500. According to the website of the Beijing Language and Culture University, more than 1,000 students had participated by 2015. Because of the pandemic, the program was canceled in 2020 and this year. It will now begin next summer at National Taiwan University in Taipei under the name Harvard Taipei Academy. The new host institution stated that, in addition to offering language courses over an eight-week period, the program would allow its 60 or so students to visit attractions throughout Taiwan and participate in cultural activities such as Chinese calligraphy and paper-cutting workshops.

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

The move comes as relations between the United States and China have deteriorated to their lowest point in decades. Tensions have increasingly spilled over into the realm of people-to-people exchanges.

The Trump administration terminated the government’s Fulbright program in mainland China and Hong Kong in 2020. The suspension came months after the Peace Corps abruptly terminated its China program. Some criticized the withdrawal of the programs, claiming that it cut off two critical pipelines for Americans to better understand what was going on in China.

The relocation of the Harvard program to Taiwan also coincides with the island’s replacement of Hong Kong as a bastion of free speech in the Chinese-speaking world, an idea that Taiwanese officials have been keen to emphasize.

Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Joanne Ou said 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.”

“The best learning results can be achieved only in a free environment where speech is not censored,” she added.

Harvard professor of China studies and chair of the Harvard Center Shanghai, William C. Kirby, insisted that the decision to relocate was made “above all, for logistical reasons.” He went on to say that the university was still looking for ways to strengthen 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, vibrant ties between US and Chinese universities were severed, to our mutual detriment,” Professor Kirby explained. “We must not allow that to happen again.”

Amy Chang Chien and Paul Mozur contributed reporting. Liu Yi helped with research.

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Amid U.S.-China Chill, Harvard Moves a Top Language Program to Taiwan