2015 No.4
Interview with Professor Joseph M. Chan: The History and Development of the Universities Service Centre for China Studies of CUHK
 
Date:9 October 2015
Location:The C-Centre, Centre for Chinese Media and Comparative Communication Research
Interviewee:Professor Joseph M. Chan, Research Professor at the School of Journalism and Communication, Emeritus Professor of Journalism and Communication, and Director of the Universities Service Centre for China Studies (USC), CUHK
Interviewer:Professor Lai Chi Tim, Professor in the Department of Cultural and Religious Studies, Associate Director of the ICS, and Director of the Centre for Studies of Daoist Culture, CUHK
Recorded by:Xu Yanlian, Research Associate, ICS

 
The ICS Bulletin is honoured to interview Professor Joseph M. Chan for a new feature article. During his interview with Professor Lai Chi Tim on 9 October 2015, Professor Chan recalled the history and development of the Universities Service Centre for China Studies (USC). He talked about the cooperation between the USC and the Institute of Chinese Studies (ICS), and summarised his own research. Edited excerpts from the interview are presented below.

1. The History of the Universities Service Centre for China Studies (USC)

Professor Chan first recalled the history of the USC. Established more than half a century ago, the USC had organised its 50th anniversary international conference not long before this interview took place. The USC was established in 1963 as an independent organisation serving Western academics and budding scholars engaged in the study of contemporary China. During the Cold War, Western scholars could only seek information about contemporary China indirectly via Hong Kong. Through providing services to Western scholars, the USC has accumulated an extensive and rich collection of research materials on modern-day China. Since becoming part of CUHK in 1988 and being renamed the Universities Service Centre for China Studies (USC) in 1993, it has expanded its services to scholars from Hong Kong and mainland China, as well as international researchers. The USC also organises seminars, public talks, conferences, workshops, training programs and other academic activities to facilitate communication between visiting scholars and the local teachers and students, thereby strengthening the global dialogue among scholars of China studies. The services that USC has rendered to the community of China scholars over all these years have earned it the nickname as the Mecca of China studies.

The USC prides itself on one of the most extensive and accessible collections of material on contemporary China. It is a complete collection with special features. Highlights include 1) provincial and national newspapers, periodicals and various other materials published by academic organisations and government departments from the early 1950s; 2) complete runs of regional and statistical yearbooks; and 3) a large collection of provincial, city, county and village annals, including volumes on special topics such as land, food, finance, tax, education and irrigation. In addition, it holds a famous collection of material on previous political movements in China, such as the Land Reform, the Three-anti and Five-anti movements, the Anti-rightist movement, the Great Leap Forward, and the Cultural Revolution. Original material related to these political movements are collected from all over the world and digitalised for preservation. Based on its existing collections, the USC has built the Barometer on China's Development (BOCD), an electronic GIS database of developments in China. The database serves as a multi-dimensional barometer with which academic researchers and policy analysts from all over the world can carry out large-scale quantitative research and analysis, and monitor China's development. Always aiming to provide services to scholars of China studies, the USC not only collects rich and comprehensive first-hand materials, but also works to digitalise its collections and build up large electronic databases for researchers.

Professor Chan summarised two major functions of the USC. The first function is archival: it provides reference materials such as books and electronic files for scholars of China studies. Its second major function is providing a platform from which scholars can gather and communicate. This is the connecting function.

2. Graduate Seminar on China (GSOC)

Since 2004, the USC has organised the Graduate Seminar on China (GSOC) each January (co-organising with the CUHK–Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation Asia-Pacific Centre for Chinese Studies since 2007). Applicants are invited to present papers and join discussions. They also receive assistance to stay at the Centre before and/or after the seminar to conduct research. Senior scholars are invited to be keynote speakers and share their research outcomes and comments. The GSOC promotes research on contemporary China, encourages exchange among Chinese and young overseas scholars in the field and enhances the capabilities and broadens the horizons of PhD students in contemporary China studies. The twelfth GSOC took place from 6 to 9 January 2016 at CUHK. Professor Chan noted that the GSOC has become a renowned international seminar for graduate students in China studies, and many current outstanding scholars in the field were once participants of the seminar.

3. Future Plans and Developments of the USC

Professor Chan said that the USC plans to actively promote studies of oral folk history and Chinese documentaries. Through collecting folk historical materials such as Chinese folk documentaries and unpublished individual memoirs, the USC hopes to gather scholars in related fields and other enthusiastic people to promote folk history and the Chinese documentary movement, arousing more attention and interest in the topics.

In addition to the archival and connecting functions, the USC plays a role in helping set the research agenda in China studies. As a result of its excellent archives, the USC can put forward particular research issues such as political movements and county development. With strong archival references, the topics raised by the USC can attract scholars from related fields and promote related research. Professor Chan also pointed out that in the future, the USC hopes to help shape the research agenda through conferencing and exchanges. For instance, for the 50th anniversary international conference, the USC proposed the issue of "Ideology, power and transition in China" and invited senior scholars in China studies to join the discussions. Selected papers from the conference will be published as a special issue of The China Journal. The USC hopes that through such activities it will strengthen China studies at CUHK and enhance its global influence in the field.

As for future developments, Professor Chan noted that the USC is considering how to improve the way archival documents are kept, and how to make them more accessible to readers. It plans to cooperate with the University library to digitalise the archives. As the library and other departments in CUHK have already established strong collections of books in China studies, the USC can focus on local reports and county chronicles to strengthen its own collection. The Centre will also continue to develop and enrich the BOCD database, which has great potential for China studies in the future. Professor Chan hopes that the USC will retain and enhance the advantages of its extensive collection, and at the same time strengthen the exchange between scholars in China studies through organizing even more seminars, conferences, workshops, and other academic activities.

Professor Chan also hopes that the USC can increases its resources to play a better role in China studies. Currently, academic groups in China studies are quite separate from one another. As one of the most important locations for China studies, and with important cultural and geographical advantages, Hong Kong should take on more responsibility for facilitating improved communication among separate academic groups. To this end, the USC is working to cooperate with other organisations. For example, it recently worked with the French Centre for Research on Contemporary China, a research centre based in Hong Kong that publishes the journal China Perspectives, to organise a conference in November 2015. This is a new attempt and the USC hopes to extend the cooperation in the future. The USC also collaborates with other departments of CUHK. Professor Chan noted that group cooperation is relatively stronger in other countries, and we should improve in this respect.

4. The Universities Service Centre for China Studies and the Institute of Chinese Studies

In 2013 the USC officially joined the ICS to seek closer cooperation between research units in China studies at CUHK. Professor Chan pointed out that while research in the USC follows a social science approach, studies in the ICS follow a humanities approach. The social sciences stress objectivity and causality, whereas the humanities focus more on the depth and originality of understanding. However, with more and more cross-over and overlapping developments appearing between the two disciplines, the possibilities for cooperation are increasing. Furthermore, certain issues are common to both disciplines. Studies of contemporary China, for example, can hardly be separated from studies of traditional China, because the continuity of history and culture cannot be ignored. Social science and humanities thus have multiple opportunities for cooperation. However, given the rigid distinctions between modern disciplines, it is still a great challenge to facilitate specific cooperation and useful dialogue. Professor Chan commented that next year will be the 50th anniversary of the Cultural Revolution, and the USC plans to organise a conference on this topic that will include studies with social science and humanities approaches. However, how to facilitate useful communication between the two disciplines remains a question for us to ponder.

Professor Chan stated that since joining the ICS, the USC is able to extend its vision in humanities studies, and there are more opportunities to cooperate with other research units in China studies and to expand the academic community. For example, the USC can invite humanities scholars to join academic conferences. Professor Chan hopes that the ICS can support the USC to attain more resources and increase its influence in CUHK.

5. Professor Chan's Recent Research

Professor Chan's research interests lie in the intersections between political communication, international communication and journalism studies. He has been studying how the media system has responded to the realignment of political power in Hong Kong during and after the handover period. He is also a researcher of the relationship between social movements and new media, as well as new models of social mobilisation in Hong Kong such as those manifested in the 1 July 2003 protest and the 2015 Occupy Central movement. Professor Chan is also interested in the rise and fall of collective memory. Collective memory usually weakens as time goes by, but the collective memory of the 89 Democracy Movement (the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, also called the June Fourth Incident), did not weaken much in Hong Kong. Rather, it passed down quite well to the new generation. What accounts for the inter-generational transfer of the collective memory? He said such questions require a sociological answer. Professor Chan also carries out comparative studies of journalists in mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, as well as comparing news reports of the same incident made by different media around the world.

Professor Chan noted that as he mainly studies communication in Chinese societies, his research is related to Chinese culture. Culture is one of the important factors that affect political communication. Professor Chan's research also reflects the intersection of mainland culture and cultures in Hong Kong and Taiwan, as well as how mainland culture changes and develops in Hong Kong and Taiwan in response to their respective environments. In his research, Chinese culture does not refer to traditional Chinese culture and classical texts; rather, it is culture reflected in people's lives and thoughts, such as professional ideas of the news. For Professor Chan, social science studies extend the objects of cultural studies. Culture does not merely refer to classical texts or intellectual culture, but it can be extended to popular culture, community culture and daily life reflected in various aspects of people's social life. These cultures are also valuable for enriching our understanding of Chinese culture and disclosing its multiple layers and rich diversity.

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Interview with Professor Joseph M. Chan: The History and Development of the Universities Service Centre for China Studies of CUHK
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