Amid Chinese-American chill, Harvard moves top language program to Taiwan

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

Program director Jennifer L. Liu told the Harvard Crimson that the move was prompted by a perceived lack of friendliness from the Chinese host institution, Beijing Language and Culture University. Harry J. Pierre, a Harvard spokesperson, said, “The planned move of this program from Beijing to Taiwan has been contemplated for some time and reflects a wide range of operational factors.

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

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

But Professor Liu said the program had difficulty getting access to needed classrooms and dormitories at Beijing Language and Culture University, according to an account she 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 July 4, where students and faculty usually ate pizza and sang the song. American national anthem.

Although China has instituted strict pandemic restrictions, with provinces subject to instant lockdowns as coronavirus cases erupted, Professor Liu said she believed the unwelcoming environment was linked to a change of attitude of the Chinese government towards American institutions.

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

Zhao Lijian, spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry, addressed Harvard’s decision during a routine press briefing on Wednesday. “China has always welcomed foreign students,” he said. “We oppose any effort to politicize people-to-people exchanges.”

Taiwan — a self-governing island claimed by Beijing as a province of China — has long been a hub for Chinese language study among foreign diplomats, scholars and journalists, though that status has waned in recent decades with the opening of mainland China. Mandarin Chinese is the main official language of Taiwan, but it uses traditional written script while the mainland uses simplified Chinese characters.

Harvard’s program began in 2005 and initially cost $4,500. By 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 planned to start next summer as Harvard Taipei Academy at National Taiwan University in Taipei. The new host institution said that in addition to offering eight-week language courses, the program would give its approximately 60 students the opportunity to visit attractions around Taiwan and participate in cultural activities like Chinese calligraphy and paper cutting workshops.

“We hope that in the free academic atmosphere of National Taiwan University, we can establish a solid foundation in Mandarin for excellent Harvard students,” the university said in a statement.

The relocation comes as ties between the United States and China have hit their lowest point in decades. Increasingly, tensions have also spilled over into 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 came months after the Peace Corps abruptly announced it was ending its program in China. The withdrawal of the programs drew criticism from some who said it cut two key pipelines allowing Americans to better understand what is happening on the ground in China.

Joanne Ou, spokeswoman for Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 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 world. of Chinese language”.

She added: “It is only in a free environment where speech is not censored that the best learning outcomes can be achieved.”

William C. Kirby, professor of Chinese studies at Harvard and president of Harvard Center Shanghai, insisted that the decision to move was made “first and foremost, for logistical reasons”. He added that the university continues 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 before, in the early 1950s, vibrant ties between American and Chinese universities were severed, to our mutual loss,” Professor Kirby said. “We shouldn’t let this happen again.”

Paul Mazur and Amy Chang Chien contributed report. Liu Yi contributed to the research.


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