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Amid Chinese-American Cold, Harvard Moves Leading 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 large chill in academic and cultural exchanges between the United States and China.

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

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

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

But Professor Liu said the program has encountered difficulties in gaining access to the classrooms and dormitories needed at the Beijing Language and Culture University, according to an account she provided to 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 rally to celebrate July 4, in which students and professors would usually eat pizza and sing the song. American national anthem.

Although China has instituted strict restrictions in the event of a pandemic, with provinces facing instant shutdowns as coronavirus cases have erupted, Professor Liu said she believes the unwelcoming environment is linked to a change. attitude of the Chinese government towards American institutions.

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

Taiwan – an autonomous island claimed by Beijing as a Chinese province – has long been a hub for Chinese language study among diplomats, academics and foreign journalists, although this status has declined in recent decades with the opening of mainland China. Mandarin Chinese is the main official language in Taiwan, but it uses traditional written writing while the mainland uses simplified Chinese characters.

The Harvard program began in 2005 and initially cost $ 4,500. In 2015, more than 1,000 students had attended, 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 scheduled to start next summer as Harvard Taipei Academy at National Taiwan University in Taipei. The new host institution said that in addition to offering language classes over eight weeks, the program would give its approximately 60 students the opportunity to visit attractions around Taiwan and participate in cultural activities such as calligraphy. Chinese and paper cutting workshops.

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

This relocation comes as relations between the United States and China have reached their lowest point in decades. Increasingly, tensions have also spread in the area 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 from the programs drew criticism from some who said it was cutting two key pipelines giving Americans a better understanding of what was happening on the ground in China.

The relocation of Harvard’s program to Taiwan also comes as the island supplants Hong Kong as a bastion of free speech in the Chinese world, an idea Taiwanese officials have been keen to stress.

Joanne Ou, spokeswoman for Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry, said the agency “believes that the democratic and liberal system and pluralistic society will enable young American students to gain a deeper understanding of Taiwan and the world. Chinese”.

She added: “Only in a free environment where speech is not censored can one achieve the best learning outcomes.”

William C. Kirby, professor of Chinese studies at Harvard and president of the Harvard Center Shanghai, insisted that the decision to move was made “primarily for logistical reasons.” He added that the university continued to explore ways to maintain and deepen its other ties with China despite challenges posed by ongoing geopolitical tensions and strict restrictions on the country’s borders linked to the viruses.

“Once before, in the early 1950s, the dynamic ties between the United States and Chinese universities were severed, to our mutual loss,” said Professor Kirby. “We shouldn’t let this happen again. “

Paul Mozur and Amy Chang Dog contributed report. Liu Yi contributed research.

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