The 3rd Session of Liangxiang Forum | The Current Rise and Development of Area Studies as a Discipline in China: an Introduction to Between Nation-States and Areas

On the afternoon of October 9, 2021, the first lecture of “Liangxiang Forum” of the Institute for International and Area Studies of Tsinghua University in the autumn semester of 2021 was held in conference room 205 of the central main building, with the theme of “The Current Rise and Development of Area Studies as a Discipline in China: an Introduction to Between Nation-States and Areas”. The lecture was given by Wu Xiao’an, Professor of History Department of Peking University and director of overseas Chinese Research Center of Peking University. Wang Tingyi, assistant professor, Xiong Xinghan, assistant professor, and postdoctoral researcher yuan Mengqi, of the IIAS, participated as disccucants. . Li Yuqing, assistant professor of the IIAS, presided over the lecture. Researchers, doctoral students and teachers and students from other colleges and universities attended the lecture.

At the beginning of the lecture, Professor Wu Xiao’an expressed his thoughts on the naming of the “Liangxiang Forum” of the IIAS, which was “why the green mountains are the same as the clouds and rain, and the bright moon is shared by two townships” and “when the year is deep, the outside world is also inside, and for a long time, the other’s place is my hometown”. He pointed out that this philosophical name reflects the reflection on the relationship between “self” and “others” in ares atudies.

The lecture is mainly divided into two parts. In the first part, Professor Wu Xiaoan expounds the concept of region and country, the paradigm of ares atudies and personal academic summary based on the introduction of his new book “Within Area Studies”. He pointed out that there are three intellectual sources for regional and country studies: first, classicism with language, text and humanities as the tradition; second, Orientalism with text, textual research and geography as the research tradition for ancient civilizations in Asia in Europe; third, colonial research in the western world with anthropology as the main feature. The ares atudies paradigm rising in the United States after World War II is a reflection on colonial research and an inheritance and innovation of the above three intellectual sources under the new world political and economic pattern. Ares atudies under the American knowledge production system is the collective research paradigm of the United States for the cooperation of Humanities and Social Sciences in different overseas regions. Its background is the competition between the United States and the Soviet Union for the Asian, African and Latin American region under the cold war. The main driving force is the needs of war and security. Therefore, when the cold war declined in the 1980s and 1990s, ares atudies encountered development difficulties and crises. The new area research under the new situation of post crisis globalization has broken through the category of taking the nation-state as a single analysis unit, thus bursting out new vitality in the discipline field.

On the paradigm of ares atudies, Professor Wu Xiaoan shared his thoughts on how to do research under the new academic paradigm. He said that “Within Area Studies” is a concern for research, and its fundamental characteristics are cross-border, mobility, interaction, connection, dispersion, mixing and identity. In the pedigree of academic paradigm, the relationship Within Area Studies is neither ares atudies under the background of cold war nor national research under the paradigm of nationalism. Within Area Studies, special research topics remain unchanged; Within Area Studies, the research perspective and methodology change. Whether local or national, regional or global, they have never been rigid, fixed, absolute and sealed. They are more or less the supporting framework of thematic case studies. What scholars pursue is to present the overall picture in the form of case study and respond to universal concerns with historical and empirical research content.

In his personal academic career, Professor Wu Xiaoan emphasized an “integrated / cohesive” research, that is, the integration of theory and experience, and the connection between reality and intellectual society. In today’s complex knowledge production system, the judgment and ideas transmitted by scholars through research are particularly important. It is a research spirit of “looking at the essence through phenomenon”.

In the second part of the lecture, three young scholars of the IIAS talked with Professor Wu Xiaoan. Dr. Wang Tingyi reflected on the upsurge of ares atudies and discipline construction. He pointed out that the current upsurge of ares atudies implies the lack of the development of ares atudies disciplines at home and abroad. There is tension between ares atudies and traditional disciplines, which promotes scholars in the field to explore the significance of ares atudies and the common methods, paths and theories of ares atudies. Dr. yuan Mengqi said that there are two possible research paths in ares atudies, one is Transcendentalism and theoretical thinking, and the other is empiricism and empirical research. There is tension between the two, and scholars need to make a breakthrough in academic production. Dr. Xiong Xinghan discussed the dialectical relationship between universality and particularity contained in the above theory and experience. He pointed out that some disciplines pursue the interpretation of special phenomena, while others emphasize universality theory and scientific prediction. Professor Wu Xiaoan held a detailed discussion with the teachers and students on the above issues in combination with the current situation of ares atudies at home and abroad.

Wu Xiaoan, Professor of History Department of Peking University, is also the director of the overseas Chinese Research Center of Peking University. The latest book is Within Area Studies (Science Press, 2021). The English monograph Chinese business in the making of a Malay state, 1882-1941 (Routledge press, 2003; National University of Singapore Press, 2010) was nominated and finally shortlisted for the “Harry J. Benda Book Prize” for best work in Southeast Asian Studies of the American “Asian society” in 2005 A short list of six works worldwide. Presided over two volumes of the cooperative translation of the trade era in Southeast Asia (Commercial Press, 2010; Chinese translation of world famous works, 2013 and 2017), and was invited to participate in the writing of the Cambridge History of global migration (Volume II) and the publication of the poetry collection Yanzhai collection (Shanghai Sanlian bookstore, 2020). He is writing the history of walking (to be published in 2022).

Text by: Song Tianyun
Typesetting by: Cheng Yao
Reviewed by: Cheng Yao