By Claudia Liu MA (MediaComm) '05
One of the most famous Chinese sayings, true when it was coined 2500 years ago and still true today, asserts that a journey of a thousand li begins with a single step. David Goodman, acting director of the University’s new China Studies Centre, stepped out on the most important journey of his life 40 years ago when he was one of a group of young scholars invited to China to witness the glorious impact of the Cultural Revolution.
A radical student of the ’60s at Manchester University, Goodman had a strong sympathy for Communist politics and the revolutionary ideas of Mao Zedong. He had even learnt Mandarin as part of his PhD on Chinese politics. The less-than-glorious reality of Mao’s China came as a slap in the face, he admits, but was a turning point in his life. He decided to return, enrolled as an economics student at Peking University and found himself one of just four foreigners in the class.
Despite the hardships – “I didn’t eat fruit for a whole year, and lived on a diet of cabbage, pork fat and poor quality rice” – he developed a lasting passion for the country, which provided the oxygen for his subsequent academic career.
After two years as Professor of Chinese Politics at Sydney, his current challenge is to steer the development of the China Studies Centre, which draws together more than 130 academics with research interests in China.
Similar centres have already taken root in other Australian universities, but Sydney aims to be the biggest and the best. It will cover 16 major disciplines including medicine, arts, economics, sociology, media studies, education, politics and architecture.
The Centre is starting from a position of strength. “We were the first University to teach Chinese language in Australia nearly a century ago and we have been hosting Chinese students for more than 30 years,” says Professor Goodman. “We now have around 5000 Chinese students on campus and 15,000 alumni in China.”
Besides its research arm, the Centre will cater for Australians who are interested in learning more about China. It will run an MA in China Studies, a two-year bilingual Master of Public Administration program, specialising in China-Australia for professionals working in either country, and a PhD program.
“The MPA has already proved attractive to Australia’s business community,” says Professor Goodman. “A few companies have expressed an interest in sponsoring programs so that their staff can be better equipped with China knowledge which is crucial to business success nowadays.”
Due to be officially launched later this year, the China Studies Centre will be a hub for leadership dialogue, research partnerships and business and government development between Australia and China.
“One of our major tasks now is to lift our profile within the Australian and international communities by providing the best-quality research and teaching programs,” says Professor Goodman. “Our goal is to build our reputation so that when Australians think about studying China, they think about the University of Sydney China Studies Centre. “And in this our Chinese alumni around the world are great assets – they are part of us. Their participation and contribution will be important to the Centre’s success.”
Professor Goodman, who has a book coming out later this year on 20th century colonialism in China, and has a research interest in China’s new economic elites, believes that the Centre will be a rich source of learning for all Australians.
“China is now our biggest trading partner and everybody in Australia can feel its economic influence,” he explains. “But following on from this, there will also be cultural and social influences as well. The Centre will help us understand and be prepared for the growing influence China has on our lives in Australia.”
The Centre has received strong support from the Chinese and Australian governments. It will engage with major Chinese cities and provincial business and cultural centres. It will also make academic partnerships with major universities in China such as Fudan, and provide opportunities for researchers and students to go to China.
Professor Marie Bashir, the Chancellor and Governor of NSW, will be the first patron of the Centre. Professor Bashir first visited China in 1974, making a special visit to see the work of the “barefoot doctors”.
“The next generation has a unique and exciting challenge – learning, living and prospering with a resurgent China,” says Professor Bashir. “In Sydney and NSW, we have a longstanding Chinese community and have welcomed thousands of Chinese students. Sydney is the gateway for cultural exchange, trade and investment between our two countries.”