CUHK China studies center co-director quits after abrupt restructuring

Published (HKT): 2020.12.26 06:38

The co-director at the world-renowned Chinese studies center at the Chinese University of Hong Kong has resigned in protest after an abrupt restructuring of the department was announced without consultation, Apple Daily has learned.

Pierre Landry has quit the Universities Service Centre for China Studies ahead of the restructuring because the school did not consult him over the change, a source told Apple Daily.

The center is to transfer its collections to the university library under a plan set by the school’s management to consolidate knowledge with new technology, according to a letter to staff written by another co-director, Chiu Chi-yue. Chiu is also the dean of social sciences at CUHK and a specially appointed expert under China’s Thousand Talents Program.

It was understandable that Landry would be emotional given his decades of connections to the center, Chiu said. While the center’s structure would change, there would be no personnel changes, Chiu added.

In a separate letter to a Japanese scholar that Chiu wrote and provided to Apple Daily, he said the physical records at the center were deteriorating and would become worthless unless steps were taken to preserve them using new technology. The restructuring can also help the center to adapt to modern times as scholars cannot now visit due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he added. Chiu also said the restructuring was a decision made after years of consideration.

CUHK denied that the new arrangements resulted from external pressure. The documentary screening services and seminars will continue to be provided at the university library or the Institute of Chinese Studies, it said.

The news shocked scholars in Greater China and Singapore, since the center was hailed as the “Mecca for China Studies” with the most comprehensive records on modern China, including sensitive topics, a scholar who did not wish to be named told Apple Daily.

The restructuring, made top-down without any consultation, would break the center apart, a source told Apple Daily. The center has long been rumored to have close ties with the United States government, and the changes may have been decided due to tensions between Beijing and Washington, the source added.

Chinese human rights activist Hu Jia, who visited the center in 2007 for research on AIDS in China, told Radio Free Asia that the restructuring means the Chinese government hopes to stop the center from revealing the truth about the country. The center would lose its academic and historical value once Chinese agents infiltrated it, Hu said.

The center, established in 1963, holds more than 120,000 titles on record, most of which were from mainland China since the Communist Party took power. Many well-known experts had led the center, including its first director, Jerome Cohen, a renowned law professor at New York University. Late American scholar Ezra Vogel served as the chair of the center’s international advisory committee between 1992 and 2015.

The center acted as a bridge between Chinese and overseas academics. Former Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai had received a group of visiting scholars organized by the center.

The Hong Kong-America Center, another academic center for exchanges at the CUHK, shut down in August, after months of criticism from the pro-Beijing press accusing it of manipulating the university’s general education courses and being funded by Washington.

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