China Beat Archive



Graham Earnshaw

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June 15, 2008 in The China Beat


Copyright June 15, 2008 Graham Earnshaw. Used by permission.


Jonathan Spence is of course one of the great authorities on Chinese history, but the value of history is in its relevance to the present, so at a time of such huge volatility in the affairs of China, there is great curiosity as to how he views current trends. We have the means to find out in his current series of Reith Lectures being given one per week in England and broadcast through the BBC’s websites, currently non-blocked in China.

The first lecture was about the role of Confucius and Confucian thought in Chinese history, and in the q&a section, Spence was coaxed to explore the significance for modern-day China (he was optimistic that continued questioning of authority and pressure for pluralism could be expected regardless of the resurgence of confucianism). The second lecture turned outwards, and featured a gallop through the history of West-China contacts from 1620 to the twentieth century — trade, violence, misunderstandings, cultural awareness, diplomacy, war, opium, unfair treaties, migration, racial tensions in Chinatowns, Chinese boycotts of foreign goods and the almost hidden and forgotten role of Chinese migrants in fighting the world wars, and building cities like Liverpool, where the lecture took place.