European studies in China has passed through a set of interesting phases in its development. In the 1950s and 1960s, China had no formal diplomatic relations with most western European countries and had had direct military confrontations with many of them. Western European countries were regarded as part of the imperialist camp led by the United States. At this point, there was no serious research on western Europe or on European integration. The European Coal and Steel Community and the European Economic Community were defined simply as the institutionalisation of capitalism’s state monopoly and as the result of differences between western Europe and the US.
In the 1970s and 1980s, China started to establish diplomatic relationships with most countries in western Europe following US President Richard Nixon’s visit to China in 1972. Western Europe was regarded as a potential ally in the united front against Soviet socialist-imperialism. It was at this point that Chinese universities and research institutes began to pay attention to the European Communities and the European integration process. Fudan University in Shanghai established the first research institution for European studies in 1977.
China started to re-establish international studies fully in the 1980s, after the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) – and European studies was one of the reconstructions of the time. But in the 1980s, European studies in China was not focused on European integration, but mainly on country studies – of, for example, the UK, France, Germany, the Nordic region – and the study of European international relations, especially the US-European relationship.
Many Chinese scholars viewed European integration as the principal tool with which Europeans could counter-balance the US and saw the major objective of European economic integration as being to find a means to cope with the economic crisis in the capitalist world.
But it was the 1990s that proved to be the key period for EU-China relations and European studies in China. About 20 centres of European studies were established, and Chinese scholars appraised European integration from the perspective of political science, economics, law, international relations, sociology, history and other approaches. At this stage, European studies in China could be characterised as introductory in character and focused on knowledge, rather than being theoretical or multi- and/or inter-disciplinary in approach.
A more theoretical, methodological and multi-disciplinary approach has emerged at the start of the 21st century. European studies in China has changed in a broader way as well: it no longer always tracks the evolution of EU-China relations, but is, rather, showing a wider, deeper concern about Europe’s experiences and their implications for China.
At present, two principal features distinguish European studies in China from European studies in other Asian countries.
Firstly, courses of European studies have spread throughout China within a relatively short period of time. Before 1995, there were only five centres for European studies in Chinese universities and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, plus several governmental research institutes. By 2009, the number of centres or institutes had increased to more than 30, with seven Jean Monnet professors and two Jean Monnet Centres of Excellence funded by the European Commission. Before 2000, there was a China Association for European Studies, with six sub-branch associations for studies of the UK, Germany, France, Italy, the Nordic region and the EU. Now, there are ten sub-branch associations, with European politics and international relations, European legal studies, European economic studies and European social and cultural studies as the additions.
Since 2005, many Chinese universities have begun to offer master’s programmes in European studies, and they now offer hundreds of undergraduate and graduate courses. Chinese publications on the EU and European integration have proliferated tremendously, numbering hundreds and thousands, if articles in academic journals are included.
Secondly, the Chinese are more interested in European integration. A research project headed by Professor Martin Holland of the University of Canterbury in New Zealand on the image of the EU in the Asia-Pacific region found that the EU’s profile is highest in China. That means that not only Chinese intellectuals, but also the Chinese public know more about the EU and are more interested in it than the populations of other Asia-Pacific countries.
There are three principal reasons for that. The first reason is the rapid development of EU-China relations in recent decades, especially since 1995. Many Chinese regard China’s relationship with the EU as the best in the country’s foreign relations. The EU is China’s number-one trading partner, with trade worth $425 billion (€305bn at 2008 year-end values) and is the most important supplier of technology to China. There are also good relationships between China and the major EU member states.
Second, many Chinese believe that China has more in common with Europe than with any other major power. Chinese have a stronger liking for the history, philosophy and culture – even the political culture – of Europe than of other major powers.
Third, Europe’s experiences – what is referred to as European models – are more relevant to China’s domestic development and foreign policy. One of the dynamics of European studies in China is the desire to learn from European experiences or European models and to put those lessons to use to serve the development of China, economically, socially, even politically.
Overall, European studies in China have developed rapidly and smoothly since the late 1990s. Funding from the European Commission and the Chinese government are not the only reasons; this development reflects the great improvement of EU-China relations since 1995, the rapid growth of EU-China economic relations, and the interest of the Chinese in learning from Europe.
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Xinning Song is the Jean Monnet professor of European studies at Renmin University of China in Beijing. He is also a senior research fellow at the United Nations University Institute on Comparative Regional Integration Studies (UNU-CRIS) in Bruges, Belgium.The EU’s profile is higher in China than in any other country in Asia-Pacific