2009: A Chinese Academic on US Cultural Diplomacy

American Cultural Diplomacy and Its Practice in China [Meiguo de wenhua waijiao ji qi zai zhongguo de yunyong] 美国文化外交及其在中国的运用 by Hu Wentao 胡文涛 published by World Knowledge Publishing House, Beijing, January 2008

Prof. Hu Wentao of the Guangdong Foreign Languages and Foreign Trade University took advantage of a Fulbright grant to write this analysis of U.S. cultural diplomacy. The

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book evolved from his PhD thesis. Therein lies some of the interest of the book, since it starts out with a survey of the literature in both Chinese and English on cultural diplomacy and U.S. cultural diplomacy (pp. 7 – 24) before discussing the purpose and theory of cultural diplomacy (long-term nature, a two-way street, influencing future leader by helping them come to understand and even adopt American values and ideas pp. 25 – 4 then moving into cultural analysis and history of the U.S. cultural diplomacy efforts, including the work of the China program of the Ford Foundation that merited a chapter of its own. Prof. Hu spent 2004 – 2005 at the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs of the Georgia Institute of Technology on his Fulbright grant.

Prof. Hu in writing the book has several purposes including both understanding the background and purpose of U.S. cultural diplomacy so that China can respond to it appropriately and helping China develop its own ideas and program for cultural diplomacy as the breadth and width of China’s own international cultural and economic contacts expand very rapidly. It is likely significant that the book comes from the World Knowledge Publishing House (Shijie Zhishi Chubanshe), the favorite publishing house of many Chinese diplomats and home of one of the favorite magazines of Chinese interested in international relations Shijie Zhishi.

Prof. Hu discusses the background of U.S. cultural diplomacy, a special combination of government, NGOs and individuals. The liberal/populist opposition to government-imposed official culture delayed the rise of cultural diplomacy as a part of U.S. diplomacy. It came together in the 1930s when the U.S. was facing the threat of the penetration of German fascist ideology in Latin America (pp. 79 – 83). Prof. Hu sees the religious background of Americans and American ideology, which despite the legal separation of church and state, invests the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution and civic holidays such as Thanksgiving with a religious or quasi-religious nature. He discusses the missionary impulse of Americans in the 19th century as missionaries and its manifestation, rather late after overcoming another U.S. tendency isolationism, which along with U.S. idealism plays a part in shaping the U.S. engagement with the world in the 20th century. (pp. 56 – 71).

Prof. Hu has written a fair-minded book. For example, when he touches on CIA funding of some U.S. cultural diplomacy work in the early days, he writes “At the beginning of the Cold War, U.S. cultural diplomacy was supported by the Central Intelligence Agency and the Cultural Affairs Bureau of the State Department. However from today’s perspective, CIA funding of cultural diplomacy is inappropriate and even counterproductive. However, history proves that the great efforts that the efforts the U.S. government made to increase mutual understanding through cultural understanding were useful. U.S. policymakers understood the relationship between contact with foreign audiences and defeating their ideological enemies. They believed that cultural diplomacy was very important to U.S. national security.” (p. 71)

After discussing the role of foundations in U.S. cultural diplomacy, chapter three traces the history of U.S. cultural diplomacy in China from the U.S. missionary to China in the 19th century and the Qing students at Yale in the 1870s, jumping ahead to cultural and educational exchanges in the late 1930s, the role of NGOs especially the Committee on Scholarly Communication with the PRC (established in 1966), the great increase in exchanges after the establishment of formal diplomatic relations, and the establishment of U.S. study abroad programs in China.

Chapters four and five are analyses of the Fulbright Program (Derk Bodde, later Prof. at Penn was the first scholar supported by the Fulbright program) and of the China program of the Ford Foundation. The U.S. started Fulbright grants with China (then the pre 1949 R.O.C.) before other countries because of the example of the Boxer Indemnity Scholarships that returned monies to China to fund scholarships. When the PRC was established in 1949, the Fulbright program and U.S. educational exchanges were ended as a result of ant-communism in the U.S. The newly established Communist government did not interfere with them. Communist Party initiatives to sweep away such foreign influences came after the U.S. had already withdrawn. (pp. 202 – 204). Hu notes that sometimes Fulbright Scholars in China have felt unhappy because of strictures put on their work by local Foreign Affairs Offices or schools that fear of ‘spiritual pollution’. (p. 223)

Hu writes that evaluations of the effectiveness of the Fulbright program can be examined from the American perspective but it is difficult to do so from the Chinese perspective since Chinese evaluations of the Fulbright program are hard to find in open source material. Hu quotes Donald Bishop, Cultural and Public Affairs Section Counselor at U.S. Embassy Beijing in the late 1990s, who on the subject of U.S. – China exchanges recalled the U.S. missionaries and educators who founded schools in China, the Boxer Fund students studying in the U.S, and Americans reading the novels of Pearl Buck and Lin Yutang. (The quote is drawn from Don Bishop’s “Closing the Understanding Gap – American Fulbright Professors in China” Vital Speeches of the Day, June 1, 1999, p. 483.)

American Cultural Diplomacy and Its Practice Related to China would be a good book for U.S. public diplomacy officers working in China to read in Chinese; parts should be considered for translation into English. The book itself, is one of the fruits of the Fulbright Program, is a nice respite from and balances some of the more sensational materials on foreign affairs that sometimes appear in the Chinese press and on Chinese bookshelves.


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About 高大伟 David Cowhig

After retirement translated,with wife Jessie, Liao Yiwu's 2019 "Bullets and Opium", and have been studying things 格物致知. Worked 25 years as a US State Department Foreign Service Officer including ten years at US Embassy Beijing and US Consulate General Chengdu and four years as a China Analyst in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research. Before State I translated Japanese and Chinese scientific and technical books and articles into English freelance for six years. Before that I taught English at Tunghai University in Taiwan for three years. And before that I worked two summers on Norwegian farms, milking cows and feeding chickens.
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