Academic journal article Middle East Review of International Affairs (Online)

Middle East Studies in China: Achievements and Problems

Academic journal article Middle East Review of International Affairs (Online)

Middle East Studies in China: Achievements and Problems

Article excerpt

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Chinese Middle East studies can be traced back to the late 16th and early 17th century with the efforts of Chinese Muslims, particularly Wang Daiyu (1584-1670) and Liu Zhi (1655-1745), to translate and introduce the religious literature of the Middle East to China. Wang Daiyu combined Islamic doctrines with Chinese traditional culture and explained basic Islamic beliefs for average Chinese Muslims. Liu Zhi compiled the book Faithful Records of the Prophet (...), the first biography of Muhammad in the Chinese language.1From the 17th to early 20th centuries, many other Chinese Islamic scholars contributed to the research into Islam, such as Wu Zunqi (1598-1698), Ma Dexin (1794-1874), Wang Jinzhai (1879-1949), Pang Shiqian (1902-1958) and Ma Jian (1906-1978). Ma Jian's translation of the Quran is today the most popular Chinese translation of the Quran.


Since Communist China was established in 1949, Chinese Middle East research has made significant progress, but most of this progress has come since 1978, a watershed year in Chinese Middle East research. This came about when China government decided to adopt an "Open Door" policy, known by the four characters gaige kaifang (????), which eased restrictions on academic research. Prior to 1978, Middle East research in China was largely influenced by political direction and government will. From 1949 until approximately 1948, the Chinese government viewed Islamic research as "superstitions and feudal ideas," running counter to Communist ideology, and thus should be eliminated. Academic research on the Middle East were largely concentrated on language instruction. For example, the Chinese translator of Quran, Ma Jian, suffered political persecution in the Chinese Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), and between that time and 1978, he was only permitted to teach Arabic at Peking University. The role of Middle East research in China before 1978 was to introduce basic knowledge and literature to Chinese political decision-makers, and to serve as translators for Chinese leaders¡- foreign visits.

After the Bandung Conference, a meeting of Asian and African states which took place in Indonesia in 1955, China viewed Arab states as ¡°anti-imperialist¡± allies, while Israel and Iran were ¡°allies of US imperialism.¡± To strengthen China¡-s understanding of the Arab world, China began to encourage Arab-language teaching in Chinese universities. Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai published his report ¡°On the intelligentsia problem¡± (...), in which he emphasized that ¡°we should strengthen foreign-language teaching and foreign literature translations.¡±2 Before visiting Egypt in winter of 1963, Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai convened leaders from Chinese diplomatic and educational establishments in order to approve a report entitled, ¡°On the enhancement of foreign research¡± (1ØÓÚ¼ÓÇ¿Ñо¿Íâ1ú1¤×÷µÄ±*æ ). This report encouraged enlargement of the research capabilities of Chinese academies and establishing new research institutions. Guided by this report, China¡-s State Department organized the ¡°Foreign Research Committee,¡± which directed the formation of several important Middle East research establishments, including the Asia-Africa Studies Institute of China¡-s Academy of Social Science3, Asia-Africa Institute of Peking University, the Islamic Studies Center of Xibei University4, and South Asia Studies Institute of Yunnan University. However, before the year 1978, the intended role of Chinese Middle East studies was solely to serve foreign affairs, rather than fostering independent academic study. And over the years of the Cultural Revolution, from 1966 to 1976, China¡-s Middle East studies suffered from the national climate of political unrest and the entire field sank into stagnation.

Since 1978, when China initiated its ¡°Open Door¡± policy, Chinese Middle East studies developed fast, leading to the creation of many academic establishments concentrating on Middle East studies, including:

* Institute of West Asia and Africa Studies, at China¡-s Academy of Social Science (CASS)

* Asia and Africa Studies Institute at Peking University

* Middle East Studies Center at Peking University

* West Asia and Africa Studies Institute at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR)

* Middle East Studies Institute (MESI) at Shanghai International Studies University

* Middle East Studies Institute at Xibei University

* Institute of International Studies at Yunnan University

* Institute of World History Studies at Inner Mongolia University

* Institute of Central and East Europe-West Africa Studies at Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences (SASS)

* West Asia and Africa Studies Center at Shanghai Institute for International Studies (SIIS)

* Jewish Studies Institute at Nanjing University

* Institute of Africa Studies at Zhejiang Normal University

* Arab Studies Center at Wuhan University

* Department of Arab Studies at Beijing Foreign Studies University

* Middle East Studies Center at China Foreign Affairs University5

* Turkish Studies Center at Shanghai University

* Jewish Studies Institute of Henan University

Before 1978, due to the political climate, there was very little Chinese literature concentrating on Middle East studies. …

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