Dean of Arts and Science
Martin Singer wrote the following essay to the Gazette in answer to an
article published February 16 and titled Concordia seals deals with
I was asked to participate in the February 8-17 Team Canada delegation
to China both because of my position as Dean of Concordias largest
Faculty and because of my 35 years of experience as a Sinologist, which
has led to the publication of two books on China-Canada academic relations.
Let me begin by saying that I think that the visit was a success. Canada
is a relatively small player in China compared to such financial powerhouses
as the United States and Japan. The presence of the prime minister and
nine provincial premiers gave Canada higher visibility in China. It also
gives a competitive edge to Canadians doing business in China, with beneficial
results for the Canadian economy and for Canadian employment.
Philosophical and social
On the issue of human rights in China, there are three points to make.
First, Chinas long history and rich culture (as well as that of
many other Asian countries) have emphasized the rights of the group and
the responsibilities of the individual to the group. This is very different
from the Western emphasis on the rights of the individual and the protection
of those rights from violation by the group. In assessing Chinas
human rights record by a Western standard, one cannot ignore the weight
of this philosophical and social difference.
Second, China is a proud country whose people suffered more than 100 years
as victims of Western imperialist powers that claimed to be more civilized
than China, but nevertheless treated the Chinese people with contempt.
To this day, China finds it difficult to accept Western lectures on moral
issues (including human rights) as more than self-serving hypocrisy, particularly
given the domestic human rights records of those countries.
Third, China has made remarkable progress in improving the living conditions
and extending the freedom of its people. I say this from the perspective
of someone who has been visiting China for more than 25 years and is in
frequent contact with Chinese academics. One should take this remarkable
progress into account when looking at Chinas human rights profile.
In the above context, China is not likely to respond positively to public
lectures from Canada on human rights in China, any more than Canada would
respond positively to international criticism of human rights problems
in Canada. Private conversations are more likely to prove effective in
Universities play leading
Canadian universities and colleges have played a leading role in the development
of Canadas relations with China over the past 30 years. During the
1970s and early 1980s, academic and cultural contacts were the principal
means of contact between the two countries. These early contacts operated
at the level of people-to-people and institution-to-institution and were
remarkably successful, at least in part because they avoided politics
and political rhetoric.
The Chinese academics who returned to China after a period of study in
Canada became our best ambassadors. Similarly, Canadian academics with
experience in China gave us much greater insight into China than we had
gained during the period of the so-called Cultural Revolution, when China
isolated itself from outside contact. When China began opening up to Western
business, it was the Canadian experience in academic exchanges with China
that produced the expertise and the contacts that have been at the foundation
of the Canada/China relationship over the past 15 years.
Academic co-operation vital
The extraordinary level of Canadian university participation in this Team
Canada mission suggests that academic co-operation is still a vital part
of the Canada/China relationship. This is certainly reflected in the decision
of Prime Minister Chrétien and Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji to meet
with Canadian and Chinese university presidents and vice-presidents in
Beijing on the eve of the Team Canada visit. The concerns raised at this
meeting (in which I participated) focused on important academic issues
and left political discussion to the government officials.
Finally, I take issue with describing an agreement of co-operation between
a Canadian and a Chinese university as a deal, which implies
a motive of profit that is inappropriate. Canadians should be proud of
our countrys contribution to Chinas modernization and of our
efforts to build on past accomplishments through mechanisms such as Team
Canada visits. The results, particularly for universities, are likely
to be of long-range mutual benefit.
Dean, Faculty of Arts and Science