Beijing: In a snub to China, Harvard University is moving its Chinese language programme from Beijing to Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, from next year after complaining of an unwelcoming environment from the host institution here.
The programme decided to move to Taipei due to a perceived lack of friendliness from the host institution, Beijing Language and Culture University (BLCU), Jennifer Liu, director of the Harvard Beijing Academy summer study abroad programme, told student newspaper The Harvard Crimson.
The shifting of the programme by the Ivy league American University to Taiwan is regarded as a snub to China which considers the estranged island as part of the mainland.
Liu said in recent years, the Harvard programme began to have difficulties accessing the needed classrooms and dorms.
For instance, the BLCU did not provide a single dorm for all the students, instead requiring the programme to split the students into two different dorms of different quality, or to find a hotel that could keep their students together, The Harvard Crimson report said.
Given the condition they provided, we really couldn’t run the programme with the quality that we are hoping to deliver to our students, Liu said.
Liu suspects that the unwelcoming environment may be a product of a subtle shift in the Chinese government’s attitudes towards US institutions, one precipitated by (President) Xi Jinping’s rise to power , Harvard Crimson report said.
In past years, the programme would typically host a small party to celebrate the Independence Day of the United States on the Fourth of July, during which students and faculty would eat pizza and sing the national anthem.
However, in 2019, BLCU notified the programme that it could no longer hold this holiday party. We were told that our students we’re not allowed to sing, to celebrate, Liu said.
However, William Kirby, a professor of China Studies and chairman of the Harvard Centre Shanghai, said the switch was made for purely logistical reasons, and collaborations between the Ivy League university and Chinese academics were continuing.
This is not a time in which this university is retreating from its engagement with China it’s actually seeking every way possible to deepen it, the newspaper quoted Kirby as saying.
Established in 2005, the Harvard Beijing Academy is a nine-week programme run jointly by Harvard and BLCU in which students from US universities such as Harvard and Yale study Chinese language and culture, and take part in exchanges with Chinese families.
According to BLCU’s website, as of 2019, an estimated 1,300 students had participated.
The Harvard programme had been suspended since last year because of Covid-19, the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported.
An unnamed Chinese language teacher at the university told the Post that the pandemic had brought visa complications.
China has closed its borders to most international travel since March last year and stopped giving visas.
Over 23,000 Indian students mostly studying medicine in China too were stuck in India due to Beijing’s reluctance to lift travel restrictions for them.
There is no sign of restrictions being eased soon, whereas foreign students can enter Taiwan, the Post report said.
Asked for his reaction, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a media briefing here on Wednesday that he was not aware of the specific details.
I would like to stress that China welcomes foreign students to pursue their studies in China. We attach high importance to protect their legitimate rights and interests and actively address their legitimate concerns. We are against politicising people to people and cultural exchanges, he said.
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