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From Stanford to PKU, an American’s 40 years of China studies

OCT . 17 2017
Peking University, October 11, 2017: From his study of the Chinese poet Ye Xin of the Qing Dynasty at Stanford University 40 years ago to the establishment of the "China Studies" program in the Yenching Academy, John Holden’s four decades of studying and working in China reflects the increasingly close relationship between China and US.

Holden, also known by his Chinese name He Liqiang, identifies himself as "a problem solver, an honest communicator, and a maker of win-win relations." This characterization resonates with his long career in Sino-US relations.

In 1971 Holden began learning Chinese at the University of Minnesota and eventually graduated from Sanford University with a master's degree in Chinese language and literature. His first visit to mainland China in 1974 sparked his unquenchable interest in studying modern China.

Since then, Holden has held a number of positions including that of President of the National Committee on US-China Relations. The committee, established in 1966, has since made significant contributions to establishing diplomatic relations between China and US and promoting China-US communications.

After becoming President of the committee in 1998, Holden was once described by the media as someone that could "influence the White House’s policies toward China." Holden insists, however, that "It is a bit exaggerated to suggest that I am able to influence the White House’s policies toward China, when I served in the committee, my job was simply to help decision makers of the US to better understand China."

In 2014, Holden was appointed the Deputy Dean of the Yenching Academy of Peking University. Upon receiving the invitation to help found the Yenching Academy, he accepted it without the slightest hesitation. In his role as the Deputy Dean of the Academy in charge of admissions, Holden was dedicated to his job and spent more than half of the year flying around the world promoting the program.

On September 12, 2015, the Academy’s first opening ceremony took place. With 96 students from 32 countries and regions, Holden’s hard work recruiting talented students from around the world had paid off. Speaking of the "China Studies" program of the Yenching Academy, Holden believes it is an unprecedentedly unique program and an interesting experiment that will help "to disperse misunderstanding toward China and help the world to better understand her." Holden elaborated on the best way to raise awareness and appreciation of China explaining, that "the most efficient way is to borrow the other people's mouth to talk, and to achieve that, we need to invite people all over the world to come to China."

Today, Holden continues his focus on China-US relations. Commenting on the first round of the Sino-US Social Sciences and Humanities Dialogue in Washington D.C, he pointed out that the current China-US relations is susceptible to fallout from inflammatory issues including trade balance and North Korea’s nuclear crisis. In Holden’s view, however, the two nations nevertheless fully recognize the importance of maintaining communications in social sciences and humanities, and that "this matters a lot."

Despite the current complexities of China-US relations, Holden remains positive,  noting that the need for cooperation outweighs the potential for conflict, that difficult issues can be put aside for now if they are not yet able to be resolved, and that there has yet to be an issue that can’t be handled. With trade and investment being ballast, the ship of China-US relations can hardly be expected to capsize.

Written by: Wang Yuxiang
Edited by: Erin Dunne & Xie Changli
Source: PKU News (Chinese)