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Upcoming Speaker Discusses China's Rapid Transformation

International scholar and Pearl S. Buck expert, Liu Haiping featured in local News & Advance

1/23/2009 9:46:56 AM

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The following story was published in the Lynchburg News & Advan ce on Jan. 23, 2009. It is reprinted with permission.

By Susan Pugh

Published: January 22, 2009

When Liu Haiping goes back to his hometown in China, he buys a map.

Although he only lives two hours away in Nanjing, Shanghai keeps changing so much and so rapidly that “I cannot recognize it,” he said during a recent telephone conversation.

The city, along with rest of the country – the world’s longest continuous civilization, he pointed out – has undergone change at a rate “unprecedented in human history.”

The retired professor and former dean of the School of Foreign Studies at Nanjing University will return next week to Lynchburg, where he was a visiting scholar in 1999 and 2000 at the then-Randolph-Macon Woman’s College.

He will deliver the lecture, “China in Rapid Transition: A Scholar’s View from Within,” at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 27 in the college’s Alice Ashley Jack Lounge.

Liu is one of the world’s leading scholars of Pearl S. Buck, a 1914 R-MWC graduate. (He is also an authority on playwright Eugene O’Neill.)

Buck grew up in China where she would live roughly half her life. She eventually became a Pulitzer and Nobel prize-winning author whose works include “The Good Earth.”

In later years, she was refused permission to return to China by the Maoist government, which did not approve of her work due to its depiction of peasant life and denounced her as a proponent of American cultural imperialism. She died in 1973.

About a decade later, Liu came to the United States to study at Harvard University. People would ask him about Buck.

He said he was embarrassed to tell them he didn’t know her writings; they had been banned. He found that she once taught in his department at his university.

Curiosity piqued, he began to study her work and translate it. He doesn’t say so, but a March 6, 2006, book review in the New York Times credits his work with helping rehabilitate Buck with the authorities.

The town where Buck grew up now has a museum about her life and a square named after her, he said.

Liu himself was once an outcast, banished in 1968 for three years to work on a farm as part of “re-education” during the Cultural Revolution.

China’s dramatic change during the past three decades is no secret. What Liu has is an insider’s view.

The difference can be seen in the little things of everyday life. In Liu’s case, it’s life at the university.

Students, while still respectful of teachers, voice different views. Debate can be heard in classrooms – unheard of in the past, he said.

“People’s minds have been liberated.”

Much of the change followed technology’s advances through such things as computers and the Internet.

The change has altered the very way people live. When the country was sealed off, it was poor, but it had no foreign debt and its people were self-sufficient; most raised their own food and made their own clothes.

No longer, as factories have sprung up. Many of the products people in this country use every day were made in China.

It has become interdependent with other countries, as its economy has gone from a planned, rationed system to one that can interact to benefit from globalization.

Interdependence has its price.

China, along with most countries of the world, feels the impact of the current economic downturn in the United States.

But, Liu said, China is in a better position than some to weather the storm, thanks among other things to having a large foreign currency reserve.

And, he said, there is growing do



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