By David Bandurski — We wrote in a recent post about the history of China’s relationship with the United States, drawing in particular on two Chinese perspectives. One of these was from Liu Shahe (流沙河), a writer and poet denounced as a rightist in the 1950s. [Frontpage Image: Headquarters of the Shansi Fund at Oberlin College.]

In his essay, delivered as a public lecture, Liu tells a second-hand story about the history in China of the Shansi Fund, an educational initiative undertaken by Oberlin College and supported, according to Liu, with U.S. Boxer Indemnities.

While the work of the Shansi Fund in China was effectively suspended when the Communist Party came to power in 1949, the connection was renewed at the outset of economic reforms. Liu says:

In the early days of economic reform and opening, Oberlin College’s “Shanxi Fund” dispatched a representative, a young man just 27 years of age, to mainland China to speak with Chinese government representatives. When they asked what business he had, he said he wanted to know whether the Mingxian Academy still existed. He was told by everyone that this Mingxian Academy had been moved back to Shanxi since the foundation of the P.R.C., and that the “Shanxi Engineering College” and “Shanxi Agricultural College” had been set up in its place. Later, this young man sought out a number of old teachers to find out whether or not this was true. Once he had sussed things out, he left without a word.

Shortly after posting the Liu Shahe translation, CMP did receive word from this “young man,” who has spent three decades with Oberlin Shansi and is now executive director:

I was charmed by the comments of Mr. Liu Shahe on Oberlin’s relationship with China — a good bit of myth, but well-intentioned. I think I must be the 27 year old he refers to. I’m now 62. I visited China first in 1979 and have been the Shansi Director since 1981. Our exchange programs in China are in some ways so much less than what Mr. Liu gives us credit for, and in many ways much, much more: less because we never have sent money to Chinese institutions since 1979, much more because since 1979 we have been engaged in people-to-people exchanges, sponsoring young Chinese intellectuals for a year at Oberlin and sending young Americans to China for two-year terms where they acquire language and culture and, above-all, appreciation for China’s social context. We have provided the support on our side and the Chinese institutions have provided the support on their side. Judging from the all of the challenges and triumphs of young, smart people from both sides that I have witnessed, I feel quite sure that this work of my lifetime has been worthwhile.

Carl W. Jacobson
Executive Director
Oberlin Shansi

Mr. Jacobson adds:

We do have a very extensive archive housed at Oberlin College. It is filled with letters, minutes, scrapbooks, photos, personal recollections, diaries, that sort of thing going back to 1881. You can locate the finding guide here. On the occasion of our centenary last year we published a retrospective volume . . .

The Shansi Association did provide considerable funding to the Ming Hsien Schools from the founding in 1907 until 1951. We helped create the institution which is now known as Shanxi Agricultural University, but our relations with that school since 1979 have been mutually supportive with each side covering in-country costs.

all the best,
Carl

[Posted by David Bandurski, February 11, 2009, 12:31pm HK]