Fieldwork interviews at the China Foreign Affairs University
Thanks to the Global South Doctoral Fieldwork Research Award from the International Relations Department at the LSE, as part of my PhD study into the topic of Chinese exceptionalism, I had the opportunity to spend about a month at the China Foreign Affairs University (CFAU), Beijing between May-June 2017 to conduct interviews with scholars of Chinese international relations.
More importantly, it allowed me a first-hand glimpse and understanding into Chinese society that would provide the framework to my study of Chinese international politics. While I had been to Beijing before, staying for a month meant that I had – to some extent – the opportunity to assimilate to local norms and way of life (as compared to a tourist visit).
Given that my arrival into Beijing occurred only a few days after the high profile Belt Road Summit, the expressway from the airport into the city was lined with flags from the over 130 countries represented at the summit, a reminder of China’s global ambitions and its massive international outreach of late.
Being based at the China Foreign Affairs University, which Chinese diplomats undergo training at, provided me with a great opportunity to not only acquaint with scholars of Chinese foreign policy, but also to appreciate the importance placed by the Chinese government in its training of its future diplomatic leaders. Walking around the CFAU, I get the impression that many Chinese students view the future careers as diplomats not just simply a way to earn a living, but also that they take tremendous pride in being able to speak and represent Chinese interests internationally.
I also participated in several taught master classes conducted by Professor Su Hao, a well-known scholar of China’s international relations. In addition I attended a roundtable on China-ASEAN relations, whose speakers include Prof Qin Yaqing (who heads the CFAU) and Prof Zhang Yunling (Director of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences). Given that one of my dissertation chapters include the study of China’s relations with Southeast Asia, the insights gleaned from the roundtable were extremely useful. In addition, I also had the opportunity to speak with various scholars from other well-known Chinese institutions such as Peking University, Renmin University and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. The meetings were very fruitful and provided important insights to further refining and clarifying some of my earlier assumptions made about China.
Finally, no visit to Beijing would be complete without visiting some of its famous historical sights (e.g. the Forbidden City, Great Wall, and Summer Palace) and trying out the local food. Given my conservative tastebuds, I gave some of the more exotic culinary a wide berth (fried scorpions, roasted cockroaches, anyone?). Notwithstanding my loss, I thoroughly enjoyed the time spent in Beijing. There is an old Chinese saying “it is better to walk thousands of miles than to read tens of thousands of books” (读万卷书不如行千里路) 。While I doubt I walked that much during my stay, the experience of living in Beijing proffered me with a clearer picture of the dynamic nature of Chinese society and its relations with the wider world.
The trip was made possible through the Global South Research Fellows fieldwork grant, awarded by the Department of International Relations, LSE.