The Newsletter 83 Summer 2019

Asian studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences: a retrospective

Lei Tang

In the winter of 1963, before visiting the African countries, Premier Zhou Enlai submitted ‘A Report on Strengthening Research about Foreign Countries’ to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC), which had been formerly endorsed by the Central Foreign Affairs Leading Group. In the report, Zhou proposed to strengthen research on foreign affairs by establishing institutes of area studies in response to the changed international status of China as a big country with the world’s attention. This report was approved by Chairman Mao on 31 December 1963. After that, area studies in China took off.

The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) is a case in point. It was originally the Philosophy and Social Sciences Division under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, formed in June 1955. It was during the 1960s and 1970s that CASS gradually took shape and developed its capacities in Asian studies. The main body of Asian studies at CASS today is composed of a number of administrative offices and institutes founded prior to its very own establishment and now generally associated with international studies. For example, the Institute of West Asian and African Studies was established in 1961. In 1965, the Research Institute of Soviet Union was established and later became part of the CPC Central Foreign Liaison Department and finally absorbed into CASS in the early 1980s.

After the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), the Chinese government resumed its promotion of research on humanities and social sciences and proposed new development agendas of area studies. A number of new institutes were added after the establishment of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in 1977. They included the Institute of Japanese Studies (1978); the Institute of South Asian Studies (1978), renamed the Institute of South Asian and Southeast Asian Studies in 1986; as well as the Institute of Russian, Eastern European and Central Asian Studies.

In 2006, CASS restored the Academic Division system [xuebu zhi 学部制] and established five divisions to cover Literature, History and Philosophy [wenshizhe 文史哲], Economics [jingji 经济], Sociology, Politics and Law [shehui zhengfa 社会政法], International Studies [guoji yanjiu 国际研究] as well as Marxist Studies [makesi zhuyi yanjiu 马克思主义研究]. While bits of Asian studies can be found across all the divisions, the main institutes are in the Academic Division of International studies, namely the Institute of Russian, East European and Central Asian Studies, the Institute of Asian Pacific Studies (renamed as the National Institute of International Strategy in 2011), the Institute of West Asian and African Studies, as well as the Institute of Japanese Studies. These institutes cover the regions North, South, Southeast, West, East and Northeast Asia. Besides the research institutes, there are more than a dozen non-entity research centers of Asian studies, which coordinate interdisciplinary and trans-institutional research. The latter includes the Gulf Research Center, the Research Center of Australia, New Zealand and South Pacific Areas, and the Korea Research Center. In March 2002, with the support of the Korea Foundation for Advanced Studies (KFAS), the CASS Center for Asian Studies was established to promote Asian studies at CASS through funding projects and international exchanges. The CASS Center is one of the 18 Asian research centers the KFAS has sponsored in Asia with two-thirds of them in China.

Today, CASS has become China’s largest, most influential and comprehensive academic organization. It undertakes the dual roles of academic research and governmental think tank. Hundreds of researchers here are engaged in research on regional and international issues, and about one hundred of them are engaged in Asian studies, with 40 scholars in the Institute of Japanese Studies alone. On the one hand, the researchers are engaged in basic academic research, including organizing and compiling comprehensive introductions to the latest developments in different areas in Asia on a large scale (all Asian countries have their respective introductions), and hosting such research reports as Central Asian Yellow Book, Annual Report on Development in the Middle East and Africa and Japan Blue Book. On the other hand, they also provide policy advice to the government and write reports for internal circulation.

CASS has more than 80 national academic journals. The ones related to Asian studies are World Economics and Politics, West Asia and Africa, Journal of Contemporary Asia Pacific Studies, Russian, East European & Central Asian Studies, Japan Studies, Contemporary Korea. It supervises more than 100 national-level academic associations, including the Chinese Association of West Asian and African Studies, Chinese Association of Asia Pacific Studies, Chinese Association for South Asian Studies, etc. It owns five national-level publishing houses. Through these academic institutions and platforms, CASS also plays the important role of organizing and promoting Asian studies across the country.

Lei Tang, Associate Professor and Secretary General, Center for International China Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences