Past Lectures

Reflections on Changing China

Thursday, Mar 03, 2022

This lecture will be composed of three sections. The first part will involve a discussion of how and why I got interested in China, from primary school in Edmonton, to my 1978 trip to China when the economic and social changes of the last four decades were just beginning. I was enamoured of Chairman Mao and the 1960s, 1970s narratives about him and the liberation achieved by the Chinese revolution. The second part will discuss my attitude towards China today, focusing on what I perceive to be negative aspects of human rights, health care, technology and international relations. The communist party of China is seen by many to be a major threat to stability in Asia and Western democratic nations more generally as the government has shifted from socialism to fascism. Finally, in order to leave participants with a more positive outlook, I will discuss the major achievements of the Chinese people and the communist party that have lifted an enormous population out of poverty and have made China one of the most powerful states in the world today. Never before has the population of China been more educated or had longer general life expectancies. China has successfully overcome seemingly endless foreign invasions, colonialism, and a devastating drug crisis that plagued its people and governments for over a century.

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China’s Urbanization: Progress and Challenges

Thursday, Feb 24, 2022

Over the past four decades, rapid economic growth has changed the landscape of Chinese cities, leading to unprecedented urbanization and bettering living conditions of people across the country. The phenomenal urbanization in China has been well documented, from symbolic skyscrapers with record heights in the world, international or world city frenzy, emerging world economic and transportation hubs, central business district fever, unstoppable spreading of franchise shops and malls, western style urban simulacra, new town and specialty town development, to massive suburban expansion. Certainly, there are many faces of China’s urbanization. This lecture will discuss four major themes in China’s recent urbanization: 1) Public Infrastructure Development. The nationwide development of high-speed railway, the expansion of urban rail transit systems, and the growth of railway station new towns have significantly increase people’s mobility within city and across the country; 2) Migration. The long existing urban-rural divide has been the main force behind migration. Involuntary resettled villagers and voluntary migrants are the sources of new urbanites in cities, which have involved millions of villagers in rural areas; 3) Aging Society. China has become an aging society after the implementation of the One Child Policy for about three decades. As a response, the country terminated the policy and replaces it with relaxed polices.

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Chinese Foreign Policy

Thursday, Feb 17, 2022

Chinese foreign policy is influenced and shaped by a number of factors, including its geographical and geopolitical environment, power (physical, economic and military), philosophical traditions, historical experience, communist ideology, national interests as identified by the Chinese leaders, and the personality traits and leadership styles of individual communist leaders. All these factors play different roles in influencing and shaping Chinese foreign policy. Based on their different impacts on Chinese foreign policy, the factors identified above can be put into two categories, conditioning and determining. While conditioning factors provide physical conditions, power foundation and parameters, and the historical, philosophical and ideological sources of Chinese foreign policy, determining factors directly set the direction and specific objectives of Chinese foreign policy and the ways in which the nation’s foreign policy objectives are to be achieved. The Chinese foreign policy since 1949 can well be explained by looking at these factors.

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Chinese Social Media: Promised Land or Panopticon?

Thursday, Feb 10, 2022

A latecomer to the adoption of digital communication technology, China now has nearly one billion Internet users. Just like you, Chinese take to the web for myriad reasons and find creative ways to express their views, despite tightening information control during the Xi Jinping presidency. This talk surveys the development of the Chinese Internet, explains the government’s intense preoccupation with censorship, and relates why Chinese social media have become disconnected from global conversations, while remaining spaces where people find community, solidarity, and love. Using the Covid-19 pandemic as a case study, Professor Esarey shows how social media have been used (and abused) by citizens and the state and what this tells us about life and politics in China today.

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Where East meets West: Understanding Hong Kong’s continuous history

Thursday, Feb 03, 2022

The recent 2019-2020 Hong Kong protests and the subsequent enactment of the National Security Law by Beijing have many worried over the future of Hong Kong. To understand the issues Hong Kong faces today, we must look to the past to understand the forces that have shaped Hong Kong’s strategic geographical, political, and cultural position at the edge of the Chinese and British empires. The history of Hong Kong is a fascinating one. It is not so much because it transformed itself from ‘a barren island with hardly a house upon it’ into a great metropolis of over seven million in a century and a half, it is also due to Hong Kong’s role as a meeting point of East and West that has made it an important part of modern Chinese history and British colonial history. With the question of its future hanging in the balance for much of its history, this talk will examine the key events that have shaped Hong Kong from its early days of British colonial rule, World Wars to Cold War, riots and reforms, and the 1997 handover period, will explain as to why ‘the Hong Kong story will continue to be written.’

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The Political Economy of China’s Rise

Thursday, Jan 27, 2022

China’s emergence as a major economic power has implications around the world. This talk offers an overview of the internal and external stories of China’s economic rise. How has China achieved its economic transformation since the late 1970s? What have been some social and political consequences of this transformation? What serious problems does China face in sustaining its economic growth in the coming decades? What political obstacles have hindered the solution of these problems? How has China expanded its economic presence overseas? Should the rest of the world worry about Chinese economic reach? The talk will address these questions in the hope of provoking discussions.

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Who, What and Where is China? Part 2

Thursday, Jan 20, 2022

Things fall apart, Things come together: From Empire, to Republic to One-Party State
In this lecture we will examine the events of the past 250 years which saw the state now known as the People’s Republic transformed from a Manchu multi-cultural and multi-ethnic empire that dominated the global economy, to a fractious Republic, and the world war and civil wars that created the Communist state. This lecture will highlight the shock to the Chinese political elite of China pushed from its seemingly natural role of regional and global hegemon in the 19th century and the quests since to reunify all territory considered part of China, making it once more a global superpower. I will assess the pros and cons of a militant politics of state building and state power that since the mid 19th century has turned its back on the traditional Confucian concept of putting people first, in favour of maintaining that strong state and its elite.

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Who, What and Where is China? Part 1

Thursday, Jan 13, 2022

In this lecture we will take the long view of Chinese history, culture, religion, ethnicity, and geography over 3,000 years. I will give you an introduction to Chinese dynastic history, and the cultural, political, and technological exchanges between China and its neighbours. I will highlight the creation of two interactive systems of governance; the ruling dynasties and the meritocratic exams for choosing bureaucrats, both of which affect the PRC today. We will examine the creation of Confucian-based ways of looking at state and society. We will touch on the expansion of historical China to its present boundaries and comment on the place of geography in Chinese history.

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