At 4pm on April 6th, 2015, Professor Elizabeth Perry arrived at Blow Hall to conduct a lecture entitled “Reforming Chinese Higher Education: A New Great Leap Forward?” She had been invited to speak at William and Mary by the Confucius Institute as part of a new program called the Distinguished Scholar Lecture Series, which aims to invite one eminent and nationally acclaimed expert in various fields of Chinese Studies to campus each year to interact with faculty, staff and students and enhance campus knowledge about China and Chinese culture.
Professor Perry is the Henry Rosovsky Professor of Government at Harvard and Director of the Harvard-Yenching Institute, who specializes in the politics of China. She is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship, and holds honorary professorships at eight Chinese Universities. She has spent many years in China teaching and conducting research, and her experiences teaching and lecturing at many of China’s preeminent colleges and universities has given her a unique and thorough understanding of the growth of higher education in modern China. Many in the audience were also pleasantly surprised by her command of the Chinese language, which she used to clarify certain terms and events throughout her lecture.
WMCI Director, Professor Yanfang Tang, introduced the lecture with a few opening remarks and then ceded the floor to Professor Perry. Professor Perry’s lecture, which lasted a little over one hour, consisted of a review and analysis of the history of Chinese higher education, as well as educated predictions for its future development. She addressed the series of important higher education reforms that took place in China in the Post-Mao era, from the restoration of meritocratic entrance exams in 1977 to the launch of Project 985 more than twenty years later. Her personal experience as part of one of the first group of Americans to study abroad in China after a long period of isolation lent authenticity and interesting insights to the discussion.
Professor Perry also talked about how the resulting increase in college enrollment, investment of state funding, and internationalization of personnel and programs reflect the goal of raising Chinese universities in the global rankings. Her ability to explain such complicated subject matter in a simple way made everyone in the audience, scholars and students alike, feel like they had a much greater understanding of Chinese higher education’s current condition than they did before.
A question and answer session followed the lecture, in which students and faculty posed many insightful questions to Professor Perry, showing their interest and engagement in the subject matter. Many lingered after the lecture to continue the discussion over refreshments during the reception that followed. Professor Perry remarked later that she was very impressed with the high quality of William and Mary students displayed by the intelligent questions they asked.
The lecture drew an audience of over sixty people, filling the relatively small lecture space of Blow Hall 201. The audience consisted American students and Chinese International students, faculty, community members, and some visitors who came by especially for this event. WMCI is proud to have organized such a successful event and looks forward to future lectures in the Distinguished Scholar Series.