More than 40 people filled the Lowell House senior common room last night to hear Harvard's foremost expert on China reminisce about the development of East Asian studies at the University.
John K. Fairbank '29, Higginson Professor of History, who will retire this year after 41 years at Harvard, told the group that East Asian Studies here originated in 1922 when Harvard "decided that the world was round and there should be a course on the Far East."
Fairbank said the subsequent foundation of the Yenching Library in 1928 provided "the basis of Harvard's development" in the field. The development process culminated in the establishment of an East Asian Studies concentration in 1973, he said.
Fairbank colored his account with anecdotes, saying, "I offer these sidelights which are irrelevant but interesting."
He said his visit to China in 1942 convinced him the country was ripe for a Communist takeover although most Americans at the time thought of it as "a place where you could go on vacation," that "could only be taken away from the U.S. by a dastardly plot."
Fairbank said many Americans do not understand Communism because the United States bases its identity "on a large and exceptional heritage in which liberty under the law is it main expression."
"I think we're in the process of deciding the Chinese can't be Communists because we like them," he added.