More than 1,000 students from Harvard and across the nation flocked to campus this weekend to discuss the political, social, and economic aspects of China’s role in the world as part of the annual Harvard China Forum.
The weekend-long forum, which sported a waitlist of more than 500 students wishing to attend, featured presentations and panels on topics ranging from the venture capital space in China to Chinese urbanization, with the mission to answer the question, “Can China lead?”
Speakers included the former prime minister of Australia, Kevin M. Rudd, as well as the president of the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations, Stephen Orlins.
According to Eric Z. Wang ’15, the president of the Harvard China Forum, the conference attracted “unprecedented speakers and unprecedented levels of interest,” with large numbers of attendees packing into Science Center rooms in which the panels were held. The event has become a “yearly occasion” for many, Wang said, adding that he feels positively about the forum’s future.
One of the panelists, World Bank Vice President Xian Zhu, commented on the transformation of American interest in China, particularly at Harvard. He said that in his 28 years of regularly visiting Harvard and the United States more broadly, he has seen that interest has shifted from topics such as “the philosophy, history, and culture of China, in a very academic sense.” Given China’s increasingly prominent role in global business and financial markets, he said that interest in China as a current economic and political player has risen sharply.
One of the conference organizers, Carolyn R. Ye ’17, cited her interest in Chinese business and China’s “role as a growing superpower” as one of many reasons that she got involved in the conference.
“The way China is changing as a culture and economy are questions on everyone’s mind,” said Ye, who was a special programming associate for the conference. She added that her connection to China comes from years of visiting friends and family in China, as well as an interest in the history and philosophy of the country.
The conference drew many students from other universities as well. Stephen Quie, an international business major with a focus on China who attends Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota, said he found the conference valuable due to its holistic approach.
“You cannot do good business without a full understanding of China,” he said.
Meanwhile, David Guhl, a senior at Cornell University, said he was attracted to this particular conference because it draws a “huge concentration” of people with connections to mainland China and because many of the sessions were conducted in Chinese languages.
Richard Lessard, a senior at Dartmouth College and president of Dartmouth’s Global China Connection, said that he was interested in the conference partly because he will be working for a consulting firm in Shanghai next year.