Chinese President Jiang Zemin's speech in Sanders Theatre tomorrow marks the culmination of more than a year's worth of correspondence between Harvard University and the Chinese government.
Ford Professor of the Social Sciences and Co-Chair of the East Asian Languages and Civilizations Department Ezra F. Vogel first met Jiang and broached the subject of his possible visit to the United States during a trip to China in June, 1996.
"I knew Jiang Zemin was considering coming to the United States, and I told [his staff] that if they wanted to consider coming to Harvard, I would be glad to discuss the issue within Harvard University," Vogel says.
Vogel expressed Jiang's interest to President Neil L. Rudenstine, who then dispatched a letter to the Chinese president.
A letter is the standard practice a Harvard department must take to formally invite a head of state to speak at the College, says Joe Wrinn, director of the Harvard News Office.
Vogel says he visited China twice more in the last 18 months and kept in touch with officials at China's Washington embassy to discuss possible arrangements for a speech during Jiang's visit.
"The Chinese mainly wanted to be certain that in view of student demonstrations, he would be welcome, that the Chinese delegation not have security risks, that they avoid clashes," Vogel says.
The Chinese wanted a receptive audience, Vogel says, but Rudenstine and Dean of Faculty Jeremy R. Knowles convinced Chinese officials that it was in the "Harvard tradition" to take questions from the audience, Vogel says.
"Many universities in the United States invited Jiang," Vogel says. "But a few weeks ago, they notified us that they had decided on Harvard."
According to Sunday's Boston Globe, Jiang spurned the offers of various West Coast colleges so he could speak at the prestigious college in Cambridge, Mass.
"Why? Because it's Harvard," Jiang says, according to the Globe article.
Besides a visit to America's oldest college, Jiang's schedule included a myriad of other notable American landmarks, such as Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pa. and the colonial settlement of Williamsburg, Va.
The Globe also printed speculation that Jiang wanted to visit Harvard to one-up Taiwanese president Lee Teng-hui, who visited his alma mater, Cornell University, in 1995.
Within the last few weeks, Vogel says the preparations for Jiang's visit to Harvard have been hectic.
"We have had many rounds of discussions in the last few weeks, and the Executive Director of the Fairbank Center, Deirdre Chetham, has worked hard for many weeks, working out understandings with the Chinese and with the Harvard administration," Vogel says.
A committee consisting of Vogel, Professor of History William C. Kirby, Reischauer Professor of Japanese Politics Susan J. Pharr and William Kovitch, head of the Nieman Foundation, will meet today to select the questions to be answered by Jiang tomorrow, Vogel says.
The questions have been submitted "by members of the Harvard community" in the past few weeks, Vogel says, and focus on "fundamental issues concerned with China and its relations to the U.S."
Vogel says that although it required great effort to coordinate the visit, he feels the College is fortunate to have the chance to hear Jiang speak.
"It is the first time in history that the head of the largest nation in the world, China, will speak at Harvard," Vogel says. "We hope that he and his group go home with an impression that democracy works, that discussion is possible without creating chaos."