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“Teaching Political Theory in Beijing”

I first got in touch with Daniel A. Bell in 2001, when we were working on the Encyclopedia of Community, because he had written on communitarianism and also lived in Asia, which we were struggling to provide some coverage of. I met him when I visited Hong Kong in August 2002 and he mentioned that he and his wife, who is from the mainland, wanted to go to the PRC to live. Yesterday I e-mailed to let him know I would be in Hong Kong, only to find that for the last two and a half years he’s been teaching at Tsinghua University, where I spent Saturday afternoon. We spoke last night and will meet next time I’m over, and in the meantime I think this article “Teaching Political Theory in Beijing,” is well worth reading. Here’s how it begins:

When I tell my Western friends that I gave up a tenured, high-paying job in relatively free Hong Kong for a contractual post at Tsinghua University in Beijing, they think I’ve gone off my rocker. I explain that it’s a unique opportunity for me: it’s the first time Tsinghua has hired a foreigner in the humanities since the revolution; Tsinghua trains much of China’s political elite, and I might be able to make a difference by teaching that elite; the students are talented, curious, hardworking, and it’s a pleasure to engage with them; the political future of China is wide open, and I’ll be well placed to observe the changes when they happen.

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