The building created for the Australian Centre on China in the World (CIW) 中華全球研究中心, the founding of which was announced by the then Australian prime minister, the Hon Kevin Rudd, during his George E Morrison Oration of April 2010, was conceived by Geremie Barmé and Benjamin Penny and designed by the Beijing-based architect Gerald Szeto 司徒佐 in collaboration with the noted Canberra architects Munns Sly Moore and the builders at John Hindmarsh Pty Ltd.
The Centre moved into the new building in March 2014 and we celebrated with a ‘soft opening’ over a number of days in early May that year (see ‘1-5 May 2014: A Building, Two Films, an Exhibition, Two Lectures, a Podcast and Two Performances‘). Those festivities culminated on 5 May when Gerald Szeto presented the fourth annual CIW oration, ‘The Architecture of Education in Canberra and Beijing’. Gerald and his colleagues at Mo Atelier Szeto Architects subsequently designed the facilities for the Yenching Academy 燕京學堂 at Peking University.
On the morning of Tuesday 27 October 2015, the Minister of Education and Training, Senator the Hon Simon Birmingham, in the company of the vice-chancellor of ANU, Ian Young, the head of the CIW Advistory Board, the Hon Warwick Smith, and in the presence of Gerald Szeto with our local architects and builders, and with an audience of some 200 people gathered in the forecourt of the CIW building, announced formally that the building was open.
The following is an edited version of remarks I made on that occasion.
— Geremie R Barmé, Founding Director, CIW
Minister Birmingham and Vice-Chancellor Ian Young, Warwick Smith, Gerald Szeto, friends from Munns Sly Moore Architects and Hindmarsh, Michael Wright, Ben Penny, Liz Eadle, Dean, Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen:
It is a great pleasure for me to be marking the hard opening of this building here today, some eighteen months since our three-day long soft opening in early May 2014, one that culminated in Gerald Szeto presenting the fourth CIW Annual Oration. I’m honoured to have been invited by our new director, my colleague Benjamin Penny, to mark this occasion by presenting the fifth CIW Oration last night on the topic of ‘New Sinology in the Xi Jinping Era’.
First, I would like to thank Kevin Rudd for his vision in supporting my ideas to create this centre; I thank our former vice-chancellor, Ian Chubb, for his leadership and for allowing me to enlist the services of my old friend Gerald Szeto to envisage the concrete shape of our Centre, and Ben Penny for his dedicated work with our architects and builders in realising this building.
The Centre was born during a particularly fraught moment in the Australia-China relationship, one that I think of as our annus horribilis sinensis. It was 2009 and during that time there was something of a negative trifecta in the bilateral relationship:
- First, in June 2009, there was a rancorous controversy rising from the failed bid by the Chinese aluminium giant Chinalco to invest in Rio Tinto;
- This was followed in July by the arrest of the Australian-Chinese Rio Tinto executive Stern Hu; and,
- It culminated in official Chinese fulminations over an invitation by the Melbourne International Film Festival to the Xinjiang/East Turkestan activist Rebiya Kadeer to attend a screening of a film about her life in August.
Earlier in the year there were suggestions that the ANU-trained, Chinese-speaking Prime Minister Kevin Rudd might prove to be Australia’s ‘Manchurian Candidate’. In April, the Labor politician Kim Beazley had openly criticised the Opposition for suggesting that Rudd ‘had assumed “roving Ambassador” status for China.’ For a time, the long-cherished bipartisan political unity on China policy was fractured.
In the event, this wobble in government was a boon for those interested in a more serious engagement with China, as well as for us here at the ANU who wanted to build on our long heritage of studying the Chinese world. Indeed, it led in September that year to Kevin Rudd and myself devising the creation of this Centre, and to the announcement of its founding in April 2010 as part of a major Commonwealth Government and ANU collaboration. And, Minister, with the help of your department, the vice-chancellor and his colleagues, as well as with the constant support of the deans of the College of Asia and the Pacific, this Centre became a reality, and is now flourishing. Indeed, its research thematics and approach to the study of contemporary China have inspired research programs at sororal institutions in the United Kingdom and North America.
The Australian Centre on China in the World is built on the principles of the humanities, the understanding of the human condition in all of its variety and complexity; it works on that basis to embrace the social science concern with society and the relationship between individuals and groups. Grounded in this approach to research and education it engages in practical terms with the concerns of long-term, sustainable public policy while producing work that is both on a par with the most sparkling international research on China and work that, in its various guises, is accessible to the interested public, the media and the business community.
We pursue this approach on the basis of what in the late 1940s the founder of ANU’s China research, the historian C P FitzGerald, called being a ‘candid friend’ and what later we articulated as being a zhengyou 諍友, that is an intellectual companion and interlocutor who speaks to both the Chinese world and to our own constituencies on the basis of principle and with critical independence.
Next year, ANU celebrates its seventieth year. Those of you who have seen our exhibition, China & ANU — diplomats, scholars, adventurers [the book-version of which, written by William Sima, will shortly be published] will know that China played a key role in the lives and calculations of some of the founders of this university and its early work on Asia and the Pacific. China scholars at ANU also have a record of outstanding scholarship and independent thought in relation to the Australia-China relationship. Let me remind you of a few of them and their achievements:
- In the 1950s, C P FitzGerald and Michael Lindsay both were clear-eyed thinkers about the People’s Republic of China at a time of national blindness;
- In the 1960s and 1970s, Steven FitzGerald helped construct the basis of a grounded understanding of contemporary China and Australia’s engagement with it;
- Pierre Ryckmans, my own mentor, is internationally celebrated as a clear eyed (and sardonic) observer both of Maoist and post-Mao China;
- Liu Ts’un-yan 柳存仁 through his scholarship made us a global centre for the study of China, and through his influence on the Hong Kong novelist Jin Yong 金庸, helped make kung-fu literature a world phenomenon;
- Wang Gungwu’s 王赓武 unique view of Chinese history and Asia and the Pacific continues to transform our understanding of what our colleague Michael Wesley calls ‘the neighbourhood’;
- Ross Garnaut was a key policy architect of this country’s economic boom; and,
- John Minford whose translations of Chinese literature, Sunzi’s dark classic The Art of War and, most recently, the Book of Changes, allow readers here and internationally to mind-meld with the grand, living traditions of China.
Again, I warmly acknowledge the support of Kevin Rudd, the Commonwealth and ANU in founding and nurturing this centre; I am grateful for the key role of Kim Carr and his department as well as his successors; the inspiration and guidance of our former vice-chancellor, Ian Chubb; the enthusiasm of Andrew McIntyre as dean of the College of Asia and the Pacific; Gareth Evans, our Chancellor, for his powerful interest in Asia and the Pacific; I acknowledge also the understanding and support of our present vice-chancellor, Ian Young, the contributions of Brock Glenn, Mandy Thomas and Liz Eadle, as well as of Judith Pabian. And I thank the ongoing engagement with our work of Veronica Taylor, Dean of our College of Asia and the Pacific.