Cambria Press author Charlotte Furth (University of Southern California) spoke about her new book Opening to China: A Memoir of Normalization, 1981–1982 at the Cambria Press reception.
Below is a transcript of Professor Charlotte Furth’s speech:
“Many of you here may not even remember what it was like to study China during the Cold War, when we could not go there. But I began my teaching career in the mid-1960s, at its height. PRC was hidden behind the Bamboo Curtain. Taiwan and Hong Kong didn’t really count… You then can imagine how we responded to Nixon’s visit to China in 1972. Thrilled! The decade that followed was one of very tentative rapprochement and limited travel, via delegations approved by PRC authorities. Think “socialist tourism” two week guided tours, itineraries chosen by our hosts. . Nonetheless, we all schemed to get a place on a delegation—and then we wondered what on earth we had seen (1970s were the height of the cultural revolution as it turned out).
Then in 1979 President Carter negotiated full diplomatic relations. Among the changes: a full American diplomatic mission in Beijing, some Western journalists could be posted there, a few big banks set up shop, and the Fulbright program of international exchange of scholars and teachers, suspended since 1950, was resumed.
And I wangled a year in Beijing as a Fulbright teacher. Why and how the Chinese authorities choose a historian of China to teach young Chinese scholars about America is a curious story. The details are in the memoir, but it is one of many that show how uncertain PCR leaders were about the new relationship between us Americans and the Chinese—and also about the future direction of their own country. My students weren’t ordinary university students: they were mostly young and a few middle-aged scholars— products of education in Mao’s China. All one way or another had assignments to teach college-level English. They came to Beijing from all over the nation. Of course they were woefully unprepared: torn between curiosity about the outside world and anxiety about their own futures. But their lives were an amazing window into the revolutions history.
So the memoir is the story of our mutual encounter. I’d left my husband and daughter to embark on this adventure alone—and I wrote in detail about daily life in letters home—so much detail that my husband complained that I didn’t seem to miss him. It was true…I knew the letters would be a record of an unusual experience..and I also knew when I came home in 1982 that I wasn’t ready to write about it all. Thirty five years later, you have it. I am glad I lived long enough to do this!”
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Based on Professor Furth’s detailed notes and letters home at the time, this book evokes the unique atmosphere of expectation and frustration that characterized the first years of normalization. This book is a valuable account for specialists on Sino-American relations and on the formative years of the generation of Chinese who lead the People’s Republic of China today. It is also a fascinating read for anyone who wants to explore the pleasures and perils of Chinese and American struggles to understand one another.
Title: Opening to China: A Memoir of Normalization, 1981–1982
Author: Charlotte Furth
Publisher: Cambria Press
158 pp. | 2017 | Paper & E-book
Book Webpage: http://www.cambriapress.com/books/9781604979848.cfm