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SAIS Professor, China expert comes to speak at Homewood Campus

By SARI AMIEL | February 13, 2014

On Monday, the Hopkins chapter of Global China Connection (GCC) hosted SAIS Professor David M. Lampton, an expert on U.S.-China relations, to discuss his recent book, Following the Leader: Ruling China, from Deng Xiaoping to Xi Jinping.

Joel Andreas, a professor of East Asian Studies, began by introducing Lampton. Lampton, the former dean of faculty at SAIS, is now the director of China Studies at SAIS. He was the president of the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations from 1988 to 1997. Lampton has also written other books, including The Three Faces of Chinese Power: Might, Money, and Minds, along with scholarly articles in a number of publications.

GCC members, other Hopkins students and members of the community came to hear Lampton speak. GCC is a non-profit international network, and the Hopkins chapter was founded in 2010. The Hopkins chapter has about 15 members who are active in the club’s committees and has a list of other students that it invites to its events.

“The main focus [of GCC] is to build connections between the U.S. and China,” sophomore Naomi Bouchard-Gordon, co-head of public relations, said. “There’s lots of people in the club who are either from China or have family in China.”

Over the past 40 years, Lampton had been taking notes on speeches made by various Chinese leaders, including political figures, CEOs of multinational corporations and university professors. One chapter of his book contains quotes from Chinese officials about stress-related nightmares and sleeplessness, a common theme in Lampton’s transcripts.

“I was sitting in my office one day…I was just wondering to myself, ‘what, after all these years, is in these file drawers,” Lampton said. “It’s a random selection, so to speak, of leaders across the space and time of China.”

Lampton said that China’s national power is increasing at a steep rate. At first, the international community did not view China as a possible threat, but, recently, China’s neighbors have increased military spending or sought closer ties with the U.S. in response to China’s growth. Lampton believes that the U.S. and China are in a technological competition; China is responding to U.S. military developments by creating technologies that counteract them.

“The key problem we face is that both the US and China are using each other as their big power planning horizon for military development,” Lampton said.

Lampton also discussed the Third Plenum of the 18th Party Congress, a Communist Party meeting in China that outlined economic reforms late last year.

“If China did do a substantial fraction of these things, it would prolong the period of high-speed economic growth for a decade or more,” Lampton said.

After writing his book, Lampton has sympathy for Chinese leaders, who govern roughly 20 percent of the world’s population and face both natural and man-made challenges.

“The life of a Chinese leader is punctuated by crises. . .at frequent and random intervals,” Lampton said. “Fatalities run into the hundreds of thousands when things go wrong in China.”

Additionally, Lampton said he would not want to be a Chinese leader because China has below-average per capita resources and because Chinese leaders are responsible for addressing policy disputes that could not be resolved at lower levels of government.

Lampton also talked about how China’s political system has changed from the time of Mao Zedong to the present. Under Mao Zedong, China had a strong political leader and a homogenous society of primarily peasants. The country lacked resources, such as income and knowledge. Today, China’s leaders are weaker, its society is more urban and differentiated and its resources have grown.

“This radical change has created a problem within the leadership. . .it’s becoming much more difficult to govern China,” Lampton said. “It seems to me that the Chinese political system needs to change.”

Lampton concluded by predicting that China’s major challenge will be adjusting its domestic system of government to China’s new, globalized society.

“I think [Lampton’s talk] was fantastic,” sophomore and GCC-Hopkins President Anson Shen said. “It’s very insightful. . .he has logic behind all his points, and he’s able to draw out examples. . .supporting himself. I spoke to him after the talk and he’s very approachable.”

Shen first contacted Lampton last year, but due to his busy schedule, Lampton was unable to speak to GCC until last Monday. GCC advertised the event online, as well as through posters, tabling and flyers. Freshman Jerry Ji, who is not a member of GCC, found out about it on Facebook.

“I [went] there because. . .I’m from China, and I’m pretty interested in how the relationship between the U.S. and China will become,” Ji said. “It was very informative, and it was actually pretty inspiring to some extent to listen to someone’s opinion about the U.S.-China relationship, but not from a Chinese publisher. . .I can understand what the other side is thinking about.”

Shen had expected the turnout for the speech to be slightly higher, while Bouchard-Gordon thought a decent number of people came.

“It’s always a little bit stressful at Hopkins to get people to actually show up to things,” Bouchard-Gordon said. “It was really exciting to have somebody as prominent in the field as [Lampton] is. When you consider that, you wish more people would come.”

GCC generally hosts speakers and organizes cultural events, such as a Chinese New Year celebration. This spring, the Hopkins and George Washington University GCC chapters are planning to host a conference on environmental issues in China.

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