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Notre Dame Professor talks about contemporary China in Vail

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Special to the DailyLionel Jensen
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Notre Dame Chair and Associate Professor Lionel M. Jensen will speak tonight in Vail. Professor Jensen will explore the ongoing resurgence of anti-Chinese unrest in Tibet and a democratic election in Taiwan and how current developments and their implications will impact our relations with the second most powerful country in the world.

“The Vail Symposium is excited to launch this partnership with the Vail Notre Dame Alumni Club. The Hesburgh Lecture series gives us access to incredible experts and interesting speakers on a variety of timely topics,” said executive director Liana Moore. “We are looking forward to Professor Jensen concluding a month that explored Asia from different perspectives.”

Jensen has been on the faculty at the University of Notre Dame since the fall of 2000. He is the author of “Manufacturing Confucianism: Chinese Traditions and Universal Civilization,” recognized in 1998 as the Best First Book in the History of Religions by the American Academy of Religion. He has edited or co-edited five other works.



Vail Daily: What inspired your interest in Chinese history?

Lionel Jensen: When I was studying history at Williams College in the 1970s I became inspired by the courage, tenacity and willfulness of the Chinese people in waging a revolution against poverty, hunger, superlative disadvantage and international resistance to found a new independent socialist republic. From this point of interest I was drawn ever deeper into the study of the entire Chinese civilization from its earliest writing and mythology to contemporary politics and society. I have yet to resist the powerful pull of that initial inspiration.



VD: What concerns should American’s have about China?

LJ: I am concerned about a number of aspects of contemporary China that I believe we should be mindful of. First, China’s gargantuan and ever-increasing appetite for energy. This demand is spiraling upwards and places real strains on the global economy, and most importantly, the environment. Second, we should be aware that China aims to be recognized as a modern nation-state of considerable accomplishment, which means that it expects, and is deserving of, the respect of other nations, especially the United States. Third, the Chinese people are very disgruntled with their government, but given the lack of opportunity for genuine protest without fear of reprisal, their anger is repressed only to become a festering source of potential future opposition. So, it is important to understand that this popular unrest can be provoked by actions by the Chinese government, but just as well by posturing by foreign powers like the United States. China should be respected, but not feared.



VD: What is the most interesting group that you have lectured to?

LJ: To date I have lectured in a great many places, but I believe that the most interesting group was that which I appeared before in 2003 in Boulder at the Conference on World Affairs. Reflecting on it now, I think that my fellow lecturers and commentators, although inspired and unusual, were simply no match for the aggressive learners of the Boulder area community. I once spoke before a large Chinese audience in China some 20 years ago in Chinese and this may have been my most challenging audience.

VD: What can we expect from your lecture tonight?

LJ: I will aim in this lecture to provide the audience with a wider context for understanding the relations between Taiwan, Tibet and China. In the immediate circumstances of regional politics, Taiwan and Tibet are sources of considerable tension. The reasons, both past and present, for this tension will be explained as we explore the longer history of their relationships with China. Most importantly, we will learn that neither Tibet nor Taiwan has ever really been a part of China proper and that the language and culture of both countries is distinct and different from that of China, with respect to which Tibet and Taiwan are fiercely independent. The lecture will also provide insight into the complexities of the political economy of these countries to reveal the increasing mutual dependency of each.

VD: Tell us about the Hesburgh lecture series.

LJ: The Alumni Association of the University of Notre Dame launched this program 24 years ago in honor of father Theodore Hesburgh. The lecture program offers alumni clubs around the country the opportunity to select from the University’s 100 finest faculty who have been nominated to serve as Hesburgh lecturers. The faculty travel to different alumni club sites and offer lectures in their area of expertise thereby fostering learning and intellectual renewal while also forging lasting ties between the University and a wider public.

What: Notre Dame Professor Lionel M. Jensen, presented by the Vail Symposium.

Where: Manor Vail Lodge in Vail

When: Friday. Reception begins at 5:30 p.m., discussion at 6 p.m.

Cost: Free.

More information: Visit http://www.vailsymposium.org or call 970-476-0954.


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