Quick-jump to: Charles Nesson | C.K. Jor | Jerry Mechling | Peter Cawley | (more to come...)
Prof. Charles Nesson [Harvard Law School, teaches Evidence and directs the Berkman Center for Internet and Society]: Can the Internet be a win for China rather than something to be feared? Is Internet the new Opium?
The Internet strategy of Digital China/Harvard is to develop educational content from Harvard's intellectual capital and that of related institutions, flow it onto the Net, generate reciprocal relations with Chinese institutions, produce a channel that organizes Internet space, and focuses it around education.
On the website we are developing, we want different thematic threads. One thread is to be about the film "The Opium War." What do we think about the film? What are our questions? What issues does the film raise?
The Web site for Digital China/Harvard is "http://cyber.harvard.edu/ChinaDragon/". Questions on the website relating to the Opium War, both in history and in film, invite discussions in which you may participate online. You may access the site, key into a question and add your own thoughts, your own responses.
Now I would like to solicit your comments about the film you saw last night.

- top -
C.K. Jor [Hong Kong citizen and Harvard-Yenching Visiting Scholar 1997-98]: When I saw the movie I was very much moved. I learned a bit more about myself, about the story of Hong Kong (it depends on who told me the story), the history, the pain and suffering of the people of my land.
And I want to say something about the Internet in China; not just in political China but the cultural China. The Internet is a very powerful tool for education and a useful bridge for academic and cultural exchange.
I agree with Professor Tu Weiming that Harvard should exercise discretion in how Harvard should pose itself when communicating with China, or more broadly speaking, with cultural China. By that I mean not just the Mainland China, bu the people of Taiwan, Singapore, and overseas Chinese, not to mention the people of Hong Kong. Harvard should not pose itself as a center of power and wealth, but rather as a center for learning.
It is very important to find partners to communicate with. A telephone without someone on the other end is useless. The same principle applies to the Internet. If you can build some kind of educational partnership with Chinese universities, for example, with The Chinese University of Hong Kong , with Peking University or Fudan University, etc., then I think you have a bigger chance of helping people better understanding each other across cultures. On the point of building educational partnership, I would recommend, in particular, better ties with The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) -- the university I happen to know the best. CUHK happens to be the first university in Hong Kong to have broadcast or rather "narrowcast" radio and televisio news on the Internet since 1992. There are three strong reasons for my recommendation.
First, The Chinese University of Hong Kong is technologically ready. I noticed that the Digital China /Harvard Project has already had many links to the CUHK website concerning news about the return of Hong Kong to China. Technologically, CUHK has a very good track record of academic use of Internet technology.
Second, The Chinese University of Hong Kong is vibrant in Chinese studies. It is probably one of the best places for scholars from the West to study and to do research on Chinese-related issues. Many China studies scholars would testify to the powerful combination of academic freedom, mass media and the modern telecommunication infrastructure at CUHK. There are established research institutes already in place, such as the Asia-Pacific Center, Hong Kong-America Center, and Independent Learning Center and the Research Institute for Humanities (RIH) where one can find lots of online Chinese studies resources such as Chinese Phonetic Dictionary, Lexicon of Confucianism, to mention but a few. The Computer Services Center (CSC) of CUHK houses the heart of the Hong Kong Academic Research Network (HKARNet), to mention just a few of these resources. One of the best persons to contact is Mark Sheldon (marksheldon@cuhk.edu.hk), Director of the Hong Kong-America Center.
Third, CUHK is a truly bilingual and bi-cultural center of learning. The majority of the faculty staff, researchers and even students are competent in both the English and Chinese language (including Mandarin Chinese and many local dialects). As one of the best centers in the studies of language and culture related to China studies and academic research, CUHK enjoys excellent connections with major universities in China, Taiwan, Singapore, and, of course, other universities in Hong Kong as well as academic institutions overseas. For instance, the Harvard-Yenching Institute has invited, over the years, quite a number of visiting scholars from CUHK to come to Harvard and to conduct research on East Asian studies. They can be contact persons for the Digital China/Harvard Project. Yet, these links and resources have to be established, maintained and developed. In this area, a web presence like that of the Digital China/Harvard project can be very helpful.
As a visiting scholar at the Harvard-Yenching Institute, I am helping the Institute to build a dynamic web presence for Visiting Scholars 1997-98. A lot more can be done if we work together, share resources and explore possibilities of collaboration before I complete my work and go back to Hong Kong soon. The Digital China/Harvard Project can mirror the website and the database I have built on the one and hand and grant me permission to help The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) to mirror the Digital China/Harvard website on the other. That will make it much easier and faster for the academic communities on both sides of the Pacific to communicate with, to build links between, and to increase access to each other.

- top -
Professor Jerry Mechling [Harvard, teaches Information Systems at the Kennedy School]: I see an analogy between the Opium War and our present situation involving trade on the Internet. The film shows two big countries involved in an enormous conflict and what impressed me so much was the narrowness of the interfaces between the two. It seemed in the movie that the people representing both societies and the societies in general had very few points of real contact with each other and very limited information as to what each was doing.
Today's technology certainly opens up the possibilities of many, many more sources of contact and communication and information flowing between nations. Trade has always served to expand such communication links. But twentieth century technology, particularly trade and other interactions on the Internet, could expand and change this fundamentally, teaching nations much more about their adversaries and allies.
Diplomacy and relations between societies used to be determined largely by the "official" representatives of governments. But much more complex interactions among all sorts of people -- those involved in trade, those interested in their family roots, those deep into basketball or ancient arts -- could lead to a different kind of diplomacy and different relations between socieities. Perhaps better relations, and certainly different.

- top -
Peter Cawley [President and CEO of the 2B1 Foundation]: I am an Internet scholar, not a China scholar. One thing I noticed in the movie was a very strong absence of the role of the common Chinese in this whole conflict.
Someone mentioned earlier that the 1959 film showed a peasant attack as part of the military activity. This film had nothing of that sort. To represent the people as a force of any kind resisting the British, even to take advantage of the opportunity to show the British brutalizing innocent people and razing towns as they did was not seen as appropriate in 1994 when the film was written? I found this to be a striking absence.
My second reaction was quite different, perhaps introducing a new thread. One person mentioned that the movie was about foreign relations, but think it was also about the technology gap, and that this could be a thread for your ongoing site discussion. It is not merely that the British guns reached further than the Chinese guns, but also the British were allowed to claim superiority in cartography and understanding of the landscape of China that China itself did not posess. This is pretty striking given the origin of the film.

- top -
Additional segments of the March 6 transcript will be posted as soon as possible... watch this space!