SAIS China Initiative Explained

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Professor David Lampton lectures during his course on Chinese Foreign Policy. (Sarah Rashid)
Professor David Lampton lectures during his course on Chinese Foreign Policy. (Sarah Rashid)


In October, Dean Vali Nasr announced Professor David M. Lampton, director of China Studies, would lead SAIS China, an initiative intended to facilitate Nasr’s One SAIS vision for the school.

Lampton described the initiative as a way to coordinate all of SAIS’ relationships with China in the 21st century.

“I think it’s fair to say that there was often no coordination and little understanding [before] as to the totality of what SAIS was doing in China,” Lampton said. “We want to bring one conceptual mind to work to say what do we want the total footprint of SAIS activity in China to look like.”

To date, SAIS’ footprint has mostly consisted of its involvement with the Hopkins-Nanjing Center and SAIS’ China Studies curriculum based in Washington. However, the potential footprint for SAIS could encompass a variety of activities.

“The place to begin with SAIS China is SAIS in China, one of which is the Nanjing Center, but that’s not the only one,” said Lampton.

The HNC has existed as a joint venture between Johns Hopkins University and Nanjing University since 1986. Each partner has a 50% say in the administration of the Center and a 50% responsibility for its finances.

In the past few years in particular, more responsibility for the HNC has been transferred to the SAIS administration for management and away from JHU in Baltimore. SAIS China is intended to help SAIS articulate a vision for its role in HNC management as SAIS takes on more responsibility for the Center.

However, the initiative will not affect the existing structure or operation of HNC.

“There will be no name change, no functional change, no core mission change,” said Carolyn Townsley, Director of the HNC Washington Support Office. “There is still an American co-director and a Chinese co-director.”

Instead, SAIS China will focus on integrating HNC with the rest of SAIS through advances in curriculum, research opportunities, fundraising and alumni development and student flow.

In the past, Lampton said, with many layers of bureaucracy surrounding the HNC, it has been difficult for outsiders to approach the correct individual for an idea or request.

“SAIS China will provide a bureaucratic consolidation so that outsiders know who to talk to,” he said.

Both Lampton and Townsley expressed hope that that initiative would help SAIS address recent budgetary challenges at HNC, which has sometimes faced an operating loss greater than $1 million per year.

“One of the objectives is to up the fundraising efforts for China efforts,” said Lampton, in reference to SAIS China’s goal to improve development efforts for HNC.

Curriculum updates are also in the works (in full consultation with the Chinese partners). One change already underway is the availability of ERE as a concentration for HNC students beginning next year (For more information, see the accompanying article by Emily Walz.)

Lampton also saw the SAIS China initiative as a means to allow students to take advantage of any SAIS campus’ best resources. For example, SAIS students from other campuses can now take courses in Nanjing and receive full credit for them, as long as concentrations agree to do so.

Finally, SAIS China would likely play a role in increasing the research stature of the HNC.

“The Nanjing Center has been more of a teaching institution than strictly speaking research,” Lampton said. “So over the long-run, we’d like to increase the research quotient.”

SAIS’ China Studies Program is SAIS’ second major engagement with China, and Lampton hoped the new initiative would allow his department to be more closely integrated with HNC as well as other world-class institutions like Tsinghua University in Shanghai and Fudan University in Beijing.

“For instance, we have a Ph.D program,” said Lampton. “And our students need places to go in China that will provide them a home while they’re away, where they can do their research and provide them access to Chinese units maybe for interviewing or field research or libraries and so on.”

Additionally, students can now take courses at Nanjing University and get credit in China Studies for their work.

Beyond HNC and China Studies, Lampton saw the initiative bolstering SAIS in ways related to jobs, internships, professor exchanges and relationships with other universities in China.

“SAIS students need to be able to have internships and jobs in China,” he said. SAIS China would lay the groundwork for SAIS to make connections with corporations and government entities.

Additionally, SAIS has developed relationships with Tsinghua University to allow Ph.D and up to M.A. students to engage in an exchange each year.Fudan University is making fellowships available to SAIS faculty, researchers, and advanced students.

All of these additional initiatives represent different aspects that could come to define the SAIS China initiative.

“It’s how to get more involvement of different kinds that meet the needs of our students and faculty,” said Lampton.

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