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“The French university remains hermetic to China”


“There is a country dedicated to vengeance and justice, a country that will not lay down its arms, which will not lay down its spirit before the planetary confrontation. Already 300 years of the European era are fading, the Chinese era is already beginning”wrote André Malraux in 1967 in cache memories.

At a time when the Chinese Communist Party has just ended its XXe congress, with the enthronement of Xi Jinping for a third term marked with the seal “Make China great again”, Malraux’s prophecy takes on a particular acuity. What do we know of China, in France, today? What are our strengths in studying, analyzing and understanding the driving forces of this country of unique dimensions? What expertise do we have in the French university?

Forty years ago, at the dawn of the reforms driven by Deng Xiaoping, one could still consider China as a ” object of study “ left to the care of a small number of specialists—sinologists—from a few institutions. Today, China is a political, economic, military and scientific power whose action is deployed with force, determination and strategy, on a planetary scale. Faced with this multifaceted presence, have we developed our expertise capacities? Have we nurtured a broader and better informed knowledge of China within French society? Obviously, no.

Obstacle course

The question that is posed here is that of the serious deficiency of the French university in the creation of an expertise commensurate with the challenge that China represents. Our degree of expertise depends on the ability to produce fundamental research, at the university or in research organisations. Operational, complementary and necessary expertise, as in certain ministerial services or think tanks, is also intrinsically linked to the university. But what do we see? The number of positions for specialists in China remained broadly unchanged, still confined to a few specialized institutions and the CNRS.

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The university nevertheless trains a number of young researchers, with a remarkable production of theses based on solid field research and first-hand experience of the Chinese world. What happens to these young researchers at the end of the thesis? For many, it is first an obstacle course that begins: they find themselves tossed about as temporary teaching and research (TER) as a postdoc for years, with no prospect of scientific employment. Some manage to get one, by dint of perseverance, sometimes at an advanced age, but many of them give up or choose expatriation. The reason is simple: the university does not offer any opportunities for social scientists from China. It’s a huge waste, even though the need for expertise and training of young generations of French people on China is imperative.

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