You are here

Fourth Annual China Symposium: Defining Chinese Modernity: Information, Economy, and Environment

This year's annual China symposium will have a panel discussion exploring the impacts of a growing economy on the Chinese society.

April 25, 2008 12:00am

Rapid expansion of the Chinese economy is associated with transformations in Chinese society, governance, urban infrastructure, media, and environmental practices. How this continuously ambitious and often startling set of changes can lead to sustainable and beneficial growth has become a matter of importance for China and across the world. This year, the China Symposium will explore how a modern China is defining itself and how it is being defined under the scrutiny of ever-increasing global attention.

To explore these complicated and fascinating issues, this year’s Symposium will focus on three primary topics:

  • Regulating Economy and Society
  • Environment and Quality of Life
  • Covering China—The Battle for the Story 


Welcome remarks and an introduction to the day’s discussion will be provided by Myron L. Cohen, Director of the Weatherhead East Asian Institute, and Lee C. Bollinger, President of Columbia University


The Honorable C. H. Tung, Vice Chairman of the National Committee of Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference and former Chief Executive of Hong Kong SAR, will deliver the keynote address.

Panel One: Regulating Economy and Society 

China ’s economic policy reforms have resulted in profound transformations in the country’s social and work practices, and have completely altered its legal and financial infrastructure. The continued prevalence of state-owned enterprises has resulted in a situation where the Chinese government is oftentimes required to be an entrepreneur and yet at the same time regulate itself. More recently, nascent nongovernmental organizations, activist lawyers, and popular protests have added grassroots pressure to the forces affecting change in Chinese society. This panel will assess the role that each of these groups play in shaping new models for governance, economy and social regulation. Our panel of experts from the field of human rights, intellectual property law, political economy, and modern Chinese history will discuss the challenges and difficulties of this ongoing process and debate what, if anything, will be distinctly Chinese about China’s struggle to forge a prosperous yet “harmonious” modern society.

Speakers include:
Mark Cohen, Intellectual Property Rights Attaché, American Embassy, Beijing
Sharon Hom, Executive Director of Human Rights in China (HRIC)
Xiaobo Lü, Professor of Political Science, Barnard College
Dali Yang, Director of the East Asian Institute, National University of Singapore

Moderated by:
Madeleine Zelin
, Professor of History and East Asian Languages and Cultures, Columbia University

Panel Two: Environment and Quality of Life

China ’s development strategy has propelled the country forward at a throttling pace of economic growth—but it has hitherto paid scant attention to the possible costs of this unharnessed growth. In recent years, however, the effect of economic development on the country’s environment and quality of life—such as toxic waterways, desertification, and rapidly increasing rates of pollution-related diseases—has become impossible to ignore. Environmental pressure has translated into social and economic pressure, as angry Chinese citizens increasingly take to the streets by the thousands to demonstrate against the widespread corruption that allows industries to pollute with impunity. This panel will examine the very real risk that environmental degradation poses to China’s long-term prosperity. It will look at whether or not, and how, China can balance its ambition for a modern industrialized economy with the need for more sustainable economic and environmental practices.

Speakers include:
Joseph Kahn, Deputy Foreign Editor, New York Times

Orville Schell
, Director of the Center on U.S.-China Relations, Asia Society
Jeffrey Wasserstrom, Professor of History, University of California, Irvine

Moderated by:
Steven A. Cohen, Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer of the Earth Institute, Columbia University 

Panel Three: Covering China - The Battle for the Story

What is China? From the beginning of the reform period until 1989, Western journalists have typically portrayed China as a communist country moving steadily toward greater degrees of political and economic freedom. More common in recent years have been headlines touting China as an economic competitor. For its part, the Chinese government has tried to shape the perceptions of the outside world: In the international arena, it has sought to portray itself as a “good neighbor,” for example, taking on a more prominent role of mediator between North and South, and participating in international peacekeeping. In the economic realm, it has done its best to forge a global “China Brand”. At the same time, the domestic Chinese media paint a more complex picture of a society caught up in a crucial debate over modernity and what it means to be Chinese in the modern world – in terms of lifestyles, values, domestic ethnic relations, class relations and rising nationalism. Our panel of media experts and representatives from civil society will give their perspectives on the struggle for the China story. They will discuss how China is portrayed/represented to internal and international audiences, as well as the difficulties faced by artists, novelists, journalists, and film-makers in telling their versions of this story.

Speakers include:
Jeremy Goldkorn, Founding Editor and Publisher,
Aryeh Neier, President of the Open Society Institute
Xiao Qiang, Director of the China Internet Project, University of California, Berkeley
Ye Weiqiang , Senior Editor of CAIJING magazine

Moderated by:
Benjamin Liebman
, Director of the Center for Chinese Legal Study, Columbia University

School of International and Public Affairs, Altschul Auditorium
Columbia University
9:00 AM-5:00 PM
April 25, 2008

Registration is required. Please RSVP to with your full contact information.

Phone Number: