Newsletter No. 52 (December 2007)

Celebrating Australian China Scholarship

Andrew Gosling

Former Chief Librarian (1985-2003)
Asian Collections, National Library of Australia

The Chinese Studies Association of Australia 10th Biennial Conference was entitled “Celebrating Australian China Scholarship”. It was held at Griffith University, South Bank, Brisbane from 27-29 June 2007. I have attended all 10 conferences, since the first, held at the University of Melbourne in 1989, and it is good to see that CSAA is flourishing.

As its title indicated the 10th conference aimed to celebrate Australia’s China scholars. Several were singled out for praise including the keynote speakers Dr Antonia Finnane of the University of Melbourne and Dr John Makeham of the ANU, both of whom have been awarded the Joseph Levenson Book Prize in recent years for their writing on Chinese topics. Both also happen to be long-term and active users of libraries including the National Library’s Asian Collections. The other keynote speakers were the artist Guan Wei and the writer and oral historian Sang Ye (whose Chinese collection was acquired by the National Library).

The opening ceremony was held in the magnificent Queensland Conservatorium. Prof. Geremie Barme of ANU gave a spirited and provocative opening address “Beijing reoriented: an Olympic undertaking” about what he regarded as the detrimental architectural and environmental effects of preparations for the 2008 Olympics. The vote of thanks by Prof. David Goodman of UTS, Sydney was unusual as he took Geremie to task for being too negative and emotive.

The conference dinner took place at Brisbane’s new Gallery of Modern Art’s Foyer Café. This was the first time the gallery had opened at night especially for an outside event. It is a splendid venue. Fr Jeremy Clarke of ANU spoke eloquently about the history and future of CSAA. In his remarks about the strengths of the organization he paid tribute to the role of librarians, who have supported CSAA since its beginnings.

There was a reasonably strong library presence at the conference. Librarians attending included Hongli Jia and Darrell Dorrington from ANU, Nancy Li from the University of Sydney, Bick-har Yeung from the University of Melbourne, and from the National Library Wan Wong and Irina Chou as well as me. Wan Wong gave an excellent presentation, “Gateway to China: how Australian libraries have supported China scholarship” at the Australia-China Encounters panel, chaired by John Fitzgerald.

It is difficult to assess the conference overall, when there were so many concurrent sessions and it was only possible to go to a few. One encouraging sign was the high standard of papers by younger scholars. For example at the Governing Bodies panel chaired by Luigi Tomba, the talks by Lavender (Ziling) Ye of ANU on “Zishi nu : sisterhood in the Guangdong delta” and Ning Zhang of the University of Adelaide about “Social perspectives on secondary vocational and technical school education in urban China” were well researched, lively and well presented. Unfortunately a few of the older and more established academics gave rather tired and unoriginal papers.

CSAA conferences are always friendly and enjoyable. The setting by the river at Griffith’s South Bank campus was most pleasant even if Queensland’s weather in late June was chillier than those of us from colder parts of the country had expected. Brisbane’s South Bank is a much more attractive and less commercial waterside arts and recreation district than its Sydney and Melbourne equivalents. Before the conference I was able to take a cruise down the river and to walk across to the botanical gardens on the city side

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