AMHERST, Mass. - On May 15 at 2:30 p.m. at the Washington Monument, Washington, D.C., University of Massachusetts history professor Fred Drake will join a number of U.S. and Chinese dignitaries to commemorate the 150th anniversary of a ground-breaking event in U.S.-China relations.
The ceremony, which Drake arranged in conjunction with visiting UMass Chinese scholar Ren Fuxing, will honor the completion of a book by Chinese statesman Xu Jiyu (1793-1873). Xu wrote about the world beyond China, says Drake, and is today known as the foremost pioneer in taking "the Middle Kingdom" into the modern era of foreign relations.
"Xu was a great admirer of George Washington and in his book ''Yinghuan zhilue'' (''A Short Account of the Maritime Circuit''), published in 1848, Xu praised what the first president was trying to accomplish in America," says Drake. "When the Washington Monument was under construction, Chinese officials who appreciated Xu''s liberal ideas sent the U.S. government a plaque inscribed with one of Xu''s laudatory descriptions of Washington, and today this is located on the monument''s 220-foot level."
The ceremony will begin at 2:30 p.m. on the south side of the monument and will last until approximately 3 p.m. Professor Ezra Vogel, director of Harvard University''s Fairbank Center for East Asian Research, will speak on Xu''s significance in early Sino-American relations. Following Vogel''s remarks, visiting UMass scholar Ren will say a few words before presenting mementos from his institution to representatives of the Washington Monument. Howard Lange, director of the Office of Chinese and Mongolian Affairs in the U.S. State Department, and Minister Zhou Wenzhong, deputy head of the Chinese embassy, will conclude the affair. Afterward, a guide will take those interested into the monument to view Xu''s inscription. U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and U.S. Rep. John Olver, D-Mass., are also invited to attend.
During and after his lifetime Xu''s reputation has risen and fallen in China because of his liberal views, says Drake. Soon after the publication of his book, he was denounced by conservatives and ultimately removed as the governor of Fukien province. However, 13 years later, the emperor restored him to power, and he served as an eminent statesman on behalf of China''s modernization in the 1860s. After the 1949 revolution, Xu was again castigated as a traitor because of his pro-American outlook, and his name was nearly erased from history. In 1990, however, a movement began to restore his reputation as China''s earliest exponent of a more open foreign policy, and the Xu Jiyu Research Society was created to study Xu''s role in history. Visiting UMass scholar Ren is secretary-general of the society.