Graham School News

Open-to-All Courses in the Liberal Arts Features Kenneth Pomeranz on New China Studies Sequence

3/15 Liberal Arts Open House

On March 15 at the University of Chicago Gleacher Center, the Graham School’s Open-to-All Courses in the Liberal Arts team hosted an open house featuring keynote speaker Kenneth Pomeranz, University Professor of Modern Chinese History at UChicago, whose presentation covered the new China studies sequence while extolling the value of such an initiative in advancing this important area of study.

Learn more about China Studies Course series

Those attending the open house also had an opportunity to speak with instructors from the many course categories offered through the Open-to-All Courses in the Liberal Arts while also engaging in conversation with cultural partner representatives from UChicago’s East Asian Center, the Oriental Institute, and the Court Theatre.

As an honored guest, the Deputy Consular General Jun Liu was also in attendance. Accompanied by staff from the Chinese Consulate in Chicago, Liu was asked to pick the winning raffle ticket whose winner received a complimentary class valued at $360.

“There are 80,000 Chinese students studying in the Midwest,” Liu said before selecting the lucky winner, “and 300,000 across the United States. We can only wish for an equal number of students from the United States to be studying in China so that the mutual knowledge and appreciation between our two cultures might continue to grow and deepen.”

Echoing Liu’s remarks, Hong Brunner, program manager at the Graham School, also hoped in her introductory remarks that the new China studies program might be a catalyst driving greater understanding of Chinese culture and history among the Graham School community and beyond.

“If through the China studies courses you come to think of Chinese culture and civilization as much as you already think about Chinese food, then we know our initiative will have been a success,” she said.

Beginning his presentation by noting that China is presently the second largest economy in the world and the largest single-country trading partner with the United States, Kenneth Pomeranz, whose book The Great Divergence: China, Europe, and the Making of the Modern World Economy won the John K. Fairbank Prize and shared the World History Association book prize, remarked that the value of paying attention to China today is hardly in doubt.

Kenneth Pomeranz

He explained, however, that the rich and interconnected traditions of China, which form part of the oldest continual living literary tradition, often present a formidable barrier to understanding. They tend to take an investment of time and hard work to begin to enjoy, he said.

“But getting to know China is hardly impossible,” he emphasized. “In my experience, what most gets in the way of a person’s coming to understand and appreciate China and its history isn’t a matter of knowledge or a lack thereof. The challenge in getting to know China lies in those things people think they know, such as the supposed facts floating around in the air we assume as knowledge, but which aren’t actually true at all. What I like about each of the classes offered in the China studies sequence is that each one offers opportunities to undermine these widely assumed truths.”

His presentation went on to weave a fascinating overview of the trajectory of Chinese history by elucidating the major themes of several of the course offerings in the China studies sequence. Noting the near parity in development between China and the West until the eighteenth century in terms of wealth and human life expectancy, he highlighted what he calls the great divergence that saw the West surge ahead in all the key development indicators for the next 150 years leaving China behind.

It led to what Pomeranz called the “staggering set of transformations” that took place in China over the course of the twentieth century, a list of superlatives that range from the single largest redistribution of property in human history to a 40-year period of the longest and most sustained economic growth in human history, coupled with a rate of urbanization also historically unprecedented.

“We’ve all gone through the twentieth century together, as we will the twenty-first,” he concluded. “But together doesn’t mean identical, and that, I think, is why it’s so important and so exciting to both study the similarities and differences between China and the West. It’s also why I’m so pleased to see the Graham School taking this new initiative.”

With the conclusion of the evening’s feature presentation, the open house attendees spent the remaining time dipping into the food and beverages while networking with fellow students, course instructors, and representatives from the Graham School’s cultural partners.

about china studies course series

Given the ascendency of China on the world’s geopolitical and economic stage, it is important to promote understanding of the two peoples and their cultural traditions. The program is designed to highlight four major time periods: Ancient China: Foundations of Chinese Thought; the Silk Road and Buddhism; China and the West: The Great Divergence; and Modern Chinese History: 1911–Present. Click here to view and register for China Studies courses. 

about open-to-all courses in the liberal arts

Our non-credit courses in the humanities, arts, and sciences aim to provide the foundational liberal arts education to adults to elevate their understanding of how people, life, and the world work. Course categories include: Arabic language and cultures, arts, China studies, classical Greek studies, history and politics, literature, music, philosophy, and religious studies. Most courses are offered in downtown Chicago. Click here to learn more about Open-to-All courses in the liberal arts.