Rowan professor to teach history to grad students at Beijing University


A dozen years ago, Edward Wang couldn't visit his native China, a victim of blacklisting due to his support for the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989.

This fall, Wang, a U.S. citizen since 1997, w

Once blacklisted for his pro-democracy stance, he's eager to return to China

A dozen years ago, Edward Wang couldn't visit his native China, a victim of blacklisting due to his support for the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989.

This fall, Wang, a U.S. citizen since 1997, will return to China as a sought-after scholar to teach Chinese graduate students about historical theory and historiography--the study of the writing of history.

Wang, a Washington Township resident, has been named to the Changjiang Chair Visiting Professorship at Beijing University. Starting this fall, he'll spend two or three months each year for the next three years teaching graduate and doctoral students at the university, the oldest and most prestigious university in China.

"It's equivalent to Harvard in China," says Wang, 49, a University history professor at Rowan for 15 years.

"The chair is endowed by the Minster of Education in China. They're aiming to recruit top scholars worldwide to help improve the country's higher education. It's a very big honor for me."

Wang, who grew up in Shanghai, earned his bachelor's and master's degrees in history from East China Normal University. He was an instructor there until 1987, and, in 1989, Wang sympathized with the Tiananmen Square uprising in which students, intellectuals, and labor activists staged demonstrations protesting China's Communist rule.

The protests became violent when the government ordered military crackdowns of the protesters. Estimates of deaths from the protests range from 200 (Chinese government figures) to as many as 3,000 (Chinese student association and Red Cross figures).

Wang earned his doctorate in history from Syracuse University, studying under prominent historians Joseph M. Levine, Georg G. Iggers and Norman Kutcher. His dissertation focused on origins of modern Chinese historiography.

Wang's blacklisting was lifted about a decade ago and he's now able to visit China at will.

"The first 10 years I was in the United States, I didn't go back for political reasons," says Wang, who recently stepped down as the department chair for history in Rowan's College of Liberal Arts & Sciences. "Since 1997, I've gone back often. I'm much safer now."

Wang grew up during China's Cultural Revolution (1966-76) and has been a witness, and participant, himself, to major historical events in China. The irony that he's being sought after by China's top university to teach about the writing and telling of history to graduate students isn't lost on him.

He hopes to broaden the analytical skills of his Chinese students during his professorship.

"Chinese students look at a book like it's Gospel," says Wang, who teaches courses on East Asian history at Rowan and is a founding member of the University's Asian Studies Program.

"That actually impedes in-depth study of history," he continues. "I want to bring in a different interpretation. In China, that might be hard. But we will try to diversify their view of history. I hope to help them gain a knowledge of how history was studied. Interpretations of history change over the years. And scholars recognize that everybody is going to have some kind of bias."

The professorship will inform his teaching at Rowan as well, says Wang, a former president of the Chinese Historians in the U.S. and a member of the editorial board of Chinese Historians.

Wang is the author of a number of books written in English and Chinese, including Inventing China through History (2001); Turning Points in Historiography: A Cross-Cultural Comparison (with Georg Iggers, 2002) and most recently, Mirroring the Past: the Writing and Use of History in Imperial China (with On-cho Ng, 2005).

"I'm looking forward to going back to update my knowledge, particularly for my Modern China class," he says. "With the partnership, we'll have an intimate connection with Chinese students. I feel a responsibility to students in China. But this also is a benefit for my own career and for Rowan students."