CI’s New York pres­i­dent ush­ers in new era

China Daily (Canada) - - PEOPLE - By PAUL WELITZKIN in New York paulwelitzkin@chi­nadai­lyusa. com

As the China In­sti­tute (CI) pre­pares to re­lo­cate to a new build­ing next year and ush­ers in a new era, Pres­i­dent James B. Heimowitz said the 88-year-old in­sti­tu­tion re­mains com­mit­ted to be­ing a win­dow into China for the United States.

“The China In­sti­tute was built on three pil­lars: cul­ture, ed­u­ca­tion and com­merce. We will con­tinue to uti­lize all three, but es­pe­cially cul­ture and ed­u­ca­tion, to pro­vide a win­dow into China and deepen ties be­tween the two na­tions,” he told China Daily.

Heimowitz was ap­pointed pres­i­dent of CI in Septem­ber. He takes the reins of an or­ga­ni­za­tion de­voted to build­ing a bridge be­tween China and the US.

“I think that’s one of the things that dis­tin­guish us from other or­ga­ni­za­tions that seek to fur­ther Chi­naUS ties,” he said.

“One of the main founders of the China In­sti­tute was Hu Shi who was one of the first Chi­nese stu­dents to study in the US in the early part of the 20th cen­tury. He saw the need for an or­ga­ni­za­tion to en­lighten both pop­u­laces about their re­spec­tive cul­tures. Most of the other or­ga­ni­za­tions were started by Americans.”

With the help of well­known ed­u­ca­tor and philoso­pher John Dewey, the China In­sti­tute be­gan in 1926 in New York with $25,000 from repa­ra­tions paid by the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment to the US for the Boxer Up­ris­ing, a vi­o­lent anti-im­pe­ri­al­ism and anti-Christian move­ment in China be­tween 1898-1901.

In 1944, the CI’s cur­rent home, a man­sion on East 65th Street, was pur­chased with funds pro­vided by the foun­da­tion of Henry Luce, the co-founder and ed­i­tor in chief of Time Inc, who also served as pres­i­dent

• cul­tural pro­grams, but ex­pand them as well.”

Heimowitz said a part­ner­ship fea­tur­ing the Peis — Chien Chung Pei, an ar­chi­tect and son of noted ar­chi­tect I.M. Pei — is spear­head­ing the project. He de­clined to re­veal the cost of the new space, but said it would be mil­lions of dol­lars and that CI will start a new cap­i­tal cam­paign soon to pay for the move and ex­pan­sion of its pro­grams.

CI re­lies on cul­tural and ed­u­ca­tional pro­grams to pro­mote mu­tual un­der­stand­ing be­tween China and the US.

“This goes back to our found­ing. My grand­mother

to at­tended a class on Chi­nese cook­ing at the in­sti­tute in the 1950s,” said Heimowitz. “We may restart the cook­ing classes in our new space.”

CI has a gallery that fea­tures exhibitions on Chi­nese cul­ture and his­tory. The cur­rent one — Mao’sGolden Man­goe­sandtheCul­tural Revo­lu­tion — ex­plores one of the most un­usual events in China’s his­tory. It was when mil­lions of Chi­nese work­ers started wor­ship­ping man­goes in honor of Mao after he re­ceived a gift of man­goes from the vis­it­ing Pak­istani for­eign min­is­ter in 1968.

Man­goes, then an un­fa­mil­iar fruit in China,

ha‘ I ve ex­pe­ri­enced China as a young man and also as an adult. I think the one thing that con­tin­ues to fas­ci­nate me about China is its ca­pac­ity to change. When you look back at its long his­tory, you can’t help but be im­pressed by the abil­ity of the Chi­nese to hang on to their tra­di­tions while also adapt­ing to change.” JAMES HEIMOWITZ PRES­I­DENT OF THE CHINA IN­STI­TUTE IN NEW YORK

be­came a tem­po­rary po­lit­i­cal sym­bol of Mao’s benev­o­lence and love for the peo­ple. Il­lus­tra­tions and pho­tos of man­goes ap­peared in pub­li­ca­tions, paint­ings, posters and badges, as well as on every­day ob­jects such as mir­rors, quilt cov­ers and enam­el­ware.

The Suzhou Gar­den, the in­sti­tute’s 1,050-square-foot tra­di­tional Chi­nese rock gar­den in the man­sion’s yard, will be re­lo­cated to the new build­ing.

On Oct 25, CI hosted a launch party for two new English- lan­guage books to teach chil­dren about Chi­nese ar­chi­tec­ture, his­tory and cul­ture us­ing the For­bid­den City as a plat­form. The For­bid­den City was a large com­plex built in Beijing at the start of the 15th cen­tury and was home to 24 em­per­ors un­til 1911. The books are be­ing pub­lished with fi­nan­cial help from the Robert Ho Foun­da­tion.

“I think this shows how the in­sti­tute is try­ing to make Chi­nese cul­ture and his­tory more ac­ces­si­ble. Th­ese books are de­signed to give chil­dren a deeper un­der­stand­ing of China’s cul­ture and his­tory in English so that lan­guage is not a bar­rier. We in­tend to make the books avail­able through­out North Amer­ica,” said Heimowitz.

CI be­lieves that pro­fi­ciency in the Chi­nese lan­guage can help to im­prove di­a­logue be­tween China and the US, as well as con­trib­ute to a deeper un­der­stand­ing. It of­fers classes in Man­darin and pro­grams de­signed to im­prove the teach­ing of Man­darin.

“We have of­fered lan­guage classes for pro­fes­sion­als like lawyers and fi­nance pro­fes­sion­als who work in both coun­tries. With the move, we hope to ex­pand lan­guage in­struc­tion to reach a wider au­di­ence,” said Heimowitz, who speaks Man­darin and Can­tonese.

Heimowitz was one of the first US stu­dents to at­tend classes in China in 1980. In 2008 he worked as a me­dia con­sul­tant for the Beijing Olympics.

“I have ex­pe­ri­enced China as a young man and also as an adult. I think the one thing that con­tin­ues to fas­ci­nate me about China is its ca­pac­ity to change,’’ he said. “When you look back at its long his­tory, you can’t help but be im­pressed by the abil­ity of the Chi­nese to hang on to their tra­di­tions while also adapt­ing to change.”

Heimowitz re­flected on the trans­for­ma­tion he has seen in China since the 1980s:

“One thing that re­ally strikes me is that much of China now has an in­ter­na­tional look and feel. That wasn’t true in the 1980s. It also means we have so much more in common now. Our goal here at the China In­sti­tute is to use cul­ture, com­merce and ed­u­ca­tion to con­tinue to bring un­der­stand­ing be­tween the US


James Heimowitz be­comes pres­i­dent of the China In­sti­tute in New York in Septem­ber. The 88-year-old CI will be mov­ing to a new 50,000 square-foot fa­cil­ity next year, almost six times big­ger than its present space.

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