A one-day-and-a-half symposium, hosted jointly by the University of Melbourne and Renmin University of China that focused on social changes and policy issues in present-day China has attracted researchers, policy makers and advisers, educators, and specialists from Asian top universities.
The “2013 Melbourne-Renda International Conference: Social Transformation and Policy in 21st Century China,” was the fifth in a series of Melbourne conferences on China conducted by the Center for Contemporary Chinese Studies of the Asia Institute of the University of Melbourne.
These conferences are designed to establish linkages between top universities in China and Australia in efforts to further understand the unique and highly-diverse aspects of Chinese culture and education.
At the opening ceremony of the conference, Professor Mark Considine, dean of Faculty of Arts in the University of Melbourne, said what happens in China’s rural and urban areas now has a direct impact on almost every part of the planet so that it is of great significance for Australia to learn about the real situation in China and to understand deeply about its policies.
This year’s conference was focused on the urbanization and ” citizenization” of migrant workers, a review of the “one-child policy,” how to deal with the abnormal sex ratio at birth (SRB) and how to design policies to benefit the “floating people,” referring to migrant workers.
The participants exchanged ideas and viewpoints on how to understand the “real” China as it emerged from a developing country into the world’s fastest growing economy.
In explaining the unique “urbanization and citizenization” in China, Professor Zhai Zhenwu, dean of School of Sociology and Population Studies of Renmin University of China, compared the experience of China with that of Britain at the turn of the century when Britain embarked on its industrialization program.
Zhai said peasant workers who are now recognized as the main engines behind the massive urbanization in China remain “citizens” or transient inhabitants in the cities, not like in Britain where peasants moved out of rural areas and became residents of the cities.
“China has its own social issues like ‘floating people’. Not many countries around the world would have this issue in their history since the urbanization that happened in the United States and European countries developed slowly. In China it is different because development happened in a short period and in a massive scale. Therefore, China’s urbanization policy still needs time to adjust,” Professor Zhai told Xinhua on the sidelines of the conference.
Zhai said that China is now trying to let the world understand the real circumstances behind the social issues at hand and how the Chinese government is trying to address the issues to the satisfaction of the Chinese people.
Dr. Gao Jia, acting director of the Center for Contemporary Chinese Studies and assistant dean of Faculty of Arts in the University of Melbourne, said that aside from a robust student exchange program, China and Australia have been gradually paying more attention to the collaboration at the high academic levels, citing the conference as a viable vehicle for researchers and scholars from both sides to deepen the understanding of contemporary China and its social transformation.
“It also benefits Australian policymakers on how to respond to the changing environment in China,” Dr. Gao said.
“After 30 years of rapid economic development, China is now the world’s second largest economy and has attracted much more attention around the world. If the Chinese intellectual elites can provide more chances for their worldwide peers to clear up some misunderstanding and build an objective view of China, it would redound to greater cooperation and understanding between China and other countries,” Dr. Gao said.
Professor Zhai also emphasized the importance of learning from Australia’s mature and proven social policies.
“We consider Australia’s social welfare system as progressive and sound. We can learn from policies such as social health insurance which if combined with the actual circumstances in China could improve our social health mechanism,” he said.
Besides the presentations form authoritative professors, some young researchers also impressed the participants. A report entitled “Urbanizing Farmers: Three Case Studies from Kunming and Chongqing,” which was presented by a young lecturer from Renmin University of China, explains the relationship between urbanizing options for local farmers and urbanization process in China.
The presenter, Zhang Hui, who graduated with a Ph.D. in Anthropology from London School of Economics and Political Science, said that it was the first time she attended a conference that focused only on Chinese policies.
“It is an interesting and significant experience to communicate with scholars from other academic fields so that we can understand an issue from different angles. And it could help us improve interdisciplinary communications to find out more effective and reasonable ways to give academic advices for policymaking,” Zhang said.
Other top universities that include the University of Sydney, Tsinghua University, and the City University of Hong Kong also sent their experts on Chinese studies to the Melbourne conference.