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Studying Lianda: The Observer as Participant by John Israel As organizer of the panel from which the papers in this volume are drawn, my original intention was to make it symmetrical. There would be two papers on individuals, ti ties of which would be balanced according to the best principles of the eight-legged essay, and two on institutions, in similar cadence. Against Carolyn Wakeman's "Studying 'Beiwai': The participant as Observer" you would have my own paper, "Studying 'Lianda': The Observer as Participant." The program committee in its Wisdom decreed, however, that no ,. panel with two discussant;:r might have more than three papers. Hence, we eliminated mine and left Carolyn Wakeman's hanging in midair -- like a four-legged essay. To extricate myself from this depiorable dilemma, I gave a brief paper in the guise of "spontaneous remarks." What follows is an expanded version of that presentation. When I began to read about Xinan Lianda in 1973, I had no thought of becoming personally involved with the object of my study. The University, a wartime amalgamation in Kunming of Beida, Qinghua, and Nankai, attracted me because I sensed that it represented the most significant episode in Chinese higher education since the Beida of Cai Yuanpei. Its brief history-- lasting only from 1937 to 1946 -- held promise of an eminently "do-able" little book with a clear beginning and end. Seventeen years later I am still at work and Lianda, far from an objective entity back there in history, has become an integral part of my life -- not only intellectually but socially , politically, and emotionally. Perhaps I should have known when I started out that as a liberal academic studying other liberal academics, I would soon lose all sense of separateness from my subject. But the way that it happened was quite unanticipated. My first initiation was into the severalhundred -member Taiwan alumni community, who shared with me a Founder's Day banquet, innumerable less formal meals, and six weeks of extensive interviews in the fall of 1973. By the time I arrived home, I was beginning to feel very much at home in the company of these cosmopolitan university graduates, some ten to twenty years my seniors. Nonetheless, it caught me by surprise when a rump session of the Greater New York Alumni Association named me an honorary alumnus. I began to attend annual alumni meetings at which I would occasionally give illustrated talks on my research. The relationship took on more problematic dimensions when I presented my first paper 51 on Lianda and found that my discussant was Professor Mao Chun-fan of New York University, an alumna who held sharply differing interpretations of the school's history. The paper was subsequently pub1ished along with her comments, which she prefaced by placing our dialogue in the tradition of the teahouse debates common to academic life in wartime Kunming.[l] The teahouse exchange was a useful exercise. My article, "Southwest Associated University: Preservation as an Ultimate Value," had attempted, no doubt prematurely, to engage in theoretical speculation about the meaning of the Lianda experience. The essay was filled with provocative thrusts, not least of which was the notion that "preservation" -- the maintenance of a peacetime liberal educational order during a period of national crisis -- was Lianda's teleological raison d •etre. Professor Mao took me to task, among other things, for arguing that Lianda students developed a "dependent /resentment" psychology toward the Chongqing government. Still more controversial was my contention that, as the Nationalist government proved increasingly unable to solve China's wartime problems, much less to avert the prospect of civil war, growing numbers of Lianda faculty and students looked to the United States for solutions. The argument -- in retrospect somewhat overstated -- was nonetheless based upon credible testimony, including that of Gilbert Baker, an Anglican churchman who spent six years ministering to the spiritual and cultural needs of Kunming' s displaced intellectuals. "As the war dragged on, and conditions became harder," Baker had written, "one idea became dominant in the minds of the more ad-· venturous: 'Let's get out of all this and go to America.' The suggestion was, of course, phrased more politely in public...


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