China & ANU — Diplomats, Adventurers, Scholars

anu_chinaFriday, 29 May – Friday, 18 September 2015, and selected weekends
Gallery hours: 9:00am – 5:00pm, Monday to Friday
Australian Centre on China in the World, Australian National University, Canberra

The Pacific War and its aftermath radically transformed Australian perceptions of what was then called ‘the Near North’ (Asia). Many recognised that in the postwar world Australia’s strategic interests and economic fortunes called for a new understanding of Asia and the Pacific. China loomed large in these calculations.

Australia’s first diplomatic representative to the Republic of China, Frederic Eggleston, was posted to the wartime capital of Chungking in 1941. In his despatches to Canberra he urged the government to recognise the importance of Asia and the Pacific in preparation for China’s emergence as a major power following the Pacific War. When Eggleston joined the Interim Council of The Australian National University (ANU) in 1946, he promoted the study of China as a key feature of the new School of Pacific Studies — today’s College of Asia and the Pacific.

In 1947, Eggleston wrote to Australia’s second minister to China, the noted economist Douglas Copland, to see if he would be interested in becoming the inaugural Vice-Chancellor of the new university. Copland accepted the position and, in 1948, he returned from a China embroiled in civil war to oversee the founding of ANU. It was on Copland’s recommendation that the British writer and scholar CP FitzGerald — whom he had known in postwar Nanking — was appointed as the university’s first China scholar. With Copland’s support, FitzGerald travelled to Hong Kong and acquired the library of the renowned writer and Buddhist scholar, Hsu Ti-shan 許地山. These books form the core of the Menzies Library Chinese collection, which has played a pivotal role in the scholarly study of China in this country.

Based on extensive research and featuring rare archival documents, photographs and films ‘China & ANU’ introduces the diplomats, adventurers and scholars who contributed to Australia’s engagement with China, the ‘Chinese Commonwealth’ and our region. In particular, the exhibition focusses on the interconnection between Australia’s first diplomat-scholars in China and Chinese Studies at the newly established Australian National University.

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