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Australian scholar forges a special bond over five decades

Xinhua | Updated: 2022-06-29 08:52

CANBERRA - Australian sociologist David Goodman still remembers the newspaper that was used to wrap his lunch of fish and chips from a Chinese restaurant in Britain more than half a century ago. He says it was the first sign that his connection was "meant to be".

In the past 40 years, Goodman has lived in several Chinese cities-from Suzhou in the eastern province of Jiangsu and Lanzhou in the northwestern Gansu province to Taiyuan in the northern Shanxi province and Chengdu in the southwestern Sichuan province. "I like to see different parts of the country," the 74-year-old says, adding that the scenery is always breathtaking and the people are kind.

Born into a left-wing family in Britain, he says he had relatives who were communists. So, he was acquainted with the philosophical, sociopolitical and economic ideologies of the movement early in life.

Goodman was a student of the University of Manchester in the 1960s, when he once bought lunch from a Chinese restaurant and found it wrapped in the newspaper Wen Wei Po. He could not read Chinese at that time, but the pictures intrigued him.

As an undergraduate student, he studied Chinese policy. "By the time I finished, I had decided to do my PhD on China in China." His first visit was in 1976. "The country fascinated me. Many things were different from what I expected, including the people who were very warm and kind," he says.

After learning Mandarin at the Beijing Language and Culture University (then known as the Beijing Language Institute), he took up economics at Peking University. "It was a great learning experience. University was fun too," he recalls.

Goodman went back to teach in Britain before another opportunity came knocking. The University of Newcastle began an exchange program with a university in Taiyuan. "And that kicked off my love affair with Shanxi," he says.

Following years of research in Shanxi, he became a published author. His books not only dealt with contemporary development, but also shed spotlight on the coal-rich province during the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1931-45). They also chronicled the rise of the Communist Party of China.

Goodman moved to Australia in 1987, but his love for China remains. He was sold on noodles and the wedding traditions of Shanxi, while the beautiful views of the upper reaches of the Yellow River in northwestern Qinghai province had him spellbound and he never forgot the joy of cycling through Suzhou.

He received many gifts from his Chinese friends, one of them being a paper-cutting that featured the animals of the Chinese zodiac and had his name written in Chinese characters. It still adorns a wall in his house.

In recent years, Goodman has witnessed the changes China has undergone. A photographer by passion, he has returned to spots he captured on camera in the 1970s and saw firsthand the development of the last 30 or so years. Roads had become wider and tall buildings had sprung up. "The physical changes were huge," he says.

In 1978, when the reform and opening-up started, everybody outside said "the idea is nice, but development at such a pace is not possible". However, Goodman says, the country grew faster than anyone anticipated. "You can't expect the phenomena you see to fit a 'standard pattern' of social or economic behavior prevalent elsewhere in the world," he adds.

Now the director of the China Studies Center at the University of Sydney, Goodman has called for better China-Australia bilateral ties, denouncing those who "want to politicize fear so that they gain an opportunity from it".

After last month's federal elections in Australia, the sociologist, along with 14 other senior scholars from Australian universities, issued an open letter. "The change in the government presents the opportunity for a circuit breaker in the poor diplomatic relations that have developed in the recent past between Australia and China," it reads.

"As professors of China Studies who undertake research on various aspects of China's society and politics, we acknowledge that the new government is likely to avoid the over-aggressive approach of its predecessor. In our view, less public aggression is likely to be more effective. … International engagement should replace the language of war," the letter further states.

Speaking of the open letter, Goodman says: "We were alarmed by the manner in which the previous government approached the issue of China. It didn't seem very productive. Our message to the government is to depend more on diplomacy and less on public statements, which are very outrageous."

Goodman urged dialogue between the governments of the two countries. Hoping that the bilateral relationship can be repaired, he looks forward to going back to China soon. "I am doing a research project on common prosperity and local social governance with two Chinese friends," he says. "I want to go back as quickly as possible."

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