BENNINGTON — The American Association of University Women's Bennington branch hosted the latest in a lecture series on foreign political figures on Wednesday, inviting a Williams College professor to speak on Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Sam Crane, who teaches political science at Williams, said Xi has not yet become a household name in America, despite his prominence in the international political community. "In talking to people on a day-to-day basis," he said, "in terms of world leaders (Russian President Vladimir) Putin is pretty well known, maybe (British Prime Minister) David Cameron and a few others, but Chinese leaders in general are not very well known among the general American populace."
The AAUW hosted a talk on Putin last April at the Unitarian Universalist Meetinghouse which was very well attended. This lecture, held at the Bennington Free Library, was also a full house. AAUW Chapter President Catherine McClure introduced Crane, and informed audience members that 2016 marks the 90th year of the organization's continuous operation. The event was followed by a question and answer session and a reception.
Crane, who each summer teaches a class on Confucianism in America in Beijing, and teaches classes at Williams such as "Political Power in Contemporary China," "The International Politics of East Asia," "Cosmology and Rulership in Ancient Chinese Political Thought," and "Nationalism in East Asia," has been a professor at Williams since 1989. He received his bachelor's degree at the State University of New York at Purchase, and a master's and Ph.D in political science from the University of Wisconsin. He has published two books on ancient Chinese philosophy, "Aidan's Way" and "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Dao: Ancient Chinese Thought in Modern American Life."
During the talk, he described Xi's political ascendancy, from local Communist party member to Central Committee alternate in 1997 to General Secretary of the Communist Party in China in 2012. "It's a rather different system than we have in the U.S., with our primaries and debates," said Crane, "We knew for five years who would be president (of China) in 2012."
He said some of the biggest challenges Xi has faced, and continues to face, are maintaining the legitimacy of the authoritarian regime, the decline of Marxism as a popular political ideology in the country, and, of course, the economy. Crane said there is disagreement from scholars as to whether Xi, one of the most individually power presidents in recent Chinese history, is really a reformer at all, and if he will quietly step down at the conclusion of his term as General Secretary in 2022. "Long ago I learned not to try to predict Chinese politics," he said, "I've lost a lot of bets."
Derek Carson can be reached for comment at 802-447-7567, ext. 122.