The Honorary Doctor Zhang Xihua and Her Academic Career and Background
Professor Dr. Zhang Xihua, Beijing International Studies University, was recently awarded an honorary doctorate at the Faculty of Humanities, University of Copenhagen. The degree is a prestigious academic accolade, and this is the first time ever in the history of University of Copenhagen that a Chinese professor has been awarded the honorary doctorate. ThinkChina has talked with Zhang Xihua about her academic career and background:
First tell us a little bit about yourself. What is your background and what are your main interests?
I am a professor at Beijing International Studies University (BISU). My research areas are culture studies, cross culture studies and comparative literature. Cross-cultural communication studies are my main interest. I got my bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in English literature, and my doctoral degree in comparative literature. I have been working as a university teacher for 26 years.
Where do you get your inspiration? And how do you select what is important?
I get my inspiration from Denmark studies, from my own experiences and my wonderful cooperation and lifelong friendship with my Danish colleagues and friends. When I first started my studies at the University of Copenhagen (UCPH) in 2006, I came to experience a convenient academic research environment and very easy access to research resources. Within that year, I finished my doctoral dissertation, while also completing the translation of a book. I got the inspiration from the academic environment and atmosphere at the UCPH. In addition, I was also very lucky that I received a lot of help from my Danish colleagues, my Danish landlady and other Danish friends. From my experience, I realized that Denmark is a country with a good balance between human and nature, work and life. I really wanted to share my wonderful experience with my students and my other colleagues, and therefore, with the support of BISU and the Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies (ToRS), I initiated the establishment of Center for Denmark Studies, which is a non-profitable center for Chinese and Danish scholars. It is a platform of dialogues, exchanges and mutual inspiration. With this platform we facilitate exchange programmes for students and work together for research.
As to select our research topics, it is a result of collaboration. Through discussions with my Danish colleagues it became clear what kind of topics that both sides are interested in. So year after year we worked together for our annual research topic. I have realized that this kind of collaboration and thorough discussion pays off, and we will continue to do so.
What does it mean to you to become an honorary doctor of the University of Copenhagen?
I feel extremely honored and privileged to receive an honorary doctorate from the UCPH, which is beyond all expectations. I have worked together with my wonderful Danish colleagues, efficiently and happily. It is with enthusiasm that I have created an exchange platform for students and teachers from both universities. I do it out of gratitude and appreciation of what I have benefited from the UCPH more than 10 years ago. I never expected such a privilege and such a great honor. For me, it is really a huge surprise. I cherish it and will live up to it. I very much appreciate that the Faculty of Humanities and ToRS offers me this life honor. I regard it as an honor for our team of Denise Gimpel, Ingolf Thuesen, Marie Roesgaard and Ma Chi. I consider it as an encouragement and inspiration for me to continue my work and keep collaborating with my Danish colleagues. I expect more and more exchanges and collaborative research work can be done. Center for Denmark Studies is an open platform for Danish scholars and Chinese scholars to work together, just as ThinkChina at the UCPH. These two equivalent centers can work more closely together with each other.
You studied abroad at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark in 2006-2007. What did you study and where did your interest in Denmark come from?
I studied at the UCPH for one year in the English Department with Professor Charles Lock as my supervisor. I was writing my doctoral dissertation. It was Charles Lock’s instruction, inspiration and encouragement that facilitated my writing. I also received a lot of help from the English Department, who offered me an office, computer and full access to the library. Before I came to Denmark, I only knew that Denmark was where the famous H. C. Andersen came from; that it is a country of fairy tales; a country of vikings; a country in good diplomatic relationship with China and it is a country where nearly everyone could speak wonderful English.
I studied literary theories and attended all the related lectures. Olof Lidin’s book From Taoism to Einstein inspired me a lot. We met once a week when I was in Denmark in 2006-2007.
Furthermore, I am very grateful to have met my landlady Allis Mønster. She helped me a lot, encouraged me and took care of me. At the very beginning, I was not familiar with Danish food. She prepared lots of wonderful dishes for me and proudly introduced me to typical Danish food. Whenever I felt homesick and missing my little son, sometimes I couldn't help crying quietly in my room, but when Allis saw this, she said to me: “Please don't cry alone. I'm here with you and I'm your Danish mama." In order to let me experience a typical Danish Christmas, she prepared a traditional Christmas party by inviting her relatives, close friends and her daughter's family. Her hospitality made me feel at home. It was my first time going abroad for such a long time. I learned a lot about life, culture and customs of Denmark through our numerous conversations. Very sadly, she passed away in 2016, and I really miss her.
In 2011 I came to do my research at ToRS, and I was offered a lot of help. Professor Denise Gimpel, Professor Ingolf Thusen, Professor Marie Roesgaard, Professor Jørgen Delman, Cay Dollerup and Professor Olof Lidin all helped me a lot with more insights. Within three months at ToRS, I finished the main part of my monograph on Chinese Images in English Writings After WWII. We all realized we should deepen our collaboration and we therefore signed an exchange agreement between UCPH and BISU. We have exchanged students every year since 2011, starting with 4 students to 40 nowadays, which is a wonderful thing that we have done together. We are happy to see that the younger generations gain a deeper intercultural experience and understanding.
Which topic/focus area will be your next?
Our next areas of focus will be on food culture, education, sustainable development, Danish innovation, and cultural exchange between China and Denmark. We will work closely together to find topics of our shared interests. Academic dialogues and friendship always go hand in hand.
Finally, do you have any advice for current students or aspiring academics in pursuing a career in academia?
I wish to say that you should focus on working with what you are excited about and work closely with your team. You should not care about what the potential benefits are. In Chinese culture we have a saying 天时，地利，人和. Which means: at the right time, at the right place, with the right people, we can achieve a lot.
Professor Dr. Zhang Xihua is a highly respected, influential and successful scholar whose thinking and efficient realization of planning has supported and contributed substantially to hundreds of students from China and Denmark in mutual cultural understanding. Her contribution to Cross-Cultural research has resulted in the formation of a Center for Denmark Studies, now recognized by the Chinese Ministry of Education as a National Center for China. The center has since 2015 arranged conferences on topics of shared interest for Danish and Chinese scholars as a mutual inspiration in order to improve cross-cultural understanding and promote social and academic thinking. These achievements are highly appreciated as they enhance academic understanding between China and Denmark (the Western World) and will advance cross-cultural understanding to the benefit of both Danish and Chinese scholars.