Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

Opening Banquet of the Sino-German Presidents Meeting Berlin

Dinner Speech on October 3rd 2007
Dear Professor Xu Zhihong,
dear Ambassador Ma,
ladies and Gentlemen,

as President of Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, I have the great honour to welcome you to Berlin this evening. I hope that our distinguished guests from China have arrived well and will find the chance to explore our historic city over the next few days an enjoyable experience.

I greatly anticipate introducing you to Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin tomorrow on the occasion of the second Sino-German Presidents Conference. While I hope that you will find our university appealing, I fear that our campus will not be a match to the beautiful campus of Peking University, our partner university, which, so I have learned, is known as “Yan Yuan”, the gardens of Yan. In the immediate vicinity of the Yuan Ming Gardens and the Summer Palace, the university campus is set in a beautiful natural environment, encompassing many traditional buildings and a large peaceful lake surrounded by an abundance of trees and greenery. I urge my German colleagues who have not yet seen this stunning arrangement to pay a visit to this wonderful campus if the opportunity presents itself, for it is indeed the perfect environment for academic creation and quiet reflection. Humboldt-Universität’s main building merely overlooks a small lawn at the back of the building, but hopefully you will find that it provides a comparable environment for thinking and reflection. I hope that our institution, which is located in the heart of Berlin and invites you to explore the city’s historic sites that you will find at its doorstep, will be a pleasant location for the purposes that await us in the next few days.

We have all come together here to mark a very important step in a process of great magnitude, namely the increased cooperation between China and Germany and between Beijing and Berlin. In August 2004, Beijing’s mayor, Wang Qishan, visited Berlin and, in a moving and engaging speech, reflected not only on the growing warm-hearted partnership between Berlin and Beijing, but also thanked Berlin in the name of Beijing’s citizens for their support during the SARS crisis. Humboldt-Universität is proud that it forms part of the deepening partnership that is developing between China and Germany and we are deeply honoured that our institution is considered a worthy cooperation partner by Beijing’s eminent university. The strong ties between our two universities were reiterated, as Professor Xu Zhihing will undoubtedly remember, on 26th September 2005, when we prolonged the cooperation agreement between Peking University and Humboldt-Universität. On the following day, 27th September, Prof. Xu Zhihing, together with Prof. Dieter Lenzen, President of Freie Universität Berlin, Dr. Christian Bode, General Secretary of the DAAD, and my predecessor, Prof. Hans Jürgen Prömel, signed a cooperation agreement to establish a jointly fund Zentrum für Deutschlandstudien, the Centre for German Studies, at Peking’s renowned university. Prof. Prömel regrettably cannot be here this evening owing to his recent appointment as President of Technische Universität Darmstadt. The Zentrum für Deutschlandstudien will, I am sure, play an important role in our future cooperation, as it provides a structure for academic exchange, encourages research into Germany at Peking University and will present us here in Berlin with new perspectives on our own country. In a sense, we have already witnessed the fruits of the labour that was invested in our cooperation agreement: in 2005, Prof. Xu and Professor Prömel decided that Peking University and Humboldt-Universität should co-host a Sino-German Presidents Meeting in spring 2006. This conference, which was attended by prominent representatives from ten Chinese and eight German universities proved to be so successful and wonderfully organised that it inspired the organisation of a second conference, which is the conference we will all be attending tomorrow and Friday. I would like to thank all representatives from the Chinese and the German side for undertaking the trip to Berlin for this important milestone in the development of academic Sino-German relations.

It fills me with particular satisfaction that as president of Humboldt-Universität I am in the position to make my own contribution to the growing cooperation between Chinese and German universities because I believe that our universities can learn a great deal from each another. Let me illustrate this point by drawing on one particular example from my university’s own history. Ambassador Ma, we had the great pleasure of receiving you as a guest at Humboldt-Universität in October 2005 at a symposium in honour of Ferdinand von Richthofen, who became professor at our university on 1886 and was an eminent German geographer and geologist, following the tradition of Alexander von Humboldt in surveying the world. While Alexander von Humboldt conducted expeditions in South America, von Richthofen decided to study China, a country that no Western scientist had explored before him. Already in 1862, at the age of 28, he took the bold decision to travel to China in order to explore the barely known Tianshan mountain range. Because of political disturbances that erupted in the regions he had hoped to trespass, however, von Richthofen had to reschedule his plans. It was not until 1868 that he finally saw a chance to conduct his long awaited expedition through China, an endeavour he was eager to undertake because, as he wrote, it was, among all the civilized “and generally known countries, the least known, and at the same time, because of its enormous population, its rich production and rising importance in world trade, to the utmost degree worthy of such a study, promising results both scientific and applied of the greatest importance”[1] . Von Richthofen’s expedition took him four years and he returned with a wealth of material about Chinese geology and society. His geological maps were published along with his orographic maps in his “Atlas von China”. His studies became a key reference point for the geology and geography of China for many years – for example, he coined the term “Silk Road” – and owing to the discoveries he had made in China, he was able to found a new school of geography, which later became highly influential, as it allowed the merger of the natural sciences and geography. I chose this particular example to show how much we can benefit if our countries maintain an academic interest in each another: we can make extraordinary new discoveries about each other’s countries, and in doing so, we can also come to decisive conclusions about our own subjects at home.

I hope that the future cooperation between Chinese and German universities will stand in the academic tradition of von Richthofen and will bring all our universities closer together. At Humboldt-Universität, we want to continue his tradition by creating a new Centre for East-Asian Studies, directed by the sinologist Prof. Unschuld. We anticipate that this centre, together with the Zentrum für Deutschlandstudien at Peking University, will fulfil our goal of advancing research into Sino-German topics and will provide fertile ground for future academic exchange. Dear Professor Xu Zhihong, when you and Prof. Prömel prolonged the cooperation agreements between our two universities in 2005, you made the very pronounced statement that Peking University, which had formerly focussed more on the contacts to American universities, was now interested in strengthening the contacts to German universities, in particular to Humboldt-Universität. In the spirit of your words, dear Professor Xu, I look positively into the future of Sino-German relations, and greatly anticipate the results of our discussions over the next few days.

Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Christoph Markschies
President of Humboldt-Universität

[1] Dieter Jäkel, Ferdinand von Richthofen’s contributions to Chinese geology and geosciences (Quaternary sciences, vol. 25, no. 4, 2005), p. 413


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