Universiteit Leiden

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Florian Schneider
Elif Kırankaya

New professor Florian Schneider: ‘Chinese citizens are more perturbed by climate change than many in America or Europa’

After a gap of five years, Leiden has a new Professor of Modern China. Florian Schneider started his position on 1 September.

‘It’s a no brainer that the Netherlands needs to have a chair for modern China,’ Schneider states. ‘There are not many facets of life where we can just ignore China. We have so many Chinese immigrants, Chinese students, Chinese tourists who travel the world. On the other hand, people from here are engaged in China, in business, in diplomacy and in cultural exchanges. And then the PRC also has ambitions to make China a major power in the world, including in the UN. No, if we want to solve the problems of the coming decades or even the coming century, we need the 1.4 billion people who make China a major player in the global majority.’

Conversations on climate change

One of the most pressing global problems of these coming decades is climate change. ‘The environmental impact that our global capitalist production networks have had is disastrous,’ Schneider explains. ‘The Chinese economy hasn’t been a major driving force of CO2 emissions solely because that’s what China wanted, but because we want to have the fancy equipment and cheap Cyber Monday purchases that have long been produced mainly in China.’

The effects of this are visible in cities like Beijing and Shanghai, where the air pollution was so bad that  citizens were able to ‘cut the air into little cubes’, as Schneider puts it. ‘The people who live in China are therefore equally - if not more - perturbed by climate change than many people born in America or Europe,’ he says. ‘Though it’s an uphill battle, with a lot of its industry running on coal, China is trying to switch to green energy. At the same time, environmental protection isn’t something individual countries can do on their own. We need to have a conversation with our Chinese partners on how to address this issue on a global and international level.’

Well-run team

These kind of conversations not only need a thorough understanding of emission rates, but also of China itself. ‘To really understand modern China, you need the breadth of knowledge that our Chinese department has to offer,’ Schneider explains. ‘In the modern China section alone, we have more than half a dozen people, including probably another dozen PhD students, working on what has been going on in China for the last two centuries, in terms of people, politics, law, media, economy, anthropology, sociology, history. And we’ve also benefited from Sector Plan funds, allowing our institute to hire three new colleagues who will focus on AI in Asia, which fits well with my own specialisation in digital communication and technology.'

As a brand-new professor, Schneider wants to make sure all these people have a place in his team. ‘It’s basically my priority to make sure that we see one another as colleagues. Fortunately, over the last few years most organisations have started to acknowledge that we need to make that a priority.’

He will also finalise a book on research methods as a Leiden Teaching Prize laureate. ‘I want to make my own experiences and methodologies of studying communication and media accessible to everyone from undergraduate through to PhD,’ he says. ‘Things like discourse analysis or even the analysis of a video game can be quite daunting. I want to use the money from the Teaching Prize to make sure that, with an open access book, that fear is reduced, even at universities that don't have a lot of money.'

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