Post Date: February 1, 2005

Scholars from as faraway as Hong Kong and as nearby as the Faculty of Arts & Sciences gathered last week at Harvard Law School for a conference on professionalism in China. The event, The Professions and Professionalism in China, was the first of its kind. Sponsored by the East Asian Legal Studies Program and the Harvard University Asia Center, the conference addressed professions ranging from law, medicine, and religion to journalism, architecture, and business.

“The professions in China are forming at a time when we are asking hard questions about the meaning of professionalism in the US — in law and many other fields,” said Professor William Alford, vice dean for international legal studies and editor of the forthcoming book, “Raising the Bar: The Emerging Legal Profession in East Asia” (2005).

“The conference not only examined the meaning and significance of professionalism in China, but used the Chinese case to reflect on the changing state-society relationship in that nation and on broader theoretical questions regarding the professions anywhere,” Alford added. “We were fortunate in this effort to be able to gather scholars from six Harvard schools and other leading universities from this country and the Chinese world, representing a dozen disciplines. It truly was a splendid example of Harvard’s intellectual richness and extraordinary convening power.”

“This was a very stimulating conference on an issue of central importance: as China develops, how are the legal, medical, journalistic and business professions evolving?” asked William C. Kirby, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. “What autonomy do they have in the shadow of the Chinese Party-State, which itself is now led largely by engineers — arguably the most powerful professional group in China? This was an ideal topic to bring together scholars from across Harvard’s faculties and across the Pacific Ocean.”

Conference organizers plan to produce a volume based on the papers. And the event sparked such lively discussion that there is consideration of reconvening, perhaps next time in the Chinese world.

For more information, please visit the website for the East Asian Legal Studies Program at Harvard Law School.