A memorable keynote speech at the Association of Chinese Professionals (ACP) Annual Conference by Dennis Kratz, Senior Associate Provost and Founding Director of Center for Asian Studies of the University of Texas at Dallas –by Dr. Da Husan Feng, former Vice President of the University of Texas at Dallas
Yesterday (11/23/2019,) I attended in hindsight what I regarded as a most unusual speech delivered at the ACP Annual Conference by my good friend Dennis Kratz of the University of Texas at Dallas. This is the third time I attended an ACP’s annual conference. In the past two conferences as well as those I attended before I left for Asia in 2007 were mostly of technical in flavor. Yesterday, even though I had a full day of schedule, I could not resist my curiosity, and so I made every effort to attend Kratz’s talk with the intriguing title “Odysseus vs. Monkey King; Lessons from a journey to the East.” This is a most welcomed de-tour from the ACP annual conference. It clearly demonstrates that the organizers are constantly “thinking out of the box.”
This keynote speech clearly departed from the traditional flavor of the ACP conferences. However, it is no less profound.
So, here are the lessons I learned from the talk.
First, the title of the talk is critically important. To attract attention, a title which is intriguing is vital. Any one who noticed that in the title, Odysseus, the legendary hero in Greek mythology, and discussed extensively in Homer’s epic, the “Odyssey,” together with the “Monkey King,” a Chinese mythological character discussed extensively in the Epic “Journey to the West” in the same title and not be curiosity, probably has not had a single fiber of curiosity in his/her body.
Second, Dennis Kratz taught me a succinct lesson of what one means by “comparative literature,” something I was forever intrigued by but never bothered to find out what it meant. Dennis did so my creating a imaginary conversation carried out by Odysseus and the Monkey King. The former expressing his worldly views based on Western civilization, and the latter based on Eastern civilization. Although Dennis Kratz did not explicitly say so, I felt what he had implied was that these two giant characters basically speaking pass one another, without truly understanding each other’s motives and reasoning.
Upon reflection, I thought that Kratz’s lecture was timely and profound. This year, 2019, is the 40th year which the People’s Republic of China (PRC,) a massive nation representing Eastern civilization and the United States, also a massive nation representing primarily Western civilization diplomatically recognized each other. In these past forty years, US (thus Odysseus) and PRC (thus Monkey King) have had continuous and at times, especially now, contentious conversations with one another. Have these conversations been conducted via what my good friend David Naylor, the former President of the University of Toronto who urges his students to “understand other people’s challenges via other people’s cultures?”
Indeed, quite recently, a member of the United States State Department’s Director of Policy Planning, Professor Kiron Skinner in a Forum of Future Security openly said the following:
“When we think about the Soviet Union in that competition [the Cold War], in a way, it was a fight within the Western family. This is a fight with a really different civilization, and a different ideology, and the United States hasn’t had that before. Nor has it had an economic competitor the way that we have. The Soviet Union was a country with nuclear weapons and the Red Army but a backwards economy.
In China we have an economic competitor, we have an ideological competitor, one that really does seek a kind of global reach that many of us didn’t expect a couple of decades ago. And I think it’s also striking that it’s the first time that we will have a great power competitor that is not Caucasian,” https://www.newsweek.com/china-threat-state-department-
Words matter. These are indeed chilly words. It is especially chilling since this is the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the US and China.
What Professor Skinner said is that for the literally first time in human history, the Western civilization, which in her mind is a civilization of the Caucasians, is competing with a civilization of “non-Caucasians” on a more or less equal terms. I thought what Kratz did was so brilliant to utilize Odysseus, a Caucasian meeting with a non-Caucasian, the Monkey King to underscore our modern-day profound challenges.
In his summary, Dennis Kratz was essentially begging the audience who are primarily Chinese Americans, who understand profoundly both the Eastern and Western civilizations, to take on the grave responsibility of building the communication bridge for the Eastern civilization and Western civilization. To understand one another, one needs a full comprehension of histories, cultures, ways and means and even foods. Only through a bridge can one mitigates any kind of possible future, near or down the road, catastrophes for humanity.