Well, there are big factors and there are small factors. The larger one was, I, from the 60s on when I first became active, had thought that there was enormous historic injustice involved in the US policy towards China- its containment policies, its policies since 1949 that nothing good had come out of such containment or the isolation. And part of what were so bad about it was not just about China; it was also what it meant for the US.
Because sometimes people would ask me particularly in the difficult years in the 90s, “are you trying to open up China? ”, I said “no, that’s the decision for the Chinese to make. I’m trying to open up America.” Because in part, if Americans can't understand, if they can’t come to terms with the Chinese revolution, the Chinese development, the development of independent China, if they can’t come to terms with that, they’re not going to understand very basic elements in the world. So there was the broad sense of the political context.
And I felt that Americans were very quick to move towards once again in the 90s trying to pressure and show hostility towards China. And after all, if you simply take it stand towards a country on the basis of things you don’t like, there would be an awful lot of people that didn’t talk to the US, given what it does in the world. So I felt the important thing was that the links be continued. Now within that, I also felt that the study and thinking about China had been much too monopolized by Westerners. How many westerners knew a famous Chinese historian? How many westerners knew a famous Chinese painter? So part of the idea of the project was not simply to develop cultural links per se, it was also predicated upon the believe that some of that certainly I believed in, that it was time that the Chinese scholars who knew their country best should become names known in my country and the western world. After a most people who were writing about China were westerners, and there was no balance in those years. So part of the original hope in working together was to break that barrier as well, because it was a profound barrier.
But it was done as you say in a hostile environment initially, and yet, we were able by creating a milieu here with editors at CIPG and the work I did in regards to Yale, to create an environment, which was based I think on a real spirit of trust and mutual respect and equality. And within that, figuring out how to solve of the problems we had to confront, which were many, and yet which were in a way, given the spirit, a real challenge. The spirit is important because the tone that you still often find in American policy towards China, all the way up and down, is still a rather condescending in my opinion, an arrogant tone - we have to know how to manage China, we have to question is it living up to its responsibilities in the world, we don’t ask these question in the US, we should, but we don’t. So the project was designed to also cut through all of that as well.
And I found, in working with CIPG, a group of people who were committed, thoughtful, open to try all sorts of different ways, and they partly educated me into what I needed to understand to make a project like this work - this very multi-dimensional project of all these books, bringing together all these scholars from so many parts of the world, not just Americans, but there were Europeans and Russians. There were various scholars that were brought in. This was an enormously complicated project, but it worked because the Chinese team here working and interacting, was able to develop in miniature the kind of spirit that I think actually would be far more helpful in a broad sense, I’ve always believed, in US-Chinese relations.