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Meet the expert: Maghiel van Crevel

15 June 2020

Since the outbreak of the corona pandemic, China is the talk of the town. Does the country have the virus under control and can we trust the official numbers from the Chinese government? LeidenGlobal spoke with professor of Chinese language and literature Maghiel van Crevel about his research and the current events.

Van Crevel got his PhD in Chinese literature from Leiden University. His first academic appointment was a lectureship at the University of Sydney. He subsequently returned to Leiden University and was the academic director of the Institute for Area Studies (LIAS) from 2009 to 2016. One of the founders of LeidenGlobal and the first chairperson of the Executive Board (2013-2016), he designed its Discipline and Place lecture series.

Van Crevel specialises in contemporary Chinese poetry and its social, cultural, and political contexts. His latest book concerns Chinese poetry and translation and currently he is working on poetry written by Chinese rural-to-urban migrant workers.

In his research, Van Crevel likes to combine literary history and textual analysis with ethnographic fieldwork. ‘The fieldwork is essential to get a sense of how the Chinese poetry scene works and what the issues are’, he says. ‘I had planned a new trip to several Chinese cities for this spring, but that obviously fell through.’

When asked about the current situation in China, Van Crevel says that the containment of the corona virus has been effective, but when it comes to the numbers provided by the Chinese government, he is inclined to err on the side of skepticism. ‘But, this is not a Chinese issue per se’, he says. ‘It holds for many places in the world and it involves a multitude of variables, such as how many people are being tested, what counts as a corona death, etc.’

Van Crevel strongly opposes Us-and-Them visions that make China and the West antagonists. ‘Humanity is faced with existential threats (pandemics, climate change, pollution etc). If we deem this our precious species worthy of survival, we should look for common ground. And yes, of course each of the parties in that dialogue (e.g. the Netherlands, or the EU) should work from their core values and look after their interests—at the same time as learning about, learning from, and empathizing with their interlocutors.’

Interview by LeidenGlobal intern Merel Snoep
June 2020

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> Photo on the right by Li Xia

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