I have often been invited to seminars abroad and give keynote speeches in recent years, and was occasionally remunerated, which surprised me at first but then I gradually got used to it. A decade or two ago, if invited to international seminars, Chinese scholars would usually be busy applying for financial aid from schools. But over recent years, some active Chinese scholars have been frequently invited by international organizations that will pay for their travel, accommodation and other expenses, and sometimes even offer them remuneration as well as a first-class round trip.
Although the amount of remuneration is not big, this small change is of great significance. It reflects the rise of Chinese scholars, the appreciation of Chinese knowledge, as well as the reconstitution of the international knowledge system brought about by the rise of China.
According to US sociologist Immanuel Wallerstein's book Unthinking Social Science, the analysis of world change in contemporary academia has long been confined to the Western paradigms of the 19th century. The so-called theoretical assumptions and narratives of economics, politics, history, anthropology and sociology are based on the experience and behavioral inertia of Western society, and gradually build up the faculty framework and academic pedigree of about 100,000 universities around the world.
In the 200 years of global academic development, Chinese intellectuals, especially those specialized in the field of philosophy and social sciences, have long been the learners in a subordinate position. Faculty division, standards of teaching materials, research methods and theoretical concepts of Chinese universities mostly come from the West. In academic bookstores in China, many books are translated from another language. Most of the books on the list of required readings in Chinese universities are Western works. Furthermore, while writing their academic papers, Chinese students can hardly work out the literature review without referring to Western theories.
China has had a trade surplus for a long time, but is in absolute deficit when it comes to knowledge trade. There had been no Chinese scholar with an international bestseller to his name. Few Chinese scholars' works were on the list of recommended bibliographies of universities all over the world, and theories in social sciences popular around the world seldom mentioned China.
In recent years, however, things have been changing. When the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative cannot be traced to any Western book, when China's development experience surpasses the explanatory power of Western theories, when the role of China in global governance is increasing, the world has gradually come to recognize the importance of Chinese knowledge which was forgotten in the past. Some Chinese scholars fluent in English naturally gain more value in the international knowledge market.
But the price of Chinese knowledge is still low. As far as I know, the Toastmasters International, which organizes global speeches, has a price list. The price of a speech delivered by a Nobel Prize winner in Economics or an international bestseller writer is usually between $50,000 and $150,000. Yet there are only a few Chinese scholars on this price list. A world-renowned Chinese economist told me, privately, that he was paid up to $20,000, but only once.
Price reflects market value. The present international trade of Chinese knowledge is somewhat like those "Made in China" products 20 years ago - low priced, poor quality and some were even knockoffs in other countries. But the present achievement hasn't been easily won. From the stage of being neglected by the world to the phase of being exported in the international market, Chinese knowledge has taken a significant step, albeit a bit late.
More efforts are needed to be made by Chinese intellectuals. Many of the experiences gained from China's successful practices are beyond the explanation of Western theories. For example, any political, economic, cultural and social theory originating from Western practices cannot explain the "1-1-1-0-0-0" puzzle I have once mentioned, that is, the miracle of China's rapid development over the past 40 years: one political party, one generation, the rise of 1 billion people, 0 war, 0 economic crisis, 0 large-scale slum. The pity is, we Chinese ourselves can't well explain the puzzle either at present.
This puzzle, like the Goldbach Conjecture in mathematics, is still to be resolved by China and the world, especially by Chinese scholars. The better it can be explained, the more value Chinese knowledge will gain and the higher its prices will be. Fighting, Chinese scholars!