Harvard language program relocates from China to Taiwan

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — An intensive summer language program hosted by Harvard University in Beijing will relocate to Taiwan in summer of 2022, as the U.S.-China relationship remains strained.

The program is moving to Taipei and will kick off next summer with about 60 students who will take eight weeks of classes, National Taiwan University confirmed Wednesday.

The decision was in part “due to a perceived lack of friendliness from the host institution" in Beijing, according to The Harvard Crimson student paper, which first reported the move.

Every summer, according to The Harvard Crimson, the program “would typically host a small party to celebrate the Fourth of July, during which students and faculty would eat pizza and sing the national anthem.” But in 2019, the host university, Beijing Language and Culture University, said it could no longer host the event, Program Director Jennifer L. Liu told the paper.

Liu also said logistical issues impacted the decision. She told The Harvard Crimson that “BLCU did not provide a single dorm for all the students, instead requiring the program split the students into two different dorms of different quality, or to find a hotel that could keep their students together.”

Harvard has characterized the move primarily as an operational and logistical decision.

“The planned move of this program from Beijing to Taiwan has been considered for some time and reflects a wide array of operational factors," the school said in a statement.

Its local partner in Taiwan said the same in a statement on Tuesday, noting that the universities had been discussing the decision since 2019, and it was due to start in 2020 but was suspended because of the pandemic.

Beijing Language and Culture University’s news department did not respond to an email request for comment.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said he did not know the particular issue with the program when asked about the move. However, he said “China always welcomes international students to study in China, attaches great importance to protection of their legitimate rights and interests, and proactively responds to the students’ reasonable concerns and appeals.”

The program is designed for intermediate and advanced Chinese language learners, and like many other study abroad programs, it features trips to local cultural and historical landmarks. In Beijing, students would visit the Great Wall, the Summer Palace and go on outings with local university students, according to the program's former website.

Beyond memorizing vocabulary or grammar structures, students got a chance to interact with their Chinese counterparts.

“I learned what Chinese millennials do when they get ghosted on (dating app) Tantan, how Chinese media portrayed America’s 2016 election, and which Chinese popsicle flavors to stay away from,” one student said in March 2020 on a Harvard website describing his study abroad experience.

In Taiwan, students will be able to visit places like the National Palace Museum, which houses many of the treasures once hosted in Beijing's Forbidden City, as well as Taiwan's famed night markets and Yangming mountain.

“We hope to lay a solid Chinese foundation for the outstanding Harvard students in NTU's free academic atmosphere,” the university said in a statement.

Taiwan and China split during a civil war in 1949, and Beijing has not ruled out force in reunifying with the island.