BEIJING -- The Johns Hopkins University agreed yesterday to operate jointly for another five years a unique Chinese-U.S. graduate studies center in the eastern Chinese city of Nanjing.
The new agreement opens the way for the financially pressed Hopkins to try to raise a $25 million endowment to support the center with about $1.5 million annually, said George R. Packard, dean of Hopkins' School of Advanced International Studies.
The Nanjing center's role also will change somewhat, with the facility for the first time opening to U.S. scholars from disciplines other than Chinese studies and to U.S. students with minimal Chinese language skills -- a change aimed at increasing the number of Americans who use the center.
The agreement additionally specifies that the center's library will be expanded and will continue to provide open access to all materials, which no other library in China offers. The library's collection of U.S. social science works is believed to be China's largest.
The agreement was signed yesterday in Nanjing by Hopkins President William C. Richardson and Nanjing University President Qu Qinyue, after seven months of off-and-on negotiations, during which Hopkins officials say they entertained doubts about the center's future.
At a time when Sino-U.S. relations remain fraught with tensions, the agreement represents a positive signal of China's interest in maintaining educational exchanges with the United States.
"Despite all the difficulties in the relationship between our two nations, we believe that our mission of providing graduate education for young Chinese and American professionals will be of critical importance to both nations in the 21st century," Dr. Richardson said.
At a reception in Beijing Friday, the vice chairman of China's State Education Commission, Teng Teng, indicated that renewing the agreement was essentially a local, rather than a national, decision, but he gave the center a relatively warm endorsement: "China needs people who understand America, and America needs people who understand China."
At Nanjing University, Wang Zhigang, the center's co-director, added, "The center every year is getting wider and wider recognition in educational circles in both China and America. We made it very clear from the start that we wanted it to continue."
Established in 1986, the center has had a unique, so-far-unattained goal of housing 50 U.S. and 50 Chinese graduate students who for one year share dormitory rooms and study in each other's language -- with the American students taking classes from Chinese professors and the Chinese students from American faculty.
The primary stumbling block has been the center's inability to attract enough U.S. students with sufficient Chinese language skills to study political science and economics in Chinese. As a result, the center has had 40 or more Chinese students during some years but only 20 to 30 U.S. students.
Sidestepping the language problem, the agreement will allow Hopkins to open the center to scholars from such diverse fields as the humanities and public health and by creating a separate track of studies for U.S. students with little or no Chinese language skill.
"We will always give priority to [American] students with strong Chinese language skills," Dr. Richardson said. "But the center's original concept was so unique that it limited the number of students that could take advantage of it."
In negotiating the agreement, Hopkins officials were most concerned about putting the school on a self-financing basis. To do that, they have wanted to begin intensive fund raising in Hong Kong, within the Chinese-U.S. community and among international corporations with interests in China.
But the first large donation to the center -- $1 million given last fall by the Fei Yi-ming Journalism Foundation in Hong Kong -- raised an unexpected problem: Nanjing University officials objected to placing at the center a bust of Mr. Fei, a deceased Hong Kong journalist who was sympathetic to the Communist regime.
Hopkins officials were worried that, without the ability to recognize such large donors, they would not be able to meet their goal of raising a $25 million endowment.
The flap over how to acknowledge the Fei foundation's gift was resolved when Nanjing University officials finally allowed a plaque with a bas-relief portrait of Mr. Fei. The new agreement provides for similar honors for future large donors, Mr. Packard said yesterday.