Since March 2016 I have headed the Cooperation Office Shanghai, which was established in September 2005. It is located in the most international and open-minded city in China – an educational centre with 64 state institutions of higher education and a pioneer of Chinese educational reforms in recent years.
As a central service platform in China the OeAD Cooperation Office has always been dedicated to promoting academic exchange between the two countries.
There are a wide range of tasks and areas of activity. On a much more personal and human level, it is above all also a platform for encounters and opportunities for intercultural exchange.
The following stories will illustrate what is at the heart and soul of this cooperation: To illustrate the broad scope of our cooperation we would like to mention two particularly fine examples: starting with the reappraisal of the common past between Austria and China and ending with the future of the two countries.
50 years of diplomatic relations between Austria and China – 60 years OeAD Cooperation Office Shanghai
As some may know, diplomatic relations between Austria and the People's Republic of China were established 60 years ago and since then there has been a lively exchange between the two countries. However, our shared history goes back much further. In the course of a conference entitled “Jewish Austria – Jewish China”, organised by the OeAD Cooperation Office, 23 scholars from all over the world met together with Elisabeth Buxbaum, an Austrian writer in the former Jewish ghetto in Hongkou, Shanghai (directly opposite the Jewish Refugee Museum), where the Jewish population fleeing the Holocaust was once housed.
Defying his superior, the Chinese ambassador in Berlin, Ho Feng Shan issued several thousand visas for Jewish refugees to Shanghai in his capacity as Chinese consul in Vienna. He thus saved the lives of a large number of people. Elisabeth Buxbaum is the descendant of a man who emigrated to Shanghai in this way and who lived in the ghetto in Hongkou.
It was an incredibly beautiful moment when we were finally able to locate the house where her stepfather had lived and Ms Buxbaum was able to talk to the local people about her stepfather. Many still remembered the stories about him. The writer was moved to tears, which moved us all deeply.
This encounter showed us once again how strongly interwoven the history of our two countries and the fates of their people were already then and still are today.
But it is not only in the work on the past that our collaboration projects are decisive for mutual understanding and rapprochement. With the help of the Cooperation Office our young generation also always finds opportunities for valuable exchange.
For example, we often receive postcards from participants of our study groups thanking us for their stays, which, as one student put it, “not only advanced me intellectually but also as a human being”.
Even in the difficult circumstances of the pandemic interest in cooperation and exchange is steadily increasing. Many have realised that the problems of our time can no longer be solved nationally on our own. The climate crisis, possible pandemics, the worldwide fight against poverty, these are things that we can only overcome together.
Tasks of the OeAD Cooperation Office Shanghai
The OeAD Cooperation Office Shanghai’s activities include tasks such as arranging cooperation between Austria and China in the academic and school sectors; running study programmes and summer schools for Austrian students in China and Chinese students in Austria; representing Austria at relevant education fairs in the People's Republic of China and now also organising and hosting our own education fairs, congresses and symposia; maintaining relations and carrying out joint projects with Austrian and European representations in China; looking after Austrian educational and scientific delegations as diplomatic representation in the Shanghai administrative area; maintaining relations with Chinese state educational and scientific organisations and now also developing an alumni network, a network of those important multipliers in China who have studied or carried out research in Austria.
Author: Alexandra Wagner, Head of the OeAD Cooperation Office Shanghai, Vice Consul for Education and Science at the Consulate General Shanghai