|Name: Vincent K.L. Chang||Nationality: Dutch (The Netherlands)|
|Overseas Studying Period: September 2012 – July 2016||Alma Mater: Southwest University (SWU)|
|Graduated Major: Modern Chinese History||Graduated As:PhD student with CSC scholarship|
|Achieved Position:SWU ‘Excellent Graduate’ Award; Valedictorian at 2016 SWU Degree Ceremony|
On 29 May 2016, during a PhD defense session at Southwest University in the thriving city of Chongqing, a fluently Mandarin-speaking Dutchman clearly and cogently responded to all the questions posed by the expert members of the academic committee. Among the many auditors applauding and congratulating him after his successful PhD defense were his fellow students, teachers, school leaders and, last but not least, the Dutch ambassador to China, Mr. Ron Keller, and the acting Dutch consul general to Chongqing, Mr. Rob Schipper.
So who is this scholarly Dutchman? What made his the ambassador come down all the way from Beijing to attend his countryman’s defense? and what is the story about this fellow and Chongqing?
Vincent Chang (right) with Dutch ambassador Ron Keller (second right) after his PhD defense
His name is Vincent Chang. A true Dutchman born and raised in the Netherlands, Vincent is of mixed Chinese background and was given an authentic Chinese name at birth: Zhang Kelei (张克雷). To understand his deep affinity with China and Chongqing, we have to begin the story from his grandfather.
Vincent delivers the valedictory address at Southwest University’s 2016 Degree Ceremony
Searching for roots in Chongqing
Vincent Chang’s grandfather, Tseng-lu Chang (Zhang Zenglu), was a diplomat for China during the period of the Nationalist government. In 1938, when the Chinese government moved inland due to the outbreak of the war, Tseng-lu Chang came with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to China’s new wartime capital Chongqing. In 1945, Tseng-lu Chang was posted to the Chinese embassy to the Netherlands, where he served until 1950, when the Dutch government recognized the People’s Republic and broke off relations with China’s former government. From that moment on, Tseng-lu Chang and his family stayed in the West, all the way up to present day.
Vincent with his family in their hometown The Hague, The Netherlands
According to Vincent’s recollection, his grandparents only very rarely mentioned their early days in China. Over the years, this lack of understanding fed his curiosity about his Chinese family background. After studying at renowned Leiden University and working for several years at a top international law firm, Vincent decided to substitute his stable and promising job for a Chinese study program in Beijing.
After several years of studies and travels in China, Vincent first visited Chongqing in 2008 to search for traces of family history in the city where his grandparents had once lived and where his father had been born. Setting foot on Chongqing’s soil, Vincent was at once deeply captivated by the city’s spectacular appearance and unique atmosphere. As he began collecting information on Chongqing and its near-forgotten wartime history, the idea slowly evolved in his mind to one day tell the world about this fascinating city.
This general idea never left him, even though it took several years to ripen further. In 2010, Vincent and his wife moved to Chongqing to accept a job and deepen his research. A year later, their first son was born there. In his free time, Vincent toured around several historical sites together with his wife, visited archives and museums, and interviewed descendants of former diplomats. Gradually, his interest expanded from merely tracing his own family’s footsteps to hunting down former sites of foreign embassies and other wartime international traces in Chongqing.
Despite the help of his many new friends and of several kindhearted local citizens, Vincent felt increasingly lost in the complicated history of World War II in China. After years of research on a personal basis and in a more or less individual context, he was eager to find an opportunity of getting to know true experts of Chongqing’s wartime history. So when he heard about a new research center being founded at Southwest University, he felt a strong desire to find out more about it.
Studying at SWU
Vincent’s lucky break came in late 2011, when he was fortunate to meet with Professor Zhou Yong, a leading expert on Chongqing’s wartime history and founding Director of the World War II Research Center at Southwest University (SWU). During their first meeting, Professor Zhou Yong kindly offered Vincent some valuable pointers for his ongoing research activities, while at the same time welcoming him to make contributions in the academic field. This is when Vincent first started contemplating the possibility of pursuing a PhD degree at SWU under Professor Zhou’s supervision.
Vincent and his supervisor (middle) visiting Leiden University
Appraising his student, Professor Zhou Yong once stated that “Vincent Chang combines keen Oriental intellect with a pragmatic Western spirit, displaying excellent research attainments.” At the outset of his PhD program, Vincent and his supervisor drew up a very ambitious research plan, which now, four years later, has already been completely realized. Truly, Vincent’s four years at Southwest University marked a period of high-yield research output. His first book on Netherlands-Chinese relations, “Dutch Traces, Places and Faces in Chongqing, 1938-1946”, based on extensive international archival research and interviews with diplomats, was published by the Royal Netherlands Embassy to China and subsequently served as a basis for a TV documentary produced in cooperation with their research group and the Dutch Consulate General at Chongqing. On wartime international relations, Vincent and his supervisor authored “Toward Equality: Chongqing’s Wartime International Circles and The Dawn of Modern Diplomacy in China“, a bilingual book set to be published by Chongqing Publishing House presently. On top of this, Vincent published various research papers in renowned Chinese and Western journals. Nowadays, Professor Zhou looks forward to the day his favorite student will become “the No. 1 of a new generation of researchers on Sino-Dutch relations”.
Vincent presenting his book to King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands
The human heart
Amid his studies and research, Vincent did not forget the human heart of the Chinese and Dutch peoples, persistently promoting the friendship between the two countries as a true “friendship ambassador”. Vincent undertook various projects for the Dutch government, including for example the promotion of Sino-Dutch cooperation in the field of water. He also did a lot for the development of economic and trade cooperation and cultural exchange between the Netherlands and Chongqing, for example by facilitating the Yu-Xin-Ou “New Silk Road” railway’s representation in Europe and obtaining license rights of the Oscar-winning US documentary “Kukan: The Battle Cry of China”. On 18 October 2014, Vincent revived a 70-year old Sino-Dutch friendship bond and completed a historical cycle with the generous donation to the Chongqing China Three Gorges Museum of a precious Chinese calligraphy scroll written seven decades earlier for Vincent’s great-uncle by the famous Dutch sinologist-diplomat Robert van Gulik at Chongqing.
Scene of a donation by Vincent Chang to the Chongqing Three Gorges Museum
Between the beginning of his first ‘roots’ mission in 2005 and the final completion of his PhD in 2016, more than 10 years have already passed. During the past few years in Chongqing, Vincent has welcomed his first son to the world, has successfully retraced his ancestors’ footsteps over 70 years back in time, and has reaped the academic reward of a Chinese PhD degree. His PhD program having now been completed, with his academic devotion and deep affection for China and Chongqing, Vincent is all set to take on his role as new generation researcher of Sino-Dutch relations and outstanding envoy of friendship between China and the Netherlands, between Chongqing and the Netherlands.