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2023 - 2 “China as seen from Belgium: how does the place of knowledge production affect research on China?”

Guest editors: Chris Kesteloot, Yunpeng Zhang, Ben Derudder

China as seen from Belgium: how does the place of knowledge production affect research on China

After the Open Door Policy launched by Deng Xiao Ping in 1979, Chinese researchers went abroad to catch up with science and technology that had fallen behind in their country because of the constraints of the planned economy and its lack of internal spurs for innovation. In the early 1980s, KU Leuven was quick to accept the first Ph.D. researchers from China. In Belgium, KU Leuven was soon followed by other, mainly Flemish universities. This was also the case in Geography, where incoming researchers overwhelmingly worked on China-related topics. Today, there is a sizable group of Chinese doctoral and post-doctoral researchers working in the Geography departments of Belgian universities.

The geographies of knowledge and knowledge production have become a key concern for researchers interested in power hierarchies. Applying the concept of situated knowledge developed by Haraway (1988) to geographical differences, one understands that asking the same research questions about a precise place or region in the world will result in different outcomes depending on where one is performing the research. Similarly, David Livingstone (2003) contends that what knowledge is produced also depends on the place where it is produced. Shetkin and Jašina-Schäfer (2022) even go further and invite us to approach area studies in a relational way, i.e. by considering the relations between the places of knowledge production and those that are studied in a comparative, reflexive and dialectic way.

The relevance of geographies of knowledge is not only confined to research, it also surfaces in education. Metaforum, the interdisciplinary think tank of KU Leuven, recently published a contribution for internal debate on multiregionalism. It advocates the inclusion of more knowledge about other parts of the world and their worldviews into KU Leuven’s curricula to avoid eurocentrism (Defoort et al., 2021).

Against this backdrop, it is imperative to ask: how and to what extent does studying China within the context of Belgian academia influence the process and outcomes of knowledge production? How does knowledge produced through transnational exchanges and by researchers straddling different spaces affect the researchers involved, both in research and teaching? How does this affect their aspirations, approaches and conceptions of geography? The answers to these questions will also unveil strengths and weaknesses of the practice of Geography in Belgian academia.

In this Belgeo special issue, we welcome contributions from Chinese geographers who did or are doing research on China in a Belgian university in all fields of geography. We also welcome contributions by other researchers who have worked on China and contributions with mixed authorship.

Papers can focus on historical, methodological and/or epistemological issues raised by the local academic context, on different interpretations about Chinese geographical phenomena, on the sociological differences in the organization and implementation of research, etc. Even short personal essays about being a Chinese researcher in a Belgian university, the cultural shock when arriving in a foreign geographical (research) context, the difficulties encountered in fieldwork, the aid from the Chinese students’ and researchers’ communities, the issues of staying in Belgian or returning to China, the perception of a Belgian (and by extension a European degree) in China, etc. might be considered.

Although the special issues centers on ‘China as seen from Belgium’, we would be happy to open up the debate by also including papers on ‘country-pairs’ where a similar external gaze on their part of the world is at play.

250-word proposals for papers should be addressed to Chris Kesteloot (, Yunpeng Zhang ( and Ben Derudder ( before 15 September 2022.

We also consider the possibility to hold a seminar end of October 2022 in Leuven, during which potential authors can share and discuss their ideas on the subject.

Papers from accepted proposals are expected for 1 February 2023 and will be subjected to the usual double blind peer review process. Final publication of this special issue is scheduled for Spring 2023.

Belgeo is a fully open access online journal and publishes in English or in French and Dutch. For more information on the Journal and its editorial statement:


CHESKIN A. & JAŠINA-SCHÄFER A. (2022), “Relational area studies: Russia and geographies of knowledge”, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers,

DEFOORT C., MAJOR P., COOMANS T., JEONG R., GRUBER J., KESTELOOT C., NOVA BLANCO J., PASTURE P., SALAZAR N. & ACHTEN V. (2021), Let Universities Be Multiregional: The Case at KU Leuven, Report No. Metaforum contributions to internal debate 3, Metaforum KU Leuven,

Haraway D. (1988), “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective”, Feminist Studies, 14, 3, pp. 575-599.

LIVINGSTONE D. (2003), Putting Science in Its Place. Geographies of Scientific Knowledge, Chicago, University of Chicago Press.

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