The great British geopolitical theorist Halford Mackinder wrote that great statesmanship requires “geographical capacity” and “an insight into the minds of other nations.” He explained geographical capacity as a “mind which flits easily over the globe, which thinks in terms of the map, which quickly clothes the map with meaning, which correctly and intuitively places the commercial, historical, or political drama on its stage.”

In 1955, Professor John King Fairbank established the Center for Asian Research at Harvard not to train scholars per se, but to educate and prepare a new generation of public servants for engagement with Chairman Mao’s China. Sinology was already an established academic discipline in Europe and the United States, tracing a lineage from the Jesuit missionaries through to the great 19th century translators such as James Legge, Thomas Wade and Herbert Giles. But unlike the Sinologists, who approached Chinese civilization through its ancient texts, the China Hands that Fairbank would train at Harvard were multidisciplinary men—in those days, it was primarily men—of the world: aspiring journalists, diplomats and policymakers.

For the better part of a century, painters flocked to Paris. Mary Cassatt and James Whistler came from the United States, Gris and Picasso from Spain, Kandinsky from Russia. Paris was the place to be even for, as is less known, for Chinese artists. It is a curious comment on China’s interaction with Art-with-a-capital-A that while many people will be familiar with Monet, few (including, one suspects, the Chinese themselves) will know much if anything about Pan Yu-lin (or Pan Yuliang, as she is also known).

The concept of “soft power”, popularized by Harvard’s Joseph Nye, has always seemed artificial. Power as wielded by nations is not neatly divisible into “hard” and “soft” categories. The great realist philosopher of power Hans Morgenthau identified the elements of national power as geography, natural resources, industrial capacity, population, military preparedness, national morale, the quality of government, and the quality of diplomacy.