John Diakoff, Pictographic map of the people and topography of the Chinese Republic, Northern Trading Company and Mr VF Yao-hsiun, Harbin, 1931.

John Diakoff, Pictographic map of the people and topography of the Chinese Republic, Northern Trading Company and Mr VF Yao-hsiun, Harbin, 1931.

Exhibition Space: Spies and scholars

Being a world leader in Chinese studies has often come with complications for ANU staff, particularly in the early stages of the Cold War.

An intriguing exhibition explores the delicate balance between diplomats, adventurers and scholars, as AARON WALKER finds out.

Senior academic staff engaging in a bit of international espionage between giving lectures and marking papers may seem like a fanciful proposition.

But following the Second World War when the newly-established ANU began leading the nation in the study of China, Australia's national security intelligence service ASIO thought there was enough of a risk to keep tabs on a number of senior ANU staff.

We know this because those ASIO files have now been declassified and form part of the Australian Centre on China in the World's (CIW) exhibition, China & ANU - Diplomats, Adventurers, Scholars.

The relationship between ANU and China stretches back to the University's beginnings.

In September 1946, the first meeting of the Interim Council of the University took place in Parliament House. One of the men to sit on the Council was Australia's first Minister to China Sir Frederic Eggleston.

Exhibition curator Dr Olivier Krischer explains Eggleston was a driving force behind the Research School of Pacific Studies, one of four foundation schools of ANU.

"Following his time as Minister to China, Eggleston had been saying 'we need to know about this place, we need our own information, we need specialists'," Krischer says.