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Sabrina Habich-Sobiegalla

Professor of modern Chinese state and society at the FU Berlin

How great is the acceptance of the COVID warning app in China compared to Germany and the USA? That is one of the questions Sabrina Habich-Sobiegalla is currently investigating. The 37-year-old is a professor of modern Chinese state and society at the Institute for Chinese Studies at the FU Berlin. Among other things, her research revolves around digitalization and the use of AI in China, on Renewable Energies, and the social impact of local resource policies.

Habich-Sobiegalla, born in Bad Gandersheim in Lower Saxony, has most recently been researching developments in mainland China – but she has close personal ties above all to Hong Kong and Taiwan. It all started with a postcard from her pen pal in Hong Kong: The city skyline and the characters on the card fascinated the teenager. So much so that at the age of 14 she took a Chinese course at the adult education center and two years later seized the first opportunity to go to Hong Kong.

Sabrina Habich-Sobiegalla concerned

As an exchange student, she attended a Catholic girls’ school in Hong Kong: “It was very strict and disciplined there. She felt more comfortable with her host family, even though there were six of them living in 40 square meters. To this day, Habich-Sobiegalla keeps in touch with the family and the town. She views current developments on the ground with concern. “I always experienced Hong Kong as a free China, a free society. That no longer exists.” But she also knows Hong Kong citizens who explicitly support the actions of the People’s Republic. “That’s why I’m careful about speaking on behalf of the whole population in Hong Kong.”

After studying Sinology, Business Administration, and Political Science in Würzburg, she went to Taiwan – also to improve her Chinese language skills after learning Cantonese in Hong Kong. She stayed for four years and completed her doctorate at Chengchi National University in Taipei. She regularly traveled to southwest China for her doctoral research. The topic of the thesis: involuntary resettlement in the course of dam projects.

“I would have stayed in Taiwan if I hadn’t promised my parents I would come back after four years,” Habich-Sobiegalla says. After her return, she went first to the University of Tübingen, then to the University of Vienna. Since 2017, she has held the junior professorship at the FU Berlin. Taipei is a second home for her to this day, and she has many friends and family connections there. The behavior of the People’s Republic in relation to Taiwan, the “saber-rattling“, as she says, saddens her. “The government has resorted to very harsh measures in Xinjiang, it has resorted to very harsh measures in Hong Kong. From the Chinese point of view, Taiwan is still missing, so that worries me.”

She is also feeling the increased pressure from the Chinese leadership: “It is becoming more and more difficult for Western scientists to travel to China and do research. Interviews are being canceled at short notice, and there is growing concern that Chinese scientists will be put in danger if they meet with them. “That makes it more difficult on both sides.” Sarah Schaefer


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