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Orville Hickock Schell III (born May 20, 1940 in New York City) is an activist and writer working on China, and is the Arthur Ross Director of the Center on U.S.-China Relations at the Asia Society in New York. He previously served as Dean of the University of California, Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.
Schell's father Orville Hickok Schell, Jr., was a prominent lawyer who headed the New York City Bar Association, chaired the human rights group Americas Watch from its founding in 1981 until his death in 1987, co-founded Helsinki Watch, forerunner to Human Rights Watch, and became the namesake of the Orville H. Schell, Jr. Center for International Human Rights at Yale Law School. Orville Schell III is the older brother of writer Jonathan Schell.
Schell attended Pomfret School in Pomfret, Connecticut, after which he attended Harvard University, leaving in 1960 after his junior year to study Chinese, first at Stanford University and then at National Taiwan University from 1961 to 1964. While in Taiwan, Schell began writing columns for the Boston Globe as its "Man in Asia". He then returned to Harvard and studied Asian history, culture and politics under John Fairbank and Edwin Reischauer, and completed his bachelor's degree in 1964.
In 1964-65 Schell worked for the Ford Foundation in Djakarta, Indonesia. He then pursued Chinese studies at the University of California, Berkeley, earning a master's degree in 1967, becoming researcher for sociology and history professor Franz Schurmann (head of the school's Center for Chinese Studies) on a three-volume work The China Reader (1967, Random House). Schell was named as a co-author, establishing him as a China scholar, expert and pundit on Asia.
Schell continued his academic studies at University of California, Berkeley, completing all but his Ph.D. dissertation. As anti-Vietnam War protests shook the campus, he became involved in anti-war activism and journalism, and in 1967 he signed the Writers and Editors War Tax Protest pledge, vowing to refuse to pay tax as a protest against the Vietnam War.
In 1969 Schell and Schurmann co-founded Pacific News Service (PNS) to create and distribute news and commentary from a broader spectrum of voices, especially viewpoints from abroad. The PNS was critical of the United States role in Indochina during the Vietnam War and supportive of establishing diplomatic relations with the PRC.
Before his 1974 departure for China, Schell had already published three scholarly books, The China Reader, Starting Over: A College Reader and Modern China: The Story of a Revolution.
In 1975 Schell and his younger brother Jonathan Schell (who would later write the bestseller The Fate of the Earth, and join The Nation and the Nation Institute) became correspondents at The New Yorker. Schell has also served as a correspondent for the Atlantic Monthly and the New Republic. He has written widely for many other magazine and newspapers, including The New Yorker, Time magazine, Harper's, The Nation, The New York Review of Books, Wired, Foreign Affairs, Newsweek, the China Quarterly, and the New York Times, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times.
In 1980 Schell won an Alicia Patterson Journalism Fellowship to research and write about the reliance on drugs in the U.S. meat industry.
He has also been a co-producer for the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) production center WGBH-TV in Boston (1984), NBC Nightly News (1987), CBS' 60 Minutes (1991), and helped produce Peter Jennings' specials at ABC Television. In 1994 he worked for the PBS documentary program Frontline.
In 1992 Schell won an Emmy Award and an Alfred I. duPont Award - Columbia University Silver Baton for producing 60 Minutes' Made in China, a documentary about the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. In 1997, Schell won a George Peabody Award for his production of Frontline's documentary Gate of Heavenly Peace.
Schell's selection as Dean of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism elicited one unusual attack from right-wing radio talk show host and health guru, Michael Savage, who alleged the head of the search committee, sociology professor Troy Duster, had refused to interview him. Savage considered himself a qualified conservative journalist for the job, and claimed that Schell's appointment constituted political patronage, which is illegal under California's labor laws. The suit also argued that a political litmus test for the deanship illegally denied public employment and First Amendment rights to a conservative applicant. The lawsuit was dropped as having little merit and when all conservative applicants withdrew from consideration.
During his tenure at UC Berkeley, Schell was responsible for the hirings of Christopher Hitchens, Michael Lewis, Cynthia Gorney, Michael Pollan, Louis Rossetto, Charles Ferguson, Barbara Ehrenreich, Mark Danner, Steve Wasserman, Stephen Talbot and Tom Engelhardt, among others.
In April 2006, Schell announced his intention to resign as dean.
Schell is now the Arthur Ross Director of the Center on U.S.-China Relations at the Asia Society in New York, which focuses on multimedia journalism, original research and public events to bring attention to areas of mutual interest to the United States and China. Since its inception, the Center has focused primarily on issues of energy and global climate change. Schell is currently overseeing "The China Boom Project", "On Thinner Ice", a joint multimedia project with David Breashears' Glacier Research Imaging Project (GRIP) and MediaStorm, and a new policy effort to maximize American interest in response to investment from China.
A frequent participant in the World Economic Forum, Schell is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, The Climate Policy Initiative, GE's Eco Imagination Advisory Board and the Council on the Future of Media, which claims to be "championing a new global, independent news and information service whose role is to inform, educate and improve the state of the world-one that would take advantage of all platforms of content delivery from mobile to satellite and online to create a new global network".
Schell has criticized factory farming. In 1976 he published The Town That Fought to Save Itself, about the San Francisco suburb of Bolinas, where he has a ranch. In 1978 he co-founded the company Niman Ranch (then named "Niman-Schell") with Bill Niman with the objective of raising cattle in a humane and environmentally sound manner. He left the company in 1999. In 1984 he published the book Modern Meat: Antibiotics, Hormones, and the Pharmaceutical Farm, criticizing meat production in the United States.
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Schell first visited the People's Republic of China in 1974, during the last years of Mao Zedong. His sorrow at the excesses of Mao's socialist regime was evident in a winter 1988 interview with the magazine Whole Earth Review:
"China was one model in the '60s and '70s for Westerners looking for new credos and new alternative belief systems. Well, it turned out that China consumed itself. It did not necessarily disprove that certain socialist models are completely inappropriate for Third World developing countries. Rather it simply showed that the extremism of the Maoist experiment sabotaged that model...It's a great shame that Mao screwed up. His megalomania overpowered his efforts to see if China could be the first country that would find some different way to put itself together and to develop."
"There isn't much I'd recommend anybody imitate in China now, because China is becoming an imitation of us...Now among the young there's enormous amounts of crime and disaffection and skepticism and cynicism, along with disillusionment, and its analogue, a greed for money. People always reach for money when everything else fails."
In a September/October 1997 interview with Mother Jones magazine, he described Deng Xiaoping as "the counterrevolutionary par excellence in history", and China's capitalist bloc in the Communist Party as "using their positions both in the party and in the government to make money".
Asked if China is ready for democracy, Schell answered "No...Some of [Deng Xiaoping's successors] fought for almost 50 years for the Marxist revolution, and I think it's very naïve for Westerners to assume that that experience, that mindset, that whole ideology just simply vanished with Deng's reforms".
In 2004 Schell called China's Communist-Capitalist mix "Leninist capitalism".
In an interview with Terri Gross of NPR's Fresh Air broadcast November 19, 2009, Schell stated that there are two types of democracy. The first is the U.S. form, which has become increasingly unable to adapt or react to the challenges that the world is now facing, Global Warming being the most urgent. The second is the Chinese form, "Autocratic Democracy", where the people are willing to delegate authority to their autocratic government to act in ways that guarantee economic growth. He suggests the Chinese form of democracy may be more adaptive because it is not encumbered by the special/single-interest power blocks found in the United States, and appears to be able to act more decisively to deal with the complexities of the world of today, although it can also more quickly implement poor decisions. But, he emphasized that he personally preferred living in an open society.