I would like to thank Konrad for his invitation to join up, and say that I look forward to being a part of this blog.
I suppose I should start off with a bit of biography. I sort of drifted into this field as an undergraduate. I started out my career (at Northern Illinois University) as a business major. I had no idea what I wanted to do when I grew up, but I did assume that after college I would get a job, and business seemed to be connected to jobs. After determining that I did not want to be a business major, I switched to History, mostly because I liked the stories (many of them not true, sadly) that Mr Yohe used to tell in High School history class. Really, I was trying to find something that would interest me enough that I would eventually graduate from college, even if I ended up starving afterwards. I spent a couple of very enjoyable years majoring in History that meet after noon. I realized that teaching was the only option if I wanted to eat as a historian, and I had no interest in education classes, so that meant grad school, not that I really knew what that meant. I knew I did not want to do U.S. history, and I knew I did not want to do China. I’m not sure if it was Pearl Buck or James Clavell who gave me this impression, but I had this hazy idea of China as a despotism
that was inhabited by pathetic peasants.
France was coolMexico was cool. China was not. I took one Chinese history class on the assumption that I should know something about the place. I’m still not entirely sure why I was so interested in that class. This was long enough ago that the lecturer actually read from yellowed notes he had written out in longhand. I’m not quite sure why I liked Chinese history so much. The fact that there was a lot of it helped. All the other places I studied were bits of something larger. China was a host in itself. Also, I thought learning Chinese would be a challenge.
I mention all this in part because it seems completely inadequate. Now I’m an academic and a China person, and it is hard to imagine being anything else, but when I look back the reasons I had at the time seem silly and almost random. Apparently there is a lot of path dependence in what we do. Most of the rest of my life has been shaped by the casual decisions (and stubbornness) of a kid who was uniformed not only about China but also about academia and most other things. My professors probably had some point to a lot of what they were doing, but I had no idea what it was. They tossed out lots of interesting things, and I picked some of them at random and held on to them.
I also mention it because studying China seems to call for a lot of explanation, at least around here. I’ve given versions of the
above a zillion times. There are parts of the world and the U.S. where the coming Chinese century is obvious and dealing with it or profiting from it seem to be things that are well worth doing. The chief question in Western PA is why holes in the ground that used to contain coal no longer contain coal and what can be done about it. Explaining to people why they should care about China is part of what I do, and like most academics I am wound up enough in study in general and in China in particular that it is hard for me to get outside it and explain why anyone else should care.
This ties directly into why anyone should read this blog. Some blogs are worth reading because the people who post to them are interesting Clearly not a reason to read what I write. Some are funny.Some blogs are written by experts who will tell you things any informed citizen needs to know. I suppose my current tendency is to post on things that interest me and assume that occasionally they will intersect with a larger conversation, but mostly it will just be talking to a small group of people, and as often as not only to myself. This is sort of typical for China academics, I think, since we are always part of the narratives that society and academia want to tell. China is too big to be left out (unlike, say, Korea) and we can always get into a
conversation if we want to. On the other hand we can also go off in our own weird little
sinological world. I like both approaches, but I suppose that place I like best is somewhere between
I will try to post something about my current work soon, but this is enough of a trial to your patience for the moment. I will also try to figure out Word Press’s formatting a little better