井底之蛙

4/13/2007

Where’s my check?

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 6:30 am

A lot of discussion of who China scholars in the U.S. -really- work for. (Hint, it’s not Cleo) One thread of the discussion, from Far Eastern Economic Review, via Cliopatria, asks if China Scholars have been bought off by the CCP. This focuses more on general research on contemporary China, but the point of the piece is that China scholars have become adept and not asking the type of questions that might annoy the state, and are thus complicit, at one remove perhaps, in what it does.

Another thread started on the H-Asia discussion list. Yang Bin and Thomas Dubois brought up the question of why Chinese scholars are “under-represented” in the field. Qin Shao refined the question by pointing out that Mainland Chinese scholars who got Ph.D.s in the US have often found work at smaller schools but almost none of them are in the Ivies. Andrew Field tenatively suggested that this might be the impact of the Cold War origins of China studies in the U.S., i.e. that “Mainland Chinese historians, schooled in the rigors of Marxist (Maoist?) historicism and sympathetic to the Chinese revolution of 1949, might constitute a threat to the anti-Communist agenda of the US government.” (I think he is trying to make the point less crudely than that.)

Most of the people involved in this discussion are quick to deny that they are interested in casting aspersions on anyone or creating flaky conspiracy theories. In reading all this stuff not quite implying that there is something wrong with the field I am reminded of Orwell’s observation that if the British Trotskyites really -were- in the pay of Hitler, or anyone else, they would at least occasionally have some money. Sadly, I suspect that nobody in Washington cares enough about China scholarship to do much about it.

Even more sadly I suspect that there is some truth to the suggestion that Western academics are so timid they would avoid topics for fear of annoying Beijing, even if Beijing is not actually saying anything. As China becomes a more and more ‘normal’ state and is less and less interested in controlling scholarship on a lot of topics this may not matter.

In part I think there is no problem to be explained. As Robert Hymes pointed out in the H-Asia discussion, most of the people who teach history in American universities in any field are Americans. Still, I think it is likely that part of the reason is that there really is a national, or at least regional character to academia. (I’m a native speaker of English and I find the British university system incomprehensible.) Chinese and American academics in China and America are quite different, ask different question and answer them in different ways, value different sorts of publications, teach differently and are supported by the state and society differently. Thus it seems unlikely that it would be easy to move back and forth between the two worlds, and in fact few people do. (The Japan/Non-Japan Japanese studies gap is a good example I think, as there you have two different worlds and there is no reason to think it is temporary.)

Is this parochialism? Is it good or acceptable if it is? Is it fixable or worth fixing? Is focusing on the Ivies a good way to ask this quesiton?

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