Teaching Chinese students

The first time I encountered a Chinese student in a university classroom was a harrowing experience. As a first year PhD student working on a thesis about Taiwan I was invited to give a guest lecture for comparative social policy Master’s class. My lecture about Taiwan was one of six case studies introducing students to social policy in different societies. I had taught a lab-based stats class, but this was my first experience in a lecture theatre. I struggled with anxiety and low self-confidence throughout my PhD and I was nervous. Within the first few minutes of the lecture, still in the grip of nerves, one of the only Chinese students in the theatre raised her hand. I wasn’t expecting or inviting questions at this point. “Hi, you have a question?” She didn’t have a question, it was more of a statement: “Taiwan is not a country”.

I was at a loss for words. The lecture was about social policy, and I had no idea why this student felt the need to intervene with such a statement. As she didn’t offer further comment, I continued the lecture. Halfway through the lecture the student raised her hand again. “Taiwan is not a country”. This time, I was a little less patient. “I’m talking about healthcare why are you telling me this?” It seems that I’d compared Taiwan’s health insurance system to that of “other countries,” thereby implying that Taiwan was also a country. I was astonished, annoyed and embarrassed. But it was a useful lesson. More than a decade has passed and I’ve taught hundreds of Chinese students since, and I have never been interrupted like this again.

I confess after that first lecture, decompressing with a beer on campus by myself, my thoughts were rather uncharitable to the Chinese student. Later, I was better able to empathize. Imagine if everything in your environment since childhood had instilled in you “incontrovertible facts”, and then an outsider, who you’ve also been primed to believe is biased against you and hell bent on denying what you “know” is right, does exactly that. It isn’t the fault of the Chinese students who turn up in your classes that they have grown up in an authoritarian information environment where the Party is highly motivated and capable through control of the media and education systems to instil a particular worldview.

Does that mean we should avoid talking about certain issues, or modify the way we talk about them, for fear of upsetting our Chinese students? Absolutely not. To do so would be a disservice to the profession, the discipline, and all of the students in the class, including the Chinese ones. For any HE professional, avoiding or sugar-coating a legitimate and necessary topic (like Tiananmen or Taiwan), is anathema. But, we also know that cognitive dissonance is one of the biggest impediments to positive learning outcomes, so we do need a strategy. For colleagues in most disciplines this is not a huge issue – it is for me because I teach Chinese politics and society, often to Chinese students.

At the outset of my classes I explain and exemplify how there are usually two sides to any story, and seemingly “incontrovertible facts” have their own distinct provenance and meanings. I then explain that we will be discussing and interrogating western and Chinese understandings of China. I explain that there is instrumentality on all sides in the construction of these understandings and I always ensure that different views are provided and critically assessed. I require all students to ask why different actors evince the views that they do.

This is the broad context in which my classes are taught and it is the approach I take to all issues, including ones that might elicit “emotional” or “unquestioning” responses. I assure students that any viewpoint is valid, and encourage them to voice “unpopular” or uncomfortable ones; but they must agree to make a reasoned argument and to respect and engage with others who do so. We don’t shy away from interrogating the education system and information environment in China that Chinese students have grown up in.

In all cases I treat students respectfully, tactfully and non-confrontationally. Deliberately making students uncomfortable or attempting to negate their prior knowledge is a recipe for disengagement and potential conflict, none of which improves learning outcomes. We can address any issue in class, but we do so in an atmosphere that encourages exchange and learning. That may sound idealistic – but it has allowed me to deliver on my duty as a teacher.

I am there to provide my students with all the relevant knowledge I have at my disposal, some of which will certainly challenge that made available in Chinese curricula and media. I want students to learn how to critically evaluate information, critically engage with different viewpoints and to compose reasoned arguments. In the process of implementing these techniques, some Chinese students will come to question some of their assumptions, go beyond and challenge previously acquired knowledge. Others won’t, and that’s fine.

I have had many Chinese students thank me for illuminating their own understanding about China. As I commented for a recent piece, many Chinese students understand that the worldview they receive in China is partial and are receptive to different perspectives. As a teacher, it is extremely gratifying to see students learn and develop. But it isn’t my job to try to change their worldviews.

If Chinese students are going to have a more profound experience studying overseas, I believe it will come from their experience outside the classroom, from their interactions with host populations and local cultures. Chinese students are often critiqued for hanging out together to the exclusion of others. But in their defence, little thought has been put into how to create and manage a more holistic overseas study experience that enables them to go beyond the comfort zone created by associating with their compatriots. For instance, we organize lubricated “socials” for freshman students to get to know one another – but what about Chinese students who don’t drink, or have insufficient confidence or language skills to engage socially in this context? In some schools, cohorts of Chinese students are taking degrees and classes in which their classmates are also mostly Chinese. Few opportunities exist for facilitated exposure to local communities.

In the UK, “student experience” has become a buzzword, mainly because of the National Student Survey and other League Tables that can affect recruitment. As domestic student fees have risen and students have been framed as “customers”, universities have made huge investments in fancy gyms, dorms and catering facilities. But as a sector we need to think more specifically about the “Chinese student experience”, inside and outside the classroom.

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Dude, where’s my paper?

Back in 2011, weibo was enjoying a moment. Competing platforms were at the height of their popularity and had brought several scandals to light, including attempts to cover up the Wenzhou high speed rail crash. I was fascinated by the potential for weibo to disrupt the authoritarian information order, and wrote about it for the journals New Media & Society and Media, Culture & Society. For the former, in a piece entitled “China’s Weibo: Is faster different?”, I concluded that despite the potential for democratizing information, the state was already proving adept at controlling and harnessing weibo for its own agenda. It doesn’t please me that this proved to be right, as the subsequent crackdown, which neutered weibo’s effectiveness, demonstrated.

In 2011 I was also studying for a Postgraduate Certificate in Higher Education (PGCHE), and needed to write a teaching-related report. Surveying the literature in China Studies I was struck by the paucity of reflections on teaching practice in our field, and decided to write about incorporating weibo into classes on Chinese politics. This was something I was experimenting with in the classroom at the time, and I imagined that it would stimulate thoughts among academic colleagues about how we might enhance our teaching and increase the knowledge and understanding of students learning about contemporary China. The Editor of the Journal of Chinese Political Science, published by Springer Nature, agreed, using my paper as the stimulus for a special issue dedicated to teaching methods in the China Studies field.

I never imagined that the paper I wrote would end up on a list of articles pulled from publication in China by Springer Nature. When another of my articles, “Chen Suibian: On independence” featured on the list of China Quarterlypublications that the Chinese authorities required Cambridge University Press to remove from their website in China, I could at least perceive the logic to it. Although the paper was a statistical analysis of presidential speeches that sought to contextualise and explain (not endorse!) then-President Chen’s sometimes inflammatory rhetoric, Taiwanese independence is about as sensitive an issue as there is in the PRC.

But what was it about “Teaching Chinese politics: Microblogging and student engagement” that prompted Springer Nature to pull it? Was it the technical discussion of the “pedagogical imperatives [that] increasingly impel university teachers to consider the effectiveness of their teaching methods”? Or the aim to construct a “supportive and collaborative learning environment and demystify China for non-Chinese majors”? I remain mystified myself.

For me personally, removing access to this paper in China is no more than a minor irritation. The paper itself has had negligible impact (a mere 7 cites in the 5 years since publication), and the subsequent decimation of weibo’s popularity and the associated rise of a totally different platform, WeChat, has rendered the practical advice for teachers moot.

However, as I commented in the Financial Times today (FT China correspondent Ben Bland broke the story), there are bigger issues involved. I said, and believe, that it is “a symbol of how unprepared we are in the west for China’s influence expanding outwards.” China sets the rules for what goes on in its territory, and whether we agree with them or not we have to respect that. Censorship by western academic institutions, including trade and university presses, is thus a story about us and our values. China is set on pursuing its own model and it is evident at this point that the west is not going to have much impact on the contours of Chinese norms. The question is whether Chinese norms will start to impact our own behaviours. In fact, there is sufficient evidence that the question is not “whether” but rather “to what extent”.

As China’s global engagement (an unequivocal net positive for the world in my view) broadens and intensifies, and the promise of access to its market exerts an ever greater pull, actions like Springer Nature’s are bound to increase in frequency. Commercial actors of course, from Facebook to Norwegian salmon farmers, work to economic, cost-benefit calculi that do not leave much room for consideration of values. Except, as exemplified by Cambridge University Press’ u-turn, where reputational damage prompts (let’s give benefit of the doubt) a reconsideration of principles. It remains to be seen how Springer Nature will respond, although trade presses have somewhat different considerations than university presses.

Academics are already aware of the inequities of the publishing model in the sector, where companies like Springer Nature and Elsevier have amassed substantial economic gains on the back of free labour. For the weeks of labour I put into writing my banned paper (indeed any paper), and the years of study and training that enabled me to be in position to write it, I didn’t receive a single penny from publishers. Neither have I received any compensation for the time (hundreds of hours at this point) dedicated to peer reviewing submissions to journals, the imprimatur of quality assurance on which academic publications are predicated. Acceptance of this predatory and parasitic relationship is being eroded across the sector, but it, like Chinese censorship, won’t go away any time soon.

And so, in a small token act of resistance against the worst instincts of western capitalism and the Chinese authoritarian information regime, I make all of my published papers freely available to anyone to download at the tabs above.

China Scholars Twitterati 100

Welcome to the China Scholars Twitterati 100, 2014 edition. The following annotated list is an expanded and all-new version of the inaugural list published here last year. My goal with the list this year is to bring attention to some of the scholarly experts active on Twitter who may be less well-known than superstars like @jwassers, @fravel and @LetaHong. Therefore the 2014 edition does not include anyone from last year. It’s nothing personal—and if you haven’t seen last year’s selection please do so.

To be included on the list, people had to be currently employed at a University in a research and/or teaching role (this excludes recovering academics, policy analysts at think tanks, and collectives) and to have academic publications on China (and/or Taiwan). Tweeting activity had to reach a certain threshold in terms of number of tweets and consistency/recency. Following me was NOT a criterion for inclusion on this list. This edition includes an expanded section for PhD students working on China—some of whom are extremely impressive intellectually, and active tweeters.

The list is not exhaustive, due to the fallibility of my search methods and obscure/missing/untraceable bios. The gender split is around 60:40 male/female. This might just be a reflection of who is on Twitter, but if you know of more women China scholars on Twitter (who have an academic position, are not employed primarily in a think tank, were not included on the list last year, have more than 100 tweets with ‘recent’ activity) let me know @jonlsullivan.

Stephen McDowall @TheRealMcDowall is a Chancellor’s Fellow in History at the University of Edinburgh, and a cultural historian of late-imperial China

Rya Butterfield @RyaButterfield is Assistant Professor at Nicholls State University, working on Chinese and western rhetoric and political theory.

Gerald Roche @GJosephRoche is an anthropologist at Uppsala University working on endangered languages in Tibet. He is the Editor of Asian Highlands Perspectives.

Mark Elliott @Mark_C_Elliott is Professor of Chinese and Inner Asian History and Director of the Fairbank Center, at Harvard University. Expert on the Qing,

Sara Hsu @SaraHsuChina is Assistant Professor of Economics at SUNY, New Paltz and an expert on Chinese economic development.

Brian DeMare @BrianDeMare is an historian of modern China at Tulane University. His new book on Mao’s Cultural Army is forthcoming with Cambridge University Press

Winnie King  @DrWinnieKing is currently a teaching fellow at the University of Bristol, and specializes in Chinese political economy.

Bryan W. Van Norden  @BryanVanNorden is a Professor at Vassar College, specialising in Chinese religions and author of Introduction to Classical Chinese Philosophy

Ellen Wu @ellendwu is Assistant Professor of History at Indiana University. Expert on experience and identity of Chinese/Asian Americans

Ryan Dunch @DunchinYEG is Professor of Chinese history at University of Alberta (more tweets focused on higher ed than China)

Peter Dutton @peter_dutton is Director of the China Maritime Studies Institute at the US Naval War College, tweets on Chinese and Asian security.

Yanzhong Huang @YanzhongHuang is Associate Professor in the School of Diplomacy at Seton Hall. Expertise and tweets on Chinese health

Paula S. Harrell @psharrell3 is an historian specialising in China and Japan at Georgetown University

Willy Sier @WillySier is a researcher at the Institute for Social Science, University of Amsterdam. She specializes in contemporary migration issues in China.

Jocelyn Chatterton @Chatt236 is a Lecturer in Chinese history at SOAS specializing in Ming/Qing textiles and eunuchs.

David Brophy @Dave_Brophy is a Lecturer in History at Sydney University specialising in the social and political history of China’s northwest, especially Xinjiang

Ira Belkin @IraBelkin is Executive Director of the US-Asia Law Institute at NYU Law School. Expertise and tweets on rule of law & criminal justice in China

Karla Simon @KarlaWSimon is affiliated with the NYU US-Asia Law Institute and author of Civil Society in China (OUP)

Mike Gow @mikeygow is a postdoc at NYU Shanghai, researching and tweeting on the role of Higher Education in the Chinese development model

Dan Chen @dorischen is Assistant Professor at Elizabethtown College, Pennsylvania. Expertise in Chinese media and politics

Pär Cassel @ParCassel is Associate Professor in Chinese History at the University of Michigan. Expert on late imperial and modern China.

Anita Huang @HLaoshi is Assistant professor of Chinese & linguistics at Birmingham-Southern College, Alabama.

John Wagner Givens @JWagnerGivens is a Postdoc at the University of Louisville Center for Asian Democracy. Tweets on Chinese law, politics and society

Carla Nappi @CarlaNappi is Associate Professor of History at the University of British Columbia, and an expert on the history of science and medicine in the Ming-Qing

Enze Han @EnzeHan is Senior Lecturer  at SOAS and an expert on ethnic politics in China and China’s relations with Southeast Asia

Malcolm Davis @Dr_M_Davis is Assistant Professor at Bond University in Queensland. Research and tweets on China’s major power relations and military.

Hilde De Weerdt @hild_de is Professor of Chinese History at the University of Leiden, and a specialist in Chinese and comparative history and digital research methods

Amy Jane Barnes @AmyJaneBarnes is currently based at the School of Management, University of Leicester, with expertise in Chinese history and museum studies.

Carl Minzner @CarlMinzner is Professor of Chinese law and politics at Fordham Law School and an expert on law and governance in China

Xiaoyu Pu @pu_xiaoyu is Assistant Professor at the University of Nevada, specializing in China’s foreign relations and rising powers in IR

Anne Sytske Keijser @KeijserA is a Lecturer in the Chinese Studies Programme at Leiden University. Expertise in Chinese film & literature

Scott Kennedy @ScottIU is Director of the Research Center for Chinese Politics & Business at Indiana University.

Chen Dingding @ChenDingding is Assistant Professor of Government at the University of Macau, with interests in Chinese foreign policy and security

Keith Dede @KeithDede is Associate Professor of Chinese at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon

John McNeil Scott @McNeilScott is Chaplain and researcher with the Taiwan Studies Programme at the LSE

Amy King @amysarahking is Lecturer in the Strategic & Defence Studies Centre at ANU. Expert on China-Japan relations and Asia-Pacific security

David Tobin @ReasonablyRagin Lecturer in Politics at the University of Glasgow with expertise and tweets on China and Japan relations and Asian security

Andrew Quintman @AndrewQuintman is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Yale University, and an authority on Buddhism in Tibet and the Himalayan region

Gary Rawnsley @GDRaber is Professor of Public Diplomacy in the Department of International Politics at Aberystwyth University and an expert on China and Taiwan’s public diplomacy

Matt Ferchen @MattFerchen is Associate Professor in IR at Tsinghua University, Beijing. Research on Chinese development & China-Latin America relations

Jennifer Hsu @jennifer_hsu Assistant Professor at the University of Alberta and an expert on Chinese development

Thomas Jansen @Jansen_Lampeter is Associate Professor in Chinese Studies at Trinity St David, University of Wales, specialising in early medieval China and Chinese religions

Zachary Scarlett @TheCrimsonEarth is Assistant professor of Chinese history at Butler University, Indiana, specialising in politics and culture and radical political movements

Robert Barnett @RobbieBarnett is Director of the Modern Tibetan Studies Program at Columbia University. Expert on Tibet

Lily Wong @lilyw0817 is Assistant professor of Literature at American University, with interests in East Asian Cultural Studies film and media

Scott Simon @ssimon_chelsea is an anthropologist at the University of Ottawa specializing in the political ecology of Taiwan

Alison Marshall @Marshallalisonr is an historian at Brandon University, Canada. Researching Chinese Canadian history, gender and religion

Joanna Lewis @JoannaILewis is Associate Professor of Science, Technology and International Affairs at Georgetown University. Expert on climate change and clean energy in China.

Stephen Morgan @SimaHui1 is Professor and Dean of Social Sciences at University of Nottingham, Ningbo campus. Business historian of China

Stéphane Corcuff @stephanecorcuff is Professor at Sciences-Po Lyon and Director of the Centre d’Etudes Français sur la Chine Contemporaine, based in Taiwan. Expert on Taiwanese politics and society.

Jack Qiu @jacklqiu is Associate Professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, working on the Chinese internet.

Jon Taylor @USTPoliSciProf is Professor of political science at the University of St. Thomas, Houston. Expertise in Chinese and U.S. public administration and policy

Miwa Hirono @MiwaYang is Lecturer in Politics and IR at the University of Nottingham researching China’s foreign relations and foreign policy behaviour.

Mark Feldman @MFeldman97 is Associate Professor in the School of Transnational Law at Peking University. Expertise in Chinese and Asian law

Hyun Shin @urbancommune is Associate Professor in Geography at the LSE, specialising in comparative urban studies and urbanization in China

Tong Lam @tong_lam is Associate Professor of History at the University of Toronto and an expert on Chinese visual culture and technology

Maggie Greene @mcgreenesd is Assistant Professor of History at Montana State with interests in modern Chinese history

Sam van Schaik @sam_vanschaik researches the history of Buddhism, Tibet and the Silk Road, and is a member of the British Library’s International Dunhuang Project

Markus Eberhardt @MEDevEcon is Assistant Professor in Economics at the University of Nottingham. Expertise and tweets in empirical development economics

Silvia Lindtner @yunnia is Assistant Professor in the School of Information at the University of Michigan researching cultures of technology production and use in China

Pradeep Taneja @kyakarraheho is based in the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Melbourne, with interests in the politics and international relations of China and India.

Fan Yang @FanfanYang is Assistant Professor of Media and Communication Studies at the University of Maryland. She has particular interests in the media and visual culture in contemporary China

Marcella Szablewicz @MSzabs is Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at Pace University, New York, working on the Chinese Internet and Digital Media

Eric Shepherd @erictshepherd is Associate Professor of Chinese  and storyteller   at the University of South Florida.

Cameron Campbell @campbell_kang is Professor at UCLA currently based at HKUST. Expertise in population and the family in China

James Leibold @jleibold is Senior Lecturer at La Trobe University, where he researches ethnic relations and ethnic policy in China, with particular interest in Xinjiang

Aynne Kokas @shotinshanghai is a Fellow in Chinese Media at the Baker Institute at Rice University

Carole McGranahan @CMcGranahan is Professor of Anthropology and historian of Tibet at the University of Colorado. Expert on Tibet and the Tibetan Diaspora

Paul Gillis @ProfGillis is Professor of Practice at the Guanghua School of Management, Peking University. He also runs the China Accounting Blog

Maggie Clinton @maggieclinton is Assistant Professor of History at Middlebury College with expertise on modern china

Kingsley Edney @KingsleyEdney is Lecturer in the Politics and International Relations of China at the University of Leeds.

Christian Schmidkonz @ChinaFFWD is Professor at Munich Business School, with interests in the economy of China and Taiwan

Christopher Twomey @ctwomey68 is Associate Professor at the Naval Postgraduate School, researching Sino-US relations and Asian security

Scott Galer @scottgaler is Associate Professor of Chinese at Brigham Young University, Idaho.

Randy Kluver @rkluver is Associate Professor in the Department of Communication at Texas A&M. Media, digital and international communications with a China focus.

Cara Wallis @carawallis is Assistant Professor at Texas A&M, researching the social and cultural implications of new media technologies in China.

Corey Wallace @CoreyJWallace is a Lecturer at the University of Auckland, specialising in China- Japan relations and East Asian IR/security

Natasha Heller @nheller is Assistant Professor of Chinese Religions at UCLA. Expert in Chinese Buddhism and its interaction with the intellectual history of the Song, Yuan and Ming

John Ross @JohnRoss43 is Senior Fellow at the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University. Interests in China’s economy and

Scott Gregory @ScottGreg is currently a Visiting Fellow in the Department of Chinese Studies at the National University of Singapore, working on late imperial Chinese literature

Katrien Jacobs @katrien_jacobs is Associate Professor in Cultural Studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Interests in media and sexual politics.

Eileen Chengyin Chow @chowleen is Visiting Associate Professor in Asian & Middle Eastern Studies at Duke, with interests in film, literature and Chinatowns

Vincent Leung @vshleung is Assistant Professor in the Department of History at the University of Pittsburgh and historian of Early China

Walter Hutchens @prof_hutchens  is Global Business Chair at the University of Redlands in California, with interests in China’s legal and financial systems

China Studies Grad Students

Nicole Talmacs @nikitalmacs  is a PhD Candidate at the University of Sydney, with a focus on Chinese cinema

Kacie Miura @kaciemiura  is a PhD student in Political Science at MIT studying China’s foreign policy

Chelsea Zi Wang @chelseazw is a PhD student at Columbia University researching information management in pre-modern China

Christian Straube @touminghua is a PhD student in Anthropology working on China in the African Copperbelt

Devin Fitzgerald @DevinFitzger is a Doctoral Student in History and East Asian Languages at Harvard University

Polis Lo @thinkingpolis is a PhD Student at the University of Melbourne focusing on China and international affairs

Josepha Richard @GardensOfChina  is a PhD Student in the School of Architecture at the University of Sheffield researching gardens in China

Eric T. Schluessel @EricTSchluessel is a Doctoral student in Chinese and Inner Asian history at Harvard University.

Robert W. Cole @RobtWCole is a PhD candidate in 20th century Chinese cultural-intellectual history at New York University

Pete Millwood @petemillwood is a PhD student in History at the LSE.

Greg Fenton @thegregfenton is a PhD student at University of Guelph working on Asian North American literary and cultural studies.

Jennifer Pan @jenjpan is a PhD student at Harvard and author with Gary King and Molly Roberts of papers in Science and the APSR on censorship on the Chinese internet.

Alessandro Rippa @AlessandroRippa is a PhD candidate in Anthropology at Aberdeen University. Research on China, Xinjiang and Pakistan.

Michael Turton @michaelturton is a PhD candidate and teaches at Chang Gung University in Taiwan. He also runs the best English language blog on Taiwan, The View from Taiwan

Benjamin Coulson @benjcoulson is a PhD student at Newcastle Univeristy working on genealogies of China in the US imagination

Verity Robins @verity_robins is PhD Candidate at Oxford University working on Chinese politics & IR.

J B Bird @JBBird33 is a PhD Candidate at the University of Sydney. Working on North-West China, human rights and ethnic minorities

Julia Famularo @Julia_Famularo is ABD in History at Georgetown University. Researching Xinjiang, Tibet and human rights, Taiwan and identity

Geoffrey C. Chen @geoffreycchen is a PhD Candidate at the University of Bath working on Chinese politics and environmental governance

Eric Hundman @ehundman is a PhD Candidate in political science at the University of Chicago, with interests in China and Taiwan.

30 (more) new books on my Contemporary China reading list

books

Its that time of year again: Crisp mornings, football on TV and a growing buzz on campus as more and more students return for class. Preparing syllabi, reading lists and otherwise getting geared up for a new semester’s classes is one of my favorite recurring tasks. In the autumn semester I teach a freshman module (c. 200 students), entitled Introduction to Contemporary China. It is a wonderful and challenging class: For one thing about half the students have rudimentary to zero previous exposure to teaching on China, while another half were born and raised in the country. The quest to get the pitch right, and to keep up with all the fantastic work being done in China Studies, requires a lot reading over the summer. My extended reading list this semester comprises about 350 titles, split evenly between books and journal articles. Online sources form a separate (long) list. Last year I listed 30 recent books. Those books are still very much in the rotation, indeed some are core assigned texts. Below I list a further 30 that I have newly added for this semester with links to Amazon and author Twitter handles where applicable. Most were published in the last year or two, with a couple of recently remembered golden oldies thrown in. The challenge with this freshman module, which covers a huge amount of ground from the economy and domestic politics to foreign relations and civil society, was to choose texts on the basis of excellence, accessibility, balance, recency and ‘pep’. Thoughts via Twitter @jonlsullivan.

China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know (Oxford, 2013) by @jwassers with @mauracunningham

Intimate Politics: Marriage, the Market, and State Power in Southeastern China (Harvard 2006) by Sara Friedman

The New Emperors: Power and the Princelings in China (Tauris, 2014) by @Bkerrychina

Contagious Capitalism: Globalization and the Politics of Labor in China (Princeton 2007) by Mary Gallagher

China’s Second Continent: How a Million Migrants Are Building a New Empire in Africa (Knopf, 2014) by @hofrench. My review is here

China’s Trapped Transition: The Limits of Developmental Autocracy (Harvard 2008) by Minxin Pei

The People’s Republic of Amnesia (Oxford, 2014) by @limlouisa

Tombstone: The Untold Story of Mao’s Great Famine (Penguin, 2013) by Yang Jisheng

Gifts, Favours, and Banquets: The Art of Social Relationships in China (Cornell 1994) by Mayfair Yang

Collective Resistance in China: Why Popular Protests Succeed or Fail (Stanford, 2009) by Cai Yongshun

Remaking the Chinese Leviathan: Market Transition and Governance (Stanford 2006) by @Dali_Yang

From Mao to Market: Rent Seeking, Local Protectionism, and Marketization in China (Cambridge 2009) by Andrew Wedeman

The Industrialization of Rural China (Oxford 2007) by Chris Bramall (Editor of @chinaquarterly)

Media Commercialization and Authoritarian Rule in China (Cambridge, 2013) by Daniela Stockmann

On China (Penguin, 2012) by Henry Kissinger

Powerful Patriots: Nationalist Protest in China’s Foreign Relations (Oxford, 2014) by @jessicacweiss

The Chinese Army Today: Tradition and Transformation for the 21st Century (Routledge 2011) by Dennis Blasko

A War Like No Other: The Truth About China’s Challenge to America (Wiley 2007) by @RichardBushIII 

Why Taiwan Matters: Small Island, Global Powerhouse (Rowman Littlefield, 2013) by Shelley Rigger

Northeast Asia’s Stunted Regionalism: Bilateral Distrust in the Shadow of Globalization (Cambridge 2004) by Gilbert Rozman

Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China (Zed, 2014) by @LetaHong

Cities and Stability: Urbanization, Redistribution, and Regime Survival in China (Oxford, 2014) by @jerometenk

Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth and Faith in the New China (Random House, 2014) by @eosnos

Demystifying the Chinese Economy (Cambridge, 2011) by Justin Yifan Lin

The Uyghurs: Strangers in Their Own Land (Columbia, 2010) by Gardner Bovingdon

Tibet: A History (Yale, 2013) by @sam_vanschaik

This Generation: Dispatches from China’s Most Popular Blogger (Simon & Schuster, 2012) by Han Han. My review here

Technomobility in China: Young Migrant Women and Mobile Phones (NYU, 2013) by @carawallis. My review here

By All Means Necessary: How China’s Resource Quest is Changing the World (Oxford, 2014) by @LizEconomy and @levi_m

Shadow of the Silk Road (Vintage, 2007) by Colin Thubron

Culture, creativity and soft power in China

As Michael Keane puts it in his comprehensive survey of the “creative industries”, the idea that creativity is essential for China’s continuing development is uncontroversial in Chinese intellectual and political discourses. But, although indigenous design and innovation is acknowledged as a source of added value and “the key to breaking out of the low cost production trap” (p. 150), creativity invokes political suspicion and is narrowly bounded. Politicized intellectual debates about liberalism, individualism and China’s development under the stewardship of the Party are manifest in tensions between cultural security, tradition and protectionism (both economic and in terms of Deng Xiaoping’s warning and 1983 campaign against “spiritual pollution” (jingshen wuran)) on one hand, and creative freedoms, expressions of popular culture and novelty on the other. Traditional thinking suggests that  “creativity generates ‘good’ and ‘beautiful’ outcomes: it harmonizes” (p. 52), but, as many creative individuals in China can attest, where creativity produces outcomes that are judged by the state to be lacking in these qualities, they are themselves ‘harmonized’ (beihexie), a common euphemism for censorship, control and repression. The party justifies such constraining interventions by invoking its role as (self-proclaimed) protector of (self-defined) standards of public morality, tastes and spiritual health.

Circumspect and uncertain about how to deal with ‘creativity’, the state has acted with greater resolution in its focus on culture. Culture is conceived as a public resource and something from which party and nation can derive strength from. The term ‘soft power’ entered the official Chinese lexicon in 2006 when President Hu Jintao, in his address to the 17th Party Congress, called for the need to “bring about a new upsurge in socialist cultural development, stimulate the cultural creativity of the whole nation and enhance culture as part of the soft power of country”. Distinct from the protectionist impulse signified by the debate over ‘national cultural security’ prior to entry into the WTO in 2001, soft power was consistent with the ‘going out strategy’ that Chinese businesses had been encouraged to embark on since the 1990s.

The desire to enhance Chinese soft power has been heavily influenced by the success of China’s East Asian neighbours, particularly Japan, Korea and Taiwan, whose movies, music and other products have been enthusiastically adopted by Chinese citizens. It is no secret that China has under-performed in this ‘soft power competition’. Attempts to portray China’s ‘great civilization’ have generally fallen flat, even with audiences in China. Traditional cultural products, which fit party sanctioned great civilization narratives, have been revived in commercial forms, but spectacular motion pictures portraying Confucius, classic literary works and ‘Red Classics’ have failed to resonate with Chinese audiences enthralled by Korean pop, Taiwanese dramas and the like. By contrast, artists, filmmakers and other creative individuals like Jia Zhangke and Ai Weiwei have received critical acclaim outside of China, where there is generally a premium on work that challenges the status quo, but they have failed to reach audiences in China due to ‘harmonization’. As early as 2005 there was an acknowledgement, by way of an editorial in the official People’s Daily, of a ‘cultural trade deficit crisis’. In 2011, Keane reports, 38% of China’s cultural industries’ exports were the result of outsourced contracts where the creative element was supplied from outside while the production happened in China (p. 82).

Culture has been conceived as playing a crucial role at “the high altar of soft power” (p. 2) and because of that the state has implemented various strategies to fast-track progress. In some areas, laudable efforts have been made to ‘invigorate forms that are deemed essential cultural treasures but have been unable to sustain themselves in the age of globalization’ (p. 138). One of the best examples is the renaissance of kunqu (崑曲) theatre. Other examples include the Disneyfication of the Shaolin temple resort in Dongfeng. But the lesson that soft power cannot be engineered in top-down fashion has not been learned. As Keane puts it, “East Asian pop culture is dynamic, youthful and devoid of overt political posturing: This is not the soft power formula that currently pertains in mainland China” (p. 193).

In his work on the competition for soft power in East Asia, Chua Beng Huat argues that China is losing because of a lack of imagination, know-how and political freedom. Indeed, Keane’s work here and previously, shows that many policies and practices are stuck in the first stages of the cultural innovation timeline, namely standardized production and imitation, with their bottom line mentalities. Given China’s “structured uncertainty” (p.184) imitation represents a safe choice reducing risk both economically and politically.

But Chinese are not just blind imitators. Consider for instance Renren, Weibo, QQ, Alibaba & Taobao, Youku & Tudou. These platforms are all illustrative of Chinese expertise in imitation and adaptation. Yes, these services began as clones of existing (western) services, but in each case they have modified and created new features to account for conditions in China, improving the original, certainly from the Chinese user’s perspective. Keane calls this ‘second generation innovation’ (p. 117), and is very sanguine about the potential for grassroots innovation or shanzhai plus.

The culture of shanzhai (山寨) was born in Guangdong where a lot of manufacturing capacity was located in the early reform period. Shanzhai started as cheap knock-offs and clones (kelong) of various products, the most successful of which was the mobile phone. As technology has become cheaper and more accessible shanzhai phones added more and more features tailored to the Chinese market. Shanzhai mobile phones are one reason for the astonishing growth of both mobile phone ownership and the mobile internet in China (around one third of the internet population gets online exclusively via internet enabled phones). Estimates from 2008 suggest that upwards of 20% of the entire phone market was shanzhai.

The question of interest is whether shanzhai manufacturers will forever be limited, for example by the economic incentive structure, to making knock offs, or whether it represents a potential evolutionary path for indigenous innovation. Keane is optimistic, suggesting that “many shanzhai companies go from the informal to the formal with more investment in R&D and brand building once they have gained scale” (p. 122). He concludes that the shanzhai model holds potential “to integrate made in china and created in china” (p. 124), and cites the experience of Dafen, a very special village situated in the booming city of Shenzhen. Dafen is the art copy capital of the world (copies of great masters can be ordered online and painted to order). Dafen employs an industrial model where copyists, usually migrants from the countryside, specialize in the individual components of a painting, e.g. skies, houses or people. Every year there is a copying competition in which the winners are rewarded with an official hukou, allowing them to live legally in the city and register for welfare, education etc. Now, Dafen is producing original art.

CPI PhD conference- Call for Papers

Call For Papers

INTERNATIONAL PhD STUDENT CONFERENCE University of Nottingham

CPI PhD Student Conference: “China Links: Connecting the World”

Dates: 18th-19th July 2014

Venue: School of Contemporary Chinese Studies, University of Nottingham

Deadline for abstract submission: 20th March 2014

Contact: sccsphdconference@gmail.com

If you have any queries please contact Rebecca Scott via the above address.

The conference explores China’s global linkages from a multidisciplinary perspective. We welcome presentations on economics, international relations, politics, people-to-people relations, media, and historical and cultural linkages. Presenters are also greatly encouraged to share their methodological approaches and theoretical frameworks. The conference aims to promote international co-operation between early career academics, creating opportunities for networking and future academic exchange.

Panel sessions will include, but are not restricted to:

anthropology

business and finance

economics

history

international relations

politics

sociology

Registration details and schedule:

(1) A paper title, abstract (maximum 300 words in English) and short bio to be sent by 20th March 2014 to sccsphdconference@gmail.com

(2) The selected participants will be notified by 20th April 2014.

Who can apply?

We invite current and recent PhD students working on China at academic institutions in the UK and abroad.

Organisers: School of Contemporary Chinese Studies PhD Student Conference Committee, University of Nottingham.‏