LRCCS Spotlight: Courtney Henderson

In this edition of the LRCCS Spotlight Series, I sat down with Courtney Henderson, 2013 graduate of our MA program.  In the interview, Courtney told me about her experience since graduation, and the role she's now playing in helping to create jobs in Michigan by attracting investment from China.

Interview conducted and edited by Eric Couillard.

Courtney and Gov. Rick Snyder on an official trip to China in 2016

Courtney and Gov. Rick Snyder on an official trip to China in 2016

Couillard: Where do you call home?

Henderson: I’m from Clarkston, Michigan. It’s a suburb of Detroit.  

Couillard: When did you get interested in China?

Henderson: I didn’t start studying Chinese until my sophomore year at Notre Dame. At first I thought I wanted to be an architect, but after a year in that program I realized I was actually much more interested in the arts. I made a big shift and started a great books major that was anchored in the Western tradition and decided to learn Chinese to balance it out. 

I knew I wanted to pursue a master’s degree in Chinese studies after graduation, but before I took that next step, I wanted to spend some time in China first. I moved to Shenzhen for a year to teach English and experience China’s rapid development first-hand. I taught high schoolers, and they brought so much energy to the classroom. We did a lot of acting and skits – I was big on the drama.

Couillard: So when you were at CCS you did research on the college entrance exam (gaokao) – did your time in Shenzhen have something to do with that?

Henderson: Absolutely. I had around 800 students all preparing for the gaokao, and that was all they talked about, all the time. I left that experience with a lot of questions, and I wanted to explore those at CCS.

Couillard: What happened after CCS?

Henderson: I moved to D.C. and worked for a trade association focused on renewable energy.

Couillard: No China stuff?

Henderson: Almost no China stuff. I tried to sneak it in wherever I could, but the opportunities were limited. I mostly kept my China connection alive by mentoring. I volunteered with a non-profit called Asian American Lead which connects mentors with Asian-American youth in need of a positive role model. I ended up being paired with a 9 year old Chinese girl who is a real beam of light.  

Couillard: Do you still keep in touch with her?

Henderson: Yeah! I was just back in D.C. for work and went a few days early to meet up with her – she’s 13 now. 

Couillard: What sparked your move back to Michigan?

Henderson: I wanted to be a part of Detroit’s comeback and surround myself with that creative energy. 

Couillard: Tell me about the Michigan China Innovation Center (MCIC). When you started was it brand new or had it been around?

Henderson: It was brand new. 

Couillard: How did MCIC get started?

Henderson: MCIC got started with the support of Governor Snyder and a grant from the State of Michigan. Our main goal is to create jobs in Michigan by attracting investment from China. 

Couillard: What sorts of resources do you have available to attract FDI?

Henderson: We have three main resources:

1. Information: Chinese companies often need help figuring out energy costs, labor costs, etc. We help them find that information. 

2. Introductions: Many of these companies also need to find lawyers, accountants, and other service providers. We help them get connected. 

3. Financial incentives.

Couillard: So what do you do for MCIC?

Henderson:  I’m a business development manager, so essentially, I build relationships and “sell” Michigan to potential Chinese investors. I’m also in charge of MCIC’s marketing and communications work. Since joining the team, I helped brand our center, updated our logo, and built a bilingual website:

Couillard: What do you like about working there?

Henderson: I’ve always enjoyed bridging the gap between the U.S. and China. When I was at CCS, I loved participating in outreach activities. My favorite CCS outreach activity took me back to my own school district in Clarkston where I taught a few lessons on Chinese characters. When I was a student there, I didn’t have the opportunity to learn about China, so it was really rewarding to open that door for kids in my community.  

In a way that’s what I want to do on a larger scale for the entire state of Michigan. Growing up here I’ve been given so many opportunities, including studying at CCS. Now I want to use those skills and experiences to serve the people in my state.

Interview with Professor Emeritus Don Munro

Don Munro   Professor Emeritus - Asian Languages & Culture; Philosophy

Don Munro

Professor Emeritus -
Asian Languages & Culture; Philosophy

In this edition of the LRCCS Spotlight Series, I sat down with Professor Emeritus Donald Munro, who retired in 1995 but remains active in the LRCCS Community.  In this interview, Professor Munro tells me about learning Confucianism from a Manchu prince, the importance of ritual practice, and some of his earliest experiences in the PRC.

Interview conducted and edited by Eric Couillard

Couillard: I like to start these interviews off from the very beginning – where do you call home?  Where did you grow up?

Professor Munro: I grew up in Cleveland Heights, Ohio.  A happy place to grow up.  I started out college at Amherst, but had not developed any sense of goal or reason for studying.  I failed calculus and had to go to summer school, and that gave me sufficient shame and incentive to put some more thought into what I was doing.  I spent a year in Europe and North Africa, studying French and French society.  When I returned home, I wanted to learn about a different culture, so I chose China, at the University of Michigan.  I was totally enraptured by the richness of the culture.

I took Chinese at Michigan, then transferred to Harvard to finish my undergrad.

Couillard: So you went to three different schools for undergrad?

Professor Munro: That’s correct.  By the time I graduated, I had had enough of universities.  So I went to Navy Officer Candidate School and became a naval officer for a few years - this was during the tail end of the Korean War.  After that I came back to the US to study Chinese and philosophy at Columbia.  

Couillard: When did you learn Chinese?

Professor Munro: I started learning at Michigan where the Chinese language teaching was superb, but that only set me up with a rudimentary foundation.  I had three years of Chinese language at Columbia.  It wasn’t until I was living in Taiwan that I really began to grasp the language.  At that time I was studying under a prince three times a week, and read the Chinese philosophical classics with him.

Couillard: A prince?

Professor Munro: Yes, Aisin Gioro Yu from the Manchurian royal family that had ruled China during the last dynasty.  During World War II, he had been recruited by the Japanese to be the Manchukuo delegate to Vietnam.  He told me a lot about life in the Forbidden City in the late teens and early 20s of the last century.

Couillard: Do you remember any of those stories?

Professor Munro: Oh sure.  He had a lot of good things to say about both Confucianism and Buddhism, but also lived with some of the negatives.  For example, the quantity of rituals that a person of his position in the court was supposed to observe was exhausting.  If he wanted to get up in the middle of the night to go pee, he had to make sure he had certain belts, certain vests, and certain stones hanging from strings on the belt.  So he made special effort to never have to pee in the middle of the night.

Couillard: Haha.  What’s the other side of the story?  I know some of your research relates to Confucian rituals – what draws you to that?

Professor Munro: Are you familiar with the term 功夫 (gongfu/kung fu)?  In the west it’s mostly associated with martial arts, but in Chinese it refers to any practice which can develop skill.  Ritual practice is a kind of gongfu to instill ethical behavior so that it becomes spontaneous, just like a tennis player who has honed their technique so well that they don’t need to think about their swing.

In relations, I think ritual practice makes things easier – they work as a kind of social lubricant.  It fosters connection so that people can establish some trust before they talk about more ‘inconvenient’ topics.

Couillard: I never thought of it like that – fascinating.  To what extent did you practice this kind of gongfu?

Professor Munro: It was expected that I would live according to these rituals with most of my relations in Taiwan, especially in association with the prince.  For example, every time I went to a new person’s house, we would spend time appreciating their ‘personal art,’ which meant calligraphy, before doing anything else.  

Couillard: So do you think the practice of rituals is a key component of learning about Confucianism?  Not just the philosophy or memorizing The Analects.

Professor Munro: Yes I do.  But they don’t have to be Confucian rituals.

Couillard: Would you say that practicing rituals to learn about philosophy is a kind of embodied knowledge?  Similar to how Emily Wilcox focuses a lot of her research on the physical practice of Chinese dance

Professor Munro: Yes, I would say her work is right on target.

Couillard: I also wanted to ask you about was your early experience in the PRC.  Your first trip there was in 1973 – what was that like?

Professor Munro: I went there in 1973 as the co-leader of a delegation of officers in U.S. K-12 teacher organizations, such as the National Association of School Superintendents.  Before the trip, most of them had been impressed by Maoism, thinking it was a utopia.  They thought China was going to be the first real egalitarian society.  And I said, “Well, when we get there you can see for yourself.”  They were angry with me, they thought I was some right-wing type.  When we crossed the border, we were met by two communist party officials, and one of the first things they did was ask me for my protocol list so they would know who should ride up front in the limousines and who would ride in the gray bus.

Couillard:  Haha, yeah, welcome to China!  I have to ask – do you think there were any spies with you on that delegation?

Professor Munro:  I don’t think we had any on the American side, but I’m sure our Chinese colleagues were writing reports to their information bureau.

Couillard: Another thing I wanted to ask you about was this gift you and Mrs. Munro gave to the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures and the Philosophy Department to create a tenure-track professorship in in Chinese philosophy.  What are you hoping creating this role will do?

Professor Munro: First, I hope it will solidify Chinese philosophy as a justifiable part of world philosophy in the curriculum of a Western philosophy department.  The occupant of the position must also be proficient in the Chinese classical and modern languages.  Second, I think there’s a great deal to be gained by having someone familiar with both Western and Chinese philosophy working together with their counterparts in China.   The person in the position will be able to do that.

Couillard: What are you working on these days?

Professor Munro: I’m interested in the degree to which there is a relationship between facts and values of which most of us are actually aware.  For example, part of human health is a function of social relations.  The value of social bonding derives its strength from the emotions of love and sympathy.  These in turn can lead to our care for those with whom we bond.  These are objective facts, as are the positive impact of caring on our own health and wellbeing.  I think that need is innate and biological – we manifest it with our families, professional associations, all of that.  These are symbiotic relations not just among humans, but also animals like chimps.  There are wonderful books on the latter, such as those by Frans de Waal.  So I think this fact has ethical implications, and I want to explore those implications.

LRCCS Community Spotlight: Wang Qingsong (English Version)

The LRCCS Community Spotlight is honored to introduce Artist-in-Residence Wang Qingsong.  Wang Laoshi started off as an oil painter, and later went on to become one of the most influential photographers in China.  His work is full of humor and profundity, and also serves to document contemporary China.  During this interview, Wang Laoshi explains his path to becoming a renowned artist, and some of his insights from that world.

This interview was edited by Erzhan Xu and conducted/translated by Eric Couillard.  You can read the original interview in Chinese here.  

Wang Qingsong at the University of Michigan

Wang Qingsong at the University of Michigan

Couillard: When did you first start to study and practice art?  Did you learn it as a child?

Wang Laoshi: No.  My family worked in the oil industry, so we were always moving around to different oil fields.  My family was never very stationary.  As I recall, I only ever had an art teacher for one year when I was little.  It wasn’t until my freshman year of high school that I discovered I liked it.  I started to make crude drawings and paintings.

Couillard: So when did you decide you wanted to become an artist?

Wang Laoshi: After I graduated from high school, one of my mom’s colleague’s kids entered a local art school.  My mom knew I loved to paint, so she told me about it.  At the time I thought, “What?  There’s schools just for making art?”  After I knew that was an option, I decided to study there.  Once I graduated, I went to the art school to formally study how to make art.  Actually the school was more like a club from another high school; there were no classes until after the normal school got out.  Even though I was taking professional courses, I had no idea where I was going with it.  At the time I never dreamed I’d become an artist.  I just wanted to continue my hobby.  It wasn’t until 1993 that I decided I wanted to pursue art as a career.  This was after I graduated from the art school and moved to Beijing.

Couillard: What happened in ’93 that made you decide to move to Beijing and become an artist?

Wang Laoshi: In ’92 the National Art Museum of China in Beijing had a very important exhibit in collaboration with a Japanese art museum.  It was a collection of western art ranging from egg tempera, oil, impressionism, and other works from many famous artists throughout history.  I went to see it, and though the art wasn’t especially exciting for me, what surprised me was the people who came to see it.  So many of them brought notebooks to take notes, write down their reflections, study the composition, even make some sketches of the pieces!  This inspired me!  I suddenly realized there’s quite a large interest in art, even among older people.  So I thought Beijing must be a very cultured place.  Where I was living and working at the time, you never saw anything like it.  For the most part everyone was all about doing business, earning money.  So after that Beijing exhibit, I decided I had to move there.  I moved the next year.  Looking back, now it doesn’t seem like Beijing was so cultured back then.  But the curtain had been raised for me, and I was hooked.  So I went for it.

Couillard:  So how did you make a living when you first moved there?

Wang Laoshi: When I first moved to Beijing, I was painting a lot.  It was almost like writing in a diary.  I painted things from my heart, certain feelings and experiences.  Personal experiences, I didn’t too much bother with the outside world.  I thought art only needed to express oneself.  Later I slowly changed.  Maybe it was because society was changing.  The first one or two years there were difficult.  I couldn’t make a living off art.  And it was then that housing prices started to rise.  I remember one winter, I think it was ’96, it was so cold!  I had rented a cheap place, it didn’t have glass windows or a door, just holes in the wall that we covered with some plastic.  The pipes were frozen.  That winter was almost unbearable!  At the time I thought, it’s been about three years, and I still have nothing.  I was depressed and thought, “Will it be like this forever?  Is this hopeless?”  But the depression passed suddenly.  After winter, the trees started to bud, the pipes melted and started working again, and I felt full of hope.  In the 90s I always felt supported by my hope.  Hope is bigger than any difficulty.

Couillard: How did you maintain hope for those three long years?

Wang Laoshi: One was that I saw my friends doing better and better.  Another piece was that I had already burned my bridges – there was no turning back.  I figured I could take it for 3-5 years.  But if went on too long, if I didn’t have any shows or sell anything, maybe that hope would have disappeared.  People need hope to persevere.  I pushed on until 97 or 98, and around that time my work started to get recognized.

Couillard: When did you make the transition from painting to photography?

Wang Laoshi: 1996

Couillard: Why the change?

Wang Laoshi: When I first got to Beijing I was focused on painting.  But I was seeing so many unthinkable changes happen before my eyes – the rent prices were surging, more and more people were flooding the city.  I thought society was so different, maybe we were in the midst of a historic transformation, and I had no idea where we were headed.  I just knew things would never be the same.  So I thought there must be a better way to draw attention to this change.

One World, 2014 (Taken from )

One World, 2014 (Taken from

Couillard: To document it.

Wang Laoshi: Yes, exactly.  So I thought, if I want to document this, of course I’ll use art.  Photography is the most direct medium.  So in 96 I started out, but it wasn’t until 97 that this became my main medium.

Couillard:  So when you create your art… would you say you have a goal or purpose?  What impact do you want it to bring to the world?

Wang Laoshi: To record and document.  China is changing too fast.  It just needs to be recorded, I’m not so interested in commentary.  Of course I bring my own views to the things I choose to photograph – I’m not just taking pictures at random.  I’ve always thought of myself as a reporter.

Couillard:  By recording and documenting all this, what do you hope will happen?

Wang Laoshi: I hope that my work will serve as an illustration to sociology.  I hope people researching contemporary Chinese society can use my work to learn about the times or use them as photos in textbooks.  Actually my photography is like a compressed history, it takes large issues and compresses them into one photo.  In one photo, you can find many stories being told, many layers.  So they cover a lot of territory in a very limited space.

Thanks for reading!  Stay tuned for more interviews.

LRCCS Community Spotlight: 王庆松(中文版)

LRCCS 博客很荣幸向大家介绍来自中国的艺术家王庆松老师。王老师学油画起家,是中国很具影响力的当代摄影艺术家。王老师的作品充满幽默而深刻,同时带有很强的新闻效应。在采访中,王老师向我们介绍了他是怎样一步步走向艺术之路,以及作为中国当代艺术家的感悟。

本此访问由 Eric Couillard(一毛)负责访谈,许尔瞻负责转录与编辑。






王庆松:高中毕业以后,因为我妈妈的一个同事儿子考上了我们当地的一个美校。而她知道我喜欢画画,她就跟我妈说。然后我妈妈就告诉我。我当时想,诶?怎么还有专门的美术学校?我知道这个事情后,就让她介绍我去她儿子学画画的地方学习。所以我高中毕业后就在那里跟老师、同学正规的开始学。那个学校其实是一个中学的美术组。放学的时候,爱好美术的同学、大家专门找一个房间,请一个老师来教画。虽然那个时候教学已经是很专业了, 但学这个东西,将来会怎么样也不知道。 当艺术家,当时一直没有这个奢望。只是说能够把这个爱好持续下去 。真正可能觉得自己相当艺术家,从事这个行业的时候,是一直到93年了,毕业以后到北京的时候了。 


王庆松:当时92年,北京中国美术馆有一个很重要的展览,是一个日本的美术馆,它收藏了西方的,从最早蛋清画、油画开始,一直到印象派很多大师的收藏。当时我参观的时候,觉得作品本身并没有让我那么激动,但我激动的是观看这些作品的人。因为他们很多人拿了笔记在做笔记,记看这些画的感想啊,构图色彩啊,甚至画一些草图啊!这个让我很感动!我突然就发现,居然有那么多人在看艺术展览?而且很多人年龄很大!我就觉得北京这个地方可能很有文化。而在当时那个环境中在我们原来工作的地方,好像说很难见到这种景象,基本都是商业,赚钱啊。所以这个北京展览后,我决定一定要到北京去。所以第二年就到了北京。。。但回想起来,当时北京的文化氛围其实也不那么明显优越多少。 只不过那时候就是说你看到了这一幕,它把你吸引了,就过来了。


王庆松:最早来北京的时候,画了很多画。画画呢还是更多的是像记日记似的。画一些自己内心的一些东西、一些感受了。纯粹个人感受,不太关心外面的人物---我觉得艺术表达自己就行了。之后就慢慢变了。 可能因为社会已经发生变化,就改变了这种方式。在北京的头一、两年其实是很困难。因为靠艺术是不可能挣钱的。而且那个时候物价开始上涨了。我记得有一年冬天,大概是96年,天气太冷!因为租房子便宜,没窗户,也没门,就拿塑料布一挡。然后水管子也被冻了。那个冬天特别难过!因为那个时候,到96年的时候,已经觉得来了差不多三年了,好像也没有出什么大成绩。。。有时候情绪还会低落,觉得有困难,怀疑自己是不是就这样了?也许不会有什么希望了?但这些情绪很快就过去了。那个冬天一过,树发芽了,水管子水也出来了,我就又觉得希望有了,很有希望的春天来了。我觉得90年代,我可以经常感觉到有种希望支撑着我,希望大于困难。


王庆松:一个是看到身边有一些朋友做的越来越好。还有一个就是觉得没有退路了—从湖北到北京来,就不想再回去。这个时候,就会觉得绷着那个劲。我觉得三年五年是可以绷住的。但一旦太长,如果还不能解决,没有个展览啊,或者卖一张东西啊,可能希望就会慢慢消逝。 人总得感觉有希望才可以坚持下去。我可能是撑到97、98年之后,就发现我的作品慢慢开始被认可了。




王庆松:因为我刚开始来北京时,只专注个人画画。但画着画着,觉着身边有种不可思议的变化,比方说物价上涨得很快,然后有越来越多从事不同行业的人涌入北京。 就觉得这个社会好像不太一样了,有可能社会会有大变化,也不知道将来会变成什么样,至少说跟过去肯定会不一样。所以我当时就觉得好像应该用另外一种方式来关注。

同一个世界  2014年 来自于

同一个世界 2014年 来自于



一毛:那你做你的艺术的。。。可以说有目标吗? 你想用你的艺术来给世界带来什么转变?

王庆松:来记录就很好。 因为确实中国变化太快。而应对的最好方式就是记录,不用表太多的态。 当然肯定要带自己的观点去记录,不能说是随便架个东西就去拍。 所以我一直也认为自己就像记者似的在记录。




王庆松: 我一直在准备一个剧本,关于一个电影,是一个故事片。就是准备拍一个数字电影。 反映难兄难弟,就是讲这种兄弟之间的情感,我想从兄弟之间的情感中折射出社会的这种变化。







Association for Asian Studies Conference Review - Richard Reid

Richard Reid   LRCCS PhD Student  Historian of the Ming Dynasty, Contested Borderlands, Government, Autonomy, and Local History

Richard Reid

LRCCS PhD Student

Historian of the Ming Dynasty, Contested Borderlands, Government, Autonomy, and Local History

The 2017 Association for Asian Studies (AAS) Conference went from March 16th - 19th in Toronto, Canada.  In this series of posts, several LRCCS students share their experiences there.  This post is written by Richard Reid, LRCCS PhD student.

I had a fantastic time at my first yearly AAS Conference.  While Toronto is a great city and its wonderful to be in such a cosmopolitan place, the highlight of my time here is clearly the avalanche of scholars from so many different fields all interested in Asia.  I’ve met people from all over the world in less than 24 hours and have made many connections that I couldn’t have made anywhere else.  Here’s a brief outline of the panels I went to today.

Panel 62 : Visualizing Ming Urban Spaces, Kenneth Hammond, Anne Gerritsen, Desmond Cheung, Stephen McDowall
What a fantastic way to start a day!  This was a fascinating panel that will be directly useful to my research on Ming Dynasty spatiality.  For example, Kenneth Hammond’s analysis of gazetteers in relation to different types of maps in the Ming was a good reminder that not all pre-modern maps were the same.  Hammond argues that maps in the Ming had specific arguments to make and therefore some were highly detailed, others stylized, and still others imagined spaces.  

These papers touch on issues of popular and print culture.  It is easy to lose sight of how significant this development was in changing life for everyday people during this period.  As China became more urbanized life dramatically changed and people began to travel (both physically and figuratively) as detailed in Cheung’s paper about travel writing and famous spaces.  Even though it was so long ago, the Ming seemed very near to modern life.
Panel 101: Tang-Song Transition, Megan Bryson, Thomas Mazanec, Bo Liu, Xin Wen

The most pleasant surprise of the entire day for me was how well attended this panel was.  I was worried prior to attending that the Song Dynasty (and other earlier period) panels would be scarcely attended in favor of more modern panels.  To my surprise, there were more than 75 people at this panel and there was great discussion after the panel was done; pre-modern Chinese studies is still alive and kicking!

These presentations were much more specific and focused on particular historical puzzles than did the previous panel.  For me, the most interesting was Bo Liu’s talk on the transformation of images of women from the Tang to the Song Dynasties.  Liu successfully argued that during the Tang, women were depicted in the purest and best form as first and foremost beautiful; intellectual qualities were secondary.  A transformative shift happened during the transition to the Song and by the mid to late Song women were portrayed not due to their beauty but rather their intellectual merits and place and society.  All of these papers focus on change and help us remember that we need to be explicit with how we think about pre-modern imperial China.

Panel 147: Power, People, and Animals in Asia, Hang Lin, Petya Andreeva, Lianming Wang, Jianfei Jia

This was the first panel this year I attended that dealt with transnational history rather than specifically Chinese history.  One of my goals during my Ph.D. here is to expand my research from merely Chinese history to a broader world history.  In this sense, this panel was immediately relevant to what I hope to achieve in my research.  Additionally, I have not yet run into people who explicitly study animal history but I believe this is such an important new area for research that will become very prominent over the next few years.  

These papers had no direct chronological comparison, but they all dealt with how animals can help us understand how people viewed their place in the world.  Hang Lin, for example, made an excellent presentation that argued that the use of Manchurain gyrfalcons was an example of how animals could be used in presentation of imperial authority and majesty.  Lianming Wang argued something similar with the depictions of hounds in Qing official portraiture.

Importantly, all of these panels were interested in the ways that animals help us understand people, rather than the other way around.

Panel 156: Animals and Empires, Jakobina Arch, Lisa Yoshikawa, Joseph Seeley

This was a panel that dealt explicitly with Japan’s imperial past and their use of animals.  Arch argued that following whales and the historical specifics of how Japanese whaled led them to change the places where they exercised imperial power, Yoshikawa looked at how Japan became part of a larger modern trading network of animal specimens that linked east and west, and Seeley showed how zoos built by the Japanese in the colonies of Taiwan and Korea became imagined in the historical consciousness of those that were colonized.

Like the last panel, the focus was on humans rather than on animals, which was a comment that some people in the crowds made at both panels.  I think this is an interesting distinction; while I wish it would be possible to have animals as the actors in a historical study, I wonder if that is even possible.  Animals leave no written records and they appear in historical contexts only as they are useful to the people that interact with them.  One commenter in this panel, however, mentioned that we could examine animals with similar theoretical frameworks that we have begun to use to understand colonized peoples.  I think this is an interesting perspective and may reveal more about both humans and animals than our current discourse currently allows.


Overall, this has been an enlightening and fantastic day of panels.  I have really enjoyed being able to experience so many different topics and I was impressed with how well-attended all of them were.  For my two China panels, I will take away the importance of understanding historical purpose when looking at manufactured maps and other visual materials and rethink how I understand the transition from the Tang to the Song Dynasty.  With regards to the second two panels, I really believe that a more in-depth consideration of animals in their relations with humans can be a useful analytical tool going forward.  Overall, I had a fantastic time today and only wish that I was able to all the panels I couldn’t due to time conflicts!


Weihang Wang   LRCCS MA Student Social History of China; Chinese Gender History; Migration.

Weihang Wang

LRCCS MA Student
Social History of China; Chinese Gender History; Migration.

The 2017 Association for Asian Studies (AAS) Conference went from March 16th - 19th in Toronto, Canada.  In this series of posts, several LRCCS students share their experiences there.  This post is written by Weihang Wang, LRCCS MA student.

Grassroots Documents and PRC History Methods

Doing archival research in China can be a difficult challenge for scholars of PRC history, especially during the recent years the Chinese government has restricted and even closed some historical archives for scholarly access. However, the market of grassroots documents continues to grow when more and more scholars shift their focus from the study of elite politics to the field of everyday history.  “Garbology”, collecting grassroots documents, such as dairies, police files, and self-criticisms, from online individual sellers and flea market, becomes a possible alternative to official archives in the field of PRC history. 

I’m interested in archives and the use of garbology in historical research. Therefore, I’m glad that I found this gem, a panel titled “Grassroots Documents and PRC History Methods,” in those 370 AAS panels. In this 2-hour roundtable discussion, the five panelists as well as the audiences shared their experiences on gathering grassroots documents in China and discussed the various challenges they met when dealing with document sellers. One of the panelist talked about the gender issue that she noticed when searching for documents in those Chinese flea markets, where most of the documents sellers were middle-aged men and the way that this sort of “transaction” was conducted, according to one PhD student, felt like buying drugs from a drug dealer. 

Ontario Art Gallery, photo by Weihang Wang on her trip to AAS

Ontario Art Gallery, photo by Weihang Wang on her trip to AAS

Many grassroots documents in China are in fact, discarded records and documents from danweis of different governmental branches. Therefore, legality was another major topic in this discussion. From a legal perspective, these documents exist in a grey area, in which the Chinese government still has the rights to recall and confiscate them. One of the panelist remembered that one time when his taxi was halted by a police in China, he thought it was the end of the world because all the documents he had just collected would be discovered and confiscated by the police. However, he felt so relieved afterwards when he found out that the police officer was in fact, traffic police. Fear and a sense of guilt have troubled most scholars who have done garbology in China. As one of the panelists said, he would return these documents if the Chinese government eventually decided to preserve them in an archive. 

All of the panelists were willing to share their grassroots documents with other scholars. Professor Pickowicz from UCSD introduced his collection: diaries of a north China peasant between 1944 and 1990. This collection is ready for scholarly use. Professor Leese and his team from University of Freiburg are working on a project of analyzing “how the CCP dealt with the legacy of the Maoist past." Professor Cao Shuji introduced various collections of the local government documents, such as 地方历史文献数据库 and judicial documents 中国司法档案数据库 and Historical Maps of China 民国军事地图档案 that are available in Shanghai Jiaotong University.