Ken Pomeranz

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• Kevin Rudd, Prime Minister of Australia, presented the 70th George E. Morrison Lecture in Ethnology at the Australian National University last week, speaking on the topic of “Australia and China in the World.” Audio of Rudd’s lecture is available online here; those who would prefer to read a transcript of the talk can find one here.

For Geremie Barmé’s thoughts on an earlier China-focused speech by Rudd, given in April 2008 at Peking University, turn to pages 212-214 of China in 2008: A Year of Great Significance and read “Facing Up to Friendship,” or see a shorter version of Barmé’s piece in an op-ed at the Sydney Morning Herald.

•Ken Pomeranz is traveling to Princeton University this week to deliver the Stone Lectures, a series of three talks on a broad historical theme designed for a general audience. Event details can be found here; an overview of the schedule is:

Tuesday, April 27: “Almost All Under Heaven: Making and Remaking a “Civilized” Empire”
Wednesday, April 28: “Land, Water, Marriage, and Migration: Regional Economies and Imperial/National Politics”
Thursday, April 29: “One Nation Under Gods: Religion, Culture, and the Containment of Local Loyalties”

• Jonathan Spence has been named the 39th Jefferson Lecturer in the Humanities by the National Endowment for the Humanities, and will give a public address on May 20 in Washington, D.C. The title of Spence’s talk is “When Minds Met: China and the West in the Seventeenth Century”; tickets, though free, must be reserved in advance, and requests should be submitted by May 3 using this online form.

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A grab bag of readings around the web that we wanted to share — loosely connected by a “China in the world” theme that the site editors have been thinking about a lot lately, as we’ve begun discussing the possibility of a second China Beat book to follow up China in 2008: A Year of Great Significance. Though it’s presently more an idea than a plan, now it seems that everywhere we look, we see China Beatniks being talked about in different parts of the world, connecting China with different parts of the world, and simply moving from writing about China to writing about different parts of the world . . .

1. Two China Beat consulting editors have new translations of their work available: as we’ve previously mentioned, Ken Pomeranz’s The Great Divergence: China, Europe, and the Making of the Modern World Economy was recently released in a French edition, which received a lengthly review in Le Monde earlier this month. And last week, the Polish translation of Jeff Wasserstrom’s 2007 book China’s Brave New World—And Other Tales for Global Times was published, with an appropriately Huxleyan cover photo:

CBNW Polish cover

2. Some interesting readings from Australia: the latest issue of China Heritage Quarterly focuses on “The Architectural Heritage of Tianjin,” and features articles by Maurizio Marinelli, Michael Szonyi, and Elizabeth LaCouture. In the Sydney Morning Herald, John Garnaut tells the saga of “Mao’s Last Farmer,” Yu Changwu, who is fighting for the return of land taken from him by the municipal government in 1994.

3. Howard French has a piece in The Atlantic’s May issue discussing China in Africa — “The Next Empire.” French’s article follows him from Dar es Salaam to central Zambia, as he rides a railway built with Chinese funds in the 1970s. Today, as French notes, the Sino-African relationship is once again marked by a surge of Chinese investment in African countries, though not without controversy (see Angilee Shah’s review of Deborah Brautigam’s book, The Dragon’s Gift: The Real Story of China in Africa, for more on the topic):

“The idea that big influxes of wealth will help Africa has never really panned out,” Patrick Keenan, an Africa specialist at the University of Illinois, told me. “When the path to wealth goes through the presidential palace, there are enormous incentives to obtaining power and to holding on to it. This kind of wealth incites politicians to create economically wasteful projects, and it relieves them of the need to make politically difficult choices, like broadening the tax base.”

Indeed, the same objections raised by the Zambian aid critic Dambisa Moyo—that foreign aid breeds corrupt, lazy, and ineffective government—can be applied toward any foreign investments that focus on mineral extraction, especially ones that deliver cash and services directly to governments with no conditions attached. All things considered, resource-based or infrastructure-driven development—even development as massive as the ongoing Chinese wave—appear unlikely to lead to a meaningful African renaissance. . . .

And ironically, while Beijing is extremely well-positioned to help Africa improve its governance—a second area of great need throughout much of the continent—it seems deeply reluctant to do so. No developing country has understood the importance of a strong, results-oriented public administration better than China. But so far, in part because of China’s history of subjugation by Westerners, as well as its defensive stance over its human-rights record, Beijing has remained attached to its rhetoric about noninterference.

Readers in the Connecticut area can hear more about Asian-African relations this weekend at Yale University, where the MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies is hosting a two-day symposium on the topic.

4. Friend of the blog Pankaj Mishra also discusses China’s stance toward Africa, placing it in a broader context of declining Anglo-American hegemony and legitimacy throughout much of the world, in this essay at The Guardian.

5. China Beat is co-sponsoring a dialogue between Angilee Shah and Ian Johnson, to be held at UC Irvine on June 7 (more details to come as the date draws closer). Shah has previously written for us about China-India matters, among other topics, and is currently posting (at her website) about her recent monthlong stay in Indonesia. Johnson, a former reporter for the Wall Street Journal and author of Wild Grass: Three Portraits of Change in Modern China, will publish A Mosque in Munich: Nazis, the CIA, and the Rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in the West in early May. A schedule of his other tour dates and locations can be found here; you can also read an interview with him from the early days of China Beat.

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Earlier this year, UC Irvine hosted a conversation between Peter Hessler and Ken Pomeranz, centering on a discussion of Hessler’s new book, Country Driving. A podcast of that event is now available, jointly produced by The China Beat and Making History Podcast (a site run by Jana Remy, a UCI History graduate student and friend of the blog). Check it out at the MHP website, or on iTunes.

Country Driving

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1. A trackback on Peter Hessler’s recent China Beat photo essay, “Behind the Wheel, About to Snap” led us to this Spanish-language review of his latest book, Country Driving. If you don’t read Spanish, there’s a button on the page that takes you to a Google translation of the review; while the translation hits a few potholes along the way, it’s a generally good rendition of a perceptive and well-written overview of Hessler’s book.

The site at which the review appears, ZaiChina, is new to the China blog scene; only a few weeks old, it aims to provide readers in Spain and Latin America with a window into what’s going on in China today, and translates articles from the Chinese press into Spanish. Among the first few stories posted at ZaiChina are the following titles: “Todos Contra el Hukou” (“All Against the Hukou”), “Educación o fútbol, ¿qué mejorará antes?” (“Education or Soccer, What Will Improve First?”), and “El mendigo más guapo de China” (“The Most Handsome Beggar in China”).

2. We also stumbled across this partial translation of a post originally written in Chinese that discusses some of the many China-oriented books on the market today. The author flags Peter Hessler’s work, as well as Lisa See’s nonfiction-influenced fiction (her most recent book is Shanghai Girls), and Jeff Wasserstrom’s writing, including his forthcoming China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know.

3. Francophone China Beat readers can now enjoy a translation of Ken Pomeranz’s The Great Divergence: China, Europe, and the Making of the Modern World Economy. Une Grande Divergence was released by publisher Albin Michel this week, and can be purchased at sites such as

4. Late last year, web magazine The Quarterly Conversation ran a feature titled “Translate This Book!,” in which writers (and others in the publishing industry) were asked to name the book that they’d most like to see translated into English. Andrea Lingenfelter, who has translated titles such as Farewell My Concubine and Candy, suggested that Yang Dongping’s work, Chengshi jifeng (城市季风 City Monsoon), should be made available to non-Chinese readers:

I’d like to recommend Chengshi jifeng by Yang Dongping, which might be translated as “Urban Currents: Shanghai and Beijing in History and Popular Culture.” I’ve gotten a bit carried away with the title. The literal title, “City Monsoons” doesn’t quite get at the heart of the matter. Some people refer to this book in English as “A Tale of Two Cities,” which is witty but perhaps a bit misleading. Urban Currents/Chengshi jifeng is not a riff on Dickens, nor is it about torrential rains. Rather, it is a lively and extensively researched, scholarly and yet personal account of the long-standing and ongoing rivalry between Shanghai and Beijing, two cities whose cultural differences and relative merits have been hotly debated ever since Shanghai became a treaty port in the 19th century. In Chengshi jifeng, Yang Dongping explores what lies behind this intense urban competition. He delves into the history, society, economy, and culture of China’s two leading cities, while also discussing their roles in the popular imagination. Beijing and Shanghai have staked out or been assigned opposite positions in the popular mind, jingpai and haipai. Some may take these categories with a grain of salt, and others maintain that the differences are superficial; but Yang examines and interrogates a long list of polarities associated with these two cities: North vs South; yang vs yin (and the corollary opposition of macho vs feminine); hierarchical vs democratic; xenophobic vs cosmopolitan; distrustful of the West vs adoring of the West; conservative vs open-minded; socially stratified and rigid vs socially mobile; traditional spiritual values vs modern materialistic values; Chinese vs foreign. The list goes on. With a deep personal connection to and affection for both cities, the author, an academic, contrasts jingpai and haipai without taking sides. For readers of English, the book introduces deep-seated cultural patterns, trends and concepts that are part of the fabric of Chinese society, in addition to offering a wealth of historical information and interesting tidbits (e.g., what is now Shanghai was underwater until the 12th century; you could tell someone’s rank in the capital of Beijing by the height of the threshold of the front gate of their house). This book is well-known among North American scholars of Chinese studies (especially urban studies), and if it were available in English it would be widely taught in universities. Chengshi jifeng would also give people who do business in China more solid cultural footing. Non-Chinese may be tempted to see China as monolithic and homogeneous, but regional differences like those described in Yang’s book are the rule, not the exception, and they reflect the diversity and complexity of Chinese society and culture.

5. In early February, we ran an exchange between Alec Ash and Daniel A. Bell about the movie Confucius; check out a Chinese translation of the post here.

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