confessions of a Peking Tom
Publication Year: 2010
Published by: University of Washington Press
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That the U.S.-China relationship is the most important of the twenty- first century has become a truism—likewise that the rise of China is, for us, both a challenge and an opportunity. But few understand that the way to deal with the challenge is to take full advantage of the opportunity. Richard Baum’s fascinating and refreshingly honest account of his forty...
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Since first peering into the Chinese looking glass from a Hong Kong hilltop in 1968, during the tumultuous Cultural Revolution, I have spent my academic career puzzling over the ever-changing political landscape of contemporary China. Over that forty-year span I have witnessed the death throes of radical Maoism, the birth contractions of the post-Mao reform...
1. The Occidental Tourist
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For more than forty years China has been my drug of choice. From time to time there have been experimental forays into other stimulants, but China has always produced the most reliable high. When you find something that works, that doesn’t lose its kick or require stronger doses...
2. A Dissertation Is Not a Dinner Party
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Berkeley in the 1960s was a magnet for world-class social thinkers, and apart from my addiction to China I had developed an abiding interest in grand sociological theory. Like many of my classmates and teachers I was disposed to favor elegant, abstract concepts over messy, inconvenient facts. I was particularly enamored of the classical European sociologists Max Weber and Emile Durkheim. Seventy years earlier they had predicted...
3. Confessions of a Peking Tom
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In the early 1970s Carolyn and I traded our love beads and Birkenstocks for a home mortgage and a station wagon. After the birth of our second child, Kristen, in 1970, we found ourselves being drawn into the seductive somnolence of the suburban L.A. lifestyle. “Hippie chic” was the fashion du jour, and my Berkeley beard, T-shirt, and jeans gave way to...
4. Through the Looking Glass
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My maiden visit to China in 1975 involved a rather long and complex odyssey. It began in April 1971 when, at Mao Zedong’s initiative, Zhou Enlai unexpectedly sent a message to a U.S. table tennis team then on tour in Japan, inviting them to stop over in Beijing for “friendly competition.” The table tennis itself was no contest. Ranked number one in the world, the Chinese players toyed with their twenty-eighth-ranked U.S. counterparts...
5. Democracy Deferred
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While Hua Guofeng struggled for his political survival, others in China were struggling for the return of human decency and dignity. In the fall of 1978 I visited China’s University of Science and Technology, once the crown jewel of the Chinese Academy of Science. During the Cultural Revolution the university had fallen on hard times. Convinced that its eminent faculty—many of whom were Western educated—constituted...
6. Capitalism with Chinese Characteristics
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In July 1962, with China just beginning to recover from the catastrophic Great Leap Forward, Deng Xiaoping deeply offended Mao by arguing that economic performance was more important than ideological principle. As Deng famously put it, “It doesn’t matter if the cat is white or black, so long as it catches mice.” Now, twenty years later, Mao was dead, his economic theories had collapsed, and Deng’s willingness to experiment with new...
7. The Road to Tiananmen
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I was working in the backyard of my home in the leafy Los Angeles suburb of Woodland Hills when the phone rang. It was President’s Day weekend, February 1989. Both kids were away at school—Matthew working on an M.A. in international relations at Johns Hopkins and Kristen, our youngest, studying music at Berkeley. Carolyn answered the phone...
8. After the Deluge
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Systematic repression of political dissidents continued throughout June and July 1989, and I returned to China at the end of August at the request of John Hawkins, UCLA’s dean of international studies. The repression had raised concerns about the future viability of the university’s educational and research exchanges with China, and Dean Hawkins asked me to undertake a firsthand assessment of the situation there and make a...
9. China Rising
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My return to Peking University in the fall of 1993 was a real eye- opener. On my previous visit, three years earlier, the Beida campus had been swathed in a volatile mix of grief, anger, and resignation. In the interval, massive changes had taken place in the world—and in China. A dozen Communist regimes in Eastern and Central Europe had collapsed in the Velvet Revolution of 1989, throwing a deep fright into Beijing’s leaders, who...
10. God in the Machine
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In addition to fueling a rising tide of nationalism, China’s accelerated economic growth in the 1990s also ushered in the new Information Age. At the beginning of the decade there had been fewer than 7 million private, fixed-line telephone subscribers in all of China, with an additional 200,000 mobile phone users. By decade’s end, those numbers had jumped...
11. The Wild, Wild West
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In my role as Chinapol list moderator, I regularly scan various China- related Web sites, blogs, and listservs in search of useful information. In the early summer of 2001, I came across an intriguing advertisement posted on a popular e-mail discussion group for teachers of Asian history. Headed “English Teaching in the PRC,” the ad was posted by an expat American, Kevin Stuart, who ran the highly regarded English Teaching Program...
12. Beijing Revisited
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In the fall of 2005 I was reunited with my old friend Jia Qingguo at Peking University. He and I had agreed to collaborate in teaching a class on the pros and cons of globalization. The class was the outgrowth of a pioneering agreement between Peking University and the University of California, establishing an experimental Joint Center for International Studies (JCIS) on the Beida campus. Since the early 1980s the University...
13. China Watching, Then and Now
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After completing the JCIS program at Beida, I made a scheduled stopover in Shanghai. Invited to give a talk at Fudan University on the subject of China studies in the United States, I took advantage of the two-hour flight to reflect on the many subtle but important ways in which the vocation of China watching had changed since I entered the field in the...
14. The Gini in the Jar
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No sensible observer looking at China at the time of Mao’s death in 1976 could have predicted the country’s rapid emergence as an economic powerhouse and potential peer competitor of the United States. In the mid-1970s it was not even clear that the CCP would survive the devastation wrought by Mao’s Cultural Revolution. Now, thirty years on, few remnants of Maoism are visible, yet the CCP remains deeply entrenched in power...
15. Loose Ends
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In the spring of 2006, while serving as a visiting scholar at Taiwan’s National Chengchi University, I was invited to give a guest lecture at the Institute of International Relations, site of my 1967 Four Cleanups caper. As a prologue to my prepared remarks, I recounted to the assembled staff and scholars of the institute—most of whom were too young to have been around at the time—the full story of my audacious heist. It was the first...
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The onset of global recession in the second half of 2008 brought a good deal of uncertainty and stress to the Chinese economy. With foreign demand for Chinese manufactured goods dropping sharply toward the end of the year, tens of thousands of factories along China’s eastern seaboard were shuttered, leaving upwards of twenty million workers, most of them rural emigrants, unemployed and without an adequate social safety net. In...
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Suggestions for Further Reading
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Publication Year: 2010