- China Watcher: Confession of a Peking Tom
Richard Baum is a distinguished professor of political science and director emeritus of the Center for Chinese Studies, University of California in Los Angeles. After forty years of passionate addiction to teaching about China, his "drug of choice" (p. 3), he writes his very personal and candid memoirs in China Watcher: Confession of a Peking Tom, a virtual history of contemporary China from the late 1960s. In the foreword to this book, Sidney Rittenberg, the first American accepted into the Chinese Communist Party,1 says of himself that as an "insider," he knew the trees better, but that Baum and other serious, unbiased scholars know the forest.
For China watchers like myself, who lived through the period about which Baum writes, the book offers an excellent review of significant events and Baum's interpretation of them. What is even more helpful is his own honest account of "China's convoluted journey from Maoism to modernity. . . . China up close and personal, a record of one man's intellectual and emotional odyssey—including a fair number of embarrassing missteps—through the ever-changing, ever fascinating landscape of a renascent, reinvented Middle Kingdom" (p. xii). Autobiographical, the book is a reenactment of Baum's journey from early youth to his achievement as a renowned China scholar.
Not unlike most American undergraduates at UCLA in 1957, Baum, too, had little interest in China. He stumbled into H. Arthur Steiner's government and politics in China course merely out of scheduling convenience. After reading Edgar Snow's Red Star over China (New York: Random House, 1938) and other writings on Communist China, Baum was thoroughly hooked on the subject. Thus, he began his studies of political science with a central focus on China.
In his chapter "A Dissertation Is Not a Dinner Party," Baum shows us the ingredients necessary in the makings of a specialist on contemporary China. Baum's book covers his scholarly journey from undergraduate studies at UCLA to graduate at Berkeley under the mentorship of scholars Chalmers Johnson (1931- 2010)2 and Robert A. Scalapino (1919- )3, to his research in Taiwan and Hong Kong, to his professorship of Asian studies at UCLA, where it all began. A fourth of his scholarly life (before normalization of Sino-American diplomatic relations), however, had to be spent outside the bamboo curtain as a "Peking Tom." Scalapino's authorship of the "Conlon Report," prepared for the U.S. Congress in 1959, Baum tells us, challenged America's one-sided myth and support of Chiang Kaishek's free China that began the normalization process of U.S. diplomatic relations with the People's Republic two decades later, and the growing movement for independence among native Taiwanese (pp. 290-291). [End Page 77]
Like most budding China scholars in the 1960s, the young Baum, his wife, and his first-born (daughter) spent time in Taiwan, where he immersed himself in Chinese culture and struggled with the difficulty of the language. A major recreational outlet was his participation on a basketball team with fellow expatriates. Baum confesses that at Taiwan's Institute of International Relations he, in daring desperation, managed to steal a classified document that significantly launched his career as a credible China watcher. Because of a closed China, Baum, like many other would-be China scholars and journalists, needed close proximilty to the PRC by gathering at Hong Kong's Universities Service Center. There they picked each other's brains and shared insights and information, albeit in a professionally guarded manner. All of them were greatly dependent on reports made available by the army of U.S. intelligence professionals, headquartered at the Hong Kong American consulate and other think tanks in the British Crown colony, such as the Union Research Institute of non-Communist Chinese intellectuals. An dogged China watcher, Laszlow LaDany, a Jesuit priest who published the biweekly China News Analysis, was also a source of valuable information. Paid interviews with more recent refugees from...