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- 13 STUDYING REPUBLICAN CHINA This paper, and the others appearing in this Newsletter issue, respond to a need to interpret the historical significance of the Republican period in Chinese history. The feeling has been growing that work on this era lacks coherence, lac~s a com:non basis of interpretation or understanding. Understandin~, which is what we all assume we are seeking, is impossible without cate~ories and organizing concepts. Unless those categories and concepts are shared (or at least recognized) by members of a cot:11T1unity, the col:ll!lunication that defines that community ls impossible, and people whose interests are similar-'!llerely talk past one another. / In cany ways thls problem is~a social one. Like the scientists described by Thomas Kuhn, historians of modern China exist wlthln a professional and interpersonal environment, coramunicating with each other as best they can (and when they want to) through journals, conferences, and correspondence. Thus it seems to Ille that the search for interpretive generalizations and organizing concepts is partly a response to scholars' need for a more sustaining socio-intellectual community life. The greatest usefulness of the "approaches" we seek lies in faciHtating joint 1Jork by groups of thinkers; the proposals for future research I 1o1ill make later reflect this. Th~re are other social aspects to our quest for "approaches." The economic condition of ou~ country and partlcularly of American universities has forced the problem of priorities to the surface, 1o1h~ther 1o1e like it or not. There is not enough coney, there are not enough jobs; why should subject A receive riore attention th.in subject B? To ansuer these questions, rail as ~e might a~ainst bureaucratic or ha=fisted university decision-making, 1o1e like ochers hJve to justify our interests, to find significance in them and convey that significance to ochers. Further.:lore, it seems to me that the growing uneasiness about the lack of acceptable interpretive ~eneralizations reflects the emerging state of the modern Chinese history field. The era of the scholar-oracles seems to be al~ost gone. In a great many ~ays, that is a shame. In more recent timesi dissertations have grovn narrower, longcr-ten::i research interests have oft~n stayed nar:-o...,er. As knowleCge has accumulated, and as training has become core sophisticated, scholarship has increasingly focused on narrow topics, at the expense of broader inter?retive gc'1eraliza tion. Theoretically, scholars, who make their living thinking and conte~plating, should be ha;o;:iering out the framework of concepts 1Jithin 1o1hich life--in this case modern Chinese life-~can reveal its meaning. In fact, however, the pa~city of incisive interpretive contributions within the field of China studies suggests that few a~ong us are able to fulfill that duty. The obstacles to original and convincing conceptualization are· vast; sources are lopsided, stilted 1 tailored to avoid the ~ratt of suspicious au:horities whether political or cultural; ~hole ranges of phe~occna ii=ediately interesting to 11:odern l·:estern China scholars see::i never to have been thought of by the sources of their documents. Ability to work with one genre of ~4terial does not guarantee comparable ability with ocher resources, particularly from other eras. The struggle a~ainst submersion in one's sources (if one is fortunate enough to have ere time and ~oney to plunge fully into research at all) is arduous. Too often, the need to "identify problei:r.s" e.1:ists separ~c:ely ~roII", the res.?arch process itselfi as a result, scholars so::ietimes leave interpretation out of their work altog~ther, leaving - 14 it to the r•ader to find r.eaning in what has been written. Or else, the researcher attaches so~e ocaning to his or her res~arch~results by applying concepts from another field, with varying degrees of adroitness. These latter difficulties, it seems to me, are more personal than social. Ultic:ately the individual scholar must make his or her own peace with the meaning and significance of his or her scholarly pursuits. And for that, I suspect the existence f shared "approaches" or interpretive generalizations will be helpful only some of the t...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1940-5065
Print ISSN
1521-5385
Pages
pp. 13-20
Launched on MUSE
2021-05-25
Open Access
No
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