Watching China Watching

In Watching China Watching we offer essays and reflections on studying the Chinese world and approaches to understanding the Chinese People’s Republic. Our method is underpinned by New Sinology.

The men and women who taught us to engage with the Chinese world and to appreciate things Chinese in a holistic fashion were motivated and inspired by many things: their personal histories, a diverse range of interests, as well as a pressing necessity to watch (and to watch out for) China. For many of them, Chinese and non-Chinese alike (after all, some of the greatest China Watchers are from China), China was not a distant subject for study but an essential part of lived reality. Their insights were generally based not on some crude social science or anthropological approach to observing The Other, or the result of dissecting an object rich in possibility as part of some ambitious career trajectory. Their understanding was based as much on entanglement, fraught questioning, a spirit of self-discovery and personal enrichment as the result of a lifelong effort to approach what is in fact an all-encompassing cultural-political world from a broad humanistic perspective.


Tōng also written 通, as in ‘Old China Hand’ 中國通,  a back-handed compliment

We are interested in the professional China Watchers, a once nearly-defunct claque of people working in government for national political ends, journalists, academics, ne’er-do-wells, as well as the talented curious and literary dilettantes. In the ‘New Epoch’ of Chairman of Everything Xi Jinping, the long-overlooked, or underestimated, skills of being able to read, listen to and understand the bloviations of the Chinese party-state are, perhaps, in vogue once more.

In producing Watching China Watching we also want to leave some material from the past for those who are engaged with the Chinese multiverse and who would watch, learn, imbue and develop their own approach to China and its world as part of their personal human struggle in what is a world of contentious ideas, ideological fabrications, conflicted interests and strained emotions.

For more on the topic of ‘The China Expert’ 中國通, or ‘Old China Hand’, see my introduction to Jao Tsung-I on 通 tōng — 饒宗頤與通人, China Heritage, 23 June 2017.

— Geremie R. Barmé
Editor, China Heritage
5 January 2018

Watching China Watching 


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