Mitchell Presnick, Visiting Fellow of Practice 2023-24, relaxes at the H. C. Fung Library with two of his summer reading recommendations.

Summer Reading 2024: Our Community Recommendations

We asked our Visiting Scholars and Visiting Fellows of Practice, Postdoctoral and Predoctoral Fellows, and Graduate Student Associates to offer up their recommended reading for curious minds over the summer break. We gave no more instruction than that — new books, old books, news articles, and academic papers were all fair game. Our cohort’s eclectic choices range from a theoretical study of socialist dance to activism in Taiwan, to a first-hand account of Mao’s later life by his personal physician, to a deep dive and reexamination of Qing history. On behalf of everyone at the Fairbank Center, have a happy, healthy, intellectually enriching Summer!

Clara Wing-chung Ho, 2024 Visiting Scholar; Professor and Head of the Department of History, Hong Kong Baptist University

Nautical map of Ruian County, Wenzhou Prefecture (c. 1731)
from “Qing China and Its Offshore Islands in the Long Eighteenth Century”

Clara recommends: Ronald C. Po’s “Qing China and Its Offshore Islands in the Long Eighteenth Century.” The Historical Journal, 67, no. 3 (2024): 430-462. 

Clara’s commentary: This intellectually inspiring article promises to be an engaging summer read. It challenges the conventional view of the Qing empire as primarily land-oriented, highlighting its sophisticated maritime governance and control over coastal islands long before Western influence. By examining previously understudied sea charts and palace documents from the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the author offers a fresh and compelling perspective on Qing imperial power and its projection over China’s coastal waters on its own terms, enriching our existing understanding.

Mitchell Presnick, 2023-24 Visiting Fellow of Practice; Founder of Super 8 Hotels China

Mitchell’s trio of recommendations: Li Zhisui’s The Private Life of Chairman Mao (Random House, 1996); Tim Clissold’s Mr. China: A Memoir (Harper Business, 2006); and Jim Mann’s Beijing Jeep (Simon & Schuster, 1989).

Mitchell’s commentary: Here are three perennial favorites of mine for summer reading. The author of Private Life was Mao’s personal physician during Mao’s later years; Mr. China tells how one American investment banker raised and lost $400 million investing in the early days of the Chinese manufacturing industry; and Beijing Jeep reads differently – and very presciently – in light of the current troubles in U.S.-China relations (it’s an early case-study of tóngchuáng yìmèng 同床异梦, or “strange bedfellows”).

Yi Ren, 2023-24 An Wang Postdoctoral Fellow; Ph.D. University of Pennsylvania

Yi’s recommendation: Emily Wilcox’s Revolutionary Bodies: Chinese Dance and the Socialist Legacy (University of California Press, 2019)

Yi’s commentary: The book studies the emergence and evolution of Chinese dance, not only as an artistic genre but also as a socialist legacy. Its interdisciplinary approach and clear theoretical framework make it a compelling and insightful read.

Yunyao Zhai, 2023-24 Graduate Student Associate; Ph.D. Candidate in South Asian Studies at Harvard University

Yunyao recommends: Li Shuo’s Revelation 翦商 (Guangxi Normal University Press, 2022) [Chinese language book]

Yunyao’s commentary: This young scholar’s book investigates the religious beliefs and human sacrifice rituals that peaked in the Shang Dynasty (1600 – 1046 BC). It explores the blood-thirsty ancestor-propitiating sacrifices and other rituals that were prevalent at one time, yet completely obliterated by the ritualists and historians in the successive Zhou Dynasty. The topic has always fascinated me, and it partially explains the complex emotions that the Chinese people traditionally held towards supranational powers and religions. 

Shinyi Hsieh, 2023-24 Hou Family Postdoctoral Fellow in Taiwan Studies; Ph.D. University of California, San Francisco

Shinyi’s recommendation: Wendy Cheng’s Island X Taiwanese Student Migrants, Campus Spies, and Cold War Activism (Seattle: University of Washing Press, 2023)

Shinyi’s commentary: A fascinating work that traces the radical activism of a generation of Taiwanese immigrant students in the United States from the 1960s through the 1980s. As a political collective, the transpacific formation of the Taiwanese student movement was shaped by their lived struggles in the contexts of Cold War geopolitics, KMT authoritarianism, and Taiwan’s complicated colonial legacy. Combining oral history and archival research, Island X offers a critical lens for readers to confront the silences in existing narratives and to think beyond the nation-state framework about the liminality of Taiwan.

Bo An, 2023-24 An Wang Postdoctoral Fellow; Ph.D. Yale University

Bo recommends: Material Contradictions in Mao’s China (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2022). Edited by Jennifer Altehenger and Denise Y. Ho

Bo’s commentary: This essay collection, co-edited by two historians, offers an interdisciplinary exploration of the significance of materials during the period of material scarcity from 1949 to 1976. Covering a diverse array of items – from bricks to bamboo objects, stage props to movie projectors, and food to mail packages – the essays not only reintroduce us to these historical objects but also bring back the sensations and meanings associated with them, which are fading from contemporary memory.