Rehabilitation of the Tang

It would be an understatement to say that it’s been a while since my last post. Since December, I’ve stopped taking Chinese classes, moved to Nanjing, gate-crashed a UN Regional Forum, visited Hong Kong and Macau, returned briefly to the U.S., taken the wrong bus several hours out of the nearest major city, lost my voice after a long night of Karaoke, run into a friend from middle school in a Shanghai bookstore, helped coach a local Nanjing debate team, learned how to cook one Chinese dish well and several poorly, and traveled around the country interviewing philosophers and public intellectuals.

And I haven’t blogged about any of it. Which has been an oversight that is ending now.

Along the way, I’ve also changed the focus of my research. My goal has always been to better understand the relationship between Chinese people and their government, both the de facto relationships and the perspectives and philosophies espoused by different groups in Chinese society. After the first month or two, I realized that an approach focusing on China’s social safety net wasn’t working very well. I had hoped the elder care debate would be an indirect path toward discussing social values and public policy priorities associated with China’s modernization. It was too indirect. While political and social values are obviously related to the reality of those working in China’s social services industry, practitioners have much more to worry about than the macro-level debates going on about China’s modernization. It’s hard to blame them: they’ve got their work cut out for them over the next few decades. But I only had ten months (four left, now) for my research, and I realized that getting to the substantive discussions of political values was going to require a different set of tactics.

So, I’ve moved to focusing more on having interactions with people involved in Chinese politics and law. In the last few months, I’ve attended conferences and symposia on the rule of law in China; I’ve had lunches, dinners, coffee, tea, and even a few nice walks with Chinese lawyers, judges, and writers. I’m currently working on a series of interviews with Chinese professors who write, teach, and research political philosophy around the country. The last few months have been very interesting, and I’ve gotten to engage people in some very direct (and, to be fair, a few not so direct) conversations about social and political problems in China, and the competing views on how to best address them. 

One of the reasons I haven’t been writing as much during this process is that I’ve been unsure of how to write about some of these topics. First of all, some of the conversations I’ve had wouldn’t have taken place if they were on the record – so that limits my ability to write about them directly. As for others, it’s taken me a fair amount of time to feel able to really form an opinion about a lot of the things that have been going on around me. But by now, I’ve realized that all of this research and information won’t be as meaningful if I don’t take the time to synthesize it and relate it to many of the events going on more broadly in China and around the world. And it’s been an eventful year.

So, the blog is hereby reinstated. Expect more posts in the coming days: on politics in China, thoughts on things I’ve read and learned, my experiences here, and the usual blend of other bloggy items. 

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