Born in Kansas City, Kansas, in 1937, reared and educated in the United States and abroad, Wakeman earned his bachelor''s degree in European History and Literature at Harvard University, did graduate work in Soviet Studies and Political Theory in Paris, and completed his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in Oriental Languages and East Asian History at the University of California, Berkeley. A member of Berkeley''s history faculty since 1965, he became the Haas Professor of Asian Studies in 1989 and Director of the Institute of East Asian Studies in 1990. Many of Wakeman''s award-winning books on Early Modern, Modern, and Contemporary China have been translated into Chinese. He has held numerous advisory and leadership positions in the American Council of Learned Societies, American Historical Association, Asia Society, and Social Science Research \ and has facilitated educational and scholarly exchanges with East Asia. The father of two sons and a daughter by a former marriage, Wakeman lives in San Francisco. This interview was conducted on the Berkeley campus in November 1996 by Roger Adelson.
THE HISTORIAN: How has the study of Chinese history changed since you began studying China?
WAKEMAN: In the early 1960s, I literally sat down and read most of the works that had been published on Chinese history. That is no longer possible. The books in my large office at the Institute of East Asian Studies represent about a tenth of my collection, and I have another whole library in another office here at Berkeley. At home I keep building more bookcases and my attic is filled with stuff. There has been an explosion of historical publication in China itself, not only in Peking but also in regional publishing centers. Historical works now appearing in China are sold out in two or three days because the print runs are small, there is a shortage of newsprint, and the bigger demand for pornography and martial arts means that historical works in China almost always require a subsidy. Unfortunately, the United States has never developed a national policy for acquiring Chinese studies before they sell out. Besides accelerated historical publication abroad and in China, I have observed that the study of Chinese history has become more like U.S. and Modern European history in the sense that China is studied on its own by a wide variety of specialists. In the 1960s, we were still obsessed with the impact of the West upon China, which was the framework in which the leading historians placed China. Now, we have many cultural, demographic, economic, and social historians doing local and regional history in China itself. The most linguistically sophisticated historians of Taiwan who pursued their doctorates in Europe and the United States are having an important impact. Finally, the fan that mainland China is no longer behind a bamboo curtain means that all kinds of new links and connections are being established. I find it incredibly exciting that historians in China are rediscovering the past that had been submerged. The other day in a seminar discussion about a current issue in Chinese historiography, I told my students, "I''ll probably be pushing up daisies when that question is answered, but you''ll live to see it."
THE HISTORIAN: Before asking about how you became interested in Chinese history, could you please tell us about your family background?
WAKEMAN: My mother passed away two years ago. Her ancestry was Scots-Irish and her nationality was half Canadian and half American. She was a devout Presbyterian. My maternal grandfather owned flour mills in Missouri near Kansas City and tithed. My grandmother made sure that I accompanied her to church three times every Sunday. It wasn''t until I was a teenager that I fumed away from my wonderful grandmother, but by then she had already had a profound spiritual impact upon me. During the Second World War, when my father served in the Pacific with the U.S. Navy, my mother helped her father manage the flour mills until he became so ill that they had to be sold. My little sister was born about four years after me and my brother came along after the war. He served in the army, died in Vietnam, and is buried in Arlington Cemetery.
The Wakemans migrated in the late seventeenth century from Yorkshire, England and settled in southern Connenicut. Although most became either soldiers or ministers, I recently discovered that Samuel Wakeman had a schooner in the Chinese opium trade during the early 1800s. My great-grandfather had been an Indian agent and my grandfather went to divinity school. On the eve of his ordination, he declared himself an atheist and became the editor of the newspaper in a little coal-mining town in eastern Kansas. Although my father was raised to be a free thinker and still rails against televangelists raking in millions, he did not impose such views on me when I was young. My father attended Park College, a school affiliated with missionaries, where he met my mother along with many Koreans and Chinese who had been converted to Christianity. During the depression, my father worked his way through Columbia University. Shortly after I was born in 1937, my father brought my mother and me back to New York City, where he worked for a major advertising agency.
Politically, my parents were both Democrats. My mother was a distant relative of Harry Truman. My father detested Governor Dewey and voted for President Truman in 1948. Although I was a Young Republican in college, I have voted Democrat all my life.
THE HISTORIAN: In your 1992 presidential address to the American Historical Association, you recalled the scene in Grand Central Station in 1942 when your father left for San Diego to serve in the U.S. Navy in the Pacific.
WAKEMAN: I remember him holding me in his arms, scratchy in a navy lieutenant''s dress blues. My waiting for his return may have been my earliest orientation to the Pacific. He served in air combat intelligence and was wounded in the war. He was in a gunnery post at a fairly high altitude when a Japanese shell exploded near him; depressurization collapsed his lungs. While recuperating he wrote a novel called Shore Leave. After his medical discharge, he returned to Missouri to be with his family. Early in 1944, he took my mother, sister, and me back to New York City, where he did some work for Governments-in-Exile and returned to the advertising agency he had worked for before the war. He became the account executive for a very popular radio show called The Hit Parade Shore Leave was turned into a play starring Judy Holliday, which ran on Broadway for four years and was then made into a movie, Kiss Them for Me, starring Cary Grant. This success propelled my father into writing a second book, The Hucksters, which exposed New York City''s advertising agencies and became a huge bestseller in the United States and Europe. With all this money, he could turn his back on New York City, indulge his passion for sailing, and take his family with him as he sailed the coasts and enjoyed the resorts of the United States, Latin America, and the Mediterranean.
THE HISTORIAN: From the ages of 10 to 18, you mostly lived abroad and studied at many schools, but your remarkable father took an interest in your education?
WAKEMAN: My father''s influence on my education was much, much greater than any of the schools I attended in California, Mexico, Cuba, Bermuda, France, and Florida. While we were in Cuba in 1949, my father read Samuel Eliot Morison''s biography of Christopher Columbus, Admiral of the Ocean Sea, which he passed on to me with the usual requirement of a dinner-table review of the book within the week. After I finished it, my father took the entire family on our 56-foot ketch to retrace the second voyage of Columbus around Cuba, which Columbus thought was an Asiatic peninsula. I was delighted to be taken out of military school, where I was outnumbered by Cuban boys. Before coming to Cuba, we had lived for a time in Cuernavaca, Mexico, a community of rich expatriates. I attended a school run by an Austrian woman and began simultaneously learning Spanish and German. Unlike all the other private schools in which I was enrolled, the Dominican School that my sister and I attended at Cap d''Antibes, on the French coast of the Mediterranean, was filled with kids of prosperous peasants who grew flowers for the perfume industry. The senior fear, a Belgian who had served in the Congo, had a very long black beard and taught French mercilessly. Although I understood and spoke French, I sometimes had difficulty writing what I heard. Still, it was another formative part of my education.
I finished my secondary schooling in Pinecrest, Florida, while my parents were living in Madrid. I wrote my senior thesis on Lord Byron and the Greek Revolution and graduated mid-year so I could be with my family in Madrid. Apart from reading Spanish literature in the late afternoon with a Basque tutor, I spent most mornings at the Prado, where I could spend two or three hours in each art gallery. One day my father met me there and, over coffee afterward, said, "I think memory is very important. Let''s take that wonderful poem by Byron, the one about Olympus looking on Marathon and Marathon looking on the sea." That night at dinner, my father commented that he did not think young people had a very good memory. When I protested his being unfair, he bet me $25 to give him the first lines of Byron''s poem about Marathon. I agreed, my sister cheering me on as my father told me to recite them. When I repeated exactly what he had said that morning, he corrected me: "The mountains look on Marathon." My father had set me up and I lost $25, which was a lot of money then. I was furious, but my father''s lesson was very instructive: don''t take anything for granted and be sure you know the facts.
THE HISTORIAN: While your roots were Presbyterian and midwestern, such parochialism was transcended by your boyhood in New York City and spending so much of your adolescence abroad. What lasting effects did your early experiencing of foreign peoples and places have on you?
WAKEMAN: One telling characteristic is the sports that I know are not U.S. sports. I really don''t understand baseball, and the sports pages of this country remain for me a crossword puzzle that I just don''t get. I prefer watching soccer on television to American football. I swam in college and I sail today. Obviously, living abroad in my youth facilitated my learning foreign languages and increased my awareness of different cultures. However, I think my mature outlook upon the world was shaped less by my childhood and youth than it was by my undergraduate and graduate education and by my experiences as a young historian.
THE HISTORIAN: You applied only to Harvard?
WAKEMAN: I applied only to Harvard in the United States. If I had been rejected, my fallback would have been Paris and the Sorbonne. Nobody at Harvard could pigeon-hole me by prep school or family background, which enabled me to move easily in different social and intellectual circles. When I arrived in Cambridge, I had only one friend whom I had gone to school with in Bermuda. Socially, Harvard in the mid-1950s had an elaborate ritual called "punching" that involved attending different parties, where punch was served by a few eating clubs that were looking for prospective members. Only about ten percent of Harvard undergraduates joined such clubs, but I was invited to join one and loved it. In fact, the other day, I renewed my membership dues. One club member from Philadelphia was best man at my wedding when I got married my last year at Harvard.
I didn''t know what to major in at Harvard. I started out in philosophy and, while continuing Romance Languages, started Russian. I was invited to major in European History and Literature. Emphasizing literature more than history, I concentrated on nineteenth-century French literature and wrote my senior thesis on some religious illuminati of nineteenth-century France. Learning explication de texte and the subtleties of literary analysis would later prove very useful to me as a historian, but I then thought I''d become a writer. I wrote a couple of incredibly autobiographical novels before publishing the third under the pen name "Evans Wakeman." Appearing seven years after I had graduated from Harvard, Seventeen Royal Palms Drive sold over 100,000 copies, which is more than any history book I''ve published. My continued fascination with narrative may stem from my early experiences writing fiction.
As for studying history at Harvard, I worked mainly with H. Stuart Hughes, a wonderful teacher of European Intellectual History. I also studied British History with David Owen, but the historian who opened my undergraduate eyes widest was William Langer. The first course I took with him was European diplomacy from 1815 to 1914. Seated at his podium, Langer''s nasalized twang was irritating, but I found compelling the way he explained how diplomacy moved from one point to another. Langer helped the world fall into place for me and appealed to my keen sense of patriotism. Only after I had done graduate work in Paris and Berkeley did I realize how intensely nationalistic Harvard''s history faculty was, having been in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in World War II and having joined the academic phalanx of Cold Warriors opposing Communism.
THE HISTORIAN: As an outstanding Harvard National Scholar who graduated Phi Beta Kappa and received several fellowship offers, you chose to pursue Soviet Studies and political theory at the Institut d''etudes politiqes in Paris and then went on to study Chinese at Berkeley. Can you tell me how this happened?
WAKEMAN: My wife and I very much wanted to go to Europe and Paris is a wonderful city. Because I had studied the Russian language at Harvard I thought I would do Soviet Studies. The only college courses I had taken on areas outside Europe were on the Middle East or Southeast Asia The latter was a big topic since the French had withdrawn from Indochina only five years before I got to Paris. I studied Southeast Asia with Rupert Emerson and became intrigued by the Caodai, a militant religious movement in Vietnam that had syncretized several religious and political figures of Asia and the West. It was my study of the Caodai that sparked my interest in Chinese sectarian movements. I was also deeply impressed by Tibor Mende, a French journalist who had written a number of excellent books on China Once Paris had been drawn me into the Chinese orbit, I never escaped China''s pull.
I might have returned to Harvard to study Chinese. When I left Harvard, the dean had told me that I''d have a free ride if I returned there. I had not studied with the country''s leading historian of China, Professor John Fairbank, but I had heard a good deal of him from one of his students who spoke about the way Fairbank liked disciples. Feeling that returning to Harvard would be constraining, I was excited at the prospect of exploring California A junior fellowship was arranged for me and I studied with Fairbank''s former student, Professor Joseph Levenson, who allowed his students a freer rein.
THE HISTORIAN: When you were pursuing your master''s and doctoral degrees in East Asian History and Oriental Languages at Berkeley in the early 1960s, did you see "Red China" as part of the Cold War and War imagine yourself carrying out a patriotic mission for the United States?
WAKEMAN: Absolutely. I thought of myself fighting against Communism on the frontiers of the U. S. Empire in Asia. The fact that I was trilingual and knew Russian meant the CIA was interested in me during the late 1950s. However, if I had joined the CIA, I might have ended up pushing a pencil in Washington or carrying a gun in Vietnam. Three things in the 1960s opened my eyes to the dangers of heady U.S. imperialism in Asia during the Cold War.
Coming out to Berkeley in 1960 was the first eye-opener for me in that my archpatriotic hostility to Castro''s Cuba was constantly being tested by people I met on the University of California campus. In one debate on Castro, I remember saying how sick and tired I was of people always blaming the CIA for Castro''s repressive acts. One of the debaters who had been monitoring CIA camps in Central America responded to me, "Well, you know the CIA''s going to invade Cuba" Three days later the United States launched the Bay of Pigs.
The second thing that lowered my Cold War fever involved the issue of U.S. support of the Chinese Nationalists on Taiwan and the U.S. refusal to recognize the People''s Republic of China on the mainland. As part of my graduate study at Berkeley, I studied in Taiwan. While I was there, Senator William Fullbright, chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, made a speech in which he thought the unthinkable: U.S. recognition of Red China Three of us students then studying in Taiwan prepared a letter for the New York Times in support of Fullbright. Twenty others initially signed our letter, but one by one they came by my house and asked to have their names removed. When the letter signed by the original three was published, a tremendous backlash came from the United States and Taiwan that hit me quite hard.
The third element, tied closely to the second, involved U.S. political and military officers on Taiwan who were getting ready to go into Vietnam in a big way. I was astounded by the counterinsurgency schools in Taiwan and unwilling to be a part of them. By the time I returned to the United States, I had been politically changed by the two-year experience of witnessing what was going on in Taiwan and anticipating a disaster in Vietnam. In 1988, when I visited Hanoi and toured a military museum, I saw a photograph of a very tall American aviator being led along by a small Vietnamese in pajamas carrying an AK47. In the central part of the museum, there was a mountain of U.S. army and air force helmets.
THE HISTORIAN: Your Ph.D. was supervised by Joseph Levenson?
WAKEMAN: He was a wonderful teacher. While specialists on China know Levenson''s great trilogy, Confucian China and Its Modern Fate, only those who knew him personally could fully appreciate his extraordinary wizardry with words and his delightful puns. This brilliant Jew from Boston had been the first person, save one, to break down the anti-Semitic barrier to Berkeley''s history department in the early 1950s, when all of California''s universities required loyalty oaths. Levenson had been a student of Fairbank, who had experienced the anti-Communist hysteria of the McCarthy era after 1949, the year the Soviet Union exploded their atomic bomb and China "fell" to the Communists. Levenson, promoting himself as a staunch American because he had California''s anti-Semites as well as its anti-Communists on his tail, delayed his arrival in Berkeley for a year. When I came to the campus in 1960, I found several young Jewish intellectuals teaching in the history department.
Levenson was a marvelous undergraduate lecturer. He''d respond sharply, but playfully to the questions of students. In graduate seminars, Levenson smoked his pipe as the student made a report and, after ten minutes or so, he''d interrupt by saying "That''s very interesting. . ." and proceed to take over the seminar and leave the student presenter dumbfounded. I was determined that Levenson would not do that to me. I rushed through my report in 20 minutes by allowing no pauses and, when I finished, he said, "That was good, but very fast."
Under Levenson''s direction, I wrote my dissertation on South China from 1839 to 1861, the period from the outbreak of the Opium Wars to the end of the Taiping Rebellion. Much had been written about city of Canton as the meeting ground between Chinese and Europeans, but little attention had been paid to the area surrounding Canton. I found that South China was in ferment during those tumultuous years. My dissertation, revised for publication in 1966 under the title, Strangers at the Gate, demonstrated how the Opium War had not only caused unrest in South China, but had conditioned the forms taken by the Taiping Rebellion, which may have killed 20 million Chinese.
THE HISTORIAN: You became an assistant professor of history at Berkeley in 1965?
WAKEMAN: When I joined the history faculty, Levenson had just finished the third volume of his great trilogy of books on the death of a once-hermetic Chinese culture, and the birth of a new world history in which he hoped China would retain its own historical identity as part of a wider civilization. I remember meeting him for coffee on the terrace of the cafeteria and feeling awkward as a former student now being a junior colleague. Levenson had asked me to read a talk he''d prepared about provincialism and cosmopolitanism. After I made a few comments, he spoke of how history and value could be reconciled in our world civilization despite the tensions between provincialism and cosmopolitanism. Alluding to his own fundamental (not fundamentalist) Jewish beliefs that had changed little since his student days, Levenson''s distaste for cultural syncretism in China and concerns over Jewish assimilation were part of his scholarship and his inner faith.
Levenson''s accidental drowning in 1969 was a great shock for me and my colleagues at Berkeley. I had nightmares for some time afterward and had a phobia about sailing that lasted almost a year. I finally conquered my fear by going out and buying a partly-assembled racing boat, putting it together, and learning to sail solo on San Francisco Bay, which is not easy in windy conditions. Since my wife and I were divorced, I have often taken my children sailing with me on weekends.
THE HISTORIAN: How did you learn Chinese and develop fluency?
WAKEMAN: In 1960, I naively thought Chinese was just another language since I didn''t yet know that it was one of the four most difficult languages, along with Arabic, Japanese, and Korean. Nor did I realize that I would have to learn Japanese as well as Chinese to do my doctorate in Oriental Languages and East Asian History. During my first year at Berkeley, I only got two hours of sleep a night. That was the most intensive immersion in any language and the most exhausting experience that I have ever had, but it was excellent training for reading literary Chinese. After a summer''s study of introductory Japanese at Stanford, I spent a number of months in Taiwan. The Mandarin Chinese I spoke upon my arrival made Chinese laugh when I went shopping with my wife in Tapei to buy some fabric for a dress, just as Greeks in Athens today would find someone speaking classical Greek funny. All the hard work at Berkeley and in Taiwan enabled me to read and speak the language with fluency.
Unlike academic historians who can get so bogged down with heavy teaching loads that they have little time for research and lose their language skills by not using them, I have been very fortunate. At Berkeley I have continually used Chinese and Japanese in my research. Another long stay in Taiwan in the late 1960s and making frequent trips to the mainland since the mid-1970s have been important. This past year, for example, I visited China six times.
THE HISTORIAN: You returned to Taiwan in 1967 to direct the Stanford Chinese Language program for a year, where you also read Confucian texts and commentaries with one of the last great intellectuals of classical Chinese thought?
WAKEMAN: Studying under Liu Yu-yun, whom people in Tapei called the "Manchu" or "Prince," was a great opportunity for me, which seemed all the more important to me during the Chinese Cultural Revolution then underway on the mainland. Mr. Liu used three traditional methods of teaching. First, he intoned the text in its original form and transliterated it from archaic prose into classical Mandarin. Then, he quoted parts of one text by memory in order to interpret the meaning of another. Finally, because he regarded these texts as still mirroring the world around us, he treated the texts as moral guides. Mr. Liu, having become disillusioned with politics and much of the world, practiced Bud&m and frequently entertained his students at vegetarian banquets. However, his heavy demands on my time put great strains on my marriage.
THE HISTORIAN: You spoke earlier of being drawn into the Chinese orbit. What of the risks for the historian of other cultures going "native"?
WAKEMAN: That''s a very good question. I had traveled enough to be rather suspicious of American students who not only learned the Chinese language, but only ate Chinese food, ran their household along Chinese lines, and spent more time with Chinese than Americans. In the 1960s, when my wife and our son were with me in Taiwan, I distanced myself from "going native." However, I must say that my present wife is Chinese and that today all my friends, including my most personal friends, are Chinese.
THE HISTORIAN: When Berkeley was already in the throes of Vietnam War and other protests in the late 1960s, did the Cultural Revolution then going on simultaneously in China enter into your classroom?
WAKEMAN: The Cultural Revolution broke out in 1965, but it really wasn''t until 1967 that people in the West started to take much notice of what was going on. In the spring of 1968, when I took over Levenson''s lecture course on Modern China, some Maoists, not all of whom were registered in my class, invaded the lecture hall by banging garbage can lids together like cymbals. Berkeley had been experiencing spring riots for years, but these Maoists targeted my class specifically. I had to intervene in fist fights that broke out between students who wanted to hear me lecture and Maoists who wanted the class dosed down.
In the late 1960s, a graduate student gave me some material from a Japanese journal that quoted some of Mao Tse-tung''s recent speeches. I read and reread them, but I couldn''t figure them out. How could Mao champion student protests if it meant abandoning the Communist Party, the vanguard of the proletariat? Was it just a matter of political strategy? How did Mao buttress his theory of permanent revolution? Was he a Marxist romantic? Or, as some suggested, was Mao a Taoist dialectician, replacing yin and yang with antagonistic contradictions? Such questions transcended Mao Tse-tung for they related to the internal and external roots of modern Chinese thinking. The contradiction between objective history and subjective will raised basic issues about man and nature that Mao may or may not have shared with his contemporaries. Here was I, a U.S. patriot in my youth who had turned into sort of an American liberal, trying to come to terms with the philosophical roots and historical ramifications of Mao''s thinking. In six feverish months, literally living with the work every single day, I wrote History and Will Philosophical Perspectives of Mao Tse-tung''s Thought, which was published in 1973 and nominated for a National Book Award. The book was immediately translated into Chinese by an investigative group of the Chinese Communist party, which took me years to obtain.
THE HISTORIAN: History and Will shocked Maoists as much as Christians in the Reformation might have been upset by a critical assessment of Christ or a fundamentalist Muslim today would respond to such treatment of Mohammed. What struck me in reading your book was the great difficulty of tracing the roots of ideas in Western and Chinese thought, but the even greater difficulty of Chinese interpreters of Western thought and Western interpreters of Chinese thought.
WAKEMAN: There are two things that really stick in my mind from publishing History and Will. Some kind of official Chinese group visited Berkeley to talk to me about the book l tried to explain why I wrote the book, but was unable to communicate this to the group. Two months later a man in that delegation committed suicide. The other thing I recall is my subsequent visit to Peking when the Cultural Revolutionary campaign against Confucius was in full swing and young Chinese asked me, "How could you possibly suggest that our Chairman was influenced by a Confucian scholar?"
THE HISTORIAN: Your next book, a survey of the Manchu dynasty from 1644 to 1912 entitled The Fall of Imperial China, has been very useful to students of Early Modern and Modern Chinese history since it was first published in 1975.
WAKEMAN: In that book I wanted to show the important changes that had taken place in China even before the Western powers began to intrude in the early 1800s. Before that happened, there had been a dramatic increase in population in China that helped trigger most of the other basic social changes of the later imperial period: changes in the social and economic status of peasants, a proliferation in the size of the gentry, and the growing commercialization of the Chinese economy. l am glad that my institutional analysis has helped correct the notion that China only changed in response to the West.
THE HISTORIAN: It must have been sort of a relief for you to get back into early modem China The transition from the Chinese Ming dynasty (1368-1644) to the Manchu Ch''ing dynasty (1644-1912) became your main scholarly focus for about a decade until 1985, when you published your monumental work in two volumes of over 1,300 pages, The Great Enterprise: The Manchu Reconstruction of Imperial Order in Seventeenth-Century China, which you dedicated to your mother and father. A detailed study involving hundreds of Chinese and Manchu names and synthesizing the research of Chinese, Japanese, European, and U.S. scholars in over 3,000 footnotes, The Great Enterprise was praised in The New York Review of Books by Fairbank: "For anyone seriously interested in China, Wakeman''s book will from now on be one of the most important books to start with." So great a work cannot be summarized in a paragraph or two, but could you talk a little about how you conceived that book and wrote it.
WAKEMAN: I had to breathe life for years into a project that I first started thinking about doing in the late 1960s, when I was in Hong Kong and picked up a collection on peasant wars of the seventeenth century. Fairbank encouraged the project. In 1977 I put together the overall design in England, where I was a fellow at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. I decided to examine the transfer of loyalties from one imperial regime to another in China, where loyalty to the emperor was at the top of a hierarchy of loyalties toward one''s teachers on down through kinsmen, classmates, and others, and where Confucian teaching had for centuries demanded obedience toward superiors, parents, husbands, elders, as well as rulers. Understanding such a profound shift among individuals in different institutional and regional contexts was the main theme of my detailed study.
I spent hours pouring over a map of China that was so big that it had to be laid out on the floor of a good-sized room and that was so detailed that I had to use a magnifying glass to locate obscure places where fighting took place in southern, northwestern, and northeastern China, as well as with the Manchus beyond the Great Wall. My book began with the problems of the Ming dynasty''s scholar bureaucracy being dominated by southerners who were hostile to the Peking regime that had been corrupted by eunuchs. Then, I turned to the military rebels in the northwest, with whom the Manchu state beyond the wall joined forces before combining Manchu-northeastern Chinese forces in conquering northwestern China and pacifying the south. In all this, I highlighted the importance of Chinese collaboration with the Manchus. The book is so long that it should probably be republished in an abbreviated version. After I had written a good part of the huge manuscript, I even wondered at one point, "Will anyone read this?"
THE HISTORIAN: The Great Enterprise is a very demanding read, especially for the nonspecialist, but it certainly conveys the complexity of seventeenth-century China more fully than any other work that I have read on the early modern era As an admirer of Alexis de Tocqueville, I noticed your introduction to the book began with his quotation, "In the end the barbarians invite the civilized people into their palaces and the civilized open their schools to the barbarians," and that your last chapter again quoted Tocqueville: "Centralization . . . excels at preventing, not at doing." Because Tocqueville was such a great historian of the institutions of France''s ancien regime, I think he would have admired your history of the old regime of China.
WAKEMAN: That''s very kind.
THE HISTORIAN: It''s deserved. When did you first see mainland China?
WAKEMAN: In 1974, I served as an interpreter for a U.S. medical delegation. At that time the only way I could get to China was to go as an interpreter with some such group. When we got to Shanghai, still China''s largest city, we stayed in an old luxury hotel. That evening, I stood at the hotel window of my suite that was still decorated in the style of the 1930s and looked down at China''s largest city that was then quite dark. On the street in front of the hotel I saw only the lights of one automobile and a single streetlight with a couple of teenagers standing under it. To me, Shanghai seemed frozen in time as I mused on the city Shanghai of the 1840s, which became one of the so-called "treaty ports" that Britain and the other foreign powers imposed on the Chinese after the Opium Wars; Shanghai of the late 1800s, with all the foreigners living and working in foreign concession zones, which were outside Chinese law, with areas drained to erect a new financial and harbor district called the "Bunch; and Shanghai of the 1930s, which had teemed with organized crime revolving around drugs, gambling, and prostitution.
THE HISTORIAN: Is this when you found the Shanghai police archives?
WAKEMAN: No, that happened a few years later when I had returned to China and discovered that government officials were extremely reluctant to open up any archives to anyone. In The China Quarterly, I had read an article about the 1927 split between the Chinese Nationalists and Chinese Communists, based on some police records in Shanghai that had also been referred to in a memoir by an American. I asked the U.S. National Archivist, who then served with me on the Council of the American Historical Association, if he would try to locate these Shanghai papers. Within a month, he told me that the files of the Shanghai foreign settlements'' municipal police had been found in the Washington, D.C. area. It took a year to do the sorting, but then I had them all microfilmed for Berkeley.
On another trip to Shanghai for a history conference, I was approached by a young Chinese scholar who asked me to come with him to some archives, but not to tell anybody about it. The next day a car with curtains over the windows took me to the reception room of a building behind an old 14-story Shanghai landmark, where I saw rows of file cabinets being looked after by little old ladies scurrying about. These files, my guide told me, contained more than ten million cards with information about people who had worked for what he called the "puppet police."
In Peking a few years later, when I dined with Mao Tse-tung''s private secretary in the guest house of the Central Committee in Peking, he asked me why a scholar such as I should be interested in Shanghai''s police records. "Are you going to write an underground history of the Communist Party?" No, I answered him truthfully, I was interested in writing about the inability of Chiang Kai-shek''s Chinese Nationalists to rule Shanghai in the 1920s and 1930s. Three days after that dinner, I received the support I needed from Reagan''s White House to copy some materials from Chinese archives. Such cooperation continued quite smoothly until the events in Tiananmen Square of June 1989. Although President Bush announced no high level exchanges, I have since been given a better tour of the National Archives in Peking than I could ever have dreamed possible. There are lots more stories like this, but these suggest the challenges and excitement in gaining access to archives in the People''s Republic.
THE HISTORIAN: Such archival work has been the basis of your two most recent books, Policing Shanghai 1927-1939and The Shanghai Badlands: Wartime Terrorism and Urban Crime, 1937-1941.
WAKEMAN: The first book shows what a paradise Shanghai had become for Chinese criminal organizations and protection rackets, especially the notorious "Green Gang," which had emerged among the barge-pullers and coolie laborers along the Grand Canal and other waterways in the early 1900s and gained a hold over the distribution and sale of opium, prostitution, and various forms of gambling, including horse and greyhound racing as well as local lotteries. Organized crime became so powerful that the French and British consular authorities, as well as Chiang Kai-shek''s Nationalists, depended on them. Most of Chiang''s efforts at policing Shanghai failed. While the war between the Chinese Nationalists and the Chinese Communists is not a major theme, it is dear that the Communists'' so-called "Red Brigades" behaved neither better nor worse than the Chinese Nationalists. Policing Shanghai shows the limits of police power in such chaotic situations.
The "Badlands" was the name given to the area of western Shanghai that was adjacent to the International (British) zone and the French zone. Between 1937, when war broke out between Japan and China and the Japanese succeeded in driving Chiang Kai-shek''s armies out of Shanghai, and 1941, when the United States entered the war after Pearl Harbor, much of coastal China was under Japanese occupation. During this time some Chinese collaborated with the Japanese, but far more Chinese resisted them so strongly that the triangular relationship between the foreign settlement, the Japanese military, and the puppet regime was strained to the breaking point. The Badlands provided both a momentary escape from unbearable social tensions and a constant reminder of a city festering under foreign domination. In my book, I used the often quoted metaphor of Xia Yan to describe Shanghai: "a city of 48-story skyscrapers built upon 24 layers of hell."
THE HISTORIAN: In addition to publishing prolifically and teaching on the graduate and undergraduate level, how do you also manage to direct the East Asian Institute at Berkeley? I understand you have been raising millions of dollars, mainly in Asia, for new facilities.
WAKEMAN: For years I have used a pocket tape-recorder for dictation to my assistants. More recently, my administrative tasks have been helped by the communications revolution, particularly e-mail and fax, which enable me to do a tremendous amount of work at home in the evenings. After supper, I work fairly late. East night, for example, I was up until 4 am. I am lucky in that I can get along on very little sleep. This directorship takes up a lot of time, particularly the fundraising for a new building, but as director, I teach only half time. Most of my teaching is on the graduate level, although I teach at least one or two undergraduate lecture courses a year. I try to keep one day free on the weekend, when I like to go sailing with the kids, and I try to take some time off in the winter for skiing. My research and writing depend upon the size of my project. I can do plenty of articles, but a book requires a much more sustained time, which I only get when I''m on leave or away from Berkeley. Now I usually go to China, where I can be affiliated with some research institute and concentrate on a book-length project. I have a leave coming up in the spring of 1998, when I expect to concentrate on my next book.
THE HISTORIAN: Could you comment, as you did at the beginning of this interview, on your views on Modern Chinese History? You seem to me to have your fingers uniquely on the pulse of that field.
WAKEMAN: It''s unbelievable to me how much more we know about China in the 1990s than when I started to study it in the 1960s. Despite all the political dynamics, I think Chinese studies are very healthy in the United States. A lot of people send me their own works, which I skim very quickly and dictate my notes to my full-time typist. Yet, even so, it''s impossible for me to keep up with my field, and I have to rely on my students, undergraduate as well as graduate students, to keep me informed of what''s going on. I think that the questions that are being asked today about Chinese history are a lot better than the ones that used to be asked, all of which used to bounce off "the West" instead of dealing with China on its own terms. A more endogenous sense of Chinese history now exists for the early modem periods. There''s a recent book called Remapping China that represents a little bit of this new historiography. Some anti-historians have set up a new model for understanding what used to be called the Third World, but I don''t think it works very well. Although China has never been colonized, I think the term "semi-colonial" does apply to the period of Japanese occupation. If you talk to Chinese historians in China, they find that offensive, but it''s very trendy and found in new journals that find favor with younger scholars. To me, the most rewarding fields of studying China historically are those that are concerned with issues of popular culture or that involve social changes related to demography and economics. We can use more solid institutional studies since that''s what we really lack. Students here are now working on people that I hadn''t even heard of 20 years ago.
THE HISTORIAN: How do you see the historian''s place in the contemporary world?
WAKEMAN: I have to come at that question from two different directions: one as a person who is a Chinese historian and the other, as a professional historian in America.
Even before the Han dynasty (206 B.C.-220 A.D.), every emperor had to have two historians, one on his right and one on his left, who kept abundant records. The historian was not just the recorder of the emperor''s movements, but in a certain sense history''s judge. Chinese historiography has had too much of this "praise and blame history," where you accuse those who made mistakes of their errors and praise those who were great and virtuous leaders. That tradition continues. For example, when Chinese talked about Tiananmen after June 1989, they said "history will be the judge" or "there''s going to be a historical reckoning." The bad side is that this transforms history into a judgmental--even Aesopian--way of looking at affairs. The good side is that it lends history enormous prestige and attaches almost a religious significance to what the historian does. After all, who but the historian is able to tell you what happened and whether a person did the right thing or not? Like the French, the Chinese feel a great historical burden.
From an American historian''s view, I find us in the midst of much confusion over deconstruction and post-structural theory in literary criticism being applied to history and actually distorting it. A professional historian''s role in a way is much more legal than critical, with an element of judgment. Moderate historians know that every view is relevant, but still we have to weigh and sift the evidence to come up with an explanation that makes sense. For me, the difference has been to learn that the present is not the past. While the present is very limited and its view quite myopic, the past offers a longer dimension that enables us to understand how things changed and how we have come to the present. That''s very exciting.
THE HISTORIAN: Has your study of the past, particularly China''s recent past, affected your view of the future?
WAKEMAN: I think a historian''s view of the future is very reflective of the historian''s experience. As a historian of China looking at what''s happened to China''s population over the centuries, I note its tremendous growth since the seventeenth century. Now, there are 1.2 or 1.3 billion Chinese. By 2025 there will be 10 billion people on this planet if the projections of the United Nations are accurate, which I suspect they are. On the other hand, I always remind myself of contingencies and how unpredictable history is. We all just have to live with it.
THE HISTORIAN: Finally, do you have any advice for young historians?
WAKEMAN: I don''t have any advice, but I''ll share a reflection. Let me state it simply. When I was a young man I wanted to lead a very active life and a very consequential life, not necessarily a very reflective life. One never knows what these things mean in terms of the opportunities one has, but only six months after I became a professional historian, I realized how lucky I was to be able to be in the position to read, think, reflect, talk, and write about the things that really mattered most to me.
THE HISTORIAN: Thank you.