Thursday, November 12, 2009

Jeff Wasserstrom

Two exchanges from Jeff Wasserstrom's Q & A at Urbananatomy Shanghai:

Contemporary writer in any medium who you never miss?

Pankaj Mishra. There are other people I try to read whenever they publish something new. In the China field, for example, I try to keep up with Geremie Barmé (not easy, given how prolific he is!), and I’ve never been disappointed by anything Evan Osnos has done for The New Yorker. I always learn something new (about the world or just about language) from book reviews by Perry Anderson, and the same goes for those of Pico Iyer. But Pankaj still stands out. I loved his first novel, The Romantics, and all the short pieces of his I’ve seen on topics ranging from contemporary Chinese writers to nineteenth century European novelists, from U.S. policy toward Pakistan to the allure of Western popular music when he was growing up in India. He’s the one person for whom I’ve set up a 'Google Alert' account, so that I’d get an automatic e-mail telling me whenever he had something new come out. (I ended up doing away with that, incidentally, as I kept getting messages about other Pankaj Mishras, who were mentioned in news stories about disaster relief, had written about cricket and so on — turns out, he just doesn’t have a very unusual name.)

* * *
What are you working on now and when is it out?

I’m very glad you asked. I just sent in the manuscript of a new book, China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know, which will come out early in 2010 and be part of a series that Oxford University Press is doing (all the works in it have the same subtitle). It is a very short book in a question and answer format. In it, I try to give concise, sensible, and I hope engagingly written replies to the sorts of queries I get after giving public talks. Why is China still governed by a Communist Party, after so many other similar regimes have fallen? Is Chinese nationalism something to worry about? Why is China holding an Expo so soon after hosting an Olympics? Those sorts of things.

It’s aimed at general readers not fellow academics, and I see it as the kind of thing that would be ideal to pick up at the airport bookstore en route to China for the first time, or that an expat might want send to a brother or sister about to come over to visit as a present. It has a lot on sources of misunderstanding between the U.S. and China, as that’s something I’ve thought a lot about and something that should concern people who are neither American nor Chinese, given how important the relationship between the two countries has become. (Too bad it won’t be out in time for someone to suggest that Obama read it before heading to China!). I won’t brag about the text, as that would be unseemly, but I can say it has...[read on]
Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom is a Professor of History at the University of California, Irvine. His publications include China's Brave New World and Student Protests in Twentieth-Century China: The View from Shanghai. He is a regular contributor to academic journals and has also written for a variety of general interest periodicals, including Newsweek, The Nation, the TLS, New Left Review, the Far Eastern Economic Review, the Los Angeles Times and the Christian Science Monitor. He also writes at The China Beat.

The Page 69 Test: China's Brave New World.

The Page 99 Test: Global Shanghai, 1850–2010.

--Marshal Zeringue