Interview with Thomas Stanley

Thomas Stanley UM Alum (‘93)

Thomas Stanley
UM Alum (‘93)

In this interview, we talked with UM alum Thomas Stanley who tells us about his career trajectory in Greater China, from teaching English in Taiwan to being a Partner and National Markets COO with KPMG in Shanghai.

LRCCS: Where did you grow up?

Stanley: In a number of different places, mostly in Michigan. I also spent 5 years in the UK; my family’s always been spread out. Then I came to Ann Arbor and UM not as a Chinese major, but took Chinese 101 with Professor Hilda Tao and was fascinated by it. She was a great teacher but I wanted to take my language to the next level by traveling to China.

LRCCS: So you did a study abroad?

Stanley: Right, that was my junior year, and there weren’t really any UM programs in Mainland China at that time. So I transferred to the University of Massachusetts for a year to do a study abroad program, and did an intensive summer in Taiwan then a full academic year in Beijing.

LRCCS: Woah, that’s a deep dive

Stanley: It was. The funny thing was, after Taiwan I thought, I’m getting the hang of this, Mainland China will be no problem. But it was much more challenging than I’d anticipated. We were traveling to Beijing from Guangzhou by train and I remember at the train station our team lead said to us, “The good news is everyone’s got a ticket. The bad news is they were out of sleeper berths.” So we had hard seats, and some of us didn’t even have seats. That was our introduction to China.

LRCCS: Quite a warm welcome. What year was this?

Stanley: ’86 – ’87. The ball of Reform and Opening was just getting rolling in Beijing at that time – it was all brand new. They had just gotten rid of the rationing coupons. And when I go back to Beijing, there’s almost nothing now that’s the same.

When we got to Beijing, the first thing we did was organize bicycles. There were almost no cars – some public buses, cabs, etc. It was very quiet – you’d roam around the streets and just hear the tinkling of bicycle bells.

LRCCS: So what happened after undergrad?

Stanley: This wasn’t a great time to be looking for jobs, so I bought a ticket to Taiwan and got a job teaching English. After about a year there I got a full-time job with KPMG.

LRCCS: Had you studied consulting or anything like that?

Stanley: No. It was a fascinating experience; I was hired as their English editor and reviewed every client-facing document that they produced in English.

LRCCS: This was the late 80s? What did KPMG look like in Taiwan back then?

Stanley: The Taiwanese economy was really going gangbusters, one of the emerging Asian tigers. The company had about 300 employees in Taiwan at the time. And after a while I realized I needed to supplement what I’d studied at UM, so I decided to go back to UM to get an MBA. During my time in Ann Arbor I took a lot of classes with LRCCS faculty like Linda Lim, Yi-tsi Feuerwerker and Shen-fu Lin; the center was an excellent resource for research on China.

LRCCS: What did you do after you graduated?

Stanley: At that point I got a job in Changzhou with a US-China manufacturing company. I joined shortly after the joint-venture agreement had been inked, and I became their finance director and one of the on-the-ground guys in the company. I was one of only three foreigners in the city.

LRCCS: What was Changzhou like in the early 90s?

Stanley: I described it to some people as being like camping for two years. Things that I took for granted were very difficult to find, such as news about the rest of the world. It was a great learning experience though – life over there was very different, and this was still in the time when State Owned Enterprises had a separate ecosystem for their organization. I got to see some fascinating things in that microcosm, like when the union in our manufacturing plant had a joint wedding for 7 couples.

LRCCS: Were you invited?

Stanley: Oh yes, I was one of the “distinguished guests.” I believe they had me present some kind of gift to the couples, but I don’t really remember.

LRCCS: What are you up to now at KPMG?

Stanley: Now I’m the COO of our national markets group, which encompasses all our account and sector programs; looking after our major clients, our business development team, and all of our ‘go-to-market activities.’ So we help our core service providers position themselves in the market effectively.

LRCCS: Do you have any advice for current students who are considering going into business in China?

Stanley: The language is hugely important. It always was, but now it’s even more of a hard requirement. And I think the best way to get started in China is just to find something here to get your foot in the door; even if it’s not exactly the right thing, it’ll be much easier to find that thing while you’re in China.

Interview conducted and edited by Eric Couillard

Interview with Patrick Cranley

Patrick Cranley   LRCCS MA ‘88 Co-founder of AsiaMedia and Historic Shanghai

Patrick Cranley

Co-founder of AsiaMedia and Historic Shanghai

What can you do with an MA from LRCCS? For this interview, we talked to LRCCS alum Patrick Cranley (’88) in Shanghai, co-founder of AsiaMedia. He talks about his time at LRCCS, Jewish ghettos in Shanghai, and the limits of labels like socialism and free markets.

Interview conducted by Eric Couillard

LRCCS: What are you up to right now?

Cranley: I focus on several things. On the business side, I run AsiaMedia – which does marketing, public relations, and communications consulting. We’ve been doing that since 2001. We help companies with their marketing strategies and then help with implementation, using traditional and digital tools.

We’re also involved in lots of community things. My wife and I have always been involved in historic preservation. When we first got to Shanghai we saw all kinds of beautiful old buildings, but when we asked people about them we didn’t get very good answers. So we started a group called Historic Shanghai, which does research, presentations and tours for the local community. It’s become much bigger than we ever envisioned.

LRCCS: Interesting. So are the people you work with for Historic Shanghai mostly foreigners?

Cranley: Historic Shanghai operates primarily in English, so most of our members and participants are English-speaking foreigners. There’s also now a parallel group that operates in Chinese – mostly in Shanghainese, and we have an informal relationship with that group.

LRCCS: How did you end up where you are now?

Cranley: Well, I became interested in Asia in general in college when I took a class comparing the philosophies of the East and West. So that eventually led me to Chinese studies – particularly the 20th century. After undergrad I worked for a bit and decided I wanted to go to business school, so I specifically looked for programs that combined business education with China studies. Back then, there weren’t many places were you could do both. It was basically Harvard, Yale, Michigan, and Berkeley. I chose Michigan.

It was a very good decision. I started in ’84, when the Center for Chinese Studies had assembled a dream team for Chinese politics, history and economics: I studied with Chinese Studies superstars including Ken Lieberthal, Mike Oksenberg, Linda Lim, and Bob Dernberger. It was a wonderful experience.

In the middle of that program, I got a scholarship to go to the Hopkins Nanjing Center, and I became a member of the very first graduating class: 1986-87. It confirmed my interest in combining business and China studies. My goal after graduation was to find a job that would get me back to China as soon as possible. I was hired in Philadelphia, but transferred within a year to the company’s Asia regional operations out of Singapore; so I was working in China shortly after one year of graduating from Michigan. After a number of subsequent transfers, I ended up in Shanghai with the same company. After a few years they said, “Ok, time to come back to the US!” – but my wife and I weren’t really done with Shanghai yet. So we decided to stay and start our own business – that’s how AsiaMedia was conceived.

LRCCS: What was it like starting a business in China back then?

Cranley: This was 2001, and it wasn’t that complicated. I think generally it gets easier to start a foreign-owned business in China every year, though it may become more difficult this year for political reasons. There’s a saying about China: “Everything is possible, but nothing is easy.” For us, establishing our business was reasonably smooth.

LRCCS: Tell us more about Historic Shanghai. What are your main activities?

Cranley: About half of our events are guided tours of different parts of the city. We also host lectures in different venues with authors and specialists in the area. Lynn Pan, Jeff Wasserstrom, Edward Denison, Tess Johnston, Robert Bickers and many others have spoken to Historic Shanghai audiences. Professor Jonathan Kaufman of Northeastern University spoke to us recently about his forthcoming book on the Sassoons, a Sephardic Jewish family who came to Shanghai in the 19th century to trade and became fabulously wealthy. Thousands of Russian Jews arrived here in the early 1900s, and then tens of thousands of European Jews arrived in the late 1930s to escape Nazi persecution. They were all part of the diverse tapestry of peoples who contributed to the flourishing of Shanghai.

LRCCS: That’s fascinating. What happened to the Jews in Shanghai after the Japanese occupied the city during World War II?

Cranley: When European Jews arrived, they were helped to resettle by the Jews who were already here. After the Japanese arrived, they came under pressure from their German allies to “take care” of these European Jews, in the same way they were “taking care” of them back in Europe. But the Japanese had no beef with the Jews – they were just more Westerners as far as they could tell. The Japanese also had been told that the Jewish community was influential in media and financial circles. And remember, this was 1941-42, and the Japanese had been raping and pillaging all over Asia for four years by this point. They didn’t want another public relations disaster.

So they compromised. They simply required the Jews who moved here after 1937 to move into an area of the city that became known as the Jewish ghetto. But they weren’t like the internment camps where British, Americans, Dutch and others were incarcerated during the war; the Ghetto didn’t have walls and barbed wire, but neither did the Japanese feed, clothe and house the Jews. They policed their own area and had to eke out a living any way they could. It was absolutely miserable, but after the war they discovered how lucky they actually had been compared to their relatives in Europe.

LRCCS: Sounds like you’ve kept up your study of history. Are you still engaged in economic research also?

Cranley: I have never lost my interest in the economic topics that I studied at Michigan. It has been fascinating to see the evolution of the Chinese economic system, which is now officially called ‘market-oriented socialism with Chinese characteristics.’ But what is that? It’s hard enough for Chinese to figure out, much less your average American. It’s not easy for people steeped in one system to understand how the other one works. But you may have noticed that the Chinese have caught on pretty quick.

LRCCS: Caught on to capitalism?

Cranley: We do not use the C-word here, my friend!

LRCCS: Oh sorry, I meant “market-oriented socialism.”

Cranley: That’s better! Anyway, the point is that simple labels are not very helpful in understanding complex economic forces. But put simply, the Chinese tried a Soviet-style planned economy, and it did not work; they have spent the last 40 years moving toward a more market-oriented economy, but they don’t want to give up strong government control. They understand that market forces are powerful and productive, but that left unregulated, they will lead to concentrated economic power that does not act in the interests of the vast majority of people.

This seems very theoretical, but it’s directly applicable to things we’re talking about in the United States, like healthcare, education and taxes. But we get caught up in simple labels. I think in order for Americans to have productive conversations about these topics, we need to steer clear of labels like “socialism” and “free markets” and focus on solutions based on what has been learned from all of the economic experiments of the last 100 years, all over the world. Of course, it is much easier to simply shout labels at one’s “opponents.” But we’re not opponents – we’re all in this boat together.

Interview with Silvia Lindtner

Silvia Lindtner  Assistant Professor School of Information

Silvia Lindtner

Assistant Professor
School of Information

Meet Professor Silvia Lindtner from the School of Information and Penny Stamps School of Art and Design, who became an LRCCS faculty associate in 2014.  In this interview, she talks about her ethnographic research on World of Warcraft hackers in Beijing, the world of ‘making’ in China, and some of the inequalities present in that space.

Interview conducted and edited by Eric Couillard

Couillard: I always like to start from the very beginning – so where did you grow up?

Prof Lindtner: I lived in Austria until I was 21 – I graduated from college in a field called media technology and design, which was designed in many ways to prepare its students to help build something like the “Silicon Valley of Austria.”  I didn’t realize that at the time, as I felt excited about the intersection of digital studies, computing, design, and the arts, and the degree helped me learn more about that.

Couillard: And when did you become interested in more academic work?

Prof Lindtner: For my thesis I was already involved in a research lab at the German tech firm Siemens, and at that time I did some basic research in user interface design and mobile computing.  I thought that was interesting because it seemed the intersection of technology and people was missing in the computing industry more  broadly.  After my thesis I worked for a year and half abroad at Princeton in a research lab, and got to work in the space of human-computer interaction. After these two years exploring the intersections of research, technology, and design, I decided to apply for doctoral degree programs in Europe and the United States.

Couillard: So when did China come into the picture?

Prof Lindtner: Fairly late for me.  When I was at the research lab in Princeton, I had done some research on game design and also helped design a game.  And when I started out on my PhD at UC Irvine in 2006, Bonnie Nardi, one of the faculty at UC Irvine, got a grant from Intel to study World of Warcraft in China, which had become immensely popular in China at that time. She asked me if I wanted to be part of the team, and I was like, “This sounds amazing!”  From that point I began learning Chinese.

Couillard: What was your first experience in China?

Prof Lindtner: In the summer of my first year of the PhD program.  The project was in partnership with Beida [Peking University], and most of my research took place in Beijing.  I spent a lot of time in Internet cafes. For a while, I was following a group of students who were basically hacking World of Warcraft. The Chinese government at that time had censored some of the graphics of the game, and the young people in the Internet cafés were really upset about that – they wanted to play the “authentic” American game.  For example, there were skeletons in the game which got replaced with graves.  And the gamers were saying, “I’m much more afraid of censorship than I am of skeletons.”  So, what this group of students did was that they got a pirated version of the game, purchased a couple of PCs, wrote some software – and set up their own private game servers. They became so popular that a micro-economy developed around the game and some of the kids were even making money off of this.  I was so intrigued that I decided I needed to really get good at Chinese and make this my thing.

Couillard: How did these gamers respond to a random Austrian woman hanging around all the time?  

Prof Lindtner: As is common for ethnographic research, I developed close relationships with many of them.  In the following years, I focused specifically on another emergent gaming phenomenon – the killer game (杀人游戏 in Chinese). People had not only set up their own game servers, but had built gaming clubs to play this game. I spent two summers hanging out in these gaming clubs in Beijing and Shanghai, funded by a grant from the Intel People and Practices Research group under Ken Anderson and Maria Bezaitis.  People at these gaming clubs were definitely curious about me.  Being white and female opened some doors and closed others – people would invite me in because they were curious.  And I became especially close with some of the other female gamers, such as a Chinese woman who’d studied in Germany, who also spoke amazing German.  She was an important interlocutor. I’d also spend a lot of time with them offline; we’d go clubbing or partying after the gameplay.  They invited me to their homes, and other non-game activities.

Couillard: So when did “making” come into the picture?

Prof Lindtner: Throughout my research in China, I had been interested in the intersection of computing, the digital, and the arts.  I had followed a group of people in Beijing and Shanghai who had been working in this space, many with a computer science and/or creative arts background.  One that stood out was the collective that had gathered around called Xin Danwei (新单位), which was a coworking space in Shanghai at the time, that brought together an interdisciplinary collective of people interested in an open Internet and Chinese model of design innovation including China’s first Internet bloggers.

I was finishing up my preliminary research and looking into starting my dissertation research, which would be one year of fieldwork.  So I contacted them, told them about my ethnographic research, and they were like, “Sure, when can you start?”  Which was pretty unexpected – usually people are a little more hesitant.  This happened to be the group that set up China’ first hackerspace – only two months after I started working with them.

A couple years later, there was a lot of international attention – China’ maker scene had attracted foreign investment, especially from Europe and the United States. It was especially Shenzhen in the South of China that figured in the global imaginary of making as a renewed and central protagonist. The Chinese government too started supporting these spaces, and they began popping up all over the place.  Some of the people in the hacker/maker community were ambivalent about the international and national endorsement – on the one hand, it appeared to grant them at last what China had long been denied: the status of modern innovation.  Of course this was a very complex issue, and it’s actually one of the topics in my first book, which I’m working on now.

Couillard: What sort of an impact would you like for your research to have?

Prof Lindtner: I think there’s a lot of misconceptions about China and its role in contemporary and past technology and innovation practices.  I’m interested in offering an alternative view. I have also become really interested in unpacking how Westerns perceptions of China have been shifting over the years. For instance, Shenzhen is now celebrated as a hotbed for innovation even through it was known only a couple of years ago only for low quality copycats.  I think these perceptions can also be mapped to global relations between China and the rest of the world.  So I hope my work will help challenge cultural stereotypes and biases around that history.

Couillard: What’s one of the biggest stereotypes you want to challenge?

Prof Lindtner: The whole promise of making (which I want to use as the title of my book) is this story about individual empowerment.  That if you give people the right open source tools, they can regain control over the means of production.  The promise was: this is for everyone – anyone can take part. This story of promise masks continuous racial and gender inequalities. For instance, in some of the Western-funded incubators where I did my research, continuous enactments of masculinity tied to the promise of regaining control via technological tinkering legitimized and rendered invisible class and gender inequalities. So much of the story is about promise and progress, but even in networks where people say they are committed to challenging patriarchy and classism, you still see these entrenched norms.

Thanks for reading!  Stay tuned for more LRCCS interviews.

Check out Prof Lindtner's website here: , and follow her on Twitter - @yunnia

Interview with Mary Gallagher - Part II

This is Part II of an interview with LRCCS Director Mary Gallagher.  Click here to read Part I, where Professor Gallagher talks about getting started in Chinese studies and her first trip to China - in summer 1989.

Couillard: You just came out with a new book – can you tell me about it?


Prof Gallagher: The book is called Authoritarian Legality in China: Law, Workers, and the State and is published with Cambridge University Press.  The book is asking a question which a lot of people are asking about authoritarian regimes which is, Can authoritarian regimes borrow from democracy to make authoritarianism work better? 

What I was looking at specifically was how the Chinese government built up a legal system and profession over the last two decades, and a collection of very comprehensive and protective laws, that ostensibly protect people in the workplace.

The government also encouraged the media to propagate information about the laws, and in a sense to delegate law enforcement to workers themselves.  Like saying, “We’ll give you protection, but you’re going to have to sue your company yourself.”

So in the book I looked at how workers did that and how it was successful in terms of improving governance, raising labor standards, and keeping social stability.

Couillard: One thing I read in the book description was that you thought that adopting these democratic practices is undermining the state’s rule.

Prof Gallagher:  Right.  So what I decided in the conclusion is that authoritarian regimes are interested in democratic ideas as a means to improve governance – such as increased transparency, giving channels for dealing with grievance to avoid those grievances turning into mass movements, etc.  But for rule of law building, the government was very half-hearted.  They did a good job making the laws, but didn’t allow for the buildup of supportive institutions, like administrative agencies to sue on workers’ behalf for systematic violations, or stronger trade unions to protect low-wage workers.  

The government didn’t do those things – they just delegated these duties to workers themselves.  What I found is that people tended to be very dissatisfied with this process, and especially so for people at the lower rungs of the labor market.  The people who really needed protection weren’t getting it.

As I argue in the book, the government’s expansion of workplace rights was a tactic to solve larger strategic goals. The central government sees rapid urbanization that is more inclusive and protection as the next growth engine. It can no longer rely on export-oriented industrialization or massive government investment. But formal urbanization, which includes changes in hukou status, is closely linked to formal employment. Pushing expanded workplace rights was a step toward this larger goal. As the book also argues, however, this “self-enforcement” model of implementation has tended to marginalize workers on the lower rungs of the labor market, while improving the protections of those with education and skills.

This inequality in implementation reinforces other types of inequality that divide Chinese citizens: inequality of income, wealth, access to health and education, etc. Some argue that these inequalities make it more likely that China will become stuck in the “middle income trap.”

Couillard: How did you get all this information?  Were you talking to workers, looking at archives?

Prof Gallagher speaking at " China's Economy Today " in 2015

Prof Gallagher speaking at "China's Economy Today" in 2015

Prof Gallagher: The bulk of the work was done through interviews with workers who had received legal aid from a center in Shanghai.  I did that intensively for a few periods over the course of about ten years.  I also collaborated with others to do surveys with a broader population.

Because we were based at the center and had access to their case files, we could prompt them to talk about their cases in detail.  We could say, “We know this happened – why did you choose to settle, to mediate – things like that.  So in the end, I have to say, people who have legal issues often want to talk.  We’d usually start the interviews by asking, “How did the dispute start?”  And many times they’d come back with, “Well, in 1968…”  

Couillard: Haha

Prof Gallagher: Which is basically when they were entering the workforce.  Many of these workers had entered the factories during the Cultural Revolution as a way to not get sent down to the countryside.  So to explain their story, they had to go all the way back.

Couillard: Another thing that I’m interested in hearing your opinion on is the 19th Party Congress, which just concluded recently.  What should we know about that meeting?

Prof Gallagher: Xi Jinping said in his key statement, to paraphrase, one of the biggest obstacles in China’s path is the combination of slowing growth and rising expectations.  This relates to some of the things I wrote about in my book, particularly in regards to the danger of the Chinese government not reaching these goals of inclusiveness and broader workplace protection.

Ten or fifteen years ago migrant workers demanded things that were a function of desperation – they hadn’t been paid, they’d lost their limbs, or other desperate problems of subsistence.  In more recent years we’ve seen demands that are more about security – such as a strike of 50,000 workers in Guangdong in order to get social insurance arrears paid.  

From an outsider’s perspective, it’s interesting and unnerving to observe Xi Jinping’s consolidation of power. China needs a decisive leader to get it through this stage because the slowdown of the economy has the potential to affect the party’s hold on power. At the same time, if he has eliminated all sources of criticism and diverse views about how to solve China’s problems, he may make critical mistakes.

Interview with Mary Gallagher - Part I

Mary Gallagher  Professor  Political Science  LRCCS Director

Mary Gallagher

Political Science

LRCCS Director

For the two year anniversary of the LRCCS Spotlight Interview series, I sat down with someone most of our readers already know – the director of the Lieberthal-Rogel Center for Chinese Studies, Mary Gallagher.  In this interview, Professor Gallagher talks about her new book, her first trip to China right after the student movements of 1989, and why she decided not to be a banker – among many other interesting topics.  Read on for the good stuff, and stay tuned for Part II coming out next week.

Interview conducted and edited by Eric Couillard


Couillard: I always like to start from the very beginning with these interviews.  Where did you grow up?  

Prof Gallagher: I grew up in a town called Bethel, Connecticut.  I stayed there until I was 18; most of my huge Irish-Catholic family still lives in that general vicinity.

Couillard: And how did you first get interested in China?

Prof Gallagher: Partly because I found French boring.  I studied French in middle and high school, went there on a summer exchange when I was in high school.  When I went to college, I fully intended to do a semester abroad in France or Switzerland. But instead , my freshman year I took a class titled “Whatever happened to Marxism?”  And became complete fascinated by China. In the summer after my freshman year, I enrolled in first-year intensive Chinese at Yale, which was near my home. I left eight years of French behind me and then applied to do study abroad in China.

I was supposed to go to China the summer of 1989, before my junior year in college.  We were actually supposed to arrive at Beijing Normal University on June 10, 1989. But after the crackdown on the student movement, our program shifted to Hong Kong for the summer and then proceeded to Nanjing University for the fall.  It was a really interesting time to be there.  That summer in Hong Kong, there were lots of protests against the Chinese government.  And as for the mainland, people who went there earlier in the 1980s remember that time as being very liberal, and where China was going as very open-ended. But for me it was a completely different experiment. It was a very constrained and repressive environment. People were afraid to talk to foreigners openly sometimes and my roommate used to say about the propaganda on megaphones on campus, “they’re blaming you again.” She meant of course that the Chinese government was vilifying the US government for the student movement.

Professor Gallagher (front row, four in from the right) with her study abroad class at Nanjing University in 1989

Professor Gallagher (front row, four in from the right) with her study abroad class at Nanjing University in 1989

Couillard: Wow.  I can’t even imagine.

Prof Gallagher: Yeah.  I went to Beijing for the first time for National Day in October of ’89 and at time you have a foreign passport to walk on Tiananmen Square.  You could clearly see tank marks and other evidence of what had happened

Couillard: Could you see bullet holes?

Prof Gallagher: In the early 90s I knew an elderly professor who biked with me to the west side of Chang’an Street to show me bullet holes in buildings. That made me very nervous.

Couillard: Were you afraid of getting in trouble?

Prof Gallagher: I felt like it was potentially dangerous for him to be showing me those things.  People at the time didn’t talk much about what had happened openly.  

The people who I know in China who were college students at that time can all tell stories of how they participated and what happened after.  When I was studying in Nanjing in the fall of 1989, I had a Chinese roommate who I thought seemed very buttoned-down and not political.  But every weekend she had to do manual labor as punishment for her participation in the student movement.

Being a selfish college student, I was put out about it, because that meant I had no one to practice Chinese with on the weekend.  I complained to her about it, saying they should have paired us with students who didn’t participate in the movement so we’d have more time with them.  And she just looked at me and said, “Nobody didn’t participate.  Everyone participated.”  I think that was true for a lot of universities. And now it’s interesting to see what’s happened to that cohort of college grads. Many who stayed in China are now very successful and much more politically conservative than they were then.

Couillard: At what point did you become interested in Chinese politics?

Prof Gallagher: Somehow I knew I wanted to be a political science major when I first started college.  And that class on Marxism in the beginning of college drove me into China.  When I came back from China in 1989, there were lots of interesting things happening – the Berlin Wall had just come down (which I didn’t find out about until a month later), and the Soviet Union was falling apart.  I came home in December of ’89 and I remember on the cover of the New York Times was the picture of Ceaușescu and his wife in Romania who had been executed.  In the midst of all this going on, I decided to write an honors’ thesis, and the process of doing research convinced me that academic work was for me.

Couillard: How did you get to your current area of focus right now?

Prof Gallagher: I did my senior honors’ thesis on student movements, and I compared the May 4th Movement in 1919 to the 1989 movement, looking at images and the signs students used, how they invoked past student movements.  So I was already interested in state-society relations – how people put pressure on the state.

I think I just got lucky; when I started looking for a dissertation topic is when China had just started drafting its first labor law.  At that point I felt I’d had enough of student movements and decided to switch to studying workers.  This turned out to be a good professional move, as there were very few, if any, consequential student movements after 1989.  

Couillard: One thing I’m curious about – in order for you to get to where you are today must have taken a tremendous amount of effort and perseverance.  What do you think drives you to work so hard?

Prof Gallagher: At the end of my undergrad I was considering some different career options.  I had interviewed for a position as an executive-in-training for a bank in New York City.  A couple things happened there that changed how I thought about work.  The interview was very intense, and one of the interviewers, a middle-aged man, said to me, “Did you know that in banking women don’t wear pants?” Because I was wearing pants.

I was so horrified and shocked that a woman wearing pants in 1990 in New York City was somehow not acceptable.  The second thing that happened was a discussion with my advisor. He said to me, “If you have a job like working at a bank, at the end of the day you can leave it behind and forget about it.  But if you become an academic, it’s more like a vocation.  Your job is your life.”  

That was somehow attractive to me.  I wanted to have a job I was passionate about.  I also wanted to have a job where no one told me what to wear.  So I’ve got the best of both worlds.

Couillard:  Work all the time, yayyy!  Haha.  So what drives your passion?  Is there some kind of impact you’re hoping your research will contribute to?

Prof Gallagher: I think China and the US have this incredibly important relationship that has consequences for the whole world.  And I don’t think Americans have a very good understanding of China.  I hope my research can contribute to a deepening of understanding on the American side.

Couillard: You just came out with a new book – can you tell me about it?

To be continued in Part II!  Stay tuned for the second half of the interview, where Prof Gallagher tells us about her new book Authoritarian Legality in China as well as her thoughts on the 19th Party Congress

Interview with Postdoc Lei Duan

Lei Duan   段磊  LRCCS Postdoctoral Fellow

Lei Duan 段磊
LRCCS Postdoctoral Fellow

Meet Lei Duan, LRCCS 2017 – 2019 postdoctoral fellow.  In this interview, Dr. Duan told me all about his research on private gun ownership in China – from socially accepted violence to lady sharpshooters.

Interview conducted and edited by Eric Couillard.

Couillard: Where are you from in China?

Dr. Duan: Tianjin.  I grew up there and moved to the UMass Amherst for my Masters’ degree in 2009, then went to Syracuse for my PhD.

Couillard: When did you start studying Chinese Studies?

Dr. Duan: My undergrad major was world history, but in China that means something different than here.  In China, that means any history besides China.  But when I went to UMass Amherst that’s when I started learning Chinese history in an academic way.  

Couillard: Much of your research is about guns.  How did you get into that?

Dr. Duan: It’s a long story.  My original dissertation topic was about private security companies (镖局) in China in the early 20th century.  I couldn’t find much data on these companies, but during my search, I found a lot of these people and firms had gun licenses.  I found that interesting, because there’s lots of research on military history, but almost none on private gun ownership – guns used by ordinary people.  How the common people empowered themselves using guns and how the government responded.

I basically look from the 1860s – 1949.  The 1860s was the first time foreign modern guns came to China on a large scale.  And ending in 1949, because the new Communist regime quickly disarmed the people through mass movements.

Couillard: So guns were legal before 1949?

Dr. Duan: Yes, if you applied for a license.  The government allowed people to arm themselves as a way for the state to extend its power into local society.  The government relied on armed civilians to protect their locality.

Couillard: Are you talking about law enforcement or just regular people?

Dr. Duan: Both.  As well as paramilitary forces.  But this is only part of the story.  Most people didn’t actually register their arms.  So I’m looking at how and why they armed themselves.

Couillard: How did someone get a gun back then?

Dr. Duan: At this period, the government had very little direct control over local society.  One way they could exert this control was by selling government guns to local militia forces.  There was also the wealthy Chinese who could buy guns directly from foreign arms dealers.  There were many western companies selling guns to China directly – such as Colt.  They had sales representatives targeting the Chinese market.

But in rural areas, most guns came from the military.  There were many civil wars among warlords, and guns were often abandoned on the battle field.  After the fight was over, local people would find the guns and keep them or sell them.  There were also self-manufactured guns – ‘foreign guns’ created in local workshops.  

Couillard: How did people use the guns?

Dr. Duan: One use was for self-defense.  You can see this by looking at ads targeting the Chinese market, which always marketed guns as a means of protection.  But another reason was to elevate social status – especially for urban, wealthy middle class.  Guns were a symbol of modernity.

Couillard: Would they carry the guns around?

Mrs. Li Junseng, winner of first honor in the pistol shooting competition of Shanghai Revolving Association in May 1928.

Mrs. Li Junseng, winner of first honor in the pistol shooting competition of Shanghai Revolving Association in May 1928.

Dr. Duan: Mostly they would display them in their homes, but there were also very small pistols that ladies would sometimes carry in their purses.  In fact, there were some Shanghainese women who participated in shooting competitions.  For some urban women, guns showed how women had equal power with men. For rural women, who protected their villages when men went off to war, guns were a symbol of participation in local politics.

It also showcased Chinese determination to arm against foreign invaders.

Couillard: It sounds very patriotic.

Dr. Duan: Yes.  If you look at guns before this period, they were seen as a tool of violence.  But by the 1930s, guns were socially acceptable.  Guns had many meanings for different people.  Guns lived in a colorful social life and exhibited themselves as tools of violence, labels of social status, and symbols of self-empowerment.

Couillard: What about gun crime?

Dr. Duan: Especially in the cities like Shanghai, we saw gun violence almost every day.  Shooting, homicide, smuggling, etc.  Mostly gangsters, such as the Green Gang (青帮).  Many of these gangs focused their activities on gun smuggling. 

Couillard: What did gun control look like?

Dr. Duan: There were many regulations, but they were often overlooked.  And regulations looked very different for different locations.  The Republican government’s policy was uneven and inconsistent. In some ways, the government tried to restrict private gun ownership, and in others recognizing the potential of armed civilians to defend localities. In contrast, in the 30s and 40s in northern China, the Communist Party in that area decided to co-opt gun owners into their fight.  They mobilized the people who had guns to fight against ‘class enemies’ who were trying to take their guns away.  

But after the communists already had power, they disarmed the same people who they previously mobilized.

Couillard: What’s important to you about this research?

Dr. Duan: First, most gun scholarship is focused on military modernization.  But I want to place guns in a social and cultural context – why and how did non-military  people arm themselves?

Second, this study also provides a new prism through which to examine state-society relations in modern China.  How did gun owners challenge state power?

Third, I’m looking at the evolution of CCP policy about gun control.

Couillard: What sort of an impact would you like for your research to have?

Dr. Duan:  I hope that we’ll have a better idea about the formation of socially accepted violence in modern China, and also the dynamics between state authority and social power.  

Couillard: What will you be working on during your time at LRCCS?

Dr. Duan:  I am currently working on revising my dissertation for publication. I am also working on another project which uses my dissertation as a baseline, exploring the complexities of the Chinese government’s disarming of civilians after the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949.

Couillard: Do you own any guns yourself?

Dr. Duan: No – the only guns I’ve ever used are water guns, haha.